No Dog Left Behind

Molly’s First Ski Trip

by Danielle Hanna

Snow scene

It would just make sense, the first time you try cross-country skiing, to maybe leave your new dog at home, right?

Nope.

When I brought Molly home from the shelter three years ago, I adopted her with the promise that she was going to be my constant companion. We were so much like each other. In our prime, athletic, adventurous, and head-over-paws in love with each other. Plus she gives me THAT look anytime I so much as SUGGEST I’m going somewhere without her.

“But I thought I was your furever dog?” she cries with her head drooping and her eyes sad.

But I had a problem. No, two problems. First, I didn’t know what the dickens I was doing on a pair of skis, and second Molly didn’t know what the dickens she was doing with a human on a pair of skis.

It would have been so easy to let her off the leash. Then she could run and play and I could concentrate on the five-foot boards strapped to my feet. However, at that time Molly was my new dog and we were still perfecting certain niceties like “come” and “stay.” So off-leash really wasn’t an option.

But her leash wasn’t an option, either. At four feet long, I would have choked her with every swing of the ski poles. Under those conditions, Molly would have quickly understood skiing to be a form of punishment–and would never have gone skiing with me again.

There had to be another option. I wasn’t leaving her behind. She was my adventure dog. My furever companion.

I eyed her thirty-foot leash. Great tool for long-distance training. We’d been using it to begin teaching her off-leash walking. She could roam up to thirty feet … but if she didn’t come back when I called, I could reel her in. A literal safety-rope to show her I really meant “come” when I said “come.”

But would I be able to wrangle a thirty-foot line with sticks strapped to both my hands and feet? I saw visions of Molly running circles around me, wrapping me up mummy-style, and giving one final jerk to lay me out in the snow with my ski tips pointing toward the sky.

I didn’t have any faith that the thirty-foot lead would work any better than the other options. But it was the only option. I wasn’t leaving my adventure dog behind.

I put on my ski shoes, grabbed my scarf and mittens, and headed out the door with Molly to our favorite park.

At the head of the trail, I switched Molly from her four-foot leash to the thirty-foot. Played out the line. Shook out the tangles. Took a moment to envision how hopelessly tangled it was about to become around my legs. I stepped into my skis and locked the clamps down over my shoes. Planted my ski poles. Focused my gaze over the horizon. Reviewed my strategy one last time.

Plan A: Roll with the punches. Plan B: Roll with the punches.

“Let’s go!” I said to Molly.

She was off like a shot. Me a little less industriously, trying to find the elusive swing and glide that looked so easy in my head. After ungracefully stepping over my own skis several times, I fell into something resembling a cadence.

In two minutes flat, though still stiff and awkward, I realized I was having fun. I felt the snow rushing beneath my skis. I was gliding over the drifts twice as fast as I could have tromped through them in a pair of boots. The world was white and crisp and energizing.

Suddenly Molly zagged across my path. Like a thirty-foot snake, the leash slithered in front of me. I grit my teeth. My skis slid uncontrollably toward the black line. How did you stop these things? In a matter of seconds, that rope would be across my ankles, and in a brilliant moment of slapstick comedy, I’d be flying head-first into the snow.

Swooooosh.

My skis glided gracefully over the lead line.

Well THAT was easy.

Molly jogged in front of me again, bringing the line with her.

Swooooosh.

Another graceful pass. This was beginning to resemble a scientific principle.

Swooooosh.

I relaxed. I had somehow envisioned the need to stop every time Molly crossed in front of me and adjust the lead. It never occurred to me that I’d be able to ski right over the top of it.

That was a triumphant day. Molly had a blast. I learned to cross-country ski. And we started a tradition we’ve honored ever since. No matter what new thing we’re trying … we’re going to do it together.

So … where can we find a kayak?

Pawnotes from Molly

Molly in the snowWhen my girl and I go walking, we see a lot of dogs sitting in little chain link dog runs, barking at us and everything else that goes by. And I often wonder, Why aren’t they with their humans? Don’t their humans ever take them on adventures?

My girl says most dogs don’t get to go on adventures cuz they don’t have manners and their humans get frustrated with them. So the humans go have their adventures and the dogs end up with something called a “sitter” or a “boarding kennel,” and basically get to go out to pee, then come back inside.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, getting ‘dopted by MY girl!

What I Figured Out by Becoming a Punching Bag for a Dog

by Danielle Hanna

Six o’clock was lights-out at the humane society where I used to work. All the dogs knew that.

Except Jinxie.

The other furkids were turning circles in their beds and snuggling with their favorite blankies and squeakies. Even the puppies were heaped in furry piles, already dreaming.

Not Jinxie.

The black-and-white pointer in the first kennel on the left flopped down on his blanket and threw his head dejectedly across the bottom bar of his door. Then he started into it. Cried loud enough for the old, deaf Cocker Spaniel on the far side of the building to perk an ear.

“Night, Jinxie.”

“Awroooo-rooooo-rooooo-wroooo!”

Hard to walk away from that.

Eventually he did give up crying, much to the relief of my ears. Instead he took up a new hobby, much to the dismay of the rest of my anatomy.

One snowy day, armed with a shovel, I was trying to stay ahead of the drifts in the play yards. In each yard, my canine pals sometimes watched me curiously, sometimes tried to play with me, sometimes decided to give the path of the shovel a wide berth.

