Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Dog Days

March 06, 2009

Down near the end of my last blog I wrote, "I don't need any more problems." Muwahahaha . . .

My friend Cris gave me a ride into town to pick up Uhura Mazda. I distinctly remember asking if I could bring Trav; he'd been stuck home alone most of yesterday. The dogs of heaven were wooing their fuzzy heads off.

Uhura was ready. I forked over the plastic and added $1,300 worth of debt. Trav jumped into his seat, I climbed into mine, and off we went to SBS to buy four bales of hay. The yard guy took forever and I really wanted to make it to the p.o. before the window closed at 4:30. I did, barely. Then we went to the barn. Unloading the hay required a wheelbarrow; with Monday's snow I didn't think I could maneuver Uhura close to the gate without getting stuck. Chickens were squawking; Gatto, the da Silvas' adorable Lhasa Apso type dog, was scampering about.

At some point Gene came out on his deck and said that my dog was destroying the seat. I thought he meant the headrest that Travvy had chewed half through in a fit of pique a couple of weeks ago. I kept wheeling hay. Then it dawned on me that maybe he didn't mean the headrest. I jogged down the snow-covered track to the driveway.

My angelic puppy had torn the whole back of the seat apart. Fabric was ripped, shredded foam rubber was strewn all over the cab. I couldn't kill him. What could I do? Finish doing chores of course. I hoped I was hallucinating, that the seat would be whole and undamaged when I returned to the truck. No such luck. The seat was still shredded in the morning. Thanks, Trav.

It dawned on me that Travvy was stressed, overaroused, over his threshold, whatever you want to call it, and that this had been the problem that day I went riding and he chewed up the seat belt and the headrest. My mistake, I concluded, was ignoring dog while I took care of horse. Trav was not comfortable in the new place, and Gatto and the chickens and the general strangeness were pushing him over the edge. I would take him to the barn and stroll around till he got acclimated.

Wednesday all went well. Thursday it didn't. Thursday all went well until the chickens started squawking and then Travvy went nuts. At one point he slipped his collar and I thought for sure he'd be having chicken fricassee for lunch. I caught up with him and got him under control before he could figure out how to get into the henhouse. Getting him from there to the truck was a trial. He was fighting. I was afraid he'd slip his collar again. The only way I could prevent him from doing it was to twist the collar tighter with one hand. First he tried to bite my hand and then he threw the kind of tantrum he used to throw when he weighed about a third of what he weighs now. I'm not sure how I got him from the henhouse to the gate, through the gate, and down to the truck, but it took about 20 minutes and it wasn't pretty. How did I manage to drive home trapped in the cab with a dog who'd been snarling and trying to bite me only minutes before? Easy: it wasn't the same dog.

I can't even imagine taking Trav trail-riding again. I can't imagine him being reasonably calm and collected, albeit not more than 25% trustworthy, around chickens. How the hell am I going to get him used to being around chickens if I'm perpetually afraid that he's going to slip his collar and eat one of them? This barn might not work out -- but where would we go? What would be better?

By this morning, however, I'd decided I needed something more than a collar. Something more like a harness that wouldn't slip over his head. Aha! Maybe I can rig something with Allie's old web halter? I've seen people use full-size horse halters to teach foals to lead; they fit like a harness over the foal's back. Not even Travvy could slip that off.

Meanwhile here's my beautiful puppy, who really is wonderful and attentive (if occasionally impish) when he's not having a meltdown.


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