Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Jump In The Lake

Burnet Woods Lake

Dear George,

Donna had an appendectomy last week, and she and Sophie stayed with us while she was recovering. We had a good time, and Donna’s doing much better now. One afternoon we watched an episode of “The Dog Whisperer”. Dog trainer Cesar Millan was dealing with a hyperactive Bouvier, and, as usual, he concentrated on changing the owners’ behaviors more than the dog’s, impressing upon them the need for exercise and discipline. After a single session with Cesar, the dog went from leaping onto its owners and dragging them around to a calm, well-behaved animal. Cesar said not to let the dog walk in front and pull because that’s dominance behavior, as was his jumping up on his owners. The humans should be fully in command. We were impressed by the almost magical changes, though my opinion was that Cesar is obsessed with control. I claimed that dogs were happiest when they have lots of freedom. It doesn’t bother me if they jerk on the leash or make the decisions when to stop and sniff interesting odors. For the dogs’ sake, I said, we should let them do their thing. Donna and Katja disagreed completely. They said dogs were happiest when there were clear rules that they could follow. Like Cesar, they felt that dogs should do the bidding of humans rather than vice versa. We’ve had this debate many times before, and it didn’t seem like anybody was about to change their mind.

Sweet Sophie with her pretty white paws and white head

The next morning I took Duffy, Mike, and Sophie out for a lengthy walk to the lake in Burnet Woods. It’s reached the mid-nineties all week long, but we set off early when it was closer to eighty. Donna’s always edgy about taking Sophie near the lake because she jumped in when she was a puppy. I try to convince her that that was eight years ago, but Donna takes no chances. Now on our own, the dogs and I walked along the narrow concrete sidewalk along the lake’s edge, and the dogs did just fine. Near the south end there’s a wooden observation platform that extends out over the water in a marshy section, and I left the dogs on their own there while I took some photos of the pond’s surface.

The observation platform at Burnet Woods Lake

My photo subject: Murky water in the pond

Just as I took my last photo, Sophie suddenly leaped off the platform into the swampy water below. “Sophie!” I screamed and ran over to grab her leash. The water wasn’t very deep, and Sophie, enjoying the coolness, looked up at me with a smile. I reached down, grabbed her under her front legs, and hoisted her 70-pound torso out of the water and back up on the platform. I broke into total laughter. The slimy water was jet black and so were Sophie’s face and legs. She was barely recognizable as a dog, much less an Old English Sheepdog. My shirt, Bermuda shorts, and the wooden platform were smeared with black yuck too. Sophie shook herself, but not much of her black coating seemed to come off.

Once pure white, Sophie had turned black.

A novel look for an Old English Sheepdog.

Sophie left her mark behind.

Are Duffy and Mike amused by their sister’s plight?

I kept Sophie on a short leash as we made our way back along the lake’s edge, fearful that she might jump into the much deeper water. We walked home down Ludlow Avenue, a funny-looking foursome. I wanted to tell somebody our tale, but we didn’t meet anybody I knew. I was nervous about Donna finding out, so I decided to clean Sophie off before taking her inside. Katja was downstairs, and she came out to take a picture of us. Then I started working on Sophie with the garden hose. It took a lot of hosing. At first the swamp muck seemed like glue, stuck to her legs and face. Then I gradually started seeing a few small patches of white. After about ten minutes I decided that was as good as I could do, and I brought Sophie back into the house.

Sophie and her rescuer on the porch (note stains on Bermuda shorts)

Katja had forewarned Donna about our adventure. Donna responded with a surprisingly good sense of humor. She reminded me that we’d been at the very spot where Sophie had jumped into the lake as a puppy. She couldn’t believe that I would just let the dogs go free. I couldn’t come up with a convincing explanation for our misfortune. I wound up admitting that she, Katja, and Cesar were right. While, in the abstract, it seems like a positive idea to give the dogs maximum freedom, you can’t just have them jumping into the lake. I vowed that I would never let that happen again. And, unlike many of my good intentions, that’s one vow I expect to keep.



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-Jennifer M (7-25): :-)