Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Recent Finger-Wrenching Adventure with the Dogs: An Account

So, since some of you have asked, I'll tell you what happened with my fingers recently. This might be an exercise in proving to doubters that a real person writes this blog — an exercise akin to those captcha thingies that pop up at various sites and ask you to prove you're a human and not a, well, perhaps a monkey? writing a comment or sending an e-card.

My story begins with me deciding, one beautiful morning of late, to take the dogs to the park for a walk. We have the wonderful fortune to live equidistant from two amazing parks, both wooded preserves sloping from the hilly ridge beneath which we live down towards the Arkansas River. 

Normally, Steve and I take the three dogs for a walk to the park together. We do so because they're a handful not only to walk, but to leash prior to the walk. Let them hear the jingle of their leashes and harnesses as you fetch these from the hook, and you'd think the Parousia had surely just begun to break out. Everything's suddenly Callooh! Callay! as three energetic little balls of fur jump, prance, chortle, demand to be first in the leashing process — but then dash away the minute you try to get ahold of any one of them to slip the halter on.

All of this joy is also made even more frabjous by the fact that Valentine and Crispen have a distinctly odd sibling relationship, a Cain and Abel sort of one, so that joy translates into growling, teeth-showing, back-arching, as each tries to lord it over the other while the lordee is being leashed. In short, it's a real chore to get the three dogs harnessed and leashed for a walk, and Steve complains that I don't even know how to put the harnesses on, which indicates I'm not fit to be out walking the three of them to the park without his assistance . . . . 

So there's that, the leashing. And then there's the walking. 

On the day on which the hand thing occurred, I thought I'd slip off to the park with the three dogs while he was at work, and who would be the wiser? He recently took a trip home to Minnesota to see his mother as she turned 87 and Mothers' Day arrived, and I found that I was perfectly capable of harnessing the three dogs (albeit, not with Steve's precision) and walking them to the park, thank you very much, when he wasn't here to assist me. So why not try it again on this beautiful spring morning when the scent of the spring's last roses was giving way to the equally glorious early summer scents of magnolia, glossy abelia, honeysuckle, and privet hedge all along the way and in the parks themselves?

I do work hard to keep my hand in at being what my doctor has called "the poster boy for diabetic maintenance," with a daily walk or two, but I must also confess that I grow weary of my treadmill and of listening to Ellen Degeneres fracture the English language as I tread ("lay" when "lie" is what she means, "the fastest" when she's talking about two competitors) and issue bizarre factoids (what we call sweet potatoes are really yams, and it's yams we're almost always eating when we think we're eating sweet potatoes, and, oh, by the way, sweet potatoes are white and yams are orange) that are patently incorrect. I save Ellen's shows and watch them as I work on my treadmill when the weather doesn't permit park walks. 

I set off this fine early summer morning, then, and none the wiser, except — doesn't it say that what we try to conceal will be shouted from the rooftops? — the moment I begin crossing Kavanaugh, the main avenue running through our neighborhood a half block north of our house, and head up to Hill Road, where I'll take a right for one park or a left for the other, who should ring my phone except Steve? Who hears the calloohing and callaying in the background, so what's the point of pretending that I'm not trudging uphill with three jubilant dogs on leashes and the park in the distance?

Here's how we walk: Crispen, who is a doughty, obedient, intelligent little dog that someone in my neck of the woods might call a good Sunday-school-boy sort of dog, walks as he does everything else. It's all a straight line to his destination, no swerving, pulling with as much determination as a stout plowhorse, interrupting himself only to growl if Valentine threatens to encroach on his space.

Val, by contrast, our wild child, as a friend of mine calls him, is headed every way from Sunday from the moment we set out on the walk, oblivious to the fact that he's leashed, so that every few seconds, there's a moment of ugly recognition that, no, he cannot dash to that other dog, as the leash ends and the hand of the leashholder suffers a painful jolt as Val lunges and is stopped short. This goes on all the way to the park, so that by the time we arrive there, Val has plaited his leash together with Crispen's and they're joined together by one long leash that has them yoked side by side like two little plowhorses and not just one.

As all this is going on, Val is chittering, howling, verbalizing for all the world like a monkey. Monkey talk, Steve calls it, and he's right. He sounds absolutely like a monkey in a zoo, so that people walking on the sidewalk ahead of us routinely turn around startled, trying to find out who might be fool enough to put a monkey on a leash this fine morning or afternoon. 

And when he's not chittering, he's attacking: Crispen, if he takes a mind to do so, gardens, if he can't reach the dog that lives in the house that maintains the garden. Take that, branch of azalea! See the power of my teeth, rose cane! The ivy I've just decimated: that's what I'll do to you if I ever get my paws on you, dogs behind that fence. 

As I say, it's not just gardens along the way (even when we do everything in our power to prevent his reaching them). It's also Crispen. When he's frustrated about being unable to reach a dog on which he wants to set paw and teeth, he vents his frustration on hapless but very sturdy little Chris, who takes the abuse only so long before we have a fight on our hands, right in the middle of the street or sidewalk, fur flying, snarls awaking an entire block.

To deal with this and other infractions (all on Val's part: he's the only one of our dogs who ever runs after another dog, the only one that has ever been bitten by a snake, the only one that has located a spring about to bubble up from the ground, the only one who has found a hollow filled with water in the base of a tree, the only one that walks atop walls, the only one that vaults over walls or crawls through holes underneath them), we bring a spray bottle filled with water along as we walk. It works. Spray him and Chris in the face with cold water as they fight, and they stop immediately. 

Flora watches all this in stunned silence, ashamed to have borne and bred such little galloots. She pretends not to know them, goes her own merry way. 

On the day on which my hand got wrenched, I made the fatal mistake of forgetting to bring along the spray bottle. So that we arrive at the park, I see no other person or dog in sight and let them off the leash, and I am weaponless to control Val when, as inevitably happens, he spots another person walking a dog in the distance. 

Before he can run off in chase, I manage to grab him and the other three dogs and leash all three of them. But since I'm dealing with the three of them all by myself, I somehow fail to hold the three leashes as tightly as I need to do, and Val is off like a flash, the long leash trailing behind, headed to the frightened woman with her small dog, who understandably snatches it up in her arms as he approaches, all 22 pounds of flying fur that he is.

I've seen this song and dance enough times to know that there's no capturing him unless I threaten to walk backwards with the other two dogs, and so I do just that. As soon as he sees us stepping back up the path through the park, he quickly rejoins us and I get a firm grip on his leash, not paying sufficient attention to how I'm doing so and to the fact that the three middle fingers of my right hand are tangled in the leash and not holding it through the strap at the end of the leash.

I'm simply delighted to have control of him again and to prevent his terrorizing a nice woman and her dog, when they deserve no such terrorizing. And so I have made my fatal mistake: off we set again, heading past the other two park walkers, and Val lunges as we approach them. My fingers take the brunt of the lunge, and for a moment I imagine they're broken, since I cannot feel them, beyond the intense pain in the middle joint of each of the three middle fingers of my right hand.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it, since it's what happened on that park walk. Steve did an I-told-you-so act when he heard about it in the evening, and has forbidden me to walk the dogs when he's not with me.

But what Steve doesn't know won't hurt him, will it? :-)

(And lest anyone chide me/us for being careless with our dogs in the park, I should note that 1] not any one of them is truly threatening in any way, 2] we never let them run loose when other people or dogs are in sight, 3] though Val likes to appear to be a terror, his frantic approach to other dogs is really all about making friends with them.)

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