December 15, 2017

Lisa Dye: The Blind Leading the Blind – Jack Update

IMG_2449

The Blind Leading the Blind: Jack Update
By Lisa Dye

“Dogs and cats should always be brought up together,” said someone, “it broadens their minds so.”

• C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven

I found this Lewis quote in The Business of Heaven, a collection of excerpts from several of his books. He further explained that affection is often an aspect of any kind of love, but that it most interestingly grows when two unlikely personalities overcome the trials of their clashings and mismatchings. It is when we at last recognize a strange and quirky goodness in another, that we have “crossed a frontier” and have consented to enjoy and appreciate what may previously have been beyond our willingness to appreciate.

And so it is with Jack and me.

While initially won with cuteness, I quickly resented having my newly emptied, peaceful and orderly nest wrecked with the chaos and upheaval of an unwanted, explicitly unasked for puppy. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many of my evenings ended in tears of frustration over being gnawed and tugged and yapped nearly to death. My clothes were torn, my hands shredded by sharp puppy teeth, and I made innumerable trips to the backyard … in rain, wind, ice and snow, in dark of night, in robe and fuzzy slippers. The good news was that Jack at least was fastidious in the potty department. I might have cleaned up after him in the house a handful of times in the first week. Otherwise, he signaled his pee- and poo-mergencies with timeliness and clarity.

Another bit of good news was Jack’s inexplicable (considering his clear distrust of larger humans, which I will explain momentarily) love of children, maybe the result of his birth into a family with a large brood of little ones. Kids seem like home to him.

IMG_2206

The bad news was … actually, there has been quite a lot of it.

First off, I consider myself a fairly seasoned dog owner, especially of Labrador Retrievers. Jack is my fifth. While all of them have had oral obsessions and chewed various things into oblivion, none ever chewed on me quite as much as Jack or seemed so lacking in gentleness. By end of day I was beaten, bloody and done, done, done. No amount of training seemed to work. None of the books I read took into account the mind and psyche of Jack. None of the videos or training contraptions I bought at the pet store made the slightest impact. To offer a treat was to risk the loss of a digit. He was senseless in manners and moderation of jaw pressure.

Fine … I’ll run the legs off the little $#!* with walks. I have endurance. I’m not a runner, but I can walk fast all day long and I like it. (A priest with a Labradoodle also foisted upon him by family members so he wouldn’t be lonely told me that the only good dog is a tired dog.) If Jack would walk with me, there might be hope for our relationship. It seemed that even that was not to be. Our road, originally gravel and rural, is now a speedy suburban parkway. Despite the relative safety of the wide pedestrian path alongside it, Jack was terrorized by engine noise, horns honking, police sirens that started their shriek in close proximity and the ever present speeding bikers shouting, “On your left” five feet behind us, too late to pull my freaked out puppy into the grass without us falling over each other.

Jack and I made it to the corner … barely. At first, I was angry due to the number of times my ankle was bitten and the public embarrassment of being clawed and climbed like a human totem pole, but I finally recognized the sheer terror in his eyes. I scooped up Jack and carried him home.

About that time, I was realizing Jack also had social issues. He growled at people coming to the door. He growled at me if I surprised him coming into a room. When he growled at the veterinary practice where I took him for shots and checkups, a vet I didn’t normally see (and never will again), shot me an accusing look and asked if I got him from a puppy mill. “No, he came from a farm where both dog mom and dog dad live, where he played in the yard with his litter mates and where he was loved and petted by five children until we got him at eight weeks old.”

She slapped a muzzle on him and made the suggestion that perhaps he was mishandled in our home. My lower nature wanted to tell her that Jack likely had much more loving attention than her children did, but I restrained myself. Even if she did have it all wrong, I knew I needed help because I was seriously thinking of getting my own apartment.

The books and training techniques of the monks of New Skete had helped me a little, but not enough. I contacted a trainer who agreed to come to our home and work one-on-one. I was appalled at how much it would cost, but we were desperate. Training began at the door where Jack, hair standing in a ridge on his back, was in attack mode. He was still small then, but fierce. I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but trainer Brad proved to be a dog whisperer. It had something to do with aromatic treats, intense eye contact and an authoritative stance. Jack became a statue, sitting with eyes fixed and coat quivering with anticipation of unquestioned obedience. “Jack is a lovely puppy,” trainer Brad said. 

