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

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My Fellow Traveller

April 08, 2009

If you've been following the Adventures of Travvy -- the guy who makes rubber gloves disappear and then appear again, who goes head to head with skunks, chews through seatbelts, de-upholsters truck seats, gorges on Crisco and unpopped corn, and thinks a long-dead hen carcass is a fine toy to play tug-of-war with -- you may from time to time think "Better her than me." When I maintain that he really is a great guy, you probably think I'm deluded. Anything a deluded person says in her own defense is by definition suspect, which may explain why I like the Malamute-L e-list so much: we all choose to live with the jokesters of the dog world, which to devotees of, say, Labrador retrievers might be ipso facto proof that we're all deluded, but if you surround yourself with deluded people, then you're normal. The thing is, even the malamute people tend to agree that malamutes should never be allowed off-leash, and I was beginning to think I was nuts for even contemplating it.

So let me tell you about my wonderful dog. On a weekend horse-sitting job in late March -- around the same time that I saw Travvy jump a three-foot gate from a standstill -- I took a deep breath and let him loose while we were walking in the woods with three other dogs. After he and Jake the Springer chased each other around a bit, I called: "Travvy, come."

Travvy stopped, looked, and made a beeline toward me. My jaw dropped. It happened several more times on that walk, and subsequent walks. Deep down I was wondering if we'd ever go trail-riding together again. Between the antics and the bad press that Siberian huskies -- and by extension anything that looks like a Sibe, which when you live in Lab land includes all things malamute -- have received locally in the last year, I'd pretty much lost my nerve. Until the moment when all our practice paid off in a pretty good off-leash recall, and another, and another . . .

I started taking him to the barn for short visits. Well, OK, when he got hold of that dead hen, the visit turned out to be much longer than anticipated, and yeah, having a year-old malamute in the vicinity of free-range chickens was nerve-racking in the extreme, but he was settling down. He was excited for sure, but his mind was firmly lodged in his brain -- which it wasn't when he went nuts and destroyed Uhura's passenger seat.

So yesterday I tethered him to a tree in the pasture while I did Allie's stall, picked the pasture, and groomed Allie. I tacked Allie up, attached her lead rope to Travvy's collar, and led the two of them toward the gate. Managed to manage gate, dog, and horse and shepherd us all through, then to mount Allie and set off down the little hill toward the dirt road. So far, so good -- till I spied the hens pecking around the driveway. Uh-oh. But Trav was good. Excited but good. We headed up the Stoney Hill Road, then took the path that leads up to Checama Path, a wide trail that leads through the woods to Greenlands (a conservation area) and the state forest.

I dismounted. Took a deep, very deep breath. Thought, "I'm probably nuts." Unsnapped the lead rope from Travvy's collar and wrapped it around my waist. Travvy stuck around, sniffing. Good sign. I mounted again. Through Greenlands we went, Trav trotting behind, loping ahead, crashing through the brushes -- and coming when I called him back. Waiting at bends in the trail to make sure we were coming. He was great. Watching him bound and run took my breath away. When we got back to the Stoney Hill Road, I put him back on the lead and we returned to the barn.

We did it all again today. Different route. Two adults, a child, and a year-old dog were playing in George Fisher's field. Travvy went over to check them out, all very friendly, but how in hell was I going to get him back with an electrified fence in between us? I continued along the fence line, following the narrow trail back into the woods. I called Travvy. He left the people, the kid, and the dog and came racing toward me.


Tuesday I went to hear Karen Ogden, our obedience instructor from last fall, give an introduction -- talk and video -- to Rally Obedience. Rally is like regular obedience, but it tends to emphasize the relationship of dog and handler more than having each move excruciatingly correct. It looks like fun, so I signed Travvy and me up for her next class, which starts next Wednesday.


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