REMEMBERING TINKER BELLE

Can you set a price on love? Can you set a number to it? Can you calculate it by the cost of health care, toys, dog food? Grooming?

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Tinker Belle was a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, also called PBGVs or Petites. They are a medium-sized, shaggy rabbit hound from the Vendée region of France, but have become over the past 20 years, quite popular as pets, though they are definitely not a dog for just anyone. They are smart, funny (they will do almost anything to make you laugh), noisy, and into everything.

Tinker Belle was special. From the day I brought her home from the airport (she had just flown up from her breeder’s home in North Carolina), she wasn’t like any other puppy I’d ever met. She was incredibly smart. As a rule, hounds are intelligent, but she was something else. Housebreaking? We showed her the doggy door. She was henceforth housebroken. She could open any door, any gate and close them behind her. She would open jars of peanut butter without leaving a fang mark to note her passing. All you’d find was a perfectly clean empty jar that had previously been an unopened, brand new jar.

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She was deeply sensitive. Probably born to be a therapy dog, she knew who was in pain, she knew who was sick. She knew where you hurt. She was the only dog who would never step on a healing incision, but would cuddle close to you, look at you with her dark, soft eyes and tell you everything would be fine. She never hurt a living thing, not human or anything else … except for small varmints she hunted in the yard. She was, after all, a hound and a hunter at that, born to track, point and if necessary, kill prey.

Tinker at 9 months

Tinker at 9 months

She was the smartest of our five dogs, the smartest dog of my life. Not just a little bit smarter than normal. A huge amount smarter. When you looked into Tinker’s eyes, it wasn’t like looking into the eyes of a dog. She was a human in a dog suit. She knew. We called her Tinker the Thinker because she planned, she remembered. She held grudges. More on that. For all that, she was Omega (the bottom) in the pack, we thought it was mostly her own choice. She had no interest in leadership. Too much responsibility maybe? But the other dogs knew her value. When they needed her, other dogs would tap into her expertise in gate opening, package disassembly, cabinet burglary, trash can raiding and other criminal activities. Throughout her life, she housebroke each new puppy. A couple of hours with Tinker, and the job was done. It was remarkable. Almost spooky. She then mothered them until they betrayed her by growing up and playing with other dogs.

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When Griffin, our big male Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen came to live with us a few months after Tinker, they became The Couple. inseparable, deeply in love. They ate together, played together, slept together, sang together. When about a year later, we briefly had a little Norwich Terrier pup and Griffin (what a dog!) abandoned Tinker to go slobbering after Sally … well … Tinker’s heart was broken.

She became depressed, would not play anymore with humans or other dogs. For the next 10 years, Tinker refused to so much as look at Griffin. Worse, she apparently blamed us, her humans for having brought another girl into the house. In retribution for our crimes, Tinker began her Reign of Terror.

Tinker took to destroying everything she could get her fangs on when she was three years old. She’d done a modest amount of puppy chewing, but nothing extraordinary. She was more thief than a chewer. She would steal your stuff and hide it. Shoes, toys (Kaity was very young), towels, stuffed animals. After Griffin betrayed her with that stupid little bitch — Sally was indeed the polar opposite of Tinker being the dumbest dog I’ve ever known and ill-tempered to boot — Tinker was no longer a playful thief. She was out to get us.

Nothing was safe. She had a particular passion for destroying expensive electronic devices. Cell phones, remote controls, portable DVD players, computers. If she could get a fang to them, she killed them. She would do more damage in under a minute than I thought possible. For Garry and I, it meant we couldn’t leave the room together unless we put everything away where Tink couldn’t get it. Tinker would strike quickly and she was lethal.

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Griffin the great

If we were going to bed for the night, every single movable item that was less than 6 feet off the ground had to be put away. If she couldn’t get to any small expensive electronic items, she ate the sofa, the rocking chair, the coffee table, a lot of books, many DVDs …. and for dessert, shoes were always yummy. For many years, I didn’t own any shoes without tooth marks.

We called such items “Tinkerized” and we had a grading system ranging from 10 – Utterly destroyed, to 1 – Only shows if you look closely. Most of my shoes fell into the 2 to 3 range and since she tended to start at the heel, I figured most folks wouldn’t notice.

