Battle Over the Trash Barrel

Sure, a second dog is a good idea. Gives the first one a companion. I bought that. . . and, so, there’s Bowie.

That no one ever consulted the pet with the most seniority — Sonny, of the feline sort — has led to a fair degree of resentment, as well as pee and poo deposited in undesirable locations. It hasn’t been so long a time that I don’t remember Sonny’s deviousness where it concerned my sweet Scout. He used to lie in wait around a corner, crouched and ready to ambush my gentle little kitty. She had no use for him, but from her current vantage point on high, she must be smiling and thinking about the beauty and rightness of poetic justice.

Bowie builds in quality time every day — multiple times a day — so that Sonny should never feel neglected. He appreciates Sonny in ways that are unrecognizable to him, that make him anxious. Because of the said level of “appreciation”, Sonny has taken to over-grooming his tail. You should see what that looks like these days!

It all has me thinking about the pecking order that establishes itself, quite naturally. No amount of cajoling, psychologizing, gating, or sweet-talking seems to alter the course of domestic history. At present, Bowie is enjoying an outsized degree of supremacy. He drubs little Mona, he corners and harasses Sonny, and his general swagger — both in home and out in public — suggests that, despite the yearned-for results of bootcamp, I am at the end of his leash, not the other way around.

Admittedly, I haven’t been as consistent as I should be in order to make the usual commands stick; things like sit, stay, leave it, off, come, get-out-of-the-trash, drop-the-poop. Outside of the home, progress is more discernible, but the signs inside are discouraging. I have an improvised gate at the bottom of the stairs on the main level (with a heavy tool bag wedged against it), my deck has another gate, one that is free-standing. (It is only a matter of time before Bowie discovers that if he paws at the edge or noses it, he will gain blissful admission to the free world.)

The most frustrating signal that I’m losing the battle concerns the trash barrel. Once upon a time I was able to have a tall kitchen trash barrel, no lid, open to the elements. In my stubbornness, I have failed (thus far) to concede that a small barrel under the sink is my only remaining option. Instead, I have a lidded stainless steel one to which Bowie recently learned how to gain access. At first he would tug on the plastic liner, which would bring the goods up and into the lid, causing the lid to lift. In answer, I readjusted the liner so that it wouldn’t extend outside the barrel. From my standpoint, it made for a messier affair internally. However, Bowie’s determination led him to re-think his mission and come up with a more creative mode of access. Hence, the “flick and dive”, meaning he would flick the lid with his nose and thrust his head in with one smooth move. My counter-move has been to place a hand weight on top of the barrel. Obviously, he’s going to figure out how to nose it off, and I’ll be confronting what I know must be done: place a small barrel under the sink. . . and then rig a fail-proof lock system on the doors.

This is where I fall on my own sword, my friends.

Boot Camp. . . and a Peaceful Interlude for Sonny

When you own pets, it’s a natural law that if things are moving along without friction in one area, another area goes to shit. Expressed more politely, whenever a pet owner’s horizon presents hopeful signs of good health and just generally a mood of tranquility, something must happen to disrupt it.

Recently, Sonny — our fifteen year old cat — decided to have emotional issues with his tail. He’s always been a bit fastidious, keeps himself well-groomed with that little raspy tongue of his. Of a sudden, he ramped up his vigorous tongue-grooming, and became obsessive about cleaning his tail. That may not be entirely true; what may be true is that we happened to notice a “balding” at the base of his tail where he had been aggressively grooming. (Likely, he had been making a sustained practice of doing this for quite some time, but we just hadn’t noticed, what with two frenetic barky dogs ‘n all.)

What followed was this:

Call the vet. Wrestle Sonny into carrier. Anyone who has done this knows that a 10-lb feline with typically restrained behaviors converts into a whirling dervish with demonstrably effective claws and teeth. He’s like a puffer fish, small and insubstantial until threatened. And then. . . the claws and teeth all of a sudden seem out of proportion to both the size of the creature and the known number of defensive weapons assigned to the species. Drive seven minutes to vet’s office (an uneventful ride nevertheless punctuated by pitiful emanations from “pet-friendly” carrier, a ride that also — nevertheless — results in one prostrated 15-year old cat. Well, he is fifteen years old. We’re aware. Fleas, perhaps? Nope, we’d know if that were it. Any new changes at home? Not really any permanent ones — just that Sonny should be enjoying more the absence of the usual stressors in the form of two energetic creatures of the havanese sort. Well, he is fifteen years old. Yup — still aware.

