Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Beast's Inner Beast

Otto, the dog-who-lives-mostly-under-our-table, is a pure bred Golden Malador (Lab, Golden, Malamute).  He is marvelous with children--except for his tail.  A quote from the Smaller Hooligan, aged two: "Otto, don't wag my face!"

He is an excellent burglar alarm--when someone comes to the door he sounds like Cerberus, the three headed hound of hell.   No one with bad intentions would think it was worth the effort. We had to set up a mail box outside because he would bite the mail as it came through the slot. He kept wrecking the netflix DVDs.

Best of all, he knows his place: he lurks very quietly under the table.  He is  NOT next to it, begging.  My first dog (a black lab from the pound) was just dreadful in the manners department which was entirely my fault.  She was my pre-baby dog.  I fed her from my spoon--alternately with feeding myself.  She liked ice cream and meatballs.  I used to buy her 99 cent Whoppers at the Burger King drive through.  The Man Who Lives In My House claims to have seen me give her a whole slice of pizza.  This may have been an accident.  She leaned against people suggestively at mealtimes.  She would slink up behind unwary children at the park and removed peanut butter sandwiches very delicately from their chubby little hands.

My in-laws found her horrifying.  I'm sure they took my dog-ownership philosophy as a very bad portent for my future child raising.  This would not have been unreasonable.  I can only hope that they are pleasantly surprised with how the Hooligans are turning out--they do like to eat, but they don't beg.  I believe I'm generally regarded by the local youth as a fairly strict mother, possibly even mean.  I try to make up for it with good snacks.

Anyway, back to Otto.  After Tilly--my sweet spoiled lab (Did I mention I let her sleep in my bed?  And she had her own chair?  I was reprehensible.  I make no excuses.) I took a four year break from having a dog.  I was in dog rehab.  It was peaceful, clean, and cheap.

But something was missing. A good dog improves  your quality of life, even as they bark at passersby when you're trying to nap, drop hair  and dirt and occasionally barf all over the place, and need to have their teeth cleaned ($400!).   One day I was perusing the "free" column in the classifieds, as is my habit, and there it was:  "lab, golden, malamute mix, 10 months old, needs more time with a family than I can provide.  Housetrained.  Free to good home."

I thought, "I like all three of those breeds. And it's not a puppy!"  (This was one of my major criteria: after potty training the hooligans, I have sworn never to deal with teaching anyone where to urinate and defecate again).  So I called, loaded up the Hooligans (then 2 &5) and off we went to meet Otto.

Who bounded out of the house, right up to the Smaller Hooligan and....slammed on the brakes.  I could tell that he wanted to jump on him and lick him, but he knew that would be a mistake.  "We need him," I told the lady.   "Look at those eyebrows.  He is perfect."

I love this dog.  I can't think about how old he is--which he isn't, very--because then I have to face the thought that someday he will be an old dog.  He will not outlive me.  It makes me sad in advance, which is silly.

But this is not really what I want to talk about.  I digress.  The point, today, and I do have one, is Otto and the chickens:  when we first got the chickens Otto was excited to the point of losing his tiny mind.  He sat next to their run, alert to the last millimeter of tail, eyebrows raised, nostrils flared, salivating ever so slightly.  He would creep closer and closer to the fence, moving so stealthily that the chickens (whose minds are even tinier)  would forget his existence and let down their guard, coming clucking and scratching towards him and he would....pounce!  Fruitlessly, because the chickens were on the other side of the fence.  But they would shriek and leap into the air and tear down to the other end of the run, which must have been satisfying:  he would chase them from his side, settle down and start over again. All day long, if we let him.

However, we wanted eggs, and stressed out chickens do not lay eggs, so we dragged Otto inside.  He parked himself at our bedroom window, where he could see the run.  He kept vigil, taking occasional breaks to come pant at me excitedly, "Hey, did you know?  There are CHICKENS out there! Chickens!"  Then he'd go back to keeping watch.  We called it the chicken channel.

Eventually I had to seek advice.  Someone told me to spray him with bitter apple whenever he got near the chickens.  This stuff is some horribly nasty smelling/tasting concoction that does not sting or hurt dogs, they just hate it.  I only had to use it twice.  After that I would just shake the bottle in his direction and he'd back off.  Nowadays we can let the chickens out and he follows them around at a safe distance. (Eating their poop.  Dogs are disgusting.  Their appeal is a mystery.)  The chickens have forgotten that Otto is a threat... until today.

Today the Larger Hooligan and his friend wanted to let the chickens out.  They like to chase them around and catch them and set them up on tree branches.  The chickens perch awkwardly, clucking, and then they flap down and rejoin the flock.  This is entertaining.  It is also fun to play chicken ball--akin to dwarf tossing, but less offensive.   Really it seems like the Hooligans are a much greater threat than the dog but then.....

One of the Buff Orphingtons--the yellow chickens I call the blondies (they are especially dim, as per blond stereotype), walked right under Otto.  It was just irresistable.  What did we want from him, anyway?  He is descended from wolves.  And she's a nice plump chicken  literally strolling under his chin.  I looked out the window and saw that he had her pinned.

I threw open the back door and yelled, "Try to rescue the chicken!"  to the Hooligan and his friend while I found my boots.  By the time I got there, the boys were cradling the chicken, who was playing dead (I had no idea that chickens were smart enough to do this, or maybe this chicken is a diva.)

I dragged Otto inside.  He was totally riled up--completely full of himself.  He had fulfilled his genetic destiny!  He had either retrieved--or maybe eviscerated--a chicken!  Surely I would reward him!

After locking him in I grabbed a towel and a box and went back out.  I was afraid I was going to have to put the chicken out of her misery.  The boys were cradling her and her head was lolling.  She was clucking weakly.  We set her in a little nest of towels.  After a few minutes, she stood up, puffed out all her feathers, and stalked off to join the flock.

The boys looked at each other.  "I guess she's ok."  "Yeah, let's go play computer games."

A safe choice.