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During one memorable intermission, Garry and I went to the kitchen to grab something to drink and she dismembered our remote controls. We were gone, by the clock, about a minute. The kitchen is adjacent to the sofa were we watch TV, so she managed to do this with us not 10 feet away. It cost me a couple of hundred dollars to replace them. She pulled off the backs, tore out the batteries (but never ate them), then ripped out the wiring and boards. She didn’t waste any time, either. If she had the leisure, she’d also tear out the keys and generally mangle the cases, but if time was limited, she went straight to the guts of the thing. She was good.

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For 10 years, we lived under siege. If you didn’t want it Tinkerized, you couldn’t leave it exposed, not for a minute.

Yet we loved Tinker and for the last year of her life, after we brought Bonnie home, Tinker became a real dog again. With Bonnie, Tinker came back to herself and played again. She ran around the yard, played tag, joined the chorus when the other dogs pointed their muzzles at the sky and sang. Hounds have such beautiful voices and Tinker’s was the most beautiful of all. When she sang, nature sang with her. I suppose this is a matter of taste, but for those of us who love hounds, you know what I mean.

Singing is a social function for canines. When a pack sings, it isn’t an alert. It’s a chorus. They are really truly singing together. Each dog has a part, joining in, then pausing and rejoining at the right moment. Tinker was a baritone, the deepest and loudest of the canine voices and Bonnie is a coloratura soprano, very musical, but light.

Almost exactly three years ago, Tinker died of cancer. She had shown no symptoms except a slight slowing down and a slightly lessened appetite. One day, she collapsed. She was riddled with cancer. How in the world she had so effectively hidden her illness is mind-boggling. A couple of weeks later, Griffin had a massive stroke and died. They were the same age and I don’t believe for a minute the timing of their passing was coincidence. Despite Griffin’s infidelity, the two PBGVs were a couple and would not live without each other.

The house was so quiet with the two hounds gone. We didn’t have to hide everything anymore, though it took us months to realize it was safe, that I could leave my laptop out at night and no dog would bother it. After the two hounds passed, the pack did not sing for half a year. One day, mourning ended and they started to sing again. Now, they sing twice a day, early in the morning (get up Mom) and in the evening (pause that show, time for the chorus).

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What was Tinker’s true cost? We paid $700 for her as a puppy. Who knows how much her medical care cost over? Who remembers? It’s part of the contract between dogs and us. They love us, we care for them.

Other damages? Thousands of dollars in electronic gear, furniture, shoes, books, DVDs, videotapes, dolls — who knows what else.

But she paid us back, you see. Because when I was terribly ill, Tinker never left my side. When I was back from surgery, missing another piece of me and in pain, Tinker was there, never placing a paw where it would hurt me. How does it add up? How much was the love worth? What is the cost of a lifetime laughter and love?

SATURDAY SCOTTIES

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What happens when you’ve got a couple of cute Scottish Terriers, lots of cameras, and the sun is shining?

In memory of biscuits past ...

In memory of biscuits past …

Photography! Pictures of (you guessed it) Scottish Terriers. Bonnie and Gibbs, on a Saturday in September. Obviously exhausted from a hard day of cadging biscuits and battling throw cushions.

Note the open eye. He does not sleep. He is watching. Thinking.

Note the open eye. He does not sleep. He is watching. Thinking.

It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta do it.

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HOW CAN WE SAY NO?

Gibbs has definitely decided he is a full citizen of this household. With all the rights and privileges due to a self-respecting dog.

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He can paddle in his water bowl to his heart’s content and those misguided humans who tried to convince him to use that “tub thing” can wipe up the pools of water. It’s their job, after all.

Gibbs believes our love-seat is really his love-seat. Even though Garry and I are the usual occupants, he has not bowed to our theoretically alpha status. The moment one of our butts leaves the seat for any reason (discounting a trip to the magical kitchen where the mystical Biscuit Containers await).

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Once in my seat — or Garry’s — he develops special gravity which makes it impossible to dislodge him. A dog who normally weighs about 24 pounds suddenly weighs more like 50. It’s uncanny, as if he has taken root in the upholstery.

Garry has talked to him about this, to no avail.

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He’s also getting a lot of tips from Bonnie. About rolling on his back and playing peek-a-boo with his paws. About how to look utterly pathetic and get more treats. Humans are pushovers for the whole sad-eyed thing.

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Who could resist those faces … every night as they watch you, pleading for just a little something to tide them over through the long, hungry hours of darkness.

