Where There’s A Willow, There’s A Way

                                                                                 How Could You??

The puppy is now about a year and half old.  She has come a long way from berserk. four pound sheep hunter to wily, seventeen pound combination persistent nuisance to all things and loving, loyal member of our home pack.  She still has miles to go before we all sleep well, but the girl is on a good path.

I know a lot more now than I did “B.W.” (Before Willow).  My two other Jack Russells lulled me into a smug sense of security that time and training would produce a calm, stable, companionable dog in a year.  Willow has dispelled any notion I had that nurture can override nature, sort of like the false security you have that your software will protect you against Heartbleed or some other such insidious virus.  She has a prey drive second only to a hyena with the scream to match, and only another piece of prey can pull off one scent to another. There’s yet to be a cookie invented that can compete with a chattering chipmunk. Perhaps if I rolled myself in raw meat, I might have greater appeal to her, but I have this image in my mind of being taken down by coyotes or bears, or at least every other dog in the neighborhood save mine.

Her recall is spotty.  I don’t chase her any longer.  Long gone are the days when she would take off through out rural area, this mostly small white streak, with me in pursuit (usually in my bed slippers), through horse pastures, cow pastures, pig sties, and chicken coops.  If she leaves the farm perimeter (which is, admittedly, less often) for far-flung fields, that’s her choice.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I don’t worry:  I’ve simply learned that the less I holler for her and simply take Martha and Gus inside or continue playing with them, the game is over.  She can’t stand not being the center of attention and comes back of her own accord out of curiosity about what she may be missing.  Like the new raw food treats.

She’s also taught me you can put everything you’ve got into a dog, but the dog has to want to meet you halfway.  A  dog makes choices, good and not so good.  Sometimes, you just have to wait until the brain is more mature and just hope the dog survives its less stellar choices.  Willow isn’t Gus, who walks at heel through the forest off leash, looks up for permission to chase a squirrel, and, now that he has the Tasmanian Devil as a little sister, has the patience of Job.  Martha, blissfully deaf and much less patient with Willow’s antics, snarls.  Any resemblance to my own human family life is purely coincidental.  Or maybe not.

I am hoping one day, in our dotage, to be glad after all that I brought her home.  I want to look back and, like labor, not really remember how the early days of our lives drove me to the brink of psychosis.  I want to be able to buy good sheets again without resigning myself to the holes that will be chewed in them.  And I would like to answer the front door like a normal person, not hiding behind the tiny crack like a hoarder, with dogs snapping at my heels to charge the unseen intruder.  I’m certain at this point, we’ve been removed from the Jehovah’s Witness visitors list, and I must admit, I miss having someone to talk to occasionally.

You Dirty Rat

dead-rat

“Trade?” I ask Willow when she has hold of something not good for her (like my sock, a pencil or a shard of firewood). 

Her ears perk up.  She runs over to me, drops the not-so-good thing for a better thing (a cookie or an approved chew toy). 

We are in the process of learning “Drop It” which is a harsher command (think of how it sounds — the intonation behind the words as opposed to the inflection of “Trade?” which ends in an up pitch).  But I wonder if it’s such a good thing to barter with your puppy. 

Today, Willow found a gray rat.  I don’t know if she killed it or if it was already dead.  But at 6:30 this morning, I looked out the window into the dog yard on the farm to see this bit of fur with the unmistakable rat tail limply hanging from her mouth. 

Being a natural ratter, she was ecstatic.  Racing around the yard, the little gears in her primitive mind whirling with great velocity, torn between finding a place to hide her new treasure and the inability to let it go. 

Fascinating from a anthropological point of view.  DISGUSTING from my personal point of view. 

The dilemma:  I have nothing better to trade that beats a dead rat. 

Ninety minutes of watching her and periodically enticing her to “Trade?” and coming up short later, she appears at the back door sans rat.  I pray she hasn’t eaten it (poison possibility, worms, God knows what else) but stashed it somewhere for later.  She comes in, gets breakfast, is praised for coming in. 

While she eats breakfast, I go out into the big dog yard (which is actually a part of my garden), wearing a pair of work gloves and muck boots to seek the corpse.  No luck.  Only Willow will lead me to her prize, so I put her on a long lead and harness.  Out we go together, leaving Gus and Martha in the house.  Sure enough, she dives into the dank darkness beneath the deck and emerges with mouth clamped around the dead vermin. 

“Trade?” I ask, holding out her favorite squeaky plush toy. 

Are you kidding? her eyes say.  I am a ratter.  I am a great spotted hunter.  I have prey.  Real prey, with real fur and real stink.  Uh-uh.

I reel her in, grab her by the scruff of her neck and pinch her nose.  The dead rat, its gray fur now matted with dog saliva, its long yellow teeth visible in a mouth in the beginning stage of rigor mortis, drops to the ground.  With my free gloved hand, I lift it by its long naked tail, holding it high above my shoulder as we walk toward the garbage can just on the other side of the dog yard fence.

It hits the bottom of the empty plastic bin with an unremarkable thud.

Willow looks at me, crestfallen.

There will be other rats, even if she does not yet understand that.  But there is always something special about your first time.