A professional says he’s lovely, I thought in wonderment.

We spent $250 on two training sessions and for our money got some sanity. I have no doubt that had we spent more, we might have a bit more normalcy, but for that amount we learned how to make Jack take treats with his lips (most of the time) instead of his teeth, how to give him space to feel safe and stop barking when someone came to the door, how to achieve down-stays for reasonable lengths of time, how to make him “leave it” when he was commencing to kill the cat and, most important of all, how to walk happily at my side without mauling me. The latter required most of the second training session, pockets stuffed full of training treats and block after block of trainer Brad, Jack and me keeping a brisk pace along my street during rush hour traffic in high winds and freezing temperatures.

Next on the list was socialization. He’d been coming to my office with me, but it wasn’t a great arrangement. I spent more time throwing a rubber turkey for him than doing accounting, so we paid a visit to Happy Dog Daycare, three blocks from my office. I explained Jack’s issues, asked them to try him out and promised to come get him right away if he was more than they could handle. The owner, a lady about my age, was a genius and very wisely put him in a playroom with the big dogs even though he was still on the small side. Miracle of miracles … Jack’s annoying bad manners and hard mouth elicited some smack downs from older and bigger dogs. It was the beginning of an awakening for my little guy. He learned not to be a bully. And he came home ready for a long nap. Dinner no longer dissolved into disaster with Jack being sent to the laundry room to ponder his transgressions. Instead, he snored through our mealtime, groaning with exhaustion. My husband and I rejoiced.

At six months we hit a snag when Jack went for his neutering procedure. The whole thing actually caused a fairly vocal fight at my house. We’d never had a dog that had not had that surgery and I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to my husband, but he had visions of Jack being an athletic bird retriever for his one annual pheasant hunt per year. And for that, I guess Jack needed his testicles.

When Doug realized he wasn’t going to win the argument, he lobbied for some new-fangled surgical implants called Neuticles®. They were supposed to be an ego booster and consolation for mutts who’d lost their … well, you know. It was a weak lobby as those little synthetic gems are ridiculously expensive and just plain ridiculous. Doug grimly loaded Jack in the car to drop him at the vet for the surgery. He looked like it was their last good-bye. “Oh stop,” I said. “You’re projecting your feelings onto Jack. He will be happier if he’s not distracted by all those natural urges every minute of the day. Besides, he can’t stay a stud and keep going to Happy Dog Daycare.” That was probably the most convincing argument for my husband. We counted on six hours of exhaustion-inducing daily playtime at Happy Dog and a nightly three-mile walk to keep Jack in a zen state.

I thought that was the end of it until Jack returned home completely weirded out by his experience, tail between his legs, hugging walls, racing through doorways like a devil was chasing him and refusing to walk on the hard surfaces of my kitchen or laundry room floors. Days later, when Jack returned to daycare and a Boxer named Brutus got Jack on his back and tried the dog version of making him say “Uncle,” Doug said, “I told you this was a terrible idea. He’s ruined.”

IMG_2232He had a point. Something was terribly wrong. Getting him into the laundry room at night where he slept with the cat turned into a logistical challenge. He would no longer go into that room through the hallway, but only through the back door … and only if one of us went with him. It was the dead of winter and getting Jack to his bedroom for the night meant us going out on the deck and with him into the laundry room.  Getting him out meant the reverse. He would not go into the hallway for the love of Milk Bones, rawhide or peanut butter-filled Kong balls. One night, during high winds, a deluge of snow and sub-zero temperatures, Jack ended up wedged between us in our bed and we gave up on the laundry room. Free to choose where to snooze, he ultimately opted for guard duty on the family room sofa, now a permanent arrangement. Fortunately, Jack, unlike many other Lab pups, would rather sleep on the sofa than rip it to shreds. Other than drool and dog hair, that ancient and worn leather monstrosity is no worse the wear.

