Category Archives: Pets

The Rehabilitation Program

January was a busy month.  The tense, yet subdued Christmas vacation seems like a year ago.  I still stare at the scars on my hand.  They are all but healed.  A little stiff and lumpy…  A persistent reminder of our baby bear’s flash of violence last December.

I am a little torn about writing about Mishka.  While his attack was a traumatic event and one of those things you remember for a lifetime, it was and is something uncharacteristic of him and our lives together.  And it is something you don’t want to dwell on in melodramatic fashion…..  So, what is this about if not a melodramatic revisit?  Well, my last post was pretty melodramatic.  And I have found myself clogged until I move on, both literally and narratively.  I don’t want to dwell on Mishka, but I wrote a dramatic passage that has to come to some kind of closure.  And as several friends have pointed out, that sweet little bastard just must be dwelled upon…..

We took Mishka to a real actual animal psychologist.  It was Natasha’s and my agreement that we would abide by a professional’s direction.  If Mishka was redeemable, we would work to rehabilitate him.  If he was a hardened violent criminal, we would bring him to justice.

The doctor listened carefully to us as we recounted the event.  She watched clinically as Mishka played and interacted with everyone in the room.  He was really enjoying the attention, and acting ever so charming, cute and precocious.  He seemed to know this was all about him, but was not aware of what would be in store for him pending the doctor’s advice.

What was the diagnosis?  Over-indulgent parents matched with a very energetic and demanding dog.  Mommy gave him everything he wanted.  So did Daddy….  Natasha just did it with so much more flair and tenderness.  Daddy stood tall and acted like “pack leader” while Mishka merely put up with the posturing.

The prescription?  Discipline, discipline, discipline….  Everything must be earned.  Sit patiently before each meal.  Sit patiently before going out on a walk.  Sit patiently just because we are the masters.  Ignore and chastise bratty behavior.  Sounds like parenting….  There have been a couple of lapses.  One in particular when he attacked Who’syer in a flurry.  I was ready to kill the little bastard with my bare hands….  But I didn’t, and I was forgiven by the doctor.  She said I actually may have made the right impression on Mishka.  He knows we are serious.  He is trying.  So are we.

Mishka wears a “drag line” in the house.  It is a 6 foot length of cotton cord that clips to his collar.  This allows us to quickly step on or grab the cord when he runs about the house like a Tasmanian Devil.  It is very effective….and fun…for us!!!  Mishka doesn’t like his drag line very much.  He understands having a leash outdoors and even looks forward to it because it means outdoor adventure.  But the drag line???  It’s like training wheels.  It’s like the sign that my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Hixonbaugh, would hang around kid’s necks that says, “I have dirty fingernails.”  I never got to wear the sign, but I really feared the sign, and I understood the incentive NOT to wear the sign.  Mishka has dirty fingernails and he doesn’t like everyone knowing it.  He doesn’t fight the drag line.  He sits sheepishly when it’s clipped on.  He is ashamed.  It is a reminder of his probation.  For the first few days he would chew the line off.  But we would just tie on another 6 feet of cord from a 75 foot coil.  There was no hope of reprieve.

The boy sits patiently looking up at me sheepishly wondering when the drag line can come off.  The cord is unclipped for the night.  And then he gets a soft pat on the head and the charming smile returns…  There are doggie scandals being plotted.

The rehabilitation continues…..

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The Mishka Event

It has taken a few days for me to put it in perspective.  Our little delinquent, Mishka, put some drama into our lives earlier in the week.

Natasha had returned from school about 8:00 PM.  Mishka, exhibiting his usual behavior, was spinning about, barking at the door, and loudly announcing her arrival in the drive-way.  I slowly rose from the couch and met her at the door, all the while lightly admonishing Mishka to behave and settle down.  Natasha was happy and a little excited herself having aced her first final exam.  I kneeled next to Mishka, patting his side and reminding him to behave.  I coaxed him on his side, but he wasn’t happy about it.  As I turned my attention back to Natasha, he clamped down on my right hand in a furry.

I recall about 10 seconds of violence.  Natasha pleaded with Mishka to let go and pulled at his collar from behind.  I eventually put my left hand to his mouth trying to force his jaw open.  I don’t remember him releasing, but I recall wrapping my hand in my shirt and getting to the kitchen sink.

I won’t go into details about the wounds.  They were (and still are) ugly.  But what Natasha and I both shared was a profound feeling of sadness and disbelief.  There have been brief nips from our energetic puppy, but nothing like this prolonged, violent attack.

I spent the next 4 hours at the emergency room getting medicated and cleaned up.  We had a lot of time in the waiting room, treatment room, the pharmacy, and at the Wendy’s on the way back home to talk about it.  But I knew my head would not be clear for some time to decide what to do.

