Monday, March 2, 2009

Life with "Flash" the Lively German Shepherd

(This paper was written for a writing class at Montana State University; I love the humor!)

A friend asked us to harbor her German Shepherd pup until she could find a place for rent in the suburbs, since the pup was terrorizing the surrounding city neighborhood to the extend that the worried owner could feel the general hostility increasing daily. Many people, you see, find it difficult to tell whether a charging, loudly-growling and barking German Shepherd is joking or in earnest. And even if a person likes dogs, a pair of big dusty or muddy paws planted on his chest can be irritating.

She apologized for its name, "Sassy", saying that her little daughter had hung that tag upon the dog. We couldn't quite accept that name, and though we felt that "Savage" might have been appropriate, we compromised on "Flash", knowing that it sounded enough like "Sassy" so that the dog was not apt to become confused when her owners came to visit. Little did we know how handy this name, and its easy rhyming, was to prove.

This is not Flash, but a fitting substitute!

Flash soon established a "play pen" and "crib" on the sofa which sat on our front porch. She really preferred being inside, but she has the biggest muddiest feet of any dog we've known. Besides, where an ordinary dog would affectionately greet you with slobbering kisses, Flash chews. If she likes you, she bites you: I would think she was cutting teeth, if she didn't already have such a find complete set at seven months of age. When she affectionately raked her big fangs over our baby's skull, we refrained from using the rifle, since my wife detests blood-stained floors and walls. Instead, we exiled her permanently, except in the event of a fire, when she will be allowed to come in and rescue us.

Like any immature animal, Flash likes toys, so she scrounged the entire farm, selecting the best. The "best" includes old dirty gunny sacks, an old throw rug, any gloves or shoes carelessly laid within reach for a few minutes, tree limbs of various sizes, horseshoes, pieces of clay tile, meadow mice, and a full-grown pigeon. I can't say how she obtained the pigeon, but I saw her crouching and creeping like a coyote toward our pet magpie, so I do have a hypothesis. I suppose she would have "played" with the magpie, eventually, if our pet fox hadn't scored first. Perhaps a full-grown eagle or ostrich would be safe around here, but I don't feel that any lesser bird would long survive. Flash's choice of toys caused us to change her name to "Trash".

Later, my wife decided that "Splash" would be more suitable. We have never known a retriever or water spaniel who likes water any better. Usually, instead of traveling the path beside the irrigation ditch, she walks IN the ditch, and when we irrigate, and the lawn has two inches or more water on it, Splash is exhilarated. She would probably be very sad in an arid environment, since she seems to need a drink and a foot bath every few minutes. The result is that whenever we pet her, we get wet or muddy.

"Clash" is a fitting name, also, since it describes the reaction between her and the skunks who formerly found security under the house. The odor seems to be much weaker nowadays, so I assume that either Clash or Fire-eye, the fox, or both, have driven the skunks from their home. She also clashes with OUR personalities when she scratches on the glass of the front door with her claws, begging to be let in. This is much like the screeching of hard chalk when it is dragged across a slate. Clash is also a garden-trotter, and since we have spent so much time and energy combating a solid blanket of Canadian thistles, and feel we are winning, we are unsympathetic to big-footed, careless trespassers, especially when the trespasser carries away the bean poles. Worse yet, when she gets on the trail of a pocket gopher, she travels mostly
underground, so there isn't much choice between her efforts and those of the gopher. We do feel rather sad about scolding her, when she is only trying to help.

"Brash" makes potential company hesitate and consider, before leaving the safety of their car. One friend told me, "I'm not going in that house unless you carry me." So maybe we don't have as many visitors as if Brash were not her, but the song which says, "When you live in the country, everybody is your neighbor. . ." isn't entirely wrong, so we still have enough company to satisfy our social instincts.

Flash is a handsome dog, big, rugged, but with a vivid imagination. When she first arrived, a screen door banging in the wind signified the beginning of the end of the world. A coat hanging on the fence kept her busy barking for hours, trying to scare it away.

The reader who has had experience with working dogs knows that all these trying habits could be sublimated by giving Flash a lot of hard work. Like humans, an idle dog has to find some way of burning excess energy and developing muscles. Even though we have little time, we will have to get a strong leash and training collar, and begin obedience training so she will be well-enough behaved that we can take her on hikes, and use her as a pack animal. This winter, she will make a fine substitute for a Malemute-Why deprive her of the pleasure of hauling in wood?

Life with Flash, Trash, Splash, Clash, and Brash has been much different than it was without her, but when she is gone, we will miss the big, rough and tough mischief-maker. For one thing, she likes our little girl, and it would be worth a lifetime of putting up with an energetic dog's mischief, if she saved Kandy (our daughter) from drowning in a creek or irrigation ditch.

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