Holbrook: Dogs and their secrets (column)
March 18, 2017
Maybe it's because the weather has shifted and it has gotten warmer. It could be all the animal tracks crisscrossing the yard, the trickling sound of melting ice, and the pungent smell of the earth emerging as the snow recedes. As hints of spring begin to appear, maybe everything just looks, sounds and smells so good if you happen to be a dog.
Because something has changed. Luke, my normally easy-going and psychologically uncomplicated Lab, has become secretive and pre-occupied, creeping off at any chance he gets when we are outdoors. As if he has plans of his own.
Last fall, I had to confront the fact that my devoted dog, whose world appeared to revolve around Alan and me, had secrets. One morning during our walk, the ground covered with a light dusting of snow, Luke disappeared. He returned eventually, but the same thing happened the next morning. On the third morning we kept our eyes on him. At first Luke made his normal rounds, trying to appear nonchalant. Then, when he thought we weren't looking, he glanced furtively over his shoulder at us, and slunk off into the woods.
We followed his tracks through the light snow, beat our way through the bushes, and there he was! Busted. Standing in the middle of an old, stinky deer carcass, eyes half closed, Luke was blissfully chewing on a ragged piece of deer pelt.
As it turned out, Luke was not the only dog in the neighborhood with secrets. On a walk with Angela and her dog, Skye, Skye suddenly sprinted ahead, then veered off the trail and disappeared. When we caught up with her, Skye had retraced her steps and come back to the trail. She eyed us with a completely innocent expression as if to say "Nothing to see up there!" which made us more curious as to where she had gone. She raced ahead along the main trail, looking back at us encouragingly: "Hey you guys, follow me! The path is this way! Why are you going up there?" Now we were suspicious and turned instead to follow her footprints off into the scrubby brush of the hillside. Where we discovered another gruesome pile of bones, and enough excited paw prints to suggest that today's illicit dog rendezvous had not been the first.
Following these discoveries, I wondered if other dog owners had had similar experiences. I asked around, curious to know who else might have been confronted with the revelation that their normally uncomplicated, loving and ingenuous dog had secrets to hide.
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Secret Dog Pleasures
Eating something that they are not supposed to seems to be a favorite secret pleasure for many dogs. Chewing on rotten animal carcasses is just one expression of this enthusiasm, and some dogs take advantage of opportunities closer to home. In the case of "The Missing Loaf of Bread," Alan had just spent the morning trying out a new bread-baking machine while dog-sitting Calvin and Numu. Both dogs appeared to be sleeping soundly on the couch. Having finished baking the bread and placing it safely on the counter wrapped in plastic, Alan left the house. But he had forgotten his keys, and returned moments later — only to find the bread gone, shredded plastic wrap on the floor, and both dogs "amazingly" still fast asleep.
Secret Dog Projects
Some dogs get to work on their own personal projects when their owners are not around. Although the purpose of the venture was unclear, it involved aspen trees and a Labrador named Colt. With his owner off at work, Colt found a way to circumvent his fenced-in backyard, uproot nearby aspen trees, and drag them into his owner's home.
The owner of Akira, an 18-month old husky, was surprised to receive a photo from a neighbor which clearly showed her pup, presumed to be sleeping in the house all day, atop an enormous outdoor wood pile glowering over the fence at passersby. Akira apparently concluded this surveillance project just in time to sneak back into the house and compose herself into a pose of "I've been inside sleeping the whole time" before her owner returned home in the evening.
Secret Dog Friendships
The easy-going lifestyle of the mountains, with its casual relationship to dog leashes, makes it less difficult for dogs to develop their own secret circle of friendships. Matt told me a story about his late dog Mr. Bear and his clandestine relationship with a local alley cat. The ill-fated partnership came to light only after Mr. Bear returned home one evening reeking of skunk. Matt would later discover through a neighbor that Mr. Bear and the alley cat had been regularly sighted teasing the neighbor's dog. Things ended badly when the cat took mischief making to the next level and decided to harass a skunk — with Mr. Bear ending up on the wrong end of the skunk.
Finally, there are some secrets we discover about our dogs that reconfirm why we love them. A dog named Abbey had her own private routine of visiting a neighbor who was seriously ill, sitting with him for hours while he rested his hand on her head. Abbey kept these visits to herself, and it was only later that her owner discovered these meetings when the neighbor's wife mentioned how much they had meant to her husband.
One of my favorite stories was about a beloved Malamute named Makai. Each day when her owner left for work she would be sleeping by the back door, and there she was in the evening when he returned. It was only later that Makai's owner discovered that his dog had a busy social life, and brought joy to many more people than just her owner. "After she passed away I have met bunches of people who had relationships with her. When I left in the morning she would be laying by the back door and she would be there in the afternoon. As it turns out, she didn't stay there throughout the day! She had her own route around town and was loved by a lot of people."
Thank you to the Summit County dog owners who shared with me these and other stories of their rascally, independent-minded and beloved pets.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.
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