A Karmic Sandbox (karmasoup) wrote,
A Karmic Sandbox

An Exhaustive Tail — Or — Corraling a Mischievous Untamed Weasel


A few years back, some good friends of ours once had three little dogs.  We’d spent plenty of time with them, as our friends have done a great deal of alfresco entertaining.  They also own the home next door, and rent it out to other friends, sharing a giant combined backyard space they’ve converted into an inner city paradise for grilling, watching outdoor movies, playing games, gathering around a fire pit, sampling home brews, and generally just hanging out, relaxing with other good fun folks.

Two of their dogs had “special needs” issues, more or less amounting to canine variations of personality disorders — though, if you ask me, I’d tell you every little dog naturally comes with a fair bit of neuroses... it’s just the basic nature of small dogs — they got no chill.  One of them, though — Bear — the fuzziest, friendliest, most rotund of the lot — didn’t have any additional major problems over and above those standard to the nebbish of the dog kingdom.  Consequently, he stood out as seeming almost aberrant in comparison, because he very often incited the other two into a frantic frenzy just by being a normal dog.

The story was, Bear had belonged to some friends of our friends, who were then visited on an indefinite basis by some relatives who’d lost their home, and needed a place to stay, bringing along their children, and their Great Dane.  Between the insistent attention of the little girls and the over eager interest of the giant dog, Bear had gone into hiding in his own home, so our friends had agreed to foster when their friends
sought out a safe haven for his wellbeing, so as to give him a chance at a life that didn’t involve cowering under furniture for the remainder of its duration.  After a couple years passed, Bear’s original owners were willing to try and take him back, but that didn’t work out so well.

Bear, having shared the home of smaller dogs with personality quirks for a couple years, had discovered a newfound bravado, and, following his natural instincts to protect his territory, ended up getting himself bit in the head by the big dog.  His original
owners, then fearing for the safety of the children who lived with them if they were to get caught between the dogs going at it, surrendered Bear back to our friends once more — this time unconditionally, with no hope of ever reclaiming him again.  That might have been the end of the story how Bear came to belong to our friends who’d fostered him for two years — except that’s not what happened.

In the couple weeks Bear had been gone from his foster home when he returned to his original owners, our friends’ other dogs had breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed into a functional rhythm with each other that flowed naturally between them and brought harmony into the household, perhaps for the first time in years.  Reintroducing Bear upset that balance, and created problems for the other two that eventually became more than our friends could handle.  While Bear wasn’t the direct cause of the other dogs’ ingrained foibles, his presence exacerbated the occurrence of related incidents.  Knowing our history of rehabbing and rehoming surrendered pets with troubled pasts, our friends reached out to us for help, so we offered to take him in until we could find a suitable
alternative home for him.

His first night at our house, Bear
went straight to my bed, and staked a claim on “his spot” there.  At the time, we had three cats, and a rather large, incredibly mellow senior 14-yr-old mastiff — the big dog belonged to my husband, so they slept together in his bed, along with two of the cats who preferred the dog’s company — which left my space open to be conquered, and it seemed at first Bear had chosen to “belong” to me.  He slept curled up in a comfy ball at my hip, my familiar in his own respective place at his special “cat zone” by my shoulder, the others with the big dog and my husband.

01-1. Jack-the- Bear - 1st Night - In Bed w-Pink Flamingo Toy.jpg01-2. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Sleepy Flamingo.jpg

01-3. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Curled up Pup.jpg01-4. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Zonked.jpg

The very next morning, Bear had left a trail of stuffed chew toy carnage in the hall, and seemed pretty pleased with his handiwork, showing it off proudly.  He quickly made short work of all chew toys, dissecting them with the ease of a skilled surgeon, liberating their “innards” within seconds — it was all we could do to keep him supplied with enough materials to chew on instead of other things he would turn into chew toys — stocking up at the dollar store became a weekly requirement.  

            02-01. Jack-the-Bear - The Morning After - Chew Toy Carnage.jpg
02-02. Jack-the-Bear - The Morning After - Heart of the Kill.jpg

Bear had a habit of leaving the interior piece —
the “squeaker” — in my bed on my pillow —
I think it was his way of surrendering
“the heart of the kill” *
to the leader of the pack

*Post text reads:
“Came home to find a sacrifice.”

