Too Smart Dog

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To begin with, four criteria were non-negotiable: female, short hair, no chance it would grow over twenty pounds, and No Lip Droops (the dreaded lip droop, renowned for its saliva dispersing capabilities).

Childish pleading would not dissuade me on these points.

If I was sentencing myself to thirteen dog-years of inconvenient labor, those unhappy years had to be endurable. Cleaning up after a hairy, slobbering behemoth that danced with everyone’s shins would have put me in a foul mood, necessitating the exclusion of my photo from all future family scrapbooks. I could not compromise the four criteria.

One would think I’d have a better opinion of our “best friends” since my parents always maintained a panting flea-bus or two when I was a kid. I like dogs.

As an adult, I took in my Grandmother’s toy poodle, Pepper, after Gram decided the six pound yipper was too much trouble. When the poodle passed on to the dog park in the sky, I found myself dogless for the first time in my life and experienced an epiphany. It was pleasant not having a dog.

I could go to work, or sojourn from home whenever I wanted, unfettered from feeding and toilet routines. No longer wondering whether the old thing cried at my absence. No more trips to the vet or groomer, no more flea treatments or kibble to buy—I had extra money! Besides, I was married, with my first child on the way—which meant goodbye extra money, but all in all, well worth the effort. Why replace old Pepper-poodle? I would proceed through life sans pet.

A year-and-a-half later, with a little further help from hubby, our son was joined by a daughter. We had successfully reproduced ourselves. The circle of life was complete. Who needed additional species to look after? Eventually, my beautiful babies became happy, inquisitive children.

Children who started begging for a dog.

Resistance was futile once my son and daughter discovered I’d had a dog when I was growing up. Damn you, logic and fair play! Assurances were pledged. The children would handle all care and feeding, without question or cajoling. Hearts were crossed. A triple promise made. With ironclad guarantees like this, how could I hesitate? We struck the bargain.

To avoid the expensive prices and genetic disorders of purebreds, I telephoned the local Humane Society and asked if they had any puppies available. Unfortunately, they did, but not at their location. They gave me an address thirty minutes away.

In an era before Google Maps and Garmins made travel possible, the kids and I set off along the gravel, rollercoaster backroads of Carroll County. Three wrong turns and two threats to turn back home if “we couldn’t find this idiotic dog mill” later, we spied our destination. Under the shade of a gnarly silver maple sat a chicken-wire coop full of yapping puppies. Near it stood, not the ramshackle trailer of a dog hoarder, but a neat, well-kept mobile home surrounded by a floral landscape to rival Versailles.

The children sprinted to the canine-coop while the lady of the manor greeted me. Still concerned regarding future poop-size, I inquired about the pups’ parentage. The owner promptly led the way inside the trailer and introduced me to the father, a Taco Bell brown Chihuahua. He had escaped one day for a romantic encounter with the woman’s outdoor dog, a friendly tan and white beagle, a bit over twenty pounds.

Hair, short… size, acceptable… lip droops, none…. Check.

As the lady and I strolled to the dog-coop, she informed me that out of a litter of ten, one had already been taken. The nine remaining pups displayed the extremes of doggie temperament: from gyrating excitement, barking against the chicken wire to shy, furtive, and shivering in the corner.

Except for one.

In the middle ground between chaos and fear stood a calm little soul in the center of the straw, swaying its tail in greeting. Not afraid, not nutsy. A sleek, smart-looking black and tan which stood out amongst its rough-coated, Taco Bell siblings. It was unclaimed—and it was female. Checklist complete.

Steering the children to my choice was no trouble; all they wanted was four legs and a tail. Suggesting the name I liked proved simple, too. All I said was, “She’s cute as a pixie,” and they seized on it. Though, whether she’s Pixie Dust or Pixie Stix is debated to this day.

Had I realized at the time, the little orange cat hanging around our house would soon force itself into the role of family pet, the presence of an additional “Pixie” would have been moot, but that’s another story.

Seven-pound Pixie began her tenure in our home by teething on my new dining room chairs. Her hacksaw fangs nearly chewed through one of the cross supports. Amazing! She tested her choppers on the cat next and received a lesson in respect.

Since we have no fence (and because Alzheimer’s Disease begins in childhood), I was drafted into taking our new addition to the ivy bed several times a day for her toilet. Now, a quick warning to the wary, when the four ingredients of: residing on a hillside, a dewy morning, worn down sneakers, and a doggy leash combine, the result is three broken middle toes. Remarkably, the snap-snap-snap and hard fall truly do seem to happen in slow motion.

After my toes healed, I deemed, for my health and the dog’s, it behooved us to take a daily walk on level ground. Imagine my surprise when our jaunts revealed the sturdy, no-problem mongrel I had counted on turned out to be a cripple with bad knees. Two operations and sixteen hundred dollars later, we resumed our exercise.

