No, it’s not a topic I’d have thought I’d ever contemplate, much less be addressing; but here we are. It goes like this:
This past January my wife and I (and our current dog Buffy, who I call Freakshow) adopted another dog at the humane society shelter. She’s a four-and-a half year old, medium-to-large yellow Lab mix who had clearly had at least one litter, was very calm and eager to please, and got along well with the other dog (better than I do). The folks at the shelter said all they knew was that she was brought in as a stray three and a half months earlier and had her shots; they’d called her Holly, and so did we.
I started learning just how smart and well-trained Holly was the day I brought her home. I walked her on a leash out the front door of the shelter and opened the hatchback on my car on the way to letting her squirt before, I thought, I’d have to coax her into the car—but she jumped right in, sat up straight, and looked at me as if to say, “OK, where we goin’?” She obeyed when I asked her to step back out of the vehicle and she relieved herself, then calmly got back in the car, laid down, and didn’t make a sound all the way home.
She spent some time sniffing around the garage when we disembarked, and happily heeled when I asked to come with me through the gate into the back yard. I opened the door to let Freakshow join us, there was mutual sniffing, then we all went inside to begin our lives together.
Holly was underweight from having been a stray, even had some broken teeth from, the vet surmises, trying to eat rocks while she was out on her own. I can see how she might have gotten a little nutty out on the streets in a Houston summer, but she turned out to be quite normal. She was housetrained; she filled out once she got on a regular meal schedule (and shadows our steps whenever she thinks there are treats in the offing); she loves to go for walks, she greets enthusiastically when we come home, she eagerly rolls on her back to have her belly rubbed, she grabs toys from a box and proudly shows them off (although she doesn’t really want us to take them, just to watch her carry them).
And for the first few months, when I got home from work and let the dogs outside she’d trot smartly across the deck to the lawn and without need of any encouragement…avail herself of the opportunity.
Until one day two months ago: I’m out back with both dogs and everything is normal, and I notice Freakshow doing something stupid or destructive (also, alas, normal) so I yelled “Buffy, stop it,” or words to that effect, I really don’t remember what I said; but whatever it was it got Holly’s attention.
Instantly she stopped what she was doing, loped over to where I was standing, sat at my feet, looked up at me, and she waited. I inquired as to her needs but she said nothing, just looked up and waited. So I walked away, but she hustled over in front of me where she sat down, and looked up and waited. I petted her on the head and said “Good girl!” but she sat there and looked up at me, and waited. I couldn’t figure out what she was waiting for, so I came inside; both dogs followed me and we all resumed our normal routines.
When next it was time for Holly to go outside she bounded to the door, walked proudly out onto the deck, sat down, looked up at me, and waited. And she would not walk off the deck into the yard to poop and pee; she would only walk off the deck if that’s what it took to sit down in front of me and look up and, yes, wait. When I got tired of waiting for her to stop waiting for me, I came inside and so did she and that was that.
Now two months later, and nothing has changed: she goes just fine when mommy takes her outside, she never seems to be in distress, but she will not go for me. I’m convinced that whatever it was I said to Freakshow that day sounded to Holly like a command she’d been taught in her old life, and I don’t know how to undo it.
I am reduced to hope…left only to imagine…perchance, to dream?