Not Jinxie.

He flung himself bodily across the play yard and straight into me. Dancing on two legs, he pommeled me with his paws. Pow-pow-pow, like the spokes of a windmill. Every direction I turned, Jinxie was there.

I knew his type. So absorbed with himself, he had no idea the other party wasn’t having fun. Common in young dogs–until they meet a grouchy senior canine who puts them in their place. Lacking a senior canine close at hand, I fell back on one of my favorite training techniques.

It was a simple matter of showing Jinxie the acceptable way to get my attention. As long as he was jumping on me, I ignored him. But as soon as his paws touched the ground, I suddenly lavished all my affections on him, rubbed his ears, and told him what a superior dog he was. The technique essentially never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

No matter how many times I showed him that keeping his paws on the ground got him the reward, he didn’t get it.

Okay. Time to step things up a notch.

In Doggish (the language of canines, much as Finnish is the language of fish), one dog standing tall over another dog and walking into his space means, “Back off.” So next time Jinxie jumped on me, I made myself tall (well, I can wish) and walked into his space. For emphasis, I made a growl in my throat. This technique never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

He was amazingly good at hop-scotching backwards on two legs while thrashing me with his paws.

So I stepped it up another notch. In Doggish, a toothy snap on the scruff of the neck means, “I’m serious. Quit it NOW!” Lacking the ability to plant my teeth on the back of his neck, I pinched his scruff with my fist, glared him in the eye, and growled. Never fails.

Except with Jinxie.

I had used every trick I knew ten times over, and he simply didn’t get the picture. In fact, he got worse. I couldn’t stand in the same yard with him for two seconds without needing to defend myself.

So I left before I could lose my temper and resort to slamming him with the shovel.

I wasn’t the only one having problems with him. Now and again, I’d see a huffing, panting dog walking volunteer wrestle him down the hall and into his kennel, slamming the door with an oath and a “That dog needs a treadmill!” As they walked away, Jinxie would throw himself against the chain link, crying, “What did I do? What did I do? Awrooo-roooo-roooo!”

I put him outside as often as possible so he could burn off his energy. I also took to avoiding him. If I had to go into his kennel, I’d put him outside. If I had to be outside, I’d put him in his kennel. A dog with a skull that thick would never find a home. He was drifting towards what they’d call, in kill shelters, a problem animal.

One day, all I had to do was grab his empty food dish. Not worth putting him out for that. I peeked through his door. He was stretched out on his blanket on the far end of the kennel. If I was quick …

I grit my teeth and charged in. Grabbed his dish and beat a retreat as quick as I could–but too late.

Jinxie’s head popped up and his ears stood high. “Huuuuuuumaaaaaaan!”

In two bounds, he was on me. He pinned me to the wall and started bouncing and boxing like a kangaroo. “Human! Human! Human! Ohhh, huuuuumaaaaan!”

Part of me wanted to knock him down with the food dish. But I reined myself in. Scolding hadn’t gotten me anywhere. I was missing something. Something about Jinxie I just didn’t understand. What was it? What was he trying to tell me?

I stood right where I was, pinned against the wall, and basically played like a cardboard cut-out. I let Jinxie jump on me. I let him throw his full seventy pounds at me again and again and again. I waited. And waited. I thought about leaving. But I waited.

Suddenly, Jinxie quit. He braced his paws against the wall by my shoulder, pushed his head into my chest, and exhaled the longest, saddest dog sigh I’d ever heard. Then he stood there, quivering like a harp string.

Daylight glimmered. So that was it.

A few seconds earlier, I’d seen my life flash before my eyes. (Okay, I didn’t, but it sets up nicely for my next line:) Now I saw Jinxie’s life flash before my eyes.

I saw Jinxie as a puppy, full of hunting dog energy and ready to run. At first, his humans thought he was cute and fun, and loved his antics.

Then I saw Jinxie as a gangly “teenager.” His energy level had increased to match his longer legs and sleeker muscles. Now his humans found he was getting to be a handful. When he rushed them for his expected puppy love, they pushed him away. He was too big for that. Too strong. They really didn’t enjoy playing with him anymore.

Then I saw Jinxie as a young athlete. Desperate by now, he screamed, “Please, love me!” In Doggish, he tackled his humans. Now they bought him a dog house and put up an outdoor run.

Then I saw Jinxie as I saw him now. Unclaimed stray. Revolving between a kennel and a play yard. Losing hope of finding a home. Leaning hard against me. Shaking uncontrollably. Whimpering.

I massaged my fingers deep into his tight muscles. “I get it now,” I said. “And just so you know … you can jump on me whenever you need.”

And he did. Until he realized I had quit pushing him away. Then he would bury his face in my lap and sigh and shiver, and I would rub the tension out of his muscles. Then one day … he wagged his tail.

I’ve never yet met a bad dog. Just ones that wanted really badly to be understood.

Pawnote from Molly

My girl says sometimes you’ve gotta let a dog misbehave until you understand why they’re doin’ it. I like that about her. Do you have any idea how many years I’ve been getting away with ignoring the “heel” command? She’s still trying to understand my deeper issues. (It’s called, “I wanna walk in front.” Don’t tell her.)

I never met Jinxie myself, but my girl says he went on to find a really good home. She says she made a point of telling his new parents they must snuggle him as much as possible, and they couldn’t wait to start!