Mishka spent the next 60 hours confined to the back yard.  Over the past few days I have told and retold the story.  It is difficult to tell a story about domestic violence.  Yes, I am calling this domestic violence.  We brought Mishka home when he was 8 weeks old.  He is just a couple of months short of 3 years old today.  He is “our boy”.  Some people understand, having experienced something similar at home.  Others stare in silence with thoughts of dysfunction and disorder.

I had a number of people tell me if a dog attacks his owner, “It’s over.”  All the experts and several of my friends and coworkers have said that an aggressive dog is a failure of his owner.  We don’t think of Mishka as aggressive.  He is a smart, funny, playful dog….  who attacked his daddy.  We know he isn’t a child, but that doesn’t really change the way we feel about him.  And, unfortunately, that’s the problem.  Children get unconditional love, dogs don’t.

Throughout my early life, I was not a “dog person”.  The running, slobbering, and barking always reminded me they were noisy, unruly animals.  And the teeth reminded me of what could happen if I gave them the wrong vibe.  I often gave dogs the wrong vibe, justifying my distance and caution.

It wasn’t until my first dogs, Lucy, and her brother, Who’syer, came into my life that I understood their loyalty and friendship.  Who has been with me for 10 years, while Lucy went her separate way with my ex-wife.  Who’s a bit odd and melancholy, but he has been my closest four-legged friend through divorce, 1000-mile moves, and the courtship of my Kookla.  Who never bit me.  I know I made a lot of mistakes with his training and upbringing, but he never attacked me, and I can’t recall a time he has done anything but worship me — the other endearing quality dogs have.

With Mishka’s arrival into our home, I had lost my earlier apprehension about dogs.  But with the development of Mishka’s primitive instincts, I have changed.  Maybe it’s the same “vibe” I had earlier in life….  It feels like it.

Mishka wants his buddy.  But I can’t be his buddy.  I watch him.  I listen to his every grunt, growl, bark, and whimper to judge his mood.  I have to be his master….if I’m up to it.  I’m not sure if or when the trust and love will come back.  We have to work on that.  Or it’s over…..

Mishka, the Fugitive

An update on Mishka’s exploits.  This weekend as Natasha walked the boys, both Mishka and Who’syer decided to chase a wayward duck.  An elderly woman started hollering and chasing after Mishka with a very log stick.  She struck Mishka with a glancing blow.

Less wounded than confused, Mishka sat quietly as the woman began berating Natasha for the unruly dog behavior.  Granted, they were not on their leashes, frollicking without a care in the rural area near Clear Creek.

Natasha, eager to exercise her developing medical assistant skills, calmed the woman’s fears about rampant duck-icide.  She promised to never leave Mishka unleashed near the ducks again.

Until the next duck encounter….

The Bastard, Mishka…

It occurred to me that some out there (if you are really out there) may not be sure how to interpret the header picture adorning the top of my blog page.  In the foreground is our baby boy, Mishka.  He is a rescued German Shepard and Collie mix.  He is perched, as he often is, on the arm of the living room love seat.

That is my forearm in the background.  It is poised at the edge of my Compaq.

The image is basically intended to show you how boring my evenings are, and it is intended to exploit the cuteness of my boy Mishka….

“Mishka” is the Russian word for “baby bear”.  He does look virtually identical to the cuddly mascot, Mishka, of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  About 99% of the time he acts like the cute, funny, sweet little kiddie toy that runs 35 mph and weighs 60 lbs.  The other 1% of the time he acts like an evil bastard.

Mishka has what is called “toy aggression”.  This comes from his mother giving him multiple toys on a weekly basis, at which time they are each completely destroyed and digested within approximately 30 minutes of distribution.  If you are to try to take the toy away before the plastic is swallowed, he will most likely growl and clamp down like a Craftsman vise with razor sharp teeth.

Natasha and I share a couple of scars from moderating toy and play.  After the offense he immediately becomes sheepish and contrite, but he is an evil bastard nonetheless.

While children love the baby bear and he smiles and lets them pet him, Natasha and I cringe at the thought of a bloody little kid stump being pulled back from his fangs.  No, it hasn’t happened, but he did make a mess of a duck at our neighborhood pond.

I exaggerate…. a little.  He has calmed down as he has moved closer to 3 years old.  We take him for long walks as the Dog Whisperer recommends.  I wrestle with him and chase him in circles.  But at the end of the day, he is most placid at the arm of the love seat.  And, coincidently, so am I.  I can think here.  I am not sure what Mishka is thinking, but I am pretty sure he does his best thinking on this spot as well.

If you have recommendations for Mishka’s upbringing, please share.

Dave