Archive for the ‘The adventures of Abby Duke and Tiger’ Category



January 13, 2007

Abby, oh Abby. How to explain Abby.
She’s the product of a broken home. She lived with at least two families before Trish, the missus, adopted her at only 4 months old.
Abby is a nervous dog.
She’s adopted some weird habits, like clutching a fleece blanket with her front paws and sucking on it for hours. When she gets really excited she holds said blanket, sopping wet with slobber, in her mouth and dances around in circles, wiggling her body and whipping her tail around so viciously she almost takes her own eye out. She looks like a bug of some kind doing a mating dance. She snorts — since the slobbery blanket blocks her airway — wrinkles her snout and curls her gums so it looks like she’s trying to laugh. She’s a black lab-hound dog mutt, with big floppy ears, a little head, chicken-bone legs over wide, webbed feet, and a penchant for barking. She’s not a slim girl, either. Abby’s got a big ol’ butt, oh yeah! She tips the scales at close to 70 pounds. She’s a wiggling, snorting, snarling, laughing, slobbering, ridiculously happy bowling ball on four legs with a tail. She’s a canine semi, fishtailing.
You can see why she’s my daughter’s favorite of our three dogs; the other two, a border collie-husky mutt and a stubborn golden retriever, who both passed AKC good citizen training, aren’t nearly as amusing. I’m afraid this is foreshadowing my daughter’s tendency to gravitate toward the “bad crowd.” Abby’s always the one getting into trouble. Maybe it’s because her name is yelled and muttered so frequently that it remains one of my little girls favorite words, a full year after she started uttering any words at all. “Abby” substitutes for almost anything — verb, noun, vegetable or mineral, person or thing.
“Why are you taking your diaper off?”
“Abby abby.”
“How ’bout we go to the playground?”
“What do you want for a snack?
“Time for a bath!”
“Who colored the new tile floor with blue Crayons?”
Abby is also a paradox.
Trish blames Abby’s weight on being “fixed” too early. Removal of the dog’s — whatever vets take out of female dogs to prevent the formation of other dogs — has created a permanent, insatiable appetite. One time Abby snatched a loaf of bread off of the kitchen counter, and in no more than four seconds devoured all the bread, leaving a small hole in the plastic wrapper, with the twisty thing on. The other day she ate a ham hock — a whole ham hock — out of a neighbor’s trash can. Who throws away a whole ham hock that’s not turned utterly nasty? If we don’t stand guard at feeding time, Abby would eat her serving of premium-brand dog food, then eat Tiger’s and half of Duke’s and beg for more. We’ve had her on diets — less food, reduced-fat food, even a green bean diet — one can of green beans a day to create “bulk.” The only bulk it created was left in wet messy piles all over the back yard. Still, she gains weight.
But she’s not the kind of overweight being that lolls around all day. Oh, no. She’s the kind of big girl who’s light on her feet. She’ll fetch the tennis ball until my arm wears out. She’s quicker than a greyhound at the sight of a cat. She’s caught squirrels, actually chased them down like a lion taking down a wounded baby wildebeest. When she barks, her front legs come off the ground.
But it’s the fence jumping that’s most amazing.
It started not long after I moved in, come to think of it. Trish and I joke about creating a blended family, like the Brady Bunch — I had the two boys, Duke and Tiger, she had the girl, yada yada. Yeah, I know it’s sappy. We’re nearing middle-age, we’re allowed to be sappy. By most accounts we all got along great, right off the start. In fact, Trish and I owe it to Abby for finally bringing us together, in a romantic way, because I helped take Abby to the pet ER late one snowy night in my SUV after Abby ate rat poison. And Trish was so grateful … but that’s another story.
Anyway, long story short, Trish and I date, I move in (hey, she had a house, I had an apartment, it was an economy of scale), suddenly there were three dogs in the backyard, not one.
We started coming home and finding Abby on the front porch, just lying there with a leash beside her. How the hell did she do that, we wondered. There’s a good fence, there are still two other dogs in the yard, what’s going on? A neighbor told us she had seen Abby trotting along her yard, headed back to ours. She had gotten out, gone halfway around the block and made her way to our front porch. Presumably she pulled one of the leaches off of a post where we kept them and stayed on the porch until we got home. This was summertime. In Nashville. It was 90+ degrees. She left the backyard, where there was water, where there were already cool holes dug in the flowerbeds, to sit on the porch, pant and wait about nine hours for us to come home.
We knew her route, but we couldn’t figure out how she busted out. So we spied on her. We actually told Abby goodbye, got in the car and drove away, except when the car was out of view of the backyard I got out and sneaked back into the house. Trish staked out the corner. We had to do this more than once, because the first couple of times Abby got out before we could get into position. We honed our plan, like a SWAT team, and one day, sure nuff, within 10 minutes of our pulling out of the driveway Abby scaled the back fence. It was a wire fence, a hog-wire fence for those of you with farm experience. She put one paw over the other and flopped over the top.
I erected, in one of my fool-hardy, single-man projects of the kind most engineer-wannabes perform on weekends, a huge privacy fence. It stood 10 feet tall on one end and, because of the yard’s slope, more than 12 feet at the other end. This was more than a fence. It was the Berlin Wall constructed out of Home Depot’s finest cheap pine treated wooden fencing.
