December 9, 2016

Karmic Duties

There was a time, back in the days when I was a dog dog walker and the only dog in the house, when my biggest responsibility was teaching other dogs how to behave. This might seem surprising to those who know me well, but my behavior has vastly improved. As a puppy and an adolescent, I struggled a bit. Gretchen can tell you stories (lots of them, I fear), but let’s just say that I had some challenges early on and it took a lot of time, effort, and patience on everyone’s parts for me to settle down and learn to behave.

Not that I’m perfect now, but I’m a lot more perfect than I was years ago.

Years ago I did things like tear up toys, bark incessantly, run away when my moms tried to put me on a leash, not come when I was called, refuse to eat, dig holes in the backyard…and on and on. True, I wasn’t as bad as some dogs I know (no names mentioned!). I didn’t counter surf, I didn’t bite anyone (ok once I was accused of it, but I didn’t do it…I was no where near that woman!), I never tore up anything expensive or irreplaceable, I never got into dog fights (though there were a few times when I would have liked to!), and I never peed or pooped in the house (okay once I did, but it truly wasn’t my fault).

Now that I’ve had so many other dogs in my life, I’ve seen all the bad behaviors that I could have done, but never tried or frankly, never even thought of. And now that I share my home with two brothers — Dezi and Oscar — I also see that there are a lot of dog-like things I could have done, but didn’t really know were options.

Take Dezi, for instance. He begs. Especially if rotisserie chicken is involved. He’ll give my moms a look that borders on pathetic, like he hasn’t had a decent meal his entire life, just to get on little piece of chicken. He’ll beg for other things, but if anyone is eating chicken, heck if a chicken walks into the room in a grocery sack, he’s all over it. Even now, with a tumor blocking the left side of his nasal passage, he can smell that chicken and he’ll follow the holder of said chicken until they give in and slice him off a morsel or two or 12.

I like chicken. Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t beg. In fact, I don’t even eat it off the floor unless directed to do so. My moms can drop anything on the floor and the first thing I do is look at them to say, “Hey, you dropped something.” We’ve had dogs at our house — Big Albert for one — who would snatch that fallen food the split second it hits the floor. There is no hesitation, there is no, “Hey Albert, clean that up for me!” He just races in and grabs it.

Not me. I’ll only meander over to it if I’m invited and even then, I may or may not eat it.

Dezi never raced in to get things before either. In fact, Dezi never walked on the hardwood floors. They scared him. So if something dropped in the kitchen, he might have been tempted to race over and get it, but the rubicon of the hardwoods kept him from doing so.

Now Dezi is on medications for his tumor and those medications make him ravenous. We have to parcel out his food or he’d balloon into a St. Bernard if we let him. And because he thinks he is ravenous, he has conquered his fear of the hardwood floors. Now he’ll walk all around the kitchen and spend his afternoon snarfing up any fallen morsels he can find.

I try to be tolerant, but it upsets me a bit that he can break the rules for begging while I still feel obliged to follow them.

And then there’s Oscar. He doesn’t so much beg as give my moms the sad “I’m-a-rescued-street-dog-from-Costa-Rica” look. He is respectful…he doesn’t race over to dropped food and snatch it up, but still, he has his own way of begging and more importantly, of breaking the rules.

I suppose this is to be expected. I grew up in this house my whole entire life and those rules were put into place from Day One. I lived by those rules as faithfully as I could and now I see — with two brothers and many boarders — that those rules aren’t as fast and firm as I thought they were. Still, when I try to break them I hear, “Rubin, you know better!” and that’s when I think, “Wow, so why aren’t the other dogs getting in trouble?”

Gretchen has tried to explain it to me numerous times and her explanation goes something like this — Dezi is old — deaf, pretty much blind, and struggling with a tumor deep in his ear that makes him uncertain on his feet and unpredictably wobbly. At 15 years old, he kind of gets to do what he wants because his days, dare I say, are numbered.

Okay, I get that, but then there’s Oscar. The explanation is this: He’s lived on the street. He didn’t have rules — like no peeing indoors and no jumping on counters — so he has to learn those rules and sometimes, he forgets them so we have to be patient with him.

Oh, and he doesn’t speak English. Well, at least it’s not his first language.

I get this too, but I do notice there’s a lot more leniency when it comes to enforcing those rules than there was when I was learning them. Still, this is not what bothers me. What bothers me is that I am the one who supposed to teach him the rules BY EXAMPLE. Yes, I put that in capital letters because it has been drilled into me from the first day that little guy came to live with us — “Rubin, you need to help him learn to behave by being a good example.”

At first, after hearing this explanation, I was like, “Okay, I will do my best,” but Oscar has been with us almost 6 months now and you’d think he would have picked up on the example I’m setting by now. Yes, he gets some things — like sitting and waiting for his breakfast and dinner and only eating when instructed to do so — and he’s learned some basic commands — sit, down, wait, and sometimes, leave it — all of which I know he’s learned by watching me. But there are some days when I think that little bugger is milking it, faking the he doesn’t know something when actually he does.

I mean, I’ve been such a good example these past six months, I think his behavior should simply be a reflection of HIM and not at all of ME as his older brother or teacher, right?

I think the hardest part of all of this is that deep down inside, I want to be a one dog household. I LOVED it when it was just me and my moms, when I got to go on long walks with them by myself  or on road trips as the only dog in the car with plenty of space to stretch out or the only dog on the couch cuddled between them while we watched a movie or shared stories of the day.

It’s been an adjustment — first with Dezi coming to live with us 2 1/2 years ago and now with Oscar in June. Dezi took some adjusting too, but since we’d known each other for about 8 years previous to his  permanent arrival at our house, it wasn’t to hard to make the adjustment.

But once Oscar arrived, even having Dezi around now feels like a bit of work. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Dezi and I’m learning to love Oscar, but three dogs in the house means everything is in thirds — a third of the love, a third of the couch, a third of the car — someone is always accompanying me on my walks, someone is always elbowing me in the backseat of the car, someone is always fed before I am.

And through it all, I’ve been a trooper. Okay, occasionally I’ve spouted off and growled at Oscar or snapped at Dezi and my moms are none too pleased with me when I do it, but geez, how much does a guy have to adjust?


Gretchen says that learning to handle change, learning to share is part of my Karmic duty.

I wonder, what’s Dezi’s Karmic duty? Or Oscar’s for that matter?

Meanwhile, I am continuing to be as good a dog as I can be and trust me, that’s saying a lot. Here’s hoping that my brothers learn to appreciate it!


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