Wednesday, September 21, 2011

*Winston the Wonder Dog Meets His Match

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Sept. 22, 2011]   © 2011

I really never saw myself as the Hannibal Lecter of the pet world.  Olof and I love animals and we are besotted with one in particular:  our grand dog, Winston, who recently spent four months in our care.  But after Winston failed with two treat-oriented trainers to curtail his leash and front gate aggression issues, we were forced to employ Hans Berserker, and his sidekick Ranulf the Lunge Meister (not their real names). 

I would like to emphasize that Winston is the sweetest dog who ever lived with people and really good with other dogs when they’re on our side of the fence.  Opposite side: mortal enemy. Inside, love and wiggles. 

Winston has no walk-by traffic at our son’s home but at our house, every time another dog walked by – which is like every four minutes -  he would charge our front gate channeling his inner crazed pit bull.  (Winston is not a pit bull.)  Unfortunately, it was self-reinforcing.  Since people kept walking (usually quickly), Winston would congratulate himself.  “I, Winston the Uber Dog, have vanquished the enemy and kept the house safe for Democracy.  Or something.”

The second trainer finally said to us that her skills were not up to Winston (we found it odd for a trainer to say this) and recommended a trainer that she would consider the Cesar Milan of San Diego.   What we discovered the minute that Hans Berserker showed up was that the translation was she didn’t use “behavior collars.” 

I was appalled.  It goes against everything I hold dear to apply painful stimuli to animals.  “I’m sorry,” I said to Hans as he slapped the collar on Winston, “but I could never consider a shock collar that didn’t have a warning button.” 

“It does,” said Hans.  “It’s called your voice. Which he isn’t listening to.”  I was relieved to notice that one of the options was a pager – just a vibration.  Fortunately, for the guilt levels of Olof and me, Winston seems to hate the pager most. 

The first time Hans demonstrated the shock feature, I turned to Winston and said, “This is really hurting me more than you.”  Winston gave me a dour gaze and responded in Dog, “Yeah right.” 

But seriously, every zap of that transmitter took a day off my life expectancy.  Both the good and the bad news is that the behavior collar worked really well when nothing else did.  Still, one thing I noticed was that Winston behaved PERFECTLY when Hans was around.  Walk Winston by Hans and one of his German Shepherd training dogs and Winston is like, “Dog?  Do I see any dogs?  And I am so not messing with that big ex-Marine guy with the transmitter.”  Winston was clear that Hans was the alpha male.  He was equally clear that Grandma was the alpha mush ball.

Winston pretty much stopped charging the gate (unless it was a big black dog in which case the pain was worth it).  The lunging at other dogs while on the leash wasn’t fully eradicated.  Hans came back and brought Ranulf the Lunge Meister and several great big dogs for us to practice with.  Hans immediately observed: “Once he’s lunged, it’s too late.  You need to ‘alert’ him as soon as the ears go up.”  In other words, he needs to be zapped when he has committed lunge in his heart.

Meanwhile, friends would ask of our son and daughter-in-law, “Do they know you’re electrocuting their dog?”  We didn’t confess for quite a while because we knew they needed a temporary home for him.   Meanwhile, my daughter-in-law’s mother who is not a fan of either dogs or Winston, queried, “How many volts can you give him?”

I will not say what it costs to engage the services of Hans Berserker and Rannulf and their fleet of scary if impeccably behaved canines but as Olof has observed, for what we spent on Winston, we could buy a whole new dog.  It has also taken some three hours out of my day actively re-educating our radio-controlled grand pet.

But he’s now back at home after his sojourn at Camp Grammy and Grampy. We really miss the little fur ball, especially his new improved non-pit bullish self.   I almost don’t know what to do with my time now, or what to do with a “behavior” collar.  But as more than a few passers-by have asked, “Does it work on husbands?”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

*Why Daughters Are (Generally) Preferable to Sons

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 8, 2011]  © 2011

On Mother’s Day, one of my daughters-in-law sent me a box of divinely scented candles and a hand-made card reading “Happy Mother’s Day!  These are the most luxurious candles, so we hope you’ll indulge and remember what a wonderful mother you are every time you smell them.”  I actually cried.  Neither of my sons would ever have written a message like that.  Which has only confirmed my long term suspicion that where communication is concerned, daughters are definitely preferable to sons.

My adult life has included two husbands (I’m still married to one of them), two sons, two nephews, and a dog named Boris.  Nary a girl in sight until two lovely young women deigned to marry my sons (truthfully, we thought the ladies could do better) and have now produced two tiny granddaughters as well. 

When my sons were in college, friends would tell me that they heard from their daughters daily.  Sometimes three times daily.  Contrast this to Henri’s sophomore year when we hadn’t heard a word from him in two months.  Trying not to be an overbearing Mom, but rather hoping to have some acknowledgment that he hadn’t quit school and joined a grunge band, I finally called him mid-April mentioning that I hadn’t heard from him in a bit and hoping all was well.  In a line that has become immortalized in our family since, Henri replied with barely disguised annoyance, “Mom, I just talked to you in February!”

My older son, Rory, didn’t do much better.  You’d think in an era of email that it would be easy for a child to just check in with his folks once a week.  Olof and I went to college at a time when you had to actually write a letter, put a stamp on it and mail it.  (Long distance calls were prohibitively expensive in the Mesozoic era.) After months of radio silence, I finally sent Rory an email saying that no more money was going to be forthcoming until we received a missive of at least three lines stating how things were going.  In another now-immortalized communication, Rory replied: 


Communicators my sons were not.  I assumed this would all change once they got a little older and indeed our phone conversations – often initiated by them - now spontaneously end with a genuinely felt “loveyoumom”.  As my 60th birthday approached, both sons wanted to know what I might like.  Seizing the opportunity, I said that what would make me happiest would be if they would each write a short letter relating three happy memories they had of me.  I hated to beg, but I wasn’t getting any younger.  Rory, predictably, quickly negotiated down to one.  For his part, Henri replied, “Can’t I just buy you something?”

But ultimately, they both came through and their touching replies were genuinely the best gift I could have received.  I still read them often.  Heroically, Rory even ratcheted up to four happy memories.  Well, five if you include this:  “In addition to these things, thank you for adopting me.  Without which I would be writing to someone else.” 

My friends with daughters beg to insist that theirs can be a rocky road as well.  Recently I lunched with a friend who told me that she and her adult daughter had gone to the Gay Pride parade in July, in support of their many friends who were gay.  My friend related that she noticed some people taking pictures of the two at the parade and whispered with amusement to the daughter, “I think they think we’re a couple.”   The daughter’s happy mood suddenly turned dark and didn’t improve for the rest of the day when she finally confessed the source of her distress:  “They thought YOU were as good as I could do????”

OK, so maybe this daughter thing has its moments too.