Didn’t work. She kept escaping. She was Steve McQueen’s character, Capt. Hilts, in “The Great Escape,” continually breaking out of the compound, only to be stuffed back in with a stupid ball to chase.
So, we moved out of town a little way, to a house on an acre lot. The back yard was massive! Surely she’d be happy.
She wasn’t.
She jumped the fence I spent about $800 and many sweaty hours installing.
So, we moved again, this time to Maine.
Well, there were other factors involved with moving 1,500 miles from our homeland to frozen Yankeeland, besides our dog getting out of the yard, but I actually thought Maine would do Abby good. Cold, crisp, clean air, the no-nonsense of New Englanders to impress upon her the impracticality of getting out of a perfectly comfortable backyard. … And with all the snow we’d be getting, we installed a five-foot chain-link fence. With a regular old four-footer, like she was used to, and a foot of snow, why she’d just walk over the damned thing. That probably would have ruined her pride. But five feet to scale, and a few extra pounds I tried to pack onto her by fudging on her serving sizes, no way she’d get out. We even had a mild winter; no more than 8 inches of snow accumulated at any one time.
She got out.
She’d wedge that tiny little head between the frame of the gate and the fabric (that’s what all us guys accustomed to talking fence construction call the actual fence material), lean into it with all her weight and push her way through. Then she’d walk to the front porch and sit there.
We put her on Prozac. We bought a bottle of pheromones that plugged into an electrical outlet and released good karma all day.
Didn’t work.
So, we moved again. To North Carolina.
Yeah, sure, again there were other circumstances at work, but I thought, hey, back to the South, where she’s comfortable, she’s not getting any younger, or thinner, surely she’s ready to retire. If not, the long, hot, humid days ought to wear her down. We moved into a new house in a Planned Housing Developments, one of those Poltergeist neighborhoods that’s sprung out of a cow pasture, where all the fences have to be the same damn thing — scallop-topped privacy fence. This means it’s five-feet high at the posts and swoops down to four-and-a-half feet in the middle. On one side of us there are huge, intimidating German shepherds — no way Abby’s going over that side. Along the back there’s new construction and a bunch of men every day talking foreigner with screaming loud tools and swinging big sticks at a house; she ain’t going there. In front, ah in front, a quiet cul-de-sac, with only four of the nine houses, other than ours, occupied. It’s boring out there. The back yard is big, with a rare cluster of big mature trees that weren’t bulldozed. And there’s a deck that sits off the ground, and under the deck is cool, cool dirt. She should be happy there.
She’s not.
Within a few weeks we started coming home and finding Abby … you guessed it, on the front porch.
By now, after three cities in three states in five years, she’s 7 years old and turning grey.
She is also very determined. She is undaunted.
By now, at least, she doesn’t care if we see her escape or not.
The architectural requirements in the hood call for the fence to stop at the back corner of the house. We have a gate there. We also have a big window in or den looking at that gate.
Abby’s amazing. She jumps to the top of the gate — four and a half feet high — clutches the gate cross bracing with her back claws, hooks her front legs over the top of the gate, pushes, pulls and scrambles over.
She amazes our neighbors. They think it’s a really neat trick.
I think it’s a pain in the ass, because at this house her blanket and the leashes were locked away in the garage. So, maybe to satisfy an oral fixation, maybe because she’s a little over protective of Trish and Ella, who are home all day, she bit the man from the electric company come to survey the house next door. Bit him good, too, drew a drop of blood.
It’s bad enough that we’ve knowingly broken a major covenant by having more than two dogs, albeit with the developer’s written blessing.
But biting? That shit’s not funny. She’s done it before, when she’s felt threatened, or when she’s felt that she needed to protect Trish. But that shit’s going to get us thrown out of our new house on all of our asses, and it’s going to drain our bank account to pay legal fees, and we’ll have to sell our paid-off German-built station wagon and Japanese-built SUV and buy a beater Geo and a used, two-toned double-wide, circa 1982, and fill our pantry with Ramen noodles and Vienna sausages. Our kid will have to wear generic diapers and drink generic-brand purple kool-aid stuff out of ancient McDonald’s Grimace glasses we bought at a yard sale. She’ll learn how to pick the food out of the trash cans that hasn’t been eaten, much. Trish will lose her nursing license (I don’t know why, just because) and she’ll have to go to work emptying medical waste at the free clinic two towns over. I’ll of course loose all dignity, all self-confidence and I’ll spend the days watching the Game Show Network (of course we’ll have DishTV and a 42-inch LCD TV), drinking warm Miller and waiting for the government check. The dogs will probably be happy with this arrangement, because they’ll have to stay inside all the time (can’t afford no fence) and they’ll take over the mix-matched Goodwill sofa and loveseat. The boys, that is. Abby, well, Abby went to live on a farm where she can chase rabbits and swim in creeks all day. That’s what we’ll tell Ella. Oh, we’ve starting lying to Ella to mask our pathetic reality.

