|Not Cleveland, but a look-alike|
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Umpity-umph years ago, my wife Betty decided to do dog sitting for a friend who owned a beautiful little Australian Shepherd. She was quiet and gentle and obedient, so Betty expanded her horizons and accepted a second dog, this one a bichon named Cleveland who taught me several lessons about the art of dog sitting.
The first lesson was to meet the dog and its parents before accepting responsibility for said animal. Cleveland’s owner brought him over after we’d made telephone arrangements to care for the dog while his owners went on a three-day trip. Second lesson: Especially do not accept the responsibility for a pet for more than one day at a time without meeting the animal first.
When Cleveland’s dad, a very nice man named Dale who’s become a good friend, brought him for the first time, I took the leash and the dog followed me without a backward look at Dale. His dad’s dismay at being dismissed so readily was evident, but I was so pleased that the dog wasn’t going to give me trouble about being parted from his family I thought nothing about the exchange.
I took him upstairs to our apartment where Betty and Cleveland met for the first time. It was love at first sight. He galloped over to her and showered her with licks and kisses, and the world was right.
Then he turned around and glared at me, and I’ll swear I could hear his thoughts: “Okay, buster, I’ll put up with you just so I can be around her.” And that’s the way it was. From then on, he loved Betty and tolerated me. In fact, I’m convinced he preferred the company of women over that of men.
Bichons are built long and low so that they appear to be small dogs, but they must have bones like dinosaurs. Cleveland loved laps, but he didn’t fit onto Betty’s very well, so he must have figured mine was better than nothing. That dog weighed forty pounds. My legs went dead within minutes, and he didn’t tolerate much wiggling around to try and restore the blood flow.
In truth, Cleveland was a great guy with short, curly white hair and coal black skin that only showed when he got wet and big, deceptively innocent eyes. A perfect pet… except he had a mind of his own. That dog possessed free will and exercised it often. Especially when we went on walks, as I discovered on the very first excursion.
He was well trained to the leash and followed me downstairs without a problem. But once on the sidewalk, we discovered we had different goals in mind. I wanted to walk around the apartment complex. Cleveland wanted to go the other direction. I patiently explained we were going north, and he watched intently with those big, intelligent eyes before heading south. I halted him with the leash. He planted all four feet and dug in when I tried to walk off in the direction I wanted. It was a case of a small dog with big bones vs. an overweight man who wasn’t trained in canine psychology. I pulled and backed away. I gave sharp, authoritative commands. He responded with a defiant stare. Nothing to do but hope he went about his duties quickly so I didn’t have to drag him all the way around the place.
When Dale got back, a little anxious about the well-being of his beloved pet, he found a happy, healthy dog thanks to Cleveland’s love for Betty.
It wasn’t long before Dale and Carol went on another trip and we accepted Cleveland for another time. He was overjoyed to see Betty and condescended to allow me to pet him and chuck him under the chin. On our first walk that visit, we had the same problem. It took three months for me to learn to simply stand for a minute and direct my attention elsewhere before saying “Okay, we’re going this way, Cleveland.” Then he’d come along and take the lead as if this had been his intent all along.
We continued to sit Cleveland for several years until the little guy got cancer and had to be put down. One day, I related my walking experiences with Dale—who’s a pretty sharp guy—and concluded with the way I’d trained his dog to comply with my wishes.
Dale looked at me for a minute before asking. “Who trained whom?”
To this day, I haven’t figured out the answer.
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