Most dogs have moved past the chewing stage before the age we got Bear, but as he hadn’t outgrown it yet by then, he probably wasn’t going to.  We only ever lost a couple items as minor household “casualties” — he decorated the hall rug (pictured here) with a chew-sized hole, and he liberated Minion’s birthday Finn action figure of a foot.  If you try to take a toy from Bear, he will playfully growl and tug with you to get it back — this can go on as long as you want, or until he gets frustrated enough to sit up with his hindquarters flat, “begging” by pawing the air with his front paws, trying to play the guilt card and “cute” you into giving it up.

03-01.  Jack-the-Bear - Cute-Guilt - Pleeeeeaassse!!!.jpg03-02.  Jack-the-Bear - Cute-Guilt - Happy Puppy.JPG

Neither me or Minion has ever really been into little dogs, him because as a bow hunter, and having spent time as a child in a farming environment, he’s used to the kinds of large working breed hounds that herd or hunt — and for me, between my history with Sharpeis, Shepherd Huskies, Shepherd Rotts, and the Mastiff, anything under 100 pounds is “little.”  Bear, a Jack-Russell-Rat Terrier mix, was only 18#, but we had come to know him on many, many occasions in the past couple years in our friends’ home, and he was so very sweet (he’s great with company!), it was already a little like taking in family during a crisis — how do you say no to that?  We actually had a 25# cat that dwarfed him in size — it was no wonder he related better to them at first.

04. Jack-the-Bear - Hanging with the Cats.jpg

In time, Bear began to feel comfortable with the big dog — once he’d been around long enough it was clearly apparent the gentle Mastiff was not the type to bite his head — so then the two became good friends (I imagine it must have been delightfully refreshing for Bear to finally have a doggie buddy who genuinely enjoyed his company).  Then Bear moved into my husband’s room, and began to win over my husband — before too long, the little brat had grown on Minion.  Rat Terriers are bred for hunting — they were designed to root into small holes to dig out rats, shrews, rabbits, any sort of burrowing varmint, and Jack Russells are incredibly smart; it seemed for a while like my husband might have ended up with a hunting dog after all.

05. Jack-the-Bear - Papa's Pups.jpg

Bear didn’t have any health concerns, though he was quite the picky eater — getting him to eat was a daily challenge.  We kept a regular schedule of one cup of kibble twice a day, but Bear needed to feel pampered, so Minion would have to put egg beaters on top of his food and then stand over him to watch him eat, as otherwise he would just snub it.  We tried multiple different types of food — the food was never the issue.  He would always eat anything new at first like it was the best thing in the world ever, and he was so amazed to have it, but then three days later, he’d become bored with it, and Minion would have to go back into negotiation mode with the prissy little prima donna.  If he was an only dog, he’d have been feeder-fed, but with a big dog in the house, that was never an option, because they have to be segregated from each other’s food types, as they have differing nutritional needs.

Bear is ridiculously cute, playful, cuddly, and may quite possibly be one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever known.  He would sleep in bed with us, curl up next to us on the couch, sit up on his hind paws when he wants to be picked up, or needs to go out, and loves giving kisses and getting belly rubs.  He’s great on a leash, loves walks around the neighborhood or the lake, enjoys car rides and trips to PetSmart, and doesn’t require a crate, as he’s well behaved when home alone.

06-01.  Jack-the-Bear - Tuckered-out Pup.jpg06-02.  Jack-the-Bear - Tuckered-out Pup.jpg

However, though we’re generally opposed in principal to such things, we ended up having to get a tie-out attached to the house for the little troll.  It wasn’t to leave him outside for extended periods of time, it was to ensure we could maintain his presence within our yard, as Bear was naturally a digger — and a runner.  There wasn’t a fence made he couldn’t get under, and we only had to chase him over a radius of several blocks a few times before we determined to come up with a better plan.

