Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sweet little lunatic III

I wouldn't say my push to adopt "Zeke" was totally reckless, but in the mix of confused motives that drove me to overcome my family's skepticism, there was more than a dash of hubris. After seeing the remarkable headway that Barley and Kili had made in a few short weeks of clicker training, and after making noticeable progress with dogs at the shelter who appeared at first glance much more "behaviorally challenged" than Zeke, I had become smitten not only with a handsome pup but also with my nascent abilities as a trainer.

Even the most rational of us may be susceptible sometimes to magical thinking, and I have never been particularly rational when it comes to my relationship with non-human animals. All my life, I have entertained the fantasy that I could learn to speak with dogs, dolphins, eagles, wombats, elephants, and others (though my social ambitions have never extended as far as cockroaches or tapeworms). Clicker training looked to me like the golden key to the peaceable kingdom. Once we understood each other, we could all live together in perfect harmony, the naked and the furry, the crawling and the winged.

I had conveniently forgotten that the glorious web of interspecies relationships includes significant and not so peaceable distinctions like the one dividing predators from prey. In my enchantment with the prospect of mutual understanding, I had forgotten that, if you suddenly learned to speak "dog," one of the things you'd likely hear from your adorably hyper new adolescent kelpie mix is, "CAT!! MUST GET CAT!! AAAARGH!! CAT TOO HIGH! MUST VAULT OFF WINDOW SILL!! AARGH!! TRY AGAIN! FOILED AGAIN! TRY BETTER! NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER SURRENDER!!" I think that's a pretty accurate account of Zeke's internal monologue the first time he got loose in a room with Hops. We soon discovered that his antipathy for cats and squirrels was so strong that he would attack any trees or furniture that had once given his enemy safe harbor. (Pete has since wrapped protective chicken wire around the "criminal" fir and cedar in our back yard.)

Thus I learned yet again the value of humility. That old Greek lesson never seems to stick: keep your head down if you don't want the gods to notice and bop you one. Welcome to the great cosmic game of whack-a-mole!

On the upside, Zeke found his new name. "Pazzo" is Italian for crazy.

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