Behavioral Mutations Revisited

Lily the Queen died nearly 8 weeks ago. The historically sound triumvirate – 3 kids, 3 cats, 3 dogs — has been fang shwayed into imbalance with 3 kids, 3 cats, and