Meet Chester. His name is really Tex Chester Codgers, as he was named Tex after one of the folks that works with the pound. Around here, he goes by his middle name, when he remembers he has a name at all. He's been with us a week and a day or so, and plenty of people have had lots of advice and criticism to offer. What follows is my rambling about that general trend in our culture to offer unsolicited advice. Feel free to ignore the post--most people who might read probably already are tired of me bitching about it.
So, for those folks who aren't my friends on Facebook and happened upon my blog because you've read my books or followed a link, a little background on Chester. A month or so ago, a local woman was found in her home. She was elderly and in rather bad shape, as was the house which had some 30 dogs in it. Chester was one of those dogs. A couple of the dogs had died, and others were feeding on the remains. There were dog feces everywhere apparently. You can view the news story here.
I mention this because I want to give background on the situation he was in prior to being in a pound kennel for a couple of weeks. The pound was over full and he was in danger of being euthanized. You see, with the pound full and more strays being picked up all the time (we have a lot of strays around here), they needed the room. So, we went to meet him.
He was so scared when we were there that he wouldn't approach the kennel door. He had to be dragged out and was so freaked out when we got him home that he just made circles through the house, carrying a toy in his mouth. He wouldn't let anyone approach him--he'd trot off to evade us. I literally had to keep following him until I could get a hand on him to show him I just wanted to love on him. That broke the ice, and he now uses me as furniture, lounging on me whenever I sit on the couch.
He quickly learned to sit and luckily he was fairly well potty trained, as long as we're on a schedule, as he is still very young. The vet estimated maybe a year if that.
The thing is, he looks like a full grown dog. He is incredibly skinny for his current height (although he's already gained some weight) and weighs right around 50 pounds. He is very distrustful of people, as I'm sure you can imagine, and the first couple of walks he went on, he was vocal, but nothing too bad. The first weekend we had him, Dani was out of town, which meant that I was in charge of all dog activities. Saturday's walk was ok. He only got rude with a teenager who decided he was going to pet the dogs, even as I was trying to keep them moving. Sophie was the one who freaked out the most on that one. There was also a young girl, a tween, clapping, squealing and running. That freaked both dogs out a bit. But nothing major.
Sunday, things were fine. We got out early and had the trail to ourselves. He did really well, paid attention to me, and even stayed on the right pretty well. I had them on a splitter and Sophie helped guide him, as well.
Yesterday was a bad day. I had to coax him out of the car and make him leave his toy behind. He tried to tell me he wanted to stay in the car with his monkey, but I insisted. There was an older man who is often on the trail behind us, and I kept them going at a pretty good pace. When Chester started acting out (looking behind and slowing down), I got off the paved trail, more than an arm's length, and made them sit. I held on to both of their handles on their harnesses and to Chester's collar, talking to him the whole time. Was he loud? Oh, heck yes. Was there any way he was getting loose? No.
On the return trip and our second pass, the guy passed us again. Once again, when I saw him coming, I gave him the entire trail and made the dogs sit and tried to keep Chester focused on me and get them both to quiet down. As he got even with me, I heard the man--the same man Sophie and I have passed numerous times and said "good morning" to with no response start with "Ma'am, I don't think" or "Ma'am, you shouldn't" (I mean, I had two dogs complaining in my ear). I just replied, "You talking to me right now is not helping." I waited until the dogs were calm and we took off again in the opposite direction.
What about my giving him the trail and talking to the dogs, making them sit, made him think I didn't realize this was not an optimum situation? What possible thing could he say that would actually be of use in that particular moment? And why, when he can't be bothered to say "good morning" or even "feck off" when I've smiled and said hello before made him think now was the time to talk to me?
We went on our way, I kept giving all other walkers the trail until I got back to the car. On the way back, they were loud at one of the ladies I see walking often. They were loud at Carrie, who I see about every day. I got home and was irritated and decided that Chester obviously needs more work before he can go again. It was somewhat disappointing because he had done so well up to that point.
Today, I saw that lady at the turn around point. I only had Sophie with me, and she didn't pay any attention to the woman. I stopped, with Sophie on my other side and on short leash and said, "I am sorry the dogs were buttholes to you yesterday." At first, she looked at me like she didn't even want to talk to me. She was pretty angry, and started with "Well, that one is sweet. That other one you had was all barking and snarling. You shouldn't have him out here."
