Can I teach this dog new tricks? {Part 1}

I think this was Winky’s first time, ever, at the beach!

I was at the beach for three days with this dog, Winky. I inherited him. And it wasn’t the kind of inherited like, “Oh boy, I get the house, the car, and the dog!” He was just part of my family package at some point. Yet, I am solely responsible for acquiring him. We got Winky from a woman in deep rural Oregon about 3 hours from home. When we set out that day right after school, about five years ago, I’d anticipated that we’d be there and back within a couple of hours. This was one of those experiences where I had detached myself from a project, giving Bridgette almost full responsibility to manage the finding of a second dog to keep Rocky, our other long haired miniature dachshund, company. As I geared up to work full time once Bridgette left for college, we all felt an obligation to find a companion for Rocky. No longer would there be one of us coming and going throughout the day. Bradley would be at school and football and I’d be at work. Bridgette did the research, but I had veto power, which I had employed on several candidates. Somehow I neglected a couple of key criteria in the process. One was: let me see the address before I agree to this dog. As a senior in high school, Bridgette didn’t have a firm grasp on Oregon geography, and her idea of our destination was off by a couple of hours. 

The further from home we travelled, my nerves tightened. We had to be home for a 7pm basketball game that Bridgette was committed to and Bradley was also expecting me. My phone battery was dying and my gas tank had me sending up prayers. By the time we arrived at the destination, I calculated about 10 minutes to pick up a new dog and gather all the details. I felt like I was picking up my layaway order from JC Penney.

The dog’s owner sat with Winky on her lap, although when we met him, his name was Lincoln. She assures us we’re getting a great dog, “Even though he lived in a cage in Texas for the first year of his life, exclusively for breeding, he’s really a sweet boy.” This was not a criteria I had considered. I tried to process this information as I considered the amount of time I had just invested to find Winky’s location. I glanced around the home, mindful of the impression I’d had when we’d arrived, working hard to remain neutral and clear headed. When it comes to animals, is that even possible?

If you know me at all, I am sometimes mistaken to be an interrogator. It’s a total misperception of my intentions. I love details and the ins and outs of a story. You can call the characters A and B, and I’m still curious. It took great restraint not to settle into my natural tendencies and ask things like: How did you get him here? How did you find him? How much did he cost? Why did you go to Texas to get a dog? Do you know his parents? Did you have relatives who live in Texas? Does he have an accent? Do you like the Cowboys?

I’m also practical, plus my nerves were on edge, so I proceeded: “So, Lincoln came from Texas?” I said. “How long have you had him?”

“Oh, about a year. I bred him too, but I didn’t keep him in a cage. No way. Now I can’t breed him because of his hair loss issue, but he’s AKC registered. Full long haired miniature dachshund. I have the papers.” My stomach was indicating I was under duress.

Uninterested in papers, I said, “Can we return Lincoln if things don’t work out?” The layaway concept must have been in the recesses of my mind. I don’t know what I was saying. It was unlikely I would return him. The trek alone was an obstacle. I tried not to judge this home, but already I was torn between wanting to get out and save myself from a huge mistake, and rescuing the sweet thing whose eyes I thought were pleading. I thought I heard him whisper, “Take me, please.” The owner replied, “Oh, absolutely, but you’re going to love Lincoln. He never leaves my lap.” I believed her.

On the way home Bridgette and I discussed changing his name… We wanted to free him of his past and distract him from his hair loss issue, whatever that was. It was my friend who named him really. Lincoln became Winky, short for Bullwinkle, to complement Rocky, and they really were a team.

Things have never been easy with Winky, although he was the perfect friend I’d intended for Rocky.

Right away Winky demonstrated anxiety. I brought a woman in who was recommended for some advice. Then about two weeks after we got Winky, he escaped for two days. He hid from everyone, including me, and it was Rocky, with some stealth help from my friend, who lured Winky from the underbrush of his hiding place a couple miles from our home. Winky grew on us and his deficits were overlooked. I had other things to worry about and Rocky was there to help me take care of this strange little guy.

About 2 years ago our beloved Rocky died, or rather, we put him to sleep. It was devastating for us all. He suddenly acquired a back issue that debilitated him. Surgery was a gamble, and gambling is really hard for me. It was our second time having to put a dog to sleep, and I can tell you that the second time was as hard as the first. The first time was with our Golden Retriever, Lucky. By the time his cancer was diagnosed, both vets he’d seen told me it was the end. He’d originally been diagnosed with arthritis so for months we’d been treating that and not the cancer. We had a couple of days to hold him tight before he was put to rest. In both cases I made an appointment to have this done in our home. The clock ticked too fast in the morning, and as the set appointment neared, we watched the second hand and willed time to stop while we stroked our doggies, our heads on each other, our hearts loud in our ears, complete silence except for the sound of emotions we gulped back, and then the door bell that no one wanted to answer.

Rocky was the reason for Winky, and now the reason was gone. He was no longer Rocky’s. Both kids were living away from home, so I had just inherited him. He was mine. I hated the thought then, and I still do, knowing he’s left alone often for 10 hours at a time, and some days more.

His sweetness shines through when I have to remove him from my bed in the morning. Rocky would try to bite me, so I would put on my Ove Gloves. Winky would never consider biting me.

As a result, he sleeps with me, which is my make-up call for leaving him alone, in the garage with just a radio on to keep him company. Sure, during these super hot days, he gets to stay in the house, but I remind him that this is temporary during the hot spell.

This wasn’t the plan. The trip to Cannon Beach illustrated how isolated Winky is, and how lame an owner I’ve been. To top it off, I’m not sure I love him. Yet in a court of law, evidence might prove differently.

The prosecution would ask, “Joni, are you telling me you don’t love this dog?”

The defense: “I object: Instead, ask Joni if she’s committed to the dog. There is a difference.”

Prosecution: Semantics! Love – committed. If she’s committed, she must love him!”

Defense: “Just because Joni searched high and low for that dog when he ran away, and she took her sleeping bag to the site where the dog was and prepared to sleep overnight until he came to her, does not mean she loves this dog. This was for the dog’s sake, not hers.”

I’d be looking at my defense attorney nodding, “Yes! You’ve got it right! I’m just committed. I don’t love him!  Well, I don’t mean to love him. He’s furry and cute and sweet. But he’s attention seeking and awkward, and he has a lot of baggage. He doesn’t like most men, I can’t hang with him and other dogs easily, he’s reluctant to come to me when I arrive home from work, he still pees in the house if I haven’t tactically coordinated the bathroom strategies I’ve put into place, I can’t take him on a walk because he stops every few feet, he shakes on a leash when he hears strange noises, he costs a lot of money, and he’s not socialized. He’s a disaster. How could I love him?”

The judge is now calling a recess. I over hear him on the phone telling his wife to give Scout a kiss for him and asks if she’s picked up the beef bones from the butcher he’d reserved. His face looks red and puffy and wet when he looks up. I’m toast.

I know in my heart that this dog could learn new tricks, if I put time into him. But here’s the thing. I don’t want to!  I don’t want this project. I don’t want it to replace my writing efforts, my ministry efforts, my yard work, my professional skills building, like practicing Excel, or my time with God or reading or time with friends. I’m at a loss. I think the prosecution is going to win and I think I know the judge’s verdict.

To be continued…

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