At daycare, Jack went through doorways with the whites of his eyes showing … and only on the right side of his handler. I began avoiding other people dropping off or picking up their dogs in the lobby and made a wide path around them. Dog lovers naturally love to greet and pet dogs they meet, but unless they had a canine in tow Jack would respond with hair raised, and rumbling barks. He was clearly a dog-person … er, dog-dog. I couldn’t figure out if he was scared or trying to protect me, but his behavior was rude and off-putting. I was always saying, “I’m sorry” and praying for Jack as I left.

One day I picked him up and he had been quarantined with a snotty nose, so I took him to the vet. Oh my … It became abundantly clear that going through the door to that place elicited pure panic. He was so upset, his hair was falling out, he was panting and his brow was contorted in wrinkled anxiety. Thankfully, the vet I like came in and casually handed him treats while otherwise ignoring him and talked with me until Jack calmed down a bit. Then she took him out to swab his mucus for incubation and to TAKE HIS TEMPERATURE. Dear Jesus …

The vet came back without blood on her lab coat and said he did fine, but a quick eye exam had shown some abnormalities. She was referring me to a canine ophthalmologist.

As it turned out, Jack is nearly blind. Without getting too technical, the central vision in his right eye is terrible, as is his peripheral vision in general and particularly on his left side. It’s at least one reason why he demands to go through doorways with me on his left. I am his protection for the side he can’t see. It explains a lot, including why runners with hats, trashcans on the sidewalk and any unfamiliar shape pose a threat to Jack. The ophthalmologist said that some dogs handle poor vision with docility, but Jack got a dose of neurosis with his. Despite his 90 pounds, Jack was a scaredy cat. He would need a lot of reassurance.

That bit of news ultimately led us back to training, this time for a weeklong boot camp where Jack spent 8-10 hours with a handler on meet and greet duty at the training facility and on a local walking trail where he had ample opportunities to have his mood changed about encountering strangers with lots of joyful “jolly talk.” I guess in the dog psyche, hearing low-voiced rebukes (i.e. from me) as he was tensing and barking at strangers sounded just like barking to him. It gave him affirmation that we were both under threat and he was indeed right to bark because I was barking too.

IMG_2766If all of this sounds crazy and indulgent, I completely understand. I never thought I’d find myself so enslaved to another living being. I’m not sure raising my kids was as complicated. But I’ve learned a few things for which I’m thankful. Jack’s neuroses, obsessions and fears are no worse, no less obnoxious and every bit as troublesome as my own. He is in need of grace and a patient dog mom just as I have needed God’s grace and patient Fatherhood. How good of God to act this out for me. How very sly and wryly humorous.

All of creation, including Jack, has been subjected to frustration as a result of the fall of man (Roman 8:19-23). And all of creation, including Jack, waits expectantly for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. For whatever reason, and by the providence of God, Jack is waiting for me to get it right, as are a few others in my life.

It’s been a fellowship of pain, to be sure, just as it is whenever we “cats and dogs” of the human sort are made to dwell together. Ruth Patterson writes, “I know of no other way for hearts to be softened other than by a combination of love and suffering.” There is truth in this. Despite the incredible efforts Jack and I require of each other, I already grieve for the day I will not have him. Perhaps his sleepy morning kisses, his euphoric reaction to our evening walks and the resting of his big black head on my feet at night before bed mean the same for him. I only know that our two years of suffering each other’s quirks and failures have broadened our minds and softened out hearts. I could not love that creature more.

• • •

Read Lisa’s original 2014 post about Jack HERE.

Comments

  1. Damaris says:

    Beautiful, Lisa, and absolutely true. (I read this while repeatedly pushing my demanding Cocker spaniel off my lap.) I’ve also noticed that I see more of nature some days because my dogs force me to — grumbling and shivering sometimes, but I’m glad to check in on Orion and Casseopeia in the early mornings.

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Thank you, Damaris. Yes, they spend most of their lives waiting on us to finish our human tasks. It’s a joy to see them be able to exult in their dog-ness. I always wonder what Jack is thinking when his nose is leading him (and me) on the trail of a coyote or he splashes around after frogs and fish in a local pond. He does make me appreciate and wonder about nature more than I would on my own.

  2. Jack’s neuroses, obsessions and fears are no worse, no less obnoxious and every bit as troublesome as my own. He is in need of grace and a patient dog mom just as I have needed God’s grace and patient Fatherhood. How good of God to act this out for me. How very sly and wryly humorous… by the providence of God, Jack is waiting for me to get it right, as are a few others in my life.

