Nothing beats having a week off and STILL having to go into work everyday. And the hell of it was that I couldn’t even sleep in and mosey in late in my sweats and flip-flops. Why? Well may you ask. It all started when we got this dog.
You see, we are dog people. Even my husband, who was dog deprived for a good portion of his childhood, is dog people. We did not buy our first house because we wanted a house—we bought our first house because we wanted a dog. And ever since we took possession of our new house, we’ve had a dog or two around. Until a couple of years ago, that is. We had two aging border collies and, knowing that the time was near; decided maybe after they went we would choose to be dog free for a while. Dog ownership is great, but the logistics of having to feed and care for dogs make it difficult to just pick up and toodle off for a weekend in Death Valley or Yosemite.
And over the years, we have had some logistically interesting dogs. Pockets, who was our first dog, was insanely loyal. One time while out camping, David drove off on the motorcycle leaving Pockets in the tent at camp. He told the other campers to let Pockets out after a little while and he would be fine. Pockets, once freed, proceeded to track David down…12 miles…on his motorcycle…and found him. This created a monster because he figured he could just track us down if he looked hard enough. We couldn’t leave him with anyone when we went off on vacation because he would go off looking for us, but we finally did figure out that we could have David’s parents come over to the house and pick him up and take him home with them. That way he didn’t feel the need to track us because we hadn’t “abandoned” him.
At one point, we even had a down-on-his-luck friend living with us. Other people might think this was a little awkward, but it was great because he: a. did not eat our food; b. helped David fix things; and c. took care of the animals when we were on vacation. In fact, we never charged him rent because; as you pet owners are already thinking to yourselves, it was more than worth the price for part c alone. Unfortunately, our friend moved on and we now have to deal with our own animal travel logistics again. So we thought we’d go dog free for a while.
Then we got hit by the quadruple whammy. We lost both old dogs, the horse, and the old cat all within a 10 month time frame. It was a rough patch for both of us and instead of being dog free for “several months,” it took us over two years to get back in the game. At first, any dog we saw reminded us of our little lost Ringo and BC and we would dive head first into the vast pits of maudilinity that threatened to consume us. Eventually though, we began to find ourselves afflicted with a strange sort of magnetism that sucked us over to any dog we happened to encounter. We were like little kids who just wanted to pet the nice doggie. We finally realized the “dog free interlude” was far past its expiration date when we went down to Mule Days last year. We spent as much time during the parade and show ooohing and aaahing at the dogs people were walking around as we did looking at the mules. When we started actually fantasizing sick and twisted plots to kidnap certain likely looking dogs, we knew it was time.
Fortunately, I have a neighbor who volunteers at the pound, so I asked her how to get in on the dog walking action. The obvious danger with this strategy was that I might wind up bringing home half a dozen dogs on the first visit. I needn’t have worried since most of the dogs at the pound turned out to be Pit Bulls or Pit Bull crosses. I’m not saying Pit Bulls are not nice dogs, just that we are pretty confirmed Border Collie/cattle dog type people. I can resist Pit Bulls. Time turned out to by my other ally in this because (isn’t this the story of my life?) by the time I got the dog-walker training and was cleared to volunteer, I was back at work and had no time to walk dogs. But I was able to sneak in a few days of walking here and there and my neighbor, alerted to our plight, kept me informed by e-mail whenever a likely dog came through.
It was on our Thanksgiving break that I met Stella. I actually had a day free to go in and walk dogs and there was a cute Pit/Bulldog cross named Ria that I liked, and there was Stella. My first thought on seeing her was that she is a McNabb or Border Collie/Queensland cross. She is black with the white ruff speckled with black speckles and the black white mottling extends down her stomach and legs—definite cattle dog territory. Of course, she heeled like a sled dog. All of the pound puppies do. I have this theory that it is because so many different people walk them and some let them pull while others don’t, so they just pull like sled dogs until they get a walker who makes them heel. But she kind of tried to heel when I asked her to which is more than some of the dogs do. She also had “that look.” Border Collie people know whereof I speak. So I kept thinking about Stella over the next week.
The following week, I had an appointment with “the dentist who never works.” I have to take a full day off to see him whether it is a marathon torture session or a simple follow up because he is in the office (a 60 mile drive) for approximately 5 minutes on alternate Wednesdays if you’re lucky. This was a simple follow up, so I went to walk dogs afterwards. And I walked Stella again. That Saturday, I took David in to meet Stella. He fell for “the look” too, and after signing many, many forms and promising that we would hug her and pet her and love her and squeeze her… no wait… wrong story… we proudly walked out with OUR new dog.
