If we only knew what to say

This Side Up


Ollie has found his voice, but we haven’t figured out all he’s trying to say.

When introduced at the East Greenwich Animal Protection League in February, he was submissive. That was understandable. He had been rescued from the streets somewhere in North Carolina and probably was caged in a kill shelter before being shipped north.

Even after spending a couple of weeks at a foster home, Ollie still wore a bewildered look, although, as his foster caretakers told us, he wasn’t bashful about hopping up on the couch and resting with a pillow under his chin.

All the while he was silent; just that look that seemed to be saying, “Can I trust you?”

While the look pulled at the heart, I wasn’t disappointed with Ollie’s silence. Coon hounds are destined to bark, or more properly, howl. I can’t imagine a pack of hounds on the trail not howling. The vision is that of dogs charging through the woods or across open fields, noses to the ground, all the while sounding that they are on to something.

As Carol suggested, perhaps the reason Ollie ended up homeless was that he didn’t live up to the hound’s reputation as a howler. Maybe he belonged to a hunter and failed to perform like the rest of the pack.

It’s plausible. Ollie wasn’t saying anything; not when we were introduced; not when we spend some time together before adoption; not after signing the papers; and not when Carol sat with him on the way home.

“How fortunate,” I thought. “We don’t have a yapper. We don’t have a howler.”

It would be nice to have a dog that would sound the alarm, but I was willing to forego that for a companion that didn’t feel compelled to comment.

But that’s not what has happened.

Ollie is opinionated, and we’re beginning to hear about it.

The first indication came over dinner – his dinner. He settled into the routine quickly, watching every move as Carol scooped out the two cups of kibble the vet recommended. He didn’t need any coaxing and was at her side the instant she put the dish on the floor. He’s figured out who’s in charge of food pretty quickly and it wasn’t me.

I made a move to retrieve his dish from under the counter, where he had pushed it, and the hairs on his back rose and I was greeted with a deep throated snarl.

I was taken back.

“Ollie,” I said in the most authoritative voice, “Stop that.”

He just glared. He didn’t back off an inch. Hum, I thought, I’m supposed to be the alpha; what do I do now?

I moved a bit. He growled a bit. This was going to be a standoff. But I held my ground. He gulped down the rest of his dinner as quickly as he could, but that was the beginning of Ollie finding his voice. It progressed quickly. The growls and snarls disappeared in the weeks that followed. He’s still protective of food, but he’ll tolerate having his dish moved or even picked up. There’s more expectation of what you might add to his bowl for his good manners and more fear he’ll be deprived of it.

His commentary is most pronounced when someone walks by the house. This is not a dog letting the world know that a possible intruder has been detected. It is a plaintive whine that asks, “Can you come over and meet me?”

That much we’ve figured out.

But it doesn’t stop with people in front of the house. Take Ollie for a ride and he’ll fixate on whoever is alongside the road, walking, riding a bike, mowing their lawn, waiting at a bus stop or simply sitting in their car at Hoxsie Four Corners, waiting for the light to change. In an instant, he’s at the window and whining, as if he’s finally found a friend.

Binky used to get excited, especially when he spotted dogs. He’d set up a commotion, barking and leaping from the back to the front seat, where he frequently rode, as we passed an unsuspecting canine. Eighty-five pounds of dog flying over the front seat wasn’t what you want while driving. Fortunately, he was easy to control. Carol carried a spray bottle; simply shown to him caused cowering.

Ollie couldn’t care less about spray bottles or water. For that matter, no amount of shouting can calm him down. That doesn’t make for an easy traveling companion.

And then there are the whines punctuated by howls, almost as if he was trying to yodel.

What’s that all about?

I wish I knew. It certainly isn’t music.


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