Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last of the Big Three

We had to put our beloved dog Ben to sleep yesterday. He was the last of the "Big Three". Rascal and Shoba being the other members of that club.

From left to right, that's Ben, Shoba and Rascal relaxing on the Island.

The Big Three were our dogs before marriage. Rascal was the Wife's dog, Shoba was mine, and Ben was technically Rascal's, but the Wife and I shared custody of him while we lived in separate places, and we would swap Ben back and forth as we met for dates and such.

We met Ben when the Wife was running a B&B in Decorah, Ia. We were fostering dogs at that time. People would find dogs and bring them to us, or the dogs would find us. We always had a few extras running around. We'd get them their shots and train them a little, then place them with good families. We must have fostered a couple dozen dogs in those days. The only one who didn't find a home right away was Ben. A friend found him galloping along the side of a road somewhere and dropped him at the B&B. At that time I was renting the basement of the B&B and driving a semi over the road for a couple of weeks at a stretch.

When I personally met Ben, he did not wag his tail or seem happy to see me at all. In fact, he was as close to wild as a dog can get, and did not care for leashes, collars, being checked by a vet, or any fingers too near him. Not a dog we could just send off with a family and hope for the best. Also, he was a barker. We had kennels out in the garage that the dogs stayed in at night. Ben stayed in his a lot because he was so wild, and he voiced his opposition to this by barking non-stop. We even got a visit from the police to ask us to keep the barking down.

Nobody who came to look at dogs wanted Ben. He was too wild and unpredictable. I thought that if we trained him a little, perhaps someone would take him.

It did not go well at first. I managed to convince him by sheer force that I was the Alpha Male of the pack. I can count on one finger the number of dogs I've had to actually get physical with. By "physical" I mean keeping their mouths clamped with my hand so they don't bite and holding them down firmly but gently, much as an Alpha Male would in a wolf pack to assert my authority. It took a little time, but soon he recognized me as the Alpha and wouldn't try to take my hand off. I got a collar on him without much fuss. But then came the leash...

Swordfish have put up less of a fight. Sled dogs have less pull. Tornados twist less than that dog did when attached to a cable. He became 40 pounds of Tasmanian Devil. A black, spinning blur. For the only time in my entire time training dogs, I actually had to use a spike collar to get things started, he was that wild. We had to have him on a leash to let him go potty, as the yard was not fenced, so things were a bit dicey at first.

Eventually though, he got to a point where he would just pull for all he was worth until he got to where he wanted to go. After weeks of working with him, this seemed like the best it was going to get.

But Ben surprised us. Gradually he let the leash go slack from time to time. He seemed to be understanding the boundaries of the yard. He even started getting along with the other dogs instead of trying to attack the bigger ones and eat the smaller ones. He lulled us into a sense of security so that one fine day we decided to try him off leash.

Now, we had been working with him for weeks getting him to know his name and come when called and all that. He had been coming along very nicely and even had "sit" and "stay" down.

So I had him sitting at my feet, and the Wife was ten feet down the sidewalk ready to call him. I removed the leash and she called.  He took a few steps, then his ears perked up as he realized he couldn't feel the leash.

Then, like a rocket, he departed the yard, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, big grin on his face, us calling him and calling him.

We looked all over on foot and by car for a good long time. Even when the rain started and night fell and lightning crashed all around. But it seemed that Ben had taken his freedom and escaped.

When we returned home and parked the car, what did we find hiding under a pine tree in the yard? A very wet, very happy puppy. I growled at him and he spent the night in his kennel, barking and drying out from his adventure.

I went on the road again, but the Wife kept working with him while I was driving. She even tried him off leash some more. At first he made like a cheetah and bolted. But what we learned was that he always ran to the same place by the same route. A park many blocks away was his destination, and some of the neighbors would call us when they saw him run by to let us know where he was heading.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, Ben bolted less and less and hung out with the other dogs in the yard more and more. I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point he decided to keep us and became a good off leash dog. As long as no squirrels or rabbits darted by.

As our days fostering dogs came to an end, and the Wife and I decided to get married and travel our road together, we had worked with Ben so much that we decided to keep him off the market. But whose dog would he be? I had Shoba, the Wife had Rascal. I asked Shoba if she wanted a dog, but she only wanted to be with me. Fortunately, Rascal was a good soul, and took Ben on as his own. So began his "joint custody". And when we got married and moved in together, Ben became "our" dog at last.

I'll be posting more about Ben in the next few days. In the end, he turned into a really, really good dog. I already miss him a ton. Holly, our remaining dog, has never been to the Island. But we are going to go next summer. This picture -

kind of sums things up. My Wife, my best friend Matt, and the Big Three all at the Island. I know those three canines are already there, waiting for the rest of us to join them one day. Someday when we three humans are gone, my kids can look at this picture and know that this is heaven for me. The loss of Ben has hit me hard. I feel like I've lost Rascal and especially Shoba all over again. I'm missing thier ears and tails and coats and the souls that those bodies contained. Such good, good dogs.

OK, my throat is getting all lumpy, so I'm going to bed now.

More Later

No comments: