Sick Humor Retro: The Hindrance Dog

Grief takes many forms. There is sorrow, longing, anger, and numbness. Yet, there is also reminiscing. Reflecting on the good, bad, and funny times.

With Gadget, most of my favorite memories are the times that are hilarious now, but were far from funny at the time.

When Gadget was most challenging, I often thought, “Yes, someday, I’ll look back on this and laugh. But for now, I’ll just whimper. Or cry.”

I admit, though, even in the midst of pain or exhaustion, frustration or exasperation, my inner voice whispered, “Heidi is going to love to hear this one!” Or, “I bet I can use this for a humor column.” Or, “Boy, did I make a fool of myself today!”

It was really impossible to stay angry at my boy when he ran as if he might take off and fly from joy, his wildly flopping ears adding to that impression. He loved me with the same abandon as he ran: he once rolled onto his back in my lap, threw back his head to lick my face, and broke my nose with the top of his hard skull. He might paw me in deference and enthusiasm and leave deep, bloody scratches on my legs.

Gadget kisses Sharon

Some kisses were safer than others

Of course, this was when he was young and untutored, before he became the magnificent helper who I came to rely on so much. Before I took much of his help for granted.

Sick Humor Rides — and Crashes — Again

Since I have referred to Gadget as my muse at the end of each After Gadget post, I feel it’s time to give him his due as the muse he used to be when I wrote a monthly column called “Sick Humor.” Gadget starred in a few of my stories about the funny side of life with chronic illness.

Gadget is gone. I haven’t written a column in years. But my new puppy will be here in three weeks — wildness and unpredictability arriving with him. I think it’s a good time to remember that from distractable, unmannerly buffoons grow calm professionals.

In other words, Gadget, my perfect dog was not necessarily the “best” dog. In fact, in 1991, I called him . . .

“The Hindrance Dog”

This morning I got up at 6:30, which is generally as much adventure as I can handle in one day. I had to get the dogs to the vet. Jersey, my aging service dog, needed a growth on her lip removed. Gadget, the 70-pound puppy I recently adopted, was scheduled for neutering.

Jersey provides me greater mobility and independence. Three years ago, when I adopted and trained her, she was the perfect assistance dog. A mellow, acquiescent “floor potato” who was easy to train, she retrieves what I drop, steadies me when I walk, brings me my slippers, and is a quiet companion when I’m too sick to stir. However, as one friend put it, “Jersey acts like it’s her job but not her career.” Like most people, Jersey works but she’d rather be sleeping. Or eating. Especially eating.

When Jersey developed arthritis I knew it was time to find a trainee to succeed her. I wanted my new dog to master complicated skills that were beyond the phlegmatic Jersey. I sought a younger, more energetic pupil — the canine equivalent of a workaholic. A dog who would bound off to find help in a crisis, pull my wheelchair with gusto, and carry groceries like they were Faberge eggs. Enter Gadget — a urine-spritzing, slobber-spraying, fur-covered ball of muscle — who was about to kiss (or rather, lick) his manhood goodbye.

The dogs needed a brief walk because we didn’t have much time to get to the vet. I climbed aboard my mobility scooter and clipped Gadget’s lead to my handle bar. As usual, Gadget ran joyously ahead, Jersey and I following sedately behind. I planned to head back before we got too near my neighbors’ house, to prevent rousing their dogs and disturbing them with sunrise racket.

As we reached my neighbors’ barn, I opened my mouth to call my duo home, but before I could speak, my neighbors’ dogs started barking. Gadget spotted his best friend, a Lab mix named Shadow, and lunged to the end of his leash.

“Come on!” I hissed, still trying for stealth. “We’re not playing. We’re leaving.” I could hear Lilin calling from her house. I wasn’t sure if she was calling me, Sharon, or her dog, Shadow.

“Its Sharon,” I yelled, so she wouldn’t think I was an intruder, sneaking in at dawn’s early light. “Sorry!” I bellowed, as an afterthought, preparing to head home.

The Anti-Lassie

“In dog training,” the books say, “timing is everything.” This is true. Today Gadget gave me a lesson in timing as swift and sure as if I’d been wearing a choke chain.

As my scooter reached the halfway point in its arc toward home — perpendicular to my gasping service-dog-in-training — Gadget bolted, pulling my scooter over on top of me. Relying on the quick thinking and steady nerves that have made me the skilled dog-handler I am today, I immediately took charge of the situation.

“Aieeeee!” I screamed, as I slammed into the hard-packed earth.

“Ow!” I clarified, as 200 pounds of metal and plastic landed on me.

Then I tried to get up. Unfortunately, my right foot was pinned under the scooter, which was now an immobility vehicle. I looked at the dogs to see how they were coping with this sudden, troubling turn of events.

 

Sharon, Jersey, and Gadget

An outing after Gadget had learned his stuff, Jersey was retired, and the chair and I were upright

 

Jersey lay contentedly in the grass about 30 feet away. Gadget continued to hurl himself to the end of his lead, oblivious that parts of the leash — as well as of me — were trapped under the scooter.

I assessed the situation and decided on a plan.

“Help!” I yelled, flailing in the dust. “Lilin?” I hoped my neighbor was making her way behind the barn to find the source of the ruckus. “Help! It’s Sharon!”

Then, both dogs, hearing my distress, continued as they were.

“Oh my God! Sharon!” Lilin rounded the corner, gasping, her hand covering her mouth.

“I’m taking the dogs to the vet,” I said inanely as I lay in the dirt. “That’s why I’m up so early.”

Seeing another human with me, Gadget trotted over, waggled at the two of us, then went back to desperately trying to get to Shadow.

Lilin is not a big woman, but bless her, she is strong. She lifted the scooter off my foot and helped me tip it back onto its wheels. Scratched and grimy, the right side of my overalls hanging broken, I had to keep reassuring her I was okay.

I really was, too. No injuries, just scrapes and bruises — especially to my ego. After all, the reasons I’d acquired a scooter and a service dog were to become less needy of other people’s help. This was not how I’d envisioned it coming together.

Nonetheless, Lilin and I untangled the dogs and made our ways home, Gadget straining the whole time.

I have faith that Gadget will make an excellent assistance dog, once he is trained to get help in a crisis as opposed to causing the crisis in the first place. For the time being, however, I have changed his rank from “assistance-dog-in-training” to “hindrance dog.”

-Sharon and the muse of Gadget (who truly earned the title of Service Dog with every passing year)

We welcome your comments as always.

 

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9 Responses to “Sick Humor Retro: The Hindrance Dog”


  1. 1 Lolly February 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Sharon,

    At the point when I return home with Brook’s successor dog, I’ll remember your moniker “Hindrance Dog.” When we transition from a seasoned SD, it’s hard to remember all the things we taught our previous dog and how long it took them to learn those things.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve counted to 10 with a new dog, or taken a time out for myself, and thank God for Kraits…

    Looking back on those things provides us with a myriad of stories about times we wanted to cry, or were embarrased, but when we put time and distance between us and the event, humor wins out!

    A short story about Brook’s home coming. We were on our way home from the airport and stopped at a convenience store to pick up some items. At the check out counter, I was paying for my purchases, when I looked to my left. There to my astonishment were Brook’s front paws on the counter.

    This might be an appropriate behavior for an SD that works for someone with a physical disability, but not for my well trained guide dog! I corrected her and then asked my companion what she was looking at. She replied, “Lickerish.” I pondered what she was thinking about that lickerish in her 21 month old doggy brain…

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler February 7, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Lolly,

    Ha ha ha. This made me laugh. Thank you for sharing it.

    It makes me feel a bit better, too, that if a guide dog from a program can make that kind of faux paw (that’s P-A-W, of course), it doesn’t mean I’m a deficient trainer, myself, when we’re working out the kinks.

    Gadget was very good about food at stores until he got rusty. The first time we returned to a grocery store after I’d been in bed for two years, I dropped my shopping list and asked him to pick it up. Instead he nudged the paper aside with his nose to reveal the piece of crushed candy I hadn’t known was there, and which he snorked right down!

  3. 3 Selena February 10, 2010 at 2:56 am

    I was just considering training my dog Brunswick to be a service dog and appreciated this post. Brunswick has his quirks and stubbornness too, but he like Gadget has a heart of gold.

