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Animal Husbandry

A 37-year-old boy and his dog

By Todd Inoue

LAST MONTH, my wife and I joined the legions of pathetic, whipped pet owners everywhere and got a dog. After combing shelters for months, we adopted Foxy--an almost 3-year old Shetland sheep dog from Union City (shout out to Furry Friends Rescue).

The breaking-in period is going well, but like other dogs given up for adoption, Foxy's got some issues. She barks at planes and birds, which is unfortunate, because we live under a flight path, and a damn bird sanctuary established itself in the tree behind our house many years ago.

She pulls on the leash when we walk her. She barfed twice on the drive up to the in-laws and once on the way back. She gets startled by passing cars and nearly had a panic attack when the Oak Grove High School marching band rehearsed during one walk. Then there's the time she practiced inherited herding techniques on my leg in front of my parents and my 9-year-old niece during a pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

But other than the puking, barking, leash pulling, faux herding and a queer infatuation with a certain spot on the living-room carpet, she's got a huge upside. She's house and crate trained. She's eager to please. She's spayed. She's a sable and white prancing wuss. She tiptoes through our backyard, careful of mud pies. She learns tricks fast, and we laugh at something she does every day. At first, it was like having an alien in the house, then it was a stranger, but now she's just plain old dog, and we're loving it.

My learning curve about dog ownership skipped a decade, and I quickly got hip to the game. Crating your dog--putting Fido in a latched cage inside the house while you're away--is something extremely new to me. The concept is that dogs are descendants of wolves, and the den is an instinctual part of their being. Crating replicates the den in safety and security. According to the Humane Society, dogs will sleep 18 hours a day if you let them and be totally functional (providing you exercise them mentally and physically during their waking time).

The crate is where dogs learn to relax, feel safe and kick it while you run errands or go to work--and the house will still be in one piece when you get back. They won't take a crap, because they won't purposefully soil the spot they sleep in. So the first week we got her, we tossed her in the crate with a couple of bones, switched on NPR on low volume to keep her informed on the day's events and closed the latch. Foxy knew the drill. I'd come home to let her out, and she'd be sitting there with a nappy, bemused look. Yawn, stretch, tail wag, back to doggie business.

While reading dog-behavior books, I came across a chapter on "letting go" about pet loss. There's a well-known story about the "Rainbow Bridge," where pets go after they die. All their injuries are healed and diseases reversed; they play all day and, suddenly (presumably when you die), they spot you in the distance and gallop to greet you. Reunited, you and your animal cronie cross Rainbow Bridge together, never to be separated again.

I'm far from a wuss, but damn it if I didn't nearly collapse in a catatonic state of sentimentality. So what comes after "pathetic" on the Badly Whipped Scale?

Humane Society: www.hssv.org
Furry Friends Rescue: www.furryfriendsrescue.org
That damn Rainbow Bridge story: rainbowsbridge.com/Poem.htm

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From the December 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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