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SPEAKING DOGGISH

The other day, the NBC Nightly News had a piece during which they announced that scientists have officially proven what we all knew. Dogs understand what we say to them. They understand words, tone of voice, and context. Just like teenagers. When they ignore what we tell them, it isn’t because they don’t understand. They understand just fine. They are — like teenagers — disrespecting us.

I have always believed they understand and choose to ignore us — unless they feel there’s something in it for them.

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“Bonnie,” calls Garry. “Go out.” She stops halfway down the stairs and stares at him.

“All the way out.” She goes down one more step. Turns around. Stares.

“Gibbs,” he says. “You too. Move. GO. I told you to GO.” Both Scotties, in motion so slow you wouldn’t believe they had that much fine muscle control, descend the stairs. One at a time.

Thump. Thump. Thump. THUMP. Thumpitty. Thump.

There are only six steps, but it takes them several minutes to navigate their way to the ground floor landing. They stand in front of the doggie door. They look up.

“Go OUT,” Garry says. He does this every night. It’s a mind game. “No, not at the same time. One at a time.” They are like little furry clowns, trying to get through the door simultaneously and getting stuck. No one could tell me they don’t know how funny they look.

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Gibbs

Then the game goes into reverse. In the summertime, it goes into reverse. In dry weather. If it’s raining or blizzarding, all bets are off. In bad weather, getting them out is a problem. Getting them in is not.

The last trip outside in the evening is the one before we clean Bonnie’s eyes and administer eye drops. No idea what the problem is, but she’s allergic to something. We are going to be giving her eye drops for the rest of her life. She knows. We know she knows. Gibbs knows because after the eye drops come the treats.

Usually Bonnie and Gibbs finally come inside, but won’t come up the stairs. They stay at the bottom, looking up. Until Garry stands at the top and says “Come upstairs.” Pause. “Now, please.” Garry is very polite and always says “please” and “thank you” to the dogs.

They continue to stare at him. “NOW,” he says, but they don’t give him any respect. Finally, Garry goes down and shoos them upstairs. Bonnie jumps onto the loveseat. I clean the gunk out of her eyes. Put eye drops in. Gibbs watches. Everyone adjourns to the kitchen for a biscuit.

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Last night, the dogs decided to up the stakes. Instead of coming in and standing at the bottom of the stairs, they stayed on the front step, directly outside in front of the doggie flap. Garry had to open the door and say “Please. Come in.” Then, Bonnie came in. Gibbs won’t come past someone standing at the door, so you have to close the door so he can come in through the flap.

Don’t ask. It’s a dog thing.

We have other similar conversations.

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Bonnie

Me: “Gibbs, do NOT dig on the sofa.” Gibbs pauses. Looks at me, haunted brown eyes full of tenderness and affection. Then, he starts to dig some more.

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Gibbs

“Gibbs, I said stop.” He gets down from the sofa and comes over to the loveseat and jumps up, making sure to try to knock my laptop to the floor in the process. He is trying to kill my computer and I fear one day I will lose focus and he will succeed. But not yet.

I give him a thorough scratching about the ears.

He knows. He knows I know. We all know. We are, as they say, a very knowing family.

Now, the scientific community also knows. Because I saw it on network news, and everyone knows if it’s on television, it is 100% true.

Give or take a lie or two.

TUBBING GIBBS

Having bought the tub, aka “swimming hole for small dogs,” and what with both dogs more or less ignoring it, there came a moment when Garry felt it was time the introduce Gibbs to the tub. Why Gibbs not Bonnie?

(1) Gibbs likes paddling in the water bowl.

(2) Bonnie holds grudges.

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Gibbs was not terrified. He was, in fact, surprisingly under-whelmed. Both Gibbs and Bonnie apparently regard the tub as an over-sized drinking trough.

I’m beginning to look at it as a planter for my fall chrysanthemums. Apparently Gibbs prefers paddling in the water bowl and drinking from the “pool.”

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

I came back out of the bedroom last night to collect the folded clothing Garry had earlier washed and put on the coffee table for appropriate distribution. Gibbs and Bonnie were standing four-square on the end table next to where I normally sit. They were rooting for crumbs — or anything I might have left they could eat.

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They are not, despite the lies they tell about it, starving. Gibbs has lost the lean and hungry look he had when he arrived here. Bonnie’s belly tells its own story. No starving dogs in this house. Garry would never allow it. Yet they beg, dig, and search for food constantly as if whatever meal they most recently consumed will be their last.

NOT. True. They lie like dogs.

