After his wonderful story about his life with Louie “Little Mook”, our dear friend Tom Chesser from Canada sends us a second one – it’s about our all-favorite boy Negarcheto whose new name is Jeff!
In case you don’t remember – Negarcheto was hit by a train and lost his tail and front leg in the adventure.
“That’s MY ball!”, growled the gentlest dog I have ever met.
I’m guessing from his behavior that Jeff has never had a toy, or at least not one of his own.
Not surprisingly, this place is littered with balls and chew toys, both inside and out, and could be considered by many as a death-trap for old geezers who don’t watch where they’re going.
A few weeks ago, Jeff “discovered” a squishy yellow ball. I was delighted. While it’s a commonplace thing to see Louie express joy and excitement in all sorts of uniquely “Mookie” ways, such as running in great circles, gleefully jumping and yapping, and swinging from the overhead lights, it’s a rare delight to see Jeff actually “light up”.
At first, he seemed to enjoy it. Then he Claimed It as his own. No one was allowed near it or him. (In case you were wondering, yes—he does know how to growl,) There was a brief family meeting to discuss the ball’s ownership, but I was able to intervene before anyone needed a bandage—including me. Yes, yes, Jeff had no intention of letting me take the ball either.
Not to fear! We talked privately about exactly who the hell supplies the dog food around here, and he grudgingly yielded the ball to me.
I immediately gave it back to him.
What happened next made me check the mirror—the look on his face assured me that he must have seen a second head on my shoulders. He was much too stunned to be happy. Then I started to trade him treats for the ball. The treats were interesting enough that he would momentarily forget the ball, but as soon as I reached for it, he would lunge to get it first. Of course, I started while he was still chewing, so I won.
And gave it back to him.
Thus we proceeded for a while—treat, ball, treat, ball, and very soon reached a point that touched me deeply. This little street dog with such a harsh survival background let me hold the ball while it was in his mouth, and then gently released it to me.
And I gave it back to him.
The next day, we started this procedure over, but in a very different mood: it had become a happy game for him. Eventually, he showed me how very well he could catch the ball when thrown from a short distance, and after a while he brought a tear to my eye—he laid the ball down and nuzzled me. There was no longer any desperation to keep what was his, no worry that his treasure would be lost to him, taken by someone bigger and tougher (or me, either). And then my little Oliver Twist started to play with other toys—things he had not noticed before, things he hadn’t realized were toys, and things he didn’t have to fear losing.
Jeff, my very dear little street urchin, had learned to play with me.
* * *
I think, perhaps, Louie first told Jeff about training:
“Jeff, listen: when he makes a noise, you plop your butt on the ground and he’ll give you a cookie.”
“Bulls**t. I don’t believe that for a second.”
“No, seriously. He will give you cookies for doing the stupidest things. Try touching his hand with your nose—see what happens!”
I did start training Jeff, but I really did not think it through. The dog food is stored in cans in a small room which also has the door to the pen; it’s on the route to go outside to pee. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to train near the food since I use it as a reward. What I did not count on was how much Jeff would love training. In every session, he happily dances about on his three legs, his stumpy tail wagging too fast to see and his eyes fixed on mine, waiting for the next command. It’s truly a joy to work with him—usually. However, when one of the older dogs wakes me at 4:00 in the morning with a need to go out, we have to go through the training area to the door. I don’t mind too much, but as soon as the dog has finished, I want to go back to bed.
As soon as Jeff gets to the training area, he begins his “happy dance”. If I’m too sleepy to notice, no problem: he keeps doing it. If I make it into the next room, he turns and bounces off the door. Naturally, I assume this means he really did want to go out and waited too long. Nope. We go back into the training room and he dances over to the dog food can and stands up against it, and gives me the look—and there I am, 4:00 in the morning, manipulated into another training session by a pair of irresistible brown eyes.
Who, exactly, is training whom?
He lies as close as he can to me, often with his head on my lap. He will endure all manner of cuddling that would embarrass other dogs, and remain in place waiting for more. If I get up, I get looks from him that say, “Where are you going? Why aren’t you staying here with me? Are you coming back? When? When are you coming back? Do you have to go?”, and so forth. If I make it to the door, then I will hear a three-legged thump behind me as he gets off the sofa and follows.
Bathroom privacy is something I have long since realized is a ridiculous thing to hope for, and all that has changed is who is nuzzling me for attention. Now Jeff is always in the front. Even Woody no longer has the opportunity to drop a sloppy wet ball into my underwear which provides an opportunity for all to have a great laugh at dad’s expense when dad is too sleepy to notice and pulls up his shorts anyway. I’ll leave the imagery to you. But now it’s Jeff wanting to be petted and staring into my eyes with a look that says he wants to be near me—no matter what I’m doing. Then back to the sofa, and after waiting very politely for me to get comfortable—unlike some little three-colored, two-legged dogs—he hops back up into whatever space is available whether is fits him or not, and lies down as close to me as he can get.
There seems to be a “honeymoon” period with new dogs during which they glue themselves to their new human, but as they become comfortable and secure in their new surroundings, they also become more comfortable with independence. But Jeff, I think, will always be at my side, firmly attached.
And that’s fine with me.
Nova Scotia, Canada
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