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Charity’s Column: Untrainable humans and their dogs

When South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wrote about shooting her 14-month-old dog because it misbehaved, my first thought was by those standards, we’d have to shoot every dog we’ve ever had.

Misbehaving dog stories are the fodder of family lore.

Like the time my mother’s beagle (named Trump — no kidding) got onto the kitchen table as Thanksgiving dinner was being served in the dining room and began eating the turkey.

Trump’s action would certainly have infuriated the governor of South Dakota. Trump the beagle was also prone to loud barking, lunging at people and dashing away the moment his leash was loosened. He went down in family history as one of our worst-behaved dogs.

Until Hudson. Hudson was a dachshund who began competing with Trump the beagle for baddest dog by eating every scrap of food within reach (fortunately he was short), whether you were holding it or not. He lived to be 12, largely owing to the athleticism he developed leaping to pick fruit out of the fruit bowl as he sailed past on his way out of the dining room.

Our extended clan takes dog-raising very seriously. In eight households of the three generations we have 12 dogs. We vaccinate, spay and neuter. When confronted with a choice between going out and staying home, we generally go for dog/couch option.

The talk in our weekly family Zoom meeting is heavily dog-themed; for example, the ongoing discussion of how to keep Felix, one of my sister’s Labradoodles, from eating all the toilet paper and tissues. News of new jobs and internships is often interrupted by a round of “Who’s a good boy?” when each of us turns the camera toward the closest dog and shares its doggishness with the rest of the family.

Louis, a 10-pound wire-haired mutt came into the family six months ago when my niece Maya adopted him. We call him the Artful Dodger because he wreaks havoc, but is almost never observed doing evil. If Maya looks away from Louis long enough to put on her shoes, she’ll find that he has chased the other dogs away from their bowls, chewed the toaster cord and eaten her blueberry muffin.

Since Trump and Hudson passed, our family has gotten a little better at dog training, but we still have work to do. My son and his wife recently adopted Dori, a dog of unknown breed, whose eventual size is anyone’s guess.

When I found out that they needed someone to keep an eye on her for a day, I pounced like a dachshund on a badger. Twenty-four hours of playing with our newest family member? Count me in.

My first encounter with Dori was set to take place in New York, while our queenly hound Mabel sat on her Shelter Island throne. When my daughter-in-law handed me a brindle bundle of dog, she licked my chin (the puppy, not Gretchen.) With that greeting, I knew that this puppy is going to make a good dog, and that I still had some butter on my face from my morning toast.

My 24 hours with Dori flew by, divided into two-hour segments of playing, going for a “walk” in the basement (she was too unvaccinated to go near dogs we don’t know) and naps. In the morning at 6 a.m., her little head popped up, she whined once to let me know the day had begun, and we started where we left off.

By the time Gretchen came back to get Dori, I had already taught the little pup to come when I called with the help of chicken treats that smelled so good I was tempted to have a nibble.

Dori is not our first grand dog, that honor goes to Scooter, a small black dog with white socks, a strong herding instinct, and a merry disposition. He is the dog of our younger son and his wife. When we all walk together, he trains us, keeping everyone in a tight herd and charging ahead to spot danger. But not ahead of Mabel.

Mabel is an elegant long-legged tri-color hound who is Queen of the kennel, although it’s a ceremonial title. She walks first, and Scooter defers to her majesty, always on alert for danger, whether the approach of a UPS truck, or a 3 a.m. alarm from the nearby firehouse.

So far, Dori seems to be a picky eater, but she doesn’t have that many teeth, so that could change. Feeding Scooter and Mabel at the same time requires placing a bowl at either end of the kitchen and inviting them to eat simultaneously.

When they’ve each finished their own bowl, they cross the kitchen to inspect the other’s bowl for any missed tidbits. With Dori in the mix, we’ll have to move to a triangular bowl formation.

This year Dori will likely participate in a summertime ritual, the Backyard Dogwash. The first of these semi-annual events took place immediately after one of the family dogs rolled in an awful mess and could not be admitted back into the house until something was done about it. 

Backyard Dogwash. (Courtesy photo)

An inflatable wading pool (purchased minutes before at the hardware store) was positioned in the yard, filled with a hose, and warmed with a teapot-full of hot water. Soap towels, brushes and dogs were positioned near the pool, and two or three brave dog-washers stepped forward. There was resistance on the part of the canines, but it was futile.

Afterward, dogs, dog-washers and innocent bystanders shook and sprayed and raced around the yard. Now we bathe on an as-needed basis, and by the looks of her, Dori is going to need one as soon as she gets out to the field by Chase Creek and discovers the joys of rolling in goose poop.

As a member of our kennel now, I expect nothing less.