Having owned a hound for several years now, I can confirm their reputation for laziness is not a cliché, as it concerns my half-beagle, anyway. Though Pixie enjoys her daily constitutional—so much so I can’t put my shoes on without a display of excitement, nor say the word walk, nor even spell it without her zipping for the door—describing her as an active dog would be false. When not walking, begging for food, eating, or relieving herself of the prior action, Pixie is sleeping. Twenty-two hours a day on average. One tummy rub and she’s out. Sunbeams lull her into a coma. No one dares flop onto a couch or chair without checking behind pillows or under throws first as she may be nesting beneath them. Moving her risks an indignant grunt or resentful stare.

Of course, lazy is one thing. I was not prepared for the true, pernicious nature of this subversive canine.

Pixie is too smart.

I’m not talking learning-to-roll-over smart; she mastered that in a day, as well as “bang, play dead” “sit up and beg” “speak” and “wait for the treat on your nose.” Oh, no! This dog can roll herself in a blankie and go nite-nite! Whisper sweet-nothings. High-Five. And, not just dance, but exhibit two kinds of dancing. One, a hip-hop jump, the other, well, Deedle-deedle-dee the first notes of Turkey in The Straw and she performs ballet—all for rewards no bigger than a fiber of chicken or single nugget of cat chow.

Pixie is the hungriest hound in Northeast Ohio. Never was a dog so motivated by treats! If the animal realized one intelligible word would garner a slice of bacon, she’d recite the Oxford English Dictionary.

She covets food with criminal intent. Pushing chairs tightly against the dinner table is law in our house; unguarded plates are soon emptied. We elevated the cat’s litter box to prevent Pixie snacking there. The four-legged Grinch stole a bag of beef jerky from my son’s Christmas basket. She dug up a mole and shook it like a tambourine for tenderizing. Only the quick action of my fearless daughter saved the poor critter’s life. Mouse parts, discarded outside by the cat, are gobbled down in seconds if we lack vigilance.

Bad enough, but the maniacal part is Pixie creates elaborate schemes to get food. And I’m not talking ordinary dog methods like stalking toddlers, waiting for a cookie to drop. Oh, no. This benign-looking beagle works up sinister triangulations to steal snacks.

It’s unsettling to be outwitted by a pet.

Once, I put my feet up to savor some cheese and crackers in front of the TV. Pixie trotted to the sliding door and voiced her three-syllable grunt. She needed to go outside. I put my plate on the end table and got up to get her leash by the door. When I got there, she was gone. In the two seconds it took me to walk from couch to door, the dog raced around through the kitchen, back to the living room, climbed onto the arm of the couch, and scarfed down the last of my cheddar and Ritz.

I’m ashamed to admit she tricked me the same way the very next night! Fool me twice, so the saying goes. From then on, my plate traveled with me. Pixie was not discouraged, hatching an even more elaborate plot.

To keep the dog out of unattended wastebaskets, we installed a gate at the bottom of the steps when she was a pup so she couldn’t forage through the house. One evening, not long after the previous theft, Pixie again asked to go outside. My mistake was not securing her to the leash before opening the sliding door. She bolted into the night.

Normally, once she realizes she’s free, not even rattling her treat jar will bring her back (the promise of feasting on tasty garbage throughout the neighborhood is too great), but not this night. As I called for her, I suddenly heard her barking at the front door of the house. I went back inside, climbed the steps up to our front door, and looked out the glass. There she was, crying and scratching to enter, so I obliged. SWOOSH! In she careened because she knew—she was on THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GATE.

She scrambled to my son and daughter’s rooms as if her tail were on fire. My children (having long since left the enforced neatness of childhood) maintained at the time two teenage wastelands, which they called bedrooms, where anything from moldering cake to cement pizza crusts littered the floor. Nothing escaped Pixie’s mouth. A navy SEAL team could not have been more thorough, or fast. She was uncatchable.

To this day, Pixie and I engage in a contest of wit and wills. Will her patience and my tendency to spill cereal win the day? Will I be driven out of my wits trying to outthink this dog?

One might be concerned, and rightly so, that Pixie’s endless stomach capacity and Einstein level I.Q., poses a threat to human dominance over the planet. But, allow me to quench all fears. A responsible, low cost spaying and neutering program rendered this Machiavellian mutt incapable of breeding at four months old, saving us from a race of super-canines.

Yet, as Pixie snoozes beside me enjoying her daily neck rub, a question remains. Were her siblings also geniuses? Did they get the thirty-dollar snip? And if not, can humanity survive? One can only wonder… where are those nine other Bea-huahuas now?

Where Are They Now!

 

 

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