Friday, May 2, 2014

The Dog Ate Your Homework

For my two decades of teaching I thought that the apocryphal tale of "the dog ate my homework" was pure mythology. Then eight years ago, I found myself having to apologize to my students' for my dog eating THEIR homework!

I was forty-five years old before I had my first dog. In childhood I was for many years frightened of dogs. My great-uncle Tom took care of that by immersing me in the care of his lovable, boisterous kennel of hunting beagles, although I continued to be somewhat leery of large dogs for many more years. In college I had the opportunity to take care of a friend's dog for a month (his parents went to New Zealand and left the dog with him at college, but he was too busy with labs and research so I got to take care of most of Pokey's needs) and loved that experience.  

I wanted a dog for many years, but in my single academic existence of evening classes, trips to conferences, and long office hours I didn't feel like I was settled enough to care for a dog.  Instead I had a couple of much beloved cats. It wasn't until I married John in my forties that I had the privilege of having a dog as a companion. John's dog Missy was middle-aged when I met her, sweet, submissive, obedient, well trained,  and well-behaved dog in every way. She had been an adult and already trained when John rescued her some years before we met.  She lived to the ripe age of 19 years, quite ancient in doggie terms, and in her last years had cognitive difficulties that were endearing and heartbreaking at the same time. 

John didn't want to have another dog. He thought that there was only one dog for him and she was gone. But I knew we needed another dog. A year and a half after Missy's death, a young, large, female Shepard/Lab mix who was dumped in the neighborhood began to hang around our house and porch. Rosie the dog knew we needed a new dog and was persistent in her pursuit of the position. After a week we knew we had to take her in (or face the consequences of  a litter of pups a month or so down the road). 

We quickly learned that life with Missy had not  prepared us for life with a young, boisterous, dominant, untrained dog like Rosie. Rosie was a dog that was all heart, but she needed very strong "alpha" humans to take charge and give her not only love, but also discipline. Rosie chewed and ate things: sticks, socks, shoes, clothing, books, our students' homework (not ours), pillows, blankets, and one entire couch. Yes, Rosie ate and entire couch!

With the help of a wonderful trainer at PetSmart, we learned to gently help Rosie become a good companion and pack member.  But in the process we learned more than Rosie did, about the nature of dogs and the wonder of the bond between humans and dogs. Rosie remained a dominant personality, and we had to continual establish our leadership with Rosie. We had to learn how to be assertive, calm, in control pack leaders at all times. A lesson that was as beneficial to us as it was to Rosie. 

For six years we had the wonder of Rosie's company. Then tragically, all too soon we lost her to a devastating congenital illness two years ago. 

We still have dogs, Molly who joined us during the last year of Rosie's life, and blind Bob who was added to the family 18 months ago, and the lessons we learned from Rosie have made us better able to related to Molly and Bob who each have their own unique problems and issues. 

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