No visit to the vet’s office is complete without a prescription or two to clutch in one hand as you exit with your less-than-pleased feline squirming in the carrier that tilts starboard, port, bow, and stern in no discernible pattern. One doesn’t even try to walk a measured line in such cases. Just get to the car posthaste. Feeling much lighter in the pocket if only slightly less worried about Sonny’s emotional state, we quickly settle back into the quiet new (and short-lived) routine that had evolved while Bowie and Mona were at boot camp.

Meanwhile. . .

For two weeks, in a 24-hour/day program, Bowie and Mona learned how to behave in a socially-acceptable manner. Both had already been through multiple programs, and should have been prime examples of “perfectly behaved” canines. They weren’t. At boot camp they “learned” (or relearned): heel, come, sit, stay, leave it, off, and quiet (or, as I like to call it, “shoosh”). The reason why I sent both of them is not because both are out-of-control, but because the objectionable behaviors of each seem to become amplified when they’re together.

Beginning with a goal-setting session, the program is tailor-made so that the owner articulates what she wants to achieve with her canine companions. I stated that I wanted to be able to walk with the two of them together in public without drama (and resultant necessary apologies.) (See earlier post — “Boot Camp: Prelude”.) That, along with a wish to be able to open my front door to friends and family without excessive barking and threatening behaviors, were the two primary goals. By the time I dropped the two mini-beasts off, my goals had expanded. I wanted. . . well, let’s just say, I wanted perfection. Simply put, their halos should blind anyone who approaches. The overflowing of compliments would be more than I could bear. I had great notions of how this would play out.

For two weeks Sonny luxuriated in being the only non-human inhabitant in the house. He was chatty, he explored anew regions of the house that he’d long abandoned, and he was affectionate once more. And he didn’t urinate in places that he shouldn’t (like on beds and in baskets of freshly-washed laundry.) We reminded him regularly that the new normal in which he was reveling would end shortly and even though I had my own high hopes, he might not be so enthusiastic upon seeing the two noodleheads charging up the stairs. When should we break out the Gabapentin, I wondered. (Maybe when I headed out to pick up the mini-beasts.)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also enjoy the two-week break. I was able to visit family in both the Berkshires and down the Cape, all without making complicated arrangements. But I missed my little monkeys, too! It made me smile to see the pictures that were uploaded daily. Bowie and Mona stuck together even when they had the freedom to roam, Bowie continuing to “resource guard” Mona, of course.

On the day I arrived to pick up my improved models, we had another training session. It felt like I was being trained to operate a complex and unfamiliar piece of machinery. I was very impressed with how compliant they both were. Nothing, however, about what I was instructed to do felt natural. This is going to take some getting used to, I mused out loud. Jennie, the trainer, did also point out — more than once — that at home they’ll test me. It’ll take some time (and consistency) to suppress their bad habits when they see and hear the same triggers in that same environment where they hitherto had honored no rules and essentially got away with everything.

After our lengthy lesson, we climbed into the car and headed home. And then we all took a nap.

Sonny, of course, has intensified his tail-grooming efforts, making clear that he is not happy. He truly believed that our home had been permanently rid of noxious pests.

Mona and Bowie, on the other hand, are happy to be with their mommy again, even if they’re a bit confused by her “firm manner”.

It’s a slow process, friends. I had a low moment about five days into their post-boot-camp training, and I now can’t remember if it was because of the f-ing FedEx truck barreling down our road or “exuberant” dogs on the rail trail. It’s really hard to re-train dogs with ingrained behaviors (and they’re not even that old.) Maybe a big part of the problem is that I have ingrained behaviors, too — I’ve allowed them too much freedom, but I also still reflexively tighten up on their leashes and tense when dogs approach us. They sense my level of anxiety and respond accordingly.

Like I said, it’s really hard. In a few weeks we will have our final follow-up training session. It would be unfair if I didn’t say that they are much better, and they do try to be good doggies. The trainer had such high praise, especially for Bowie — he’s very trainable, she assured me. And now when I say, Come, Bowie, come! he charges to me and throws his back end right down on my feet. I nearly weep.

We’re all trying here — that’s the message, even if Sonny remains unconvinced.