  4. 4 Ann Gourieux February 11, 2010 at 12:23 am

    Gadget looks like a Aeirdale (sp). I have one (well his daddy has custody) and I can relate with the running with abandonment. Rosecoe’s favorite thing to do when meeting someone for the first time is to abruptly and forcefully stick his nose in their posterior. I have seen many a person hoping away from his probbing nose. One time two elderly gentlemen made their way from the gate to my front porch. Roscoe happily nosing each of them. When they got to the door and I opened it, one of them said, “You have a mighty friendly dog.”

  5. 5 Brigitte Mang February 11, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I can relate to Rosecoe’s habit. Ozzy my 5 month old Bouvier does the same thing. But he’s picked up a new trick, he now herds with a bump and grind of his hips. I’ve watched him do this with the little ones (2 older furry kids) and we spend a lot of time explaining that this shouldn’t be done as one weighs in at 5 lbs and the other at 10 lbs.
    Puppies are fun, but I had forgotten the amount of work that they require. I keep telling myself this too will pass and he will be adult in the future.

  6. 6 Sharon Wachsler February 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Selena,
    It’s a lot of work, but it has definitely been worth it for me. I am going to try to do a “recommended reading and viewing” list, but I would start with Don’t Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor. That gives a basic background on how behavior in all animals, including humans, is taught or trained. There are a lot of good books and videos at Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training. Before you try any service skills, it’s good to get your feet wet with trying silly stuff first, and definitely obedience. With clicker training, “stubbornness” isn’t an issue, which is good, because bouvs are notorious for being stubborn!
    Have fun!
    And thank you soooooo much for including After Gadget on your carnival blog!!
    -Sharon

  7. 7 Sharon Wachsler February 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Anne,

    LOL. Yeah, that’s a natural dog behavior you have to teach an assistance dog NOT to do!

    Usually people can’t tell what breed Gadget is — I still can’t get used to past tense, I’m constantly correcting myself — was, and we got “airedale” sometimes. Schnauzer was a common guess with Jersey. Also Wheaten, Portie, Labradoodle, well, the list is endless.

    It’s because I gave them (first Jersey, then Gadget) such bad haircuts! They don’t look like show bouvs. However, since the bouv won the herding group at Westminster, I had many more people say, “Is that a bouvier?” Whereas before that, almost nobody knew what a bouvier was.

    When Gadget was shaved down, I thought he looked a bit like a Weimeraner, because he had such a beautiful shape. And when he ran, when he was young, I used to say, “He was a greyhound in a previous life.”

  8. 8 Sharon Wachsler February 11, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Brigitte,

    Yes, I’m sure very soon I will be saying that to myself, many times a day: “One day he will be an adult.”

    Bouvs do know how to throw their weight around, don’t they?
    I have been talking to people about which behaviors I will encourage or discourage in the puppy. Someone insisted that jumping up should be allowed.
    I said, “What about when the dog is 70 or 80 pounds?”
    She said, “I can handle that.”
    So I told her about a friend — a healthy, nondisabled person, younger than her — who was raising a bouv. When he was nine months old, he body-checked his person and severely injured her leg. I don’t know if she ever fully recovered.
    I received grudging acceptance.

  9. 9 Brigitte Mang February 12, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Another thing that people forget about puppies is the chewing, and this means anything that they can get their mouths around. Needless to say that Bouviers have LARGE mouths. We have Ozzy in a Big Rig, and its been interesting what he finds to chew on. He has his stuff that is acceptable, but dad really does protest for the following: Chrome and wood steering wheel, floor mats, and last but not least the driver’s door panel. He has also figured out that the top of gallon jugs of water can be removed and then he is able to suck up water from the carpet. The clever boy does this while dad is sleeping in the back with the littles and mom is driving along and cann’t stop right away. Ozzy weighed in at 54.5 lbs at his 5 month checkup. He stands at 23 inches at the shoulder. His sire is 39″ and weighs 120, so we’re wondering just how big he’ll get.
    He understands commands quickly, but he has a problem with consistency right now. This too will pass, and he will be an adult some day soon.


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