One of those times I ran after him through about three or four streets of other people’s backyards at 5 months pregnant, stopping every 50 yards or so to try to catch my breath and contemplate how torn up Minion would be if Bear had gotten himself run over by a car in the road, which became increasingly less and less unthinkable the longer this little “adventure” went on.  That was because he’s small enough to push past you even if the door is open only by the smallest crack, and it certainly doesn’t help if your belly is big enough you can’t easily see what’s at your feet.  Lesson learned — from that point on, we kept the hook for the tie-out by the door, and instituted the practice of picking him up like a football before turning the handle.

This was all just a game for Bear, as whenever you finally do capture him, he’s a wriggly little squirmy ball of happy fluff in your arms, tickled pink with himself, and pleased as punch to be back to wagging his stubby little nub of a tail and licking your face — but it’s not so much fun on your end, as you pant and puff, red-faced and worn out. 
In the end, what most often brought him skittering home like a bat outta hell were those stupid little chew toy squeakers.  We kept a stash of them by the door, and he’d come bounding back from over several blocks away at the sound of their call to claim his prize.

For a while, I worked in an environment
that permitted employees to bring dogs
into the office to hang out for the day,
which was close enough to home
I could cart them back and forth
over my lunch break to allow for only
half a day’s visit (it’s not always
the easiest thing to get work done
with a pet for a desk mate).
                                                                                                07-01. Jack-the-Bear - Coworker - Pink Seahorse Helper.jpg

I took Bear there a couple times, though he really didn’t enjoy being tied to my desk, and chewed through his harness — as it turned out, in an attempt to flee a trio of little girls brought in by one of my coworkers.  It was then I learned Bear was afraid of little girls, and would do anything to get away from them (initially, I thought he was scared of children, but discovered later he didn’t mind at all hanging out with the little boys in our neighborhood who’d come over to play in our yard when the dogs were out, so I’m guessing part of his previous household “traumas” might have included some girlie makeovers ;-).

07-02. Jack-the-Bear - Coworker - Hiding Under Desk from Children.jpg

Five months after Bear came to us, my oldest cat passed away at 17, and in the month following, the Mastiff passed away, also.  Initially despondent at the absence of his friends, Bear missed both of them terribly at first, but then within a few days he’d not only adjusted to the loss of the big dog, but seemed fairly okay with being the only pooch in the house. 

08.  Jack-the-Bear - & Rufus.jpg

We were still committed to finding another big mutt to love, though, as that’s what we’re both used to, and the sort we prefer — particularly the bully types, for me — so in a few weeks, we rescued a 4-yr-old male Boxer/Dane mix we are both absolutely crazy about.

But the introduction of the new big dog to the home changed Bear’s environment enough that he began to bully the latest addition to our happy home.  (Which is how he’d come to be surrendered to us in the first place, after he’d begun to bully the other dogs in our friends’ home following the change in that previous environment.)  The moment the Boxer Dane — Duke — stepped foot in our house, Bear ganged up with the 25# cat, and the two of them attacked the giant together.

that, Bear never interacted with Duke except to growl and snap at him, take his toys, chase him from his food, companionship, or whatever space Bear didn’t think he should be in at the time.  So poor Duke was lonely and unhappy, and he didn’t deserve that... we didn’t rescue him from a bad situation (I don’t know what kind of torment he was escaping, but he barks at sirens, responds aggressively enough to the command, “Get him!” that we’ve learned never to accidentally put those two words together in his presence, and he had to leave his previous home because his former owners were in prison) just to bring him into our lives to be miserable.  I’d initially hoped he could be a companion to Bear as the Mastiff had been, but Bear wanted to make sure everyone knew he was top dog, even if that meant no one else in our home could be happy.

I put up with the discontented nature of things for a while, hoping they would find a balance, but when it became apparent Bear was satisfied for things to remain this way, I decided Duke needed a real companion, as relegating him to an environment in which he would never be allowed to relax and enjoy himself was cruel and inhumane.  So we adopted a rescued 1-yr-old female Pit-Terrier mix
Lady who was also crazy about Duke, and wouldn’t take Bear’s crap.  Duke and Lady took to each other like siblings, like newlyweds, or an old married couple, depending on the day, but they seemed a natural match, and shared an unpretentious, honest love for one another.

