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I woke the neighbour laughing

badger
June 2nd, 2005, 01:50 AM
Two excerpts from the new book What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner, by Slate columnist Emily Yoffe.

First excerpt:

Our beagle, Sasha, is adorable enough to stop traffic, but like a long-eared Marilyn Monroe, she appears to have permanent damage to her psyche from her traumatic early life. She had been a dead dog barking, hours away from a scheduled euthanasia at a West Virginia shelter, when she was saved by the beagle rescue organization we adopted her from. After months, we broke through her attitude of resigned terror, and a loveable, if skittish, pet emerged. But we seemed unable to fully convince her that "come" was not a synonym for "flee."

Then I got a pleading e-mail from Laura, the head of Beagle Rescue Education and Welfare (BREW), who had fixed us up with Sasha. She was begging for foster families to take in a particularly large crop of incompetent hunting beagles abandoned in the woods by their owners. I don't know why I did it, but I replied that I would try one. Within minutes Laura wrote back directing me to read the Boy's Town life story of Roscoe on BREW's Web site, and giving me directions to the veterinarian's office where he was boarded.

As I drove to get him, I assumed Roscoe's early traumas would leave him with an even more stunted personality and hard-to-train bladder than Sasha's. He had been found wandering in rural Virginia by a hunter who then placed him in a temporary home. When that family decided they couldn't care for him anymore, he was sent to a shelter, where a network of beagle watchers alerted BREW. The group brought him to their adoption event and he found a new owner. Shortly after adopting Roscoe, the new owner was hospitalized. From his hospital bed, the owner organized some friends to feed and walk Roscoe, but Roscoe was increasingly frightened by the series of strangers and started relieving himself in the house. The owner called BREW, which took him back and boarded him at a kennel. While there he developed kennel cough, so he was transferred to a veterinary hospital for treatment, where I was to pick him up.

When I first saw Roscoe he reminded me of a chimerical figure in Greek mythology, those part-lion, part-goat creatures. Roscoe had a small, brown beagle head, and a huge, white, hoglike body. It was as if he'd been sewn together and his collar hid the stitches. When I brought Roscoe home, Sasha was thrilled and gnawed on him, prompting both to chase each other around the house. After a few minutes of this, Roscoe came over in turn to me, my husband, and daughter, jumping up on us for a greeting. Sasha seemed confused and put out—why was her new friend paying attention to people? She came over and tried to egg on Roscoe to play, but he was too busy licking my husband.

We separated the animals and fed them. Sasha, as usual, bolted her food faster than the human retina could register. But Roscoe ate slowly, interrupting his meal several times to come over to each of us, thanking us for the marvelous victuals.

Later that night, my husband was on his usual evening guard duty—manning the television remote while prone on the couch—when Roscoe came bounding up, depositing himself with a thump on my husband's chest. Within minutes, Roscoe, who probably had never been groomed in his short, miserable life, had shed an alpaca sweater's worth of white hair on my husband's navy sweat shirt. He stuck his head into my husband's neck and licked it furiously.

Roscoe was an ample fellow and from my perspective on the other end of the couch, it seemed as if my husband was being given a hickey by someone the size of James Gandolfini. Then Roscoe fell asleep, head resting in my husband's armpit. My husband put his arm around Roscoe's midsection. They looked as if they were on their honeymoon. However, I had been on my husband's honeymoon, and during it he hadn't looked that much in love.

"How do you like Roscoe?" I asked.

"I've never been so happy," he replied, a slight catch in his voice.

During the day, walking the two dogs together made me feel the heartbreak of having a gorgeous child whom people fawned over and a homely one with a great personality whom everyone ignored. People would stop, lean down to pat Sasha, and say, "What a beautiful beagle," then look at Roscoe and ask, "What's that?"

Having Roscoe was both deflating and reassuring. Deflating because in one week we got further in training Roscoe than we had in all our time with Sasha. That's what made it reassuring. Despite the fact that most dog books blame dog problems on inept owners, Roscoe was proof that Sasha's deficiencies were not necessarily our fault. Roscoe did things unprecedented in our dog experience: He never had "accidents"; call out "Roscoe!" and he immediately ran to you.