Still, it’s pretty amazing, the way Abby clears that gate. And she’ll do it again and again and again. She jumped out about five times one day, within an hour, before Trish started making her jump back in and she finally tired out after two or three more of these futile exercises. Last weekend, I was upstairs, in our bedroom, which is on the end of the house where this gate is, and I hear paws scraping and clawing over the gate. I opened the door, shouted “get back to the yard!” and looked down to see her stop, turn around, hang her head and wander back to the gate, then scramble back over. And getting back over has to be a lot more difficult, and it must require a lot more effort, because she doesn’t have the benefit of the gate bracing, which she uses as a kind of 2-by-4 platform, because it’s on the inside.

Oh, I’ve had my run-ins with Abby. We have the traditional step-relative relationship. She’s messy (she poops as close to the house as she can, she doesn’t go out into the yard like the boys), she tugs on her lead during walks, she darts after cats and squirrels, she’s an obsessive eater and blanket sucker (has to be fleece, too) and she’s a pain-in-the-ass escape artist with a mouth that’s a legal liability and a nightmare of the poorhouse waiting to happen. I’ll yell at her, and play up the alpha male bit to intimidate her. I’ll curse her and wonder why, oh why didn’t she eat just a little bit more of that yummy warfarin.

And then I’ll come home from work and listen to Ella tell me that Abby went to the grocery store and bought strawberries, and Abby painted a blue picture, and Abby Abby Abby. This dog is my little girl’s heroine, most beloved animal in the world and maybe her best friend. No matter how many people Abby bites when Ella pulls her tail or squeezes her ears (which we strongly discourage) she barely winces. And then I’ll walk into the garage (Abby’s solitary confinement), and that nasty dog will grab that stinking old scrap of fleece and prance around, and swing that big ol’ butt and whip that tail.