09.  Duke & Lady - Made for Each Other.jpg

Bear then became even more aggressive for a while, biting them both on a handful of occasions within a short span of time upon Lady’s arrival.  But Lady had been a Mama dog, and to her, Bear was nothing more than a spoiled, bratty little puppy who was a little too big for his britches, and she wasn’t afraid to sharply put him in his place with the ease and rapid grace in which a mother bear chastises her cubs.  Lady also emboldened Duke to not feel like he had to be skittish around or back down to the little tyrant, and as at 100# and 65# respectively, it was probably only a matter of time before these incredibly strong big dogs got tired of being patient with Bear’s temper tantrums, I became concerned Bear could potentially be headed for some real damage, but for the most part, Lady’s presence helped to settle everyone down for a while... she kept Duke happy, and whenever Bear would get a little out of hand, she’d remind him that she’s bigger than him, and she wasn’t afraid to show it.

10.  Mama and her pup.jpg

After a while, the trio seemed to have created a tentative truce between them, and a wary, hesitant kind of peace settled on Misfit Manor.

11-01.  Getting Along - Stage 1 - Hesitant.jpg11-02.  Getting Along - Stage 2 - Vigilant.jpg11-03.  Getting Along - Stage 3 - Snoozing.jpg11-04.  Getting Along - Stage 4 - Conspiracy.jpg

When the three of them played outside together, kids in the neighborhood often mistook Bear as the “couple’s” puppy.  Considering he was the oldest of them all, and as he clearly had designs on being their de facto leader, I imagine If Bear had understood this, he would have gone on a kid butt-kicking rampage!  XD

But the war of the dogs wasn’t the worst of it, though, as the more pregnant I got, the more unhinged Bear became.  The real reversal of power became most obvious the first time whereupon I discovered him chewing on something he should not have been, and after scolding him and telling him, “NO!,” as I’d done many times before, I went to take it from him, but was instead met with teeth bared growling as he snapped at me — if not for quick reflexes, I’d have been bitten.  Minion then smacked him and took the thing from him (I’ve long since forgotten what it was, not that it matters anymore).

This was a new level of unacceptable behavior.  Previously, everyone in the household had been an equal companion, under me, as he’d recognized me as Alpha at the beginning when he first decided to claim me as his Mama, and for some reason never transferred that designation to Minion when he moved into his new digs with our original big dog.  By that point, though, he had come to see himself as Alpha, and became possessive of Minion as his charge, believing he had to protect his Papa from me.  Looking into this new situation with renowned behaviorists, I learned some dogs, especially little ones — particularly Rat Terriers — react to pregnancy hormones this way, no longer distinguishing the pregnant woman as the same person they’ve always known, and sometimes even as a potential threat.

Before too long, Bear’s demeanor toward me became so hostile, we had to put up a baby gate on Minion’s bedroom door, as otherwise every time I came in to kiss Minion goodbye in the morning when I was working days and he was on the night shift, Bear would rush to attack me.  With the advanced warning system of the gate in place, Minion would have to wake up enough to contain the rabid little hellion while we said our goodbyes, or else I would have surely lost a finger.  I cannot imagine what the crazed mongrel suspected I was planning on doing to my husband, but he was determined I would not be permitted to pass, thereby bringing about those foreboding gravid girly germs to wreak any havoc.

I’d love to tell you Minion was not okay with this — I’d love to report because I was about to be the mother of his child, my husband was unwilling to accept this type of reaction from a minuscule
berserk gargoyle who routinely tried to kill the love of his life at least every morning of most every day, and consistently made additional attempts to bring about my demise on random other occasions, too.  But I can’t — because Minion had become bonded to this vicious miniature agitator, and the heart has a hard time letting go of what it loves.  He’d convinced himself it wasn’t that bad, that Bear would calm down once I was no longer pregnant, and things would go back to normal.

But by that point, we hadn’t seen anything resembling whatever “normal” had once been for us since we lost the Mastiff months earlier, and I wasn’t willing to take any chances with a baby in the house.  Hormones don’t go away once you’re no longer pregnant; there’s a nursing period — Firebird was on breastmilk for 15 months — and a new mother would be too exhausted from the great physical labor involved in transforming a handful of cells into a sentient being, delivering a pristine human, making milk, and feeding and caring for an infant, to keep an eye out for the menace of a maniacally jealous beast who might consider the newborn a rival for the attention of his pet (I’m pretty sure that’s what Minion was to the Bear, by that point).