    This is why, even setting aside my allergies to cat hair, I will always be a “dog person”. I think it no coincidence that dogs were the first creatures humanity domesticated…

    • Robert F says:

      If you don’t think a chronically ill cat and needy can be just as demanding of one’s love, sacrifice and patience as a dog, though in different ways, you’re most surely mistaken.

      • Lisa Dye says:

        You two are proving my point:) If dogs and cats broaden each other, so do dog people and cat people. It’s nice little illustration of us in our differences. Sometimes we will broaden and sometimes we will just fight like cats and dogs.

  3. This is quite beautifully spoken…thank you for this.

  4. flatrocker says:

    There are times when I read IM for some theological insight or for how my way of thinking is challenged. Or sometimes for the comment banter delivered through a holy fire hose.

    Other times I read it simply because…well…just because it is.

    This is one of those times. Lenten blessings and thank you Lisa

  5. That Other Jean says:

    I am grateful to know that Jack is loved and loving, despite his troubles.

  6. Great story. And Labs rock!

  7. Lisa Dye says:

    Thank you. If I ever start looking like my dog … you know, the way they say people take on the appearance of their pets … I would be happy to look like a Lab.

  8. Michael Bell says:

    Lovely post. Reads like a fine book.

  9. Christiane says:

    THIS:
    “All of creation, including Jack, has been subjected to frustration as a result of the fall of man (Roman 8:19-23). And all of creation, including Jack, waits expectantly for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed. For whatever reason, and by the providence of God, Jack is waiting for me to get it right, as are a few others in my life.”

    Thanks LISA, this is like being give a gift of clarity in the midst of a difficult week.

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Christiane, there must be a disturbance in the force (my family’s Star Wars expression for when everything everywhere seems to be going wrong). Aside from some difficulties we are having I am also hearing multiple reports of the same on all sides. You’ll be in my prayers today.

    • Yes! This resonated with me as well. I’ve read this verse and believe this verse but mostly in a “big picture” way. Your inclusion of Jack helps bring into sharp focus that creation is not a concept but is comprised of characters that we come into contact with everyday. Thanks Lisa, for sharing this; it’s a touching story and a beautifully written reminder that the Gospel is about more than just personal salvation but extends to the redemption that Jesus brings to all creation.

  10. Truthseeker says:

    You write about life in such a genuine way, Lisa. You don’t have to preach with words. Hearing of your patience with your dog shows your love for Christ. And yes, your writing is superb. This is some of the best prose I have read in a very, very long time.

  11. Lisa, I loved this essay. My Maisie also has many emotional issues and can be a handful…and she has an eye problem, too — which requires both special care and very expensive medication. All this to say, “I can relate!” But I had never taken the time to learn any lessons from it all. So thank you for your insights. (And give Jack a pat on the head from me.)

  12. Well done, Lisa! Until I went back and read your introductory story, I was thinking your husband had been the instigator against your wishes and I was wondering if you were writing this from prison. If that had been the case and I was your Governor, I would have pardoned you. I guess kids sometimes just don’t quite get it. Anyway, sounds like Jack would have had a much harder time anywhere else with his set of problems, and you have earned your angel wings several times over. Well done, both living the story and telling it.

  13. This is so timely for me! We rescued our second dog in December and I have had moments of deep regret ever since! We have resorted to 2 sessions of training which have helped him become less afraid of road noise so he won’t put himself in the path of an oncoming car as he tries to bark and scare it away. And I kid you not, I told my neighbors 2 weeks ago that learning about Scout’s fears and his subsequent aggressive reactions towards people and other dogs is teaching me a lot about myself, my own fears and aggressive reactions due to fear. Truly, God is great teacher who indeed finds funny ways to make His points known.

  14. I came back and read this through for the second time today. This is a beautifully written story that touched my heart. From one dog mom to another, thank you, Lisa. With people, as well as dogs, there’s usually a reason for frustrating behavior if we’re willing to look past our prejudices and pre-conceived notions.Taking the time to understand can go a long way in dealing with difficult people and situations.