I apologized again and said, "Well, eventually he will be back. But not with Sophie." I explained that I've worked with Sophie for nearly five years and we have only had Chester for a week. I let her ask all the questions she wanted, which, oddly, included "Does he live in your house with you?" "Yes," I replied, "he does." I also asked if she'd heard about the woman and the dogs and explained that he was one of those dogs. And that yesterday was a bad day for him. And that I will be working with him. "He's afraid of people," I said. "And the only way to help him be better is for him to be around people." I explained that I had him restrained yesterday, and that I would keep working with him until he could pass someone quietly. "Well, if you're going to have him out here, I'm bringing protection."
Great, I thought, because pepper spraying us or swinging at him is really going to help him focus on me. I assured her that if I have him out and he starts growling when he sees her, we'll just turn around and go the other way. I didn't point out that her idea of protection was likely going to make the situation worse. I didn't tell her that I may get a training muzzle for him at some point. I was done answering her questions and getting lectured. And it's none of her business, frankly. Obviously, I'm adjusting my behavior and Chester's training--he was NOT with me this morning.
Eventually at some point in the conversation, I learned part of her fear. She has a dachshund who is aggressive. He hates everyone, apparently, and has bitten her husband multiple times. "I would never bring him out here." Well, I would hope not, I thought. But it did help me to understand that her lecturing me is also her lecturing herself. I totally understand her fear about Chester, who is probably many times over bigger than her aggressive weenie dog. But, I calmly assured her that eventually Chester would be back.
This is a big long rant, I know, and part of it is not about the dog at all. I've been fatigued by the whole phenomenon of "everyone needs to know my opinion on everything." Social media created that monster to an extent, although part of the "Ma'am" thing yesterday (I'm pretty sure) was old white guy mansplaining. When the lady was chewing my ass this morning, I kept thinking Why did I stop to apologize? Was it the right thing to do? Sure. But I didn't have to keep apologizing and explaining until her ice broke. But I did. And at least I was able to see some splinters in the ice when we parted and she eventually believed that I understand her fear and am sorry she was shaken up.
One more example, and this isn't dog-related. I was reading a thread on Facebook last night about The Haunting of Hill House. Some woman was complaining that she "shut it off in the first episode when lesbianism was pushed in her face." She proclaimed she would "never watch another minute." That led to a long back and forth with several people on her side and others asking if she was for real. The scene in question is so short and so not explicit and so important to the overall story and the character arc. We learn all kinds of things about the siblings and parents--one is shooting heroin. Does that make her not watch? No. But a consensual kiss between two grown women and an "afterglow" shot from the shoulders up in the dimly lit room did the trick.
My problem isn't really that she is so offended by it that she decided not to watch. People decide shows and books are not for them for all kinds of reasons. And that's fine. What irritates me is her need to tell us all that kiss was so offensive she couldn't watch the entire series. That makes her commentary a social criticism, not a criticism of the show.
Yesterday was also a bad day because of the announcement that Trump's HHS is considering erasing trans identity by demanding people identify as the gender their visible genitalia designated at birth. Genetic testing can be used under the rumored draft of the policy to ensure proper gender attribution.
While people may not think this is a big deal, it is. What interest does anyone have for limiting an individual's gender expression? Well, all you have to do is read Facebook comments to find out. People worry that if we validate trans identities that they can't tell their kid not to be trans. And don't be fooled--it's not just trans folks who stand to lose rights and dignity here. If you're defining things by genetic sex markers, that opens the door to all kinds of removing rights from same sex couples, not to mention really further complicating intersex individuals' lives.
We already know that in some cases in the past, parents have decided their children's gender when the genitalia is "ambiguous." Under this rumored policy that type of gender assignment would happen again and more often, rather than letting the person mature to the point that they make the determination of what procedures they want to have done--if any.
I don't have any answers, though, other than wondering how we can get back to the point that we don't have to feel like we share everything with thousands of people on Facebook. I'm one of those people who checks other people out based on their comments. One claimed to be a "doctor" in a trans conversation, but I have a hard time believing that based on how easy it was to find his page and that what was visible to the public was a good bit--and NONE of it was doctor related or showed he went to med school or even has a job.
I know we're all works in progress. I certainly am. And so is Chester. So is Sophie. And so are the grumpy mansplainer and the lady who finally heard me when I told her I understand and I'm sorry.
In better news, Chester doesn't even seem to realize that Sophie and I went for a walk and he didn't. We had three focus sessions today. We'll keep working.