Roscoe made a particular bond with my husband. When he came in the door at night, it was Roscoe who ran to greet him. While I was making dinner and my daughter was watching her television allotment, the two of them wrestled in the front hall. "I love you too, big boy, I love you too," my husband said with a laugh, finally getting the kind of attention and affection he had hoped a wife and child would provide.

Roscoe moved me in a way I found disturbing. In the evening, when my husband, Roscoe, and I were on the couch, if I got up for any reason, Roscoe leapt off my husband to follow me. He seemed to be saying, "Everything OK? Need some company?" Such behavior from another person would have you petitioning for a restraining order. But from Roscoe it felt like love. I had been led to believe love was based on knowing another deeply, and I was just the new warm body who fed Roscoe. It didn't matter, because he tripped the switch in my wiring reserved for dog love. I now understood what dog people were so gaga about.

For BREW's Web site I wrote a description of Roscoe that made him sound like a combination of Lassie and Isaac Newton. Laura told me that families were competing for the right to meet him. I arranged to have the first couple in line come to our house one evening. They were young and sweet, the wife three months pregnant. While some people get rid of the dog once the baby is on the way, there are others who can't wait for the offspring to finish gestating and need something to cuddle immediately. I went upstairs to get Roscoe.

They were sitting on the couch in the living room when we came down. I said, "Roscoe, come meet the people who would like you to be their dog." Roscoe, who had greeted all our visitors with an enthusiastic jump and lick, looked at them, narrowed his eyes, and growled.

"Roscoe, what are you doing?" I said, trying to bring him over to the couple. Roscoe dropped to his haunches and started barking. Then he threw his head back and bayed. This dog was a genius! He was saying to me, "I'm done with strangers."

The husband suggested that I get him some treats with which to entice Roscoe. I gave him a handful of dog food. Roscoe growled and snapped at his outstretched hand. I sat down next to Roscoe to calm him down and he practically knocked me over in his attempt to show that I was his woman.

I brought down Sasha, hoping she would distract Roscoe from his new enemies. She immediately ran into the husband's arms and started begging for the treats. He fed her and she excitedly licked him. The wife got down on the floor next to her husband and Sasha began licking her. They both laughed and remarked on how adorable and friendly Sasha was. Did a small voice inside me say, "They'd be so happy with Sasha and you'd be so happy with Roscoe"? Sure. But that's the same small voice that says to some CEOs, "The auditors will never catch on to this!"

After a few minutes Roscoe became intrigued and tentatively approached the couple. I praised him and he let them stroke him. In 10 minutes, he was alternating between their laps. The wife said, "I like him."

I talked to Laura that night and started making noises that we might want to adopt Roscoe ourselves. She begged me not to—she was desperate for good foster families. She promised to find us another wonderful foster right away. I asked my family what to do. I knew no other foster could be as good as Roscoe.

"Mom, we made an agreement," my then 7-year-old daughter said. "I think we have to let another family adopt Roscoe." I was stunned at her maturity. Then it occurred to me—she's jealous! Sasha was the adorable but incorrigible younger sister who was always getting in trouble. Roscoe was the brother who got endless praise and attention from the parents.

The next day I got an e-mail from Laura saying the couple wanted him. We made arrangements for them to pick Roscoe up the following Saturday. My husband couldn't stand it. He took our daughter shopping and left me to bid adieu.

When they arrived at the door Roscoe barked and growled, then he calmed and let them stroke him. I took a minute alone with him. "Goodbye, big boy. You will have a wonderful new family." I wondered why I was going through with this. Yes, I loved Sasha, but Roscoe was the first dog I'd ever really loved. The husband put a leash on Roscoe and they went down the front stairs. I watched through the window as they led him to their car and opened the crate in the back seat. When they tugged on the leash to try to get him to go in, Roscoe turned and quizzically looked up at our front door. I stopped myself from running down the steps and dragging him back. Roscoe got in the car.

