I find it poignant to look into the eyes of an adopted dog or cat. Always, I wonder, what was its former life like? Who loved it? Who didn’t? How did it come to me? Temps perdu! There’s no magic dog biscuit that can recall those memories. Even more poignant is the realization that the animal is constantly telling me what I need to know, but in a language I’m ill-equipped to master. Sometimes the tale is easy to craft: our pirate-cat Gayatri’s flinch response on the side of her missing eye becomes a tale of a kitten struck too hard by an impatient human. Other times, the communication is more cryptic: why was my first German Shepherd Dog afraid of teddy bears and snowmen?
Still, as in Tajji’s case, animals don’t appear to mind repeating themselves almost endlessly until the monkeys get it or entropy and lack of reinforcement extinguish the memory. We had long noted her restlessness in the early morning: nudging Deborah from the side of the bed (and finally getting on the bed with her when that fails, as above) or trying to attract my attention to one of the external doors when I am doing yoga. This morning (Friday), without Deborah to engage her, Tajji’s restlessness boded ill for both my yoga session and for the black cat Shakir’s peace of mind; I was pretty sure it was going to escalate to chasing him, which he seems to enjoy between moments of sheer terror but tends to disarrange the rugs and trample yogis. (I’ve installed a child gate and am adjusting its height so that Tajji can wriggle under it, slowing her down, but that’s for another post.)
Remembering that we’d been told of her 5:30 AM morning-relief walk (which had become a nightmare for her blind person, who could not see her triggers—pedestrians and other dogs—until she went off), and realizing that almost three months of not doing it had failed to extinguish the memory-habit, I decided to explore this habit and see how it might fit into our routine. Since it was still crepuscular outside, I didn’t have the option of just turning her out to do her business: de-skunking a double-coated dog is a three-rinse ordeal with baking soda, detergent, and hydrogen peroxide.
So the next order of business was selecting a leash and collar. We do not use any sort of pain-restraint collar (pinch, choke, or otherwise), and are uncomfortable with a head harness, so I could either walk her with her leather collar, which she tends to pull against strongly, or the front-clip harness, which would provoke a ritual game of keep-away, before she let me put it on, which I was in no mood for, being late with this blog post. I could also opt for the short leather leash (even stronger pulling with the collar), or the five-meter scent-work leash, which with the harness seems to untrain her for the short leash). I decided to go with the long leash and the collar, a combination I’d never tried. Then out the door.
Well! I have no idea what the result would have been on a normal walk, but when fitted into the ritual Tajji was trying to reimpose, there was no pulling at all. The slightest tension on the leash, just enough to flatten the catenary, would result in hesitation and a quizzical look back. There was no doubt where she wanted to go, moment to moment, but the walk often turned into an “after you, Gaston” routine that I imagine we’ll work through quickly. It seems that the long leash and the collar is least likely to trigger whatever it is that made the service harness finally so intolerable.
As for what she wanted to do, well, she’s a German Shepherd Dog, so she began to lead me on a circuit of our property, both inside and, where possible, outside, starting from where she often flushes deer. On the way, she took care of her innards and checked out the GSD equivalent of feng shui. She did not like interrupting the circuit, leaving about a third of the property uninvestigated, so tomorrow she’ll get a full circuit, including the portion on the alley now forbidden to roaming lest she chase deer along the fence through the roses and berry bushes.
When Deborah gets back from New York in a few days, we’ll go back to the usual routine of one monkey walking the dog through the neighborhood and training her while the other exercises or is otherwise engaged. But now we have a new dance that one monkey can do, and do quickly, for more hurried mornings. And Tajji has again fought back entropy by successfully bringing at least one of her monkeys back under the mandate of heaven.