We immediately agreed that we hated the name Stella and after a bit of good natured arguing, came up with Kayleigh—a good Scottish name to go along with her likely Border Collie heritage. Only we decided to spell it Kaylee so that people wouldn’t have to bring up too much phlegm figuring out how to pronounce it. How do you say that? Kayleecchh…? When I opened the truck door and said get in, she launched herself into the back seat as if to say “it’s about time!” When we got home to our wild open sagebrush I crossed my fingers and let her off the leash and we haven’t needed it since except for trips to town. I don’t know if she’s as insanely loyal as Pockets yet, but she made it patently obvious from the start that we were her new world.
Which was where our trouble started. She was picked up as a stray, so we have no information on her background, but given how quickly she bonded to us I’d say there was someone out there she was very strongly bonded to. I don’t know if it was getting lost and having that bond broken or spending 4 months in the pound with no clear “master” or if maybe she was this way to begin with, but she definitely suffers from severe separation anxiety. We picked her up on a Saturday morning and spent the weekend having fun with our new dog. Monday morning rolled around and I decided to leave her in the laundry room for the day while we both worked. Our yard is good, but a determined dog could escape and I didn’t know how she’d be just loose in the house. So I left her with toys and water and some treats and headed out for the day. When I returned, it was to complete disaster. Everything even remotely strewable was strewn. My favorite fleece jacket had one arm chewed off. Kaylee had ripped the molding strips from around the door and the fake window pane dividers off of the window.
And did Kaylee feel bad about it? Dear God, the dog that met me was a completely different dog—frantic, penitent, manic and horribly ashamed of herself. It was all I could do not to sit down and have a good cry with her right there. But I managed to pretend that everything was okay and stay calm until she could calm down also. After sending David pictures, I cleaned up the mess. I still didn’t trust her in the yard and after what she did to the laundry room, wasn’t ready to let her have a crack at the rest of the house so I cleaned as much potential flotsam and jetsam out of the laundry room as I could find so that she would have “less to destroy.” Haha! The next day I came home to find that she had gotten into the furnace closet, pulled out the filters and destroyed them. She had also begun chewing her way through the laundry room door into the house proper.
Both days, Kaylee greeted me with the same panic-striken look of fear mingled with shame. “I’m so so sorry about the mess, but I was so afraid that you had left me forever and ever and ever and I’m so happy to see you and I’m so happy you came back because it was so lonely and scary abandoned in this frightening place without you to protect me all day long and now you’re finally back when I thought you were never coming back and did I mention I’m really, really sorry about the mess?”
I couldn’t leave her again. She was rapidly reducing our laundry room to a scattered pile of atoms! I knew if I gave her a crack at the rest of the house we were going to have to put rocking chairs on the porch and take up the banjo to explain the mess. Fortunately it was December and I had also noticed that she seemed very at home in the truck. So Kaylee began going to work with me every day. And we began working on the separation anxiety. Every day, I would get up, get ready, feed horses, walk the dog, then go through my “leaving” routine. I would close all the doors, give her her treat ball, tell her to be a good girl and walk out the door to the car. Then I would go back in the house and say “Come on Kaylee!” And she and I would go to work. At first, the interval of abandonment lasted no more than 30 seconds and even then, I would return to the same frantic dog that had greeted me after working all day. But gradually, she began to understand that I was, indeed, going to return and she began to act calmer.
Amazingly, she was absolutely fine in a vehicle all day. I would walk her on my prep period, but otherwise, she was alone. Pockets spent a lot of time in the truck as a young dog when I was still shoeing horses, so I suspect she had led a similar life. The truck, to her, was security. And other than the separation anxiety, she was the best behaved and most well trained dog we have ever owned. As time went on, I began to gradually increase the time I was gone until I was sitting in the car playing on the phone for several minutes before retrieving her and heading to work.
When Christmas break rolled around, I was planning to “work on the dog.” I found out it’s kind of difficult to do any sort of abandonment training when you have family visiting and David home on vacation. I was only able to leave her a couple of times right towards the end of Christmas break, but I figured she was doing so much better so let’s give it a try.