That night, as my husband lay on the couch, bereft, Sasha came into the den and sat near his feet. "Come here, Sasha, come up and lay by me," my husband said, patting his chest. At the sound of the words, "Sasha" and "come," Sasha got up and ran from the room.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------Second excerpt:

When I saw an ad in the Washington Post for a workshop on communicating telepathically with your pet, I thought being able to have extrasensory conversations with the animals about bladder control might reduce the amount of cat urine I found around the house.

I looked up the Web site of the communicator, whom I'll call Delphine Carnack. On it she explained that we are constantly experiencing two-way communication with our animals that we might not even recognize. For instance, if in the middle of the day I wonder, "Did I remember to hide my slippers?" I may believe that my brain generated this thought. According to Delphine, it is more likely my beagle, Sasha, is sending the following thought to me, "This slipper sure is tasty. Glad you didn't hide it."

I signed up for the $145 one-day workshop. It was held in a hotel meeting room; seated in a circle were 15 women and one man, between the ages of 30 and 55. There were also four dogs: a hound mix, a Labrador mix, a mostly German shepherd, and one shaggy, cat-sized, gray mutt that looked like a prototype for a stuffed animal that never made it into production.

Delphine had us each introduce ourselves and explain why we were there. I was not surprised that there were several single women with what could be considered a surfeit of cats. One said she had 15, and she was here because "my feelings overwhelm them." If I was scooping 15 litter boxes a day, I too would be overwhelmed with my feelings about the cats. Another woman was there because she wanted to express the intensity of her love more directly to her Labrador.

Julie was a dog lover, but because of the rules of her apartment building, she could only have guinea pigs. She took out a thick stack of photographs of them and passed them around the circle. The other participants observed they'd never seen cuter rodents. Julie had started with a single guinea pig, Russell, who was very content running around his exercise ring and being adored by Julie. Then she added a second guinea pig, Twix, and all hell broke loose. Russell started attacking Twix, and when Julie took him out of his cage to pet him, Russell was cold and distant. She called in an animal communicator to evaluate the situation.

Through the communicator, Julie tried to explain to Russell that Twix was his new friend. She also told Russell that Twix had been abused in the past. (I wondered what had happened to Twix—could he be a guinea pig who had been used as a guinea pig?) Russell wasn't having any of it. He told Julie back, through the communicator, that he didn't really care about Twix's problems because now Twix was in his cage making his life miserable. Julie said things in the cage were at an impasse and that she was at the workshop to learn how to communicate directly with Russell and Twix, since having a communicator on call was prohibitively expensive.

I was up next. I explained that despite making great progress with Sasha, I still felt we could deepen our bond. Specifically it would help if she didn't think of the kitchen garbage can as a kind of doggie vending machine. I also explained how things had degenerated urine-wise with the cats. Then there was Lisa, who was the owner of the four dogs roaming the room. She had just quit her job and now was on the eve of launching a doggie day care center at her home.

As she spoke her dogs sniffed us, each other, and the snack table. I was impressed with their good behavior. Then Wiley, the German shepherd, squatted and made a rather liquid poop on the carpet. It seemed thoughtless of Wiley not to have sent a signal to Delphine warning her what was coming.

Delphine began telling us about the essence of telepathic communication while she dabbed gingerly at the mess on the carpet with napkins. She explained that she had no special psychic skills and still doesn't—telepathy is an ability all of us innately have. We just have to trust our feelings and our intuition. "When your body goes 'unnhh' trust it." Everyone was nodding madly, except me. When my body goes "unnhh," it's usually because I'm trying on bathing suits.

We started the process of tuning into Lisa's dogs. We began with Lulu, the hound. She seemed to understand it was all about her and happily lay down in the center of the circle of chairs. Delphine explained that when we began our communication with animals we had to be open to all kinds of messages. Some communicated in images, odd mental pictures we would have to interpret. Some animals were extremely verbal. Delphine treated one rabbit that was so loquacious she had to schedule a second session to hear everything the rabbit had to say.

