I started working at the dog kennel just after Thanksgiving, as things were gearing up for the Christmas rush. It was a bad time to jump in, as I barely had enough time to get the routine down before we were packed solid with more coming in. And within a week, I was the only person besides the owner who hadn't left town for vacation. At Christmas, the owner opens up her home (next door) to the small and old dogs, and leaves the big, energetic ones to celebrate the holidays at the kennel proper. I was to take care of things there. It was a zoo.
Within the first week, I managed to lock myself out of the kennel and ended up climbing into a dog run, through the doggie door (much to the surprise of the year old rottie-lab mix Diesel who was occupying that run for the holidays,) and then carding the office door from the catch-all room behind it. I destroyed my rarely-used PetCo membership card in the process, but it was worth not having to tell my new boss - who was at that moment chasing a runaway dog through the neighborhood in thirty-below weather, in the dark - what I had managed to do.
I got through the holidays with no more escaped dogs or lockouts, and only one bite to speak of - though there were several close calls by a large-jawed Akita that I don't like to think about. As things calmed down and numbers became more manageable, I've gotten to spend more time with the dogs and gotten to know many of the regulars - and we have many. With two military bases in town, and lots of folks with jobs that take them to the bush, there are a few dogs to whom the kennel is a second home.
I've also gotten to know dogs of more breeds than I'd ever imagined, and made some interesting discoveries in the process. One of them is that Pit-Bulls, who I've been trained from childhood to fear and abhor, are by far my favorite of our regulars. Another is that I cannot stand Labradors and Golden Retrievers, and I find that I grit my teeth when I make a reservation for a new one. I generally dislike small, yappy dogs, of which we house many. I especially despise Chihuahuas. But a little black bat-eared Chihuahua (named, unfortunately, Pursy) is one of my all-time favorite of our guests.
Duck and Goose are a couple of large husky-mutt regulars. When the first arrived this winter, I let them out to play together in the larger of the two dog-yards while I did some outside chores. They tussled and played, burned off some energy. Duck came by often to say hello and grab a pet or two before taking off to tackle Goose. When it was time to put them up, he came when I called and ran right into his kennel for a biscuit. Goose watched him go happily inside, gave me a look and took off. I spent the next two hours trying to catch her. I tried everything I could think of, graduating quickly from biscuits to peanut butter to sloppy, stinky canned dog food. I tried leaving doors open, gates open, pens open. I hid, I left altogether. Nothing worked. I finally managed to get her by letting Duck back out, and getting her to chase him inside. From there, I corralled her from room to room until her kennel was the only place left to go.
Once back inside, I noticed that whenever I was in the hallway, she ran outside. When I was outside, she ran in. When I let them out again (in the easier-to-manage small play yard) she played happily and ran up within a few feet of me, but never let me touch her. Goose quickly learned to go back into her run when playtime was over. Now, if I open the outside door and her run gate and walk away, she'll slip into her run and wait for me to close the door and throw her a biscuit. But if I turn around to watch her, or get between her and the exit, she'll spin and disappear outside again. I spent a long afternoon trying to coax her into letting me pet her, again with many spoonfuls of peanut butter and stinky, sloppy canned dog food, all to no avail. She would come get anything I wasn't holding if it was at least two or three feet away, but came no closer and bolted if I so much as looked at her. She never showed any aggression, or really any of the cowering fear I've seen in other dogs. She is a happy, tail wagging lover. She just did not - and does not - want to be touched.
I assumed, for the two weeks they were with us, that Goose was a newly adopted dog. I assumed all kinds of abuse issues, and mentally praised the owners for taking on such a case. Duck continued to be an energetic attention lover and Goose continued to play hide-and-seek games. I was shocked, then, when Goose's people came to pick them up. Goose ran into the room with them, allowed a fleeting pet along her back as she ran past, and stood contentedly wagging her tail in a far corner. As I gathered their things and settled the bill, I asked how long they'd had Goose from the pound.
"Oh, we've had her since she was a puppy. She's been like this from day one."
I was floored. The owner went on to talk about how frustrating it is to have a dog that can't be touched, all while giving Duck a good belly-rub as he blissed out to be back with his person. Goose looked happy, barely able to contain her energy, her tail was wagging furiously. But she stayed in the corner. When the leash came out, she ran over and stood still long enough to be clipped on, then walked as far away from us as she could and waited for the door to open.
Duck and Goose are back with us for a few weeks. Goose is back to her routine of running from play-yard to kennel as long as you aren't looking at her, and I'm back to praising the heck out of her for it, even though I all can see is her nose just barely opening the doggie-door to hear me. We've worked around her quirks, and I'm happy with that. I think she's content with the arrangement, as well. And I love their names.
There is another dog at the kennel with trust issues, a little black mutt named Pepper (the escapee of Christmas.) She was found starved and freezing by some regular clients, and instead of being turned over to the pound to her probable demise we are keeping her at the kennel until a permanent home is found. When I met Pepper, she was hand-shy and impossible to catch. We hardly ever let her loose in the yard, and never without a trailing leash we could catch her with. She's a runner, and did not trust people at all. She would tremble when petted, and avoided it at all costs. In the five months she's been around, however, she's become a different dog. She comes when calls, greets strangers with a tail wag and a proper sit, and doesn't mind being petted and loved on. She's a sweet little girl, and I hope we find her a great home.
Given my musings about entelechy, I wonder what these two quirky, hand-shy mutts have to offer to the conversation. Goose will never be cuddly dog, but she is a happy one. Pepper needed some stability, peanut butter and patience to come out of her terrified shell, but for all her progress, I can't say I think she's happy.
Photos: A goose on the San Marcos River, Kenai (the kennel owner's husky,) Scooby (a regular poodle,) Duck, Goose, Duck again, and ducks on the San Marcos River.