The first Monday after break, I left her in the house, presumably on the theory that she was ready; besides which, she had run out of things to destroy in the laundry room. Bottom line? She wasn’t ready! That day, she tore all of the carpet out of the hallway and began chewing her way through the other side of the laundry room door. She also attacked several of the miniblinds and destroyed a couple of them. That one was tough to ignore, but I clamped my hand firmly over my mouth and jerked my head in a way that was supposed to indicate “let’s go for a walk,” and we walked until we were both okay and I could talk in a normal voice again.
So she kept going to work with me and I kept extending her morning interval until I reached the point where I was actually driving off down the driveway until I was out of sight, playing on the phone for 15 minutes, then driving back up the driveway to get the dog and go to work. This led to some interesting encounters as the few other neighbors who live out there kept driving by and asking me if I was okay. “I’m training my dog,” seemed like a kind of weird response, so I would just pretend to be on the phone. I also discovered that there are very few places in our area that are actually out of sight of our house. I wanted her to get used to me leaving her, but if she could sit and watch me out the window, that wasn’t exactly going to make her feel abandoned now was it? But by the time our February break rolled around, I was ready to try for longer periods of time again.
Only I got sick. This was no ordinary tickle of the throat, delicate snuffling into a tissue kind of sickness either. This was down for the count, can barely crawl out of bed without hacking up a lung, need to stop and take a nap halfway to the kitchen because I’m so exhausted sickness! But I was bound and determined to train the damn dog no matter how sick I was, so I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed at 5am each morning, hacked my way through pretending to get ready for work and drove off and abandoned the dog. I actually went to work and did some filing for a few hours before heading home to “rescue” Kaylee and fall nearly comatose back into bed.
But by Wednesday, I simply couldn’t do it. I got out of bed, pretended to get ready, then went back to bed—Kaylee’s training was going to have to wait at least one more day. By Thursday, I was feeling even worse if that was humanly possible, so I combined feeling sorry for myself and dog training by heading into the clinic in Carson City.
Now anyone who lives 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store knows that you can’t just go into town to do one thing. I don’t care if you have to hire someone to wheel your hospital bed around Costco (pausing by each sample table to administer a syringe of whatever goodies they are selling into your IV), you will inevitably have a list of 4000 items that you MUST not return home without. Plus, I had to stop at Costco to pick up the supposedly life saving antibiotics prescribed by the clinic. I was just thankful I didn’t have a list for Home Depot, but I did have to stop at Raleys and pick up the things I couldn’t buy at Costco.
And the clinic? “Well…., you’ve only been sick six days and usually we don’t like to give antibiotics until it’s been seven days… but since you drove so far…” Then they told me to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take lots of Mucinex—all of which I’d already been doing—lots.
But the end result was that Kaylee spent an entire day in the house and didn’t destroy anything. I was ecstatic and croaked liberal praise in her general direction as I crawled back to bed to pass out!
It hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies since then, but we’ve progressed to the point where she stays home in the yard all day now. She’s never even attempted to escape from what I can tell. She still carries an edge of hysteria in her daily greetings, but she has chosen to confine her destructive tendencies to merely tearing up the yard trying to get the lizard that just ran under the back porch. Since our landscaping theme could be best described as “Weeds of Nevada,” this hasn’t really been a big deal.
At least filling in a hole is easier than figuring out what to do with the hallway. But even that has its silver lining. When Kaylee ripped up the carpet, we realized that there was actually linoleum under the carpet. It needs some work since the people who built the house spattered paint over it (after all, they were going to put carpet over it), but with a little sprucing up, it will look nice and wear better than the cheap carpet anyway. And when she ripped the molding strips from around the back door, Kaylee revealed that the gaps between door frame and house frame had never been properly sealed. So we did her one better and ripped the molding strips from around the front door and found the same thing. Now our front door doesn’t whistle during windstorms anymore. We suspect Kaylee may have had a past life as an interior decorator and was just attempting to reveal the flaws in our house to us.
I still wonder about her past. She is almost freakishly well behaved. She does not beg to go with me in the morning even after of months of riding to work with me every day. It’s as if she was used to being left behind and accepts it. She is great with the horses and loves to surf on the center console and stare longingly at the herds of cattle we drive past in the valley. She will chase the horses if they get crazy and run around, but will come back when called which is more than I could ever say about Ringo. She mostly spends her roaming time chasing lizards, squirrels and rabbits. Naturally, I encourage the squirrel chasing!
So I’m curious about her past because I can’t imagine how she ever got lost or how her previous owners didn’t tear apart heaven and earth trying to find her, but really I don’t want to know. I don’t ever want to have to give her back.