Delphine advised us to start by asking, "Are you willing to communicate with me?" Once we got the animal's go-ahead, we were not to conduct an inquisition; better to ask some gentle, open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about yourself," or, "Share one of your favorite activities."

With that we were ready, all of us, to start a simultaneous dialogue with Lulu. By this time, however, Lulu had fallen deeply asleep and was snoring contentedly. "Being asleep will not affect the quality of the communication," said Delphine.

We all closed our eyes and concentrated on Lulu. Usually when I have tried to enter quiet, meditative states, I find my mind wandering to such pressing topics as, "Did I pick up the sweater from the dry cleaner?" and, "Are we out of onions?" But as I concentrated on the thoughts of Lulu, my mind was an utter blank. At first I felt like a failure, then I realized: This may be the mental state of a sleeping hound.

Delphine called us back to attention and asked what we had picked up. "Action" said one woman. "She's confused by the size of her head," said another, "she feels it's too little for her body." "I see swings," said one woman. "Me, too!" said another. Then Barbara, a therapist who used her 10 cats in her practice, spoke, "I think she was an Indian warrior in her previous life. Also a teacher, because I see a middle school. I also see her driving in a car, looking out the window, and the car is smashed."

We were all stunned by Barbara's detail. Unfortunately, Lulu did not rouse herself to confirm or deny any of this. It was my turn. I knew, "Your dog is flat-lining," would not fit the mood of the day. Instead, since Lisa had said all her dogs were rescues, I went with, "She loves you very much and her big concern is having to go back to her previous situation." Both Delphine and Lisa furrowed their brows at this. It turned out, said Lisa, that Lulu's mother was a rescue, but Lulu had been born at Lisa's home.

Next we tuned into Rex. Rex was not as soporific a subject as Lulu. Lisa had a hard time corralling him into the center of our little circle. Finally he sat and we began our communication. The therapist, Barbara, again had the most complete reading on Rex. "I first saw an eagle feather with a drop of blood on it. That turned into an Indian-head nickel. Next I got an aerial view of a racetrack. And I kept seeing teeth. He's very proud of his teeth, he wants everyone to admire them."

I couldn't compete with that, but he seemed like a lively dog and I was determined to say something not completely off the mark. Without ever feeling Rex had whispered in my ear, I settled on the notion that he lived to have fun. "Fun. That's his raison d'etre!" I said, to another set of frowns from Lisa and Delphine.

It turned out, Lisa revealed, "Rex bites the other dogs viciously." She held out the inside of her forearm, which had a red, raised scar. "He bit me. But he felt terrible about it afterward." Clearly I was no animal clairvoyant, and clearly Barbara was. Lisa explained that she had found Rex at a highway rest stop when she saw a van there filled with dogs. They were being taken from a kill shelter in West Virginia and, as she said, "I had to have one."

In the two years since, Rex's behavior had gotten worse. "Why does he bite the other dogs? And how can I do doggie day care with him around?" Lisa implored the group. I realized she had a serious problem. It would be hard to say to her customers, "Here's Fifi. Oh, hold on while I stanch the bleeding." All of us closed our eyes and concentrated on Rex again. After five minutes people had many insights. He needed to sniff flower essences; his chakras were blocked; he had gas.

By then the time had run out. Delphine assured us we had all done a fabulous job. "This is telepathy!" she said. She reminded everyone who was going to the next day's advanced workshop to bring photographs of their animals. People would then look at the photo and communicate long distance. "You will find it is easier because you are not reading body language."

"Can we bring pictures of animals who have died?" asked one woman.

Absolutely! It didn't matter if the animal was asleep, in the room, or even alive. Delphine implied the deader the animal, the better and more pure the communication.

She encouraged us all to exchange phone numbers and e-mails, and to meet once a month to keep up our new telepathic skills. But I slipped out before everyone could read my mind.

Cactus Flower
June 2nd, 2005, 05:03 AM
That was VERY entertaining! I can't believe they didn't keep Roscoe- he seemed perfect for them!

Tell me you didn't transcribe all of that yourself, that instead you copied and pasted it from an e-book?