The Pinch of the Collar

Big BearIn late January we adopted a large dog and named him Bear. He was fresh off the Puppy Pipeline Van, and we knew nothing about him, except he was a stray on death row in Georgia. He looked much like my goldi- wolf I had growing up, solid black, massive shoulders, and amber glowing eyes. By his picture alone, I wanted him, and Jay agreed he was a good looking specimen. Without hesitation, he met the van outside a Target, loaded the dog in his car, and brought the creature home, on the agreement we would foster him… just to see.

It was not the perfect night to bring home an undernourished, gamey smelling dog, I had dinner guests arriving any minute and the dog’s smell overtook the stuffed shells baking in the oven. I shoved him out by the pool and threw him a bone, until I could deal with him later.

Dinner went over well, and while sitting with my friend lingering over dessert, I peeked out the window. Bear had pulled a pillow off my settee, and placed his prize bone on top, without chewing it. His legs were crossed in front of him, and he looked like the perfect gentleman. I knew then, I would keep him.

A week later, I deposited the adoption fee in the rescue’s account, signed the application, and became the Momma of Bear. I bought him a new bed, a collar, toys, and a shiny name tag with “BEAR” stamped on it.

Before long  I wanted to change his name to Lucifer.

Whole chickens disappeared off the countertop in a blink, rawhides popped up in my garden and in my sofa cushions, and pee ponds yellowed the white tile floor. My hands shook with the frustration of trying to homeschool my children, while picking up shredded toilet paper, and bits of action figures.

One day, I found him sitting at the table waiting to be served.

“Bear, get down dinner’s not for another hour,” I said.

Another day, he stepped it up a notch and stood in a show dog stance on the kitchen table, all sixty five pounds of him.

He whined at the door, begging to drag me down the sidewalk after lizards and squirrels, only stopping to mark anything standing in his way.

He was taking over my life, my home, and my sanity. I knew if something didn’t change, I’d be sent away in a paddy wagon catching invisible flies, and Bear would tear down the house in my absence. Everyone said, “Get rid of the dog!”  But every evening I watched as he gently wrestled on the floor with Colin, and knew I couldn’t.

Then, just as I was about to check myself into the ward, hope arrived.  I discovered a glorious place for my sweet, but mischievous Bear called “Boot camp”. Not just any boot camp, but police dog training boot camp. I imagine the promise land washed in heaven’s glow as Jay took him Saturday morning, and the first thing the instructor did was snap on a pinch collar.

“There needs to immediate consequences for bad behavior,” the instructor explained, “or he will continue as he’s going, and soon his behavior could turn violent towards the children. Keep this on every day, only remove it at night.”

Bear returned home a new dog. Instead of bounding into the house with a cocked leg, he walked cautiously to his bed. I nestled beside him and praised him.  He looked up at me with those big sorrowful eyes, and placed his paw in my lap. Right there, we made our truce.

From then on, I didn’t allow him to drag me down the street, or cock his leg on anything. He pees when I tell him to. The world is no longer his oyster. When I stop, he sits, and when a squirrel buzzes by, he only gives it a passing glance.  Now, he knows his boundaries, and his place in the world is under my authority.

A funny thing has happened to big Bear. He is happier. He’s transformed from a food hoarding, wild eyed, running the muck kind of dog to content, satisfied, and peaceful. Notice I didn’t say perfect?  Yes, he still has accidents on occasion, tries to bury his bones in the sofa, or put his nose where it need’t be… Umph!,  but I tug on his chain and he sits corrected. He still licks the dishes in the dishwasher, and I still turn the switch to sanitize…I have to give a little.

I figure Bear is like us in many ways. A disciplined life brings peace to those who live it. Many times God needs to remind us where our place is, and put us in a sit. We feel His pinch, as He attempts to keep our destructive behaviors from destroying our homes, families, and lives. Sometimes He has to remind us the world is not our oyster, but our work.

Bear is sleeping now. He escaped yesterday, and I sent the boys out on their bikes to capture him. He took a run around the neighborhood, splashed in the retention pond, chased the ducks, and just as I prayed God would make him invisible to the neighbors, I saw him returning up the road, he sprinted through our front door, and slid to a stop. Plop, he landed on the tile, out of breath.

“Did you have fun?” I asked. “You know that is naughty!”

And then, as he stood to get water I noticed it. He was limping. He didn’t come back from his twenty minute adventure unscathed. He split the pad on his paw. I hope he will learn, no good thing comes from being naughty.

April 2011

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