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Consider the water-bowl thing. We use a stainless steel stock pot as a water bowl. This was necessary for Bishop who drank a huge amount of water. Sometimes, we wondered if he was part camel and we always said he had a drinking problem

Now, with just the two smaller dogs, we could use a smaller bowl for the Scotties. But they’re used to the big one — and so are we. I bet a smaller container would end up knocked over with the floor flooded.

Regardless, no matter what we do, there’s always water on the floor. I bought a special tray to put under the water. We recently added a bath towel under the tray to sop some of the overflow. But still, there’s always pools of water here, there, elsewhere.

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I could not figure out why. These are not jowly dogs. They don’t drool buckets after a taking a drink. Okay, they have beards, but seriously … how much water can a Scottie’s beard dump on the floor?

Came the day I found Gibbs in the water pot. Not all four legs. Just his two front paws. He was paddling happily with merriment and lots of splashing. A nice little swim.

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Terriers in general and Scotties in particular are not known for aquatic enthusiasm, though my first Scottie — MacADog — liked to wallow in shallow water along the shore at the beach. As long as he could keep his feet on the ground, water was okay. Apparently Gibbs likes a bit of cool water on a hot summer’s day.

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Garry and I went into a huddle? Should we buy him a pool? That seemed a bit of overkill. Especially given the drought conditions we’re having. But something perhaps to give him a bit of water playtime not in the water bowl. Nothing inflatable. A dogs claws can merely rake lightly on the surface of an inflatable and it is thence forward a deflatable.

We compromised. I bought a washtub. A big, 18-gallon metal tub. I’ve got pictures of me and my brother chilling out on warm summer days in tubs just like this.

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Garry’s shoulder has been very sore, so the tub remained empty until this morning when Garry decided he could carry some water down if he carried the buckets in his left hand. And he did.

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Of course, the dogs have no idea what to make of it. They’ve been sniffing all around it and poking their heads over the side.

I’m counting on natural curiosity to get one or both of them wet. If that doesn’t work, you can bet I’ll drop them in, then enjoy the show. And the mopping up as our wet dogs come galloping homeward.

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It’s summer here on Rancho Kachingerosa. Let our mini-Olympics begin!

DOG TRAINING VERSUS PEOPLE TRAINING by ELLIN CURLEY

Our otherwise well-behaved younger dog, Lexi barks at everything when I’m around (not so much when I’m not). We can live with that. However, she has also started growling at our 15 ½ year old dog. She has even gone after him once or twice. This is unacceptable behavior so we called in a dog trainer.

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After meeting with the trainer, it turns out that I am the problem and I am the one who has to be trained! Apparently our actions can be interpreted by canine brains in ways we can not always predict or understand. I’ve always thought it was love and devotion that made Lexi follow me around. It turns out I’ve let her feel that she has to protect me 24/7.

She thinks that’s her job – and because of many of her Heinz 57 strains of DNA, she takes her job very seriously. I also thought it was love and affection that made her drape herself over me when we sit together. Wrong again. She is being possessive and asserting that I am her “property”. This exacerbates her desire to “protect” me from anyone else, particularly from our other dog.

So, I have to make some changes in the way I relate to her.

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I know that dog people often have strong ideas about the “right” way to train dogs and their humans. I personally believe that different things work for different people and different dogs. Also, some behaviors come more easily to some people. For example, I am not a disciplined person and I have a poor attention span. So I do not do well with rigid rules or strict practice schedules. I need behaviors that I can adapt into my not very structured day-to-day life.

So here’s what the trainer worked out for me and Lexi.

I will keep her from spending all her time next to me. That should let her know that she doesn’t own me or need to protect me. She already knows how to sit, lie down, stay, and come. While I watch TV, she has to sit on her dog bed across the room from me. And stay there until I release her which also tells her I’m the alpha, not her.

She has to look to me to determine where she should be and what she should be doing, at least sometimes. If this isn’t enough to alter her behavior towards our second dog, I will extend the “give me space” scenario to other times of the day until she “gets it”.

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I didn’t realize that I had inadvertently put Lexi on “guard duty,” thus creating stress for her. I feel terrible that I did that to an already anxious dog. Hopefully, this old dog can learn new tricks and I can release her from her “job” with me. Making some new rules will let her know that I’ve got things covered and don’t need her help.

I never want to change the cuddly, fun part of our relationship. But if I can eliminate the stress for her, maybe we can just be a loving human and her dog BFF.