There are not a lot of times in my life I’ve “put my foot down,” with anyone, much less my husband, but if you want to see a Mama lose all sense of composure, all you have to do is just introduce a real and present prospective danger to her child, and watch the claws come out — then get out of the way.  I told my husband that dog had to go, and while I wanted the best outcome for him, if I had to make a choice between him and my child, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose any method that would permanently remove any hazards from the environment — I refused to bring my baby home into a household that included Bear.  Minion knew better than to argue with me, but he didn’t do anything to help, either, and he didn’t make it easy.

I contacted every agency I had any connection to, and many I didn’t, begging everyone I could think of and anyone who would listen to help us find a forever family for this little holy terror.  To be fair, Bear wasn’t a bad dog, and none of the changes that been forced into his volatile short life had thus far been of his making, but that didn’t change the situation any, and the last thing I wanted was to have to resort to the Humane Society, though I was willing, if it came to that.  Among all the other time sucking responsibilities of preparing a home for a baby while working full time, I was also regularly on the phone, on the net, on social media, scouring boards, sending messages, reaching out into any dark corners of the world wide web that might offer a lifeline to a sweet little young pup who just needed a strong, firm hand to give him a safe, stable, loving permanent home... and I was doing it all on my own.

Toward the end of the final week before our delivery date, when I’d resorted to making an appointment to delivering Bear to the Humane Society in one of the wealthiest suburbs around, with strict instructions as to the right environment for him — must either be the only dog, or have an established pecking order that would never be subject to change to feel assured he is not in charge (i.e., should never be positioned to feel compelled to vie for Alpha status); cats okay, no little girls, etc. — where I hoped he’d find someone who would indulge his idiosyncratic eccentricities, my brother finally told me of a friend of his mother-in-law’s who wanted a dog.  He put me in touch with her, and I told her my intent was to follow through with the scheduled plan, but she begged me to let her meet him, and offered to pay us a ridiculous rehoming fee.  It was clear enough she was highly motivated, so I figured it was worth a shot.

She was a grandmother whose grandkids were in another state, and she missed getting to see them with any regularity.  She worked as a nurse, and was desperately looking for something
small and sweet to spoil.  It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Marlene was her name — she’d stopped by on her way over to pick up a special squeaky lizard to bring in for their introduction.  When Bear heard the sound of a new toy, he bolted upright in bed, came running from a lazy snooze around the corner, jumped straight up into her lap, grabbed hold of the lizard, and pretty much declared himself to belong to her from the moment she first touched him.  Minion was in the back room, working from his home office, and I tried to find a free moment where he might come out to say goodbye between calls, but Bear didn’t even care to bother — it seemed he’d already forgotten about us from the instant he met his new “Grammy”...Papa who???

Who knows, maybe Bear had been unhappy there with us for a while, not being as in control as he wanted?  He didn’t have to worry about that in Grammy’s home, though... he was going to have the run of the entire place!  Marlene promised she’d walk him multiple times a day, shower him with gifts and attention, stuff him with tasty treats, and basically spoil him rotten!  I couldn’t have dreamed up a better landing for the little guy, and not a moment too soon, either... we were scheduled to go into the maternity ward for induced labor the very next morning.

It was a little hard at first for Minion to adjust to not having his Bear to cuddle with at night, but he did have the comfort of two other big loving dogs who adored us both to ease his sense of loss, not to mention another rather diverting distraction to focus on.  It didn’t take long before even Minion had to recognize that every creature in our home was more relaxed and at ease with one another after being relieved from the subjugation of a diminutive
dictatorial critter — harmony had once again been restored to the Misfit Manor household for good, and a quiet calm descended upon us, just in time to grow our little family by one, very small, but enormously vital new member.

12.  Helping Papa Work.jpg

Of, course, this new tyrannical pipsqueak now dominates our home in entirely different manner... but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  <3

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 19 - Topic: CAN’T GET CALM
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Tags: 4k, family, fids, kms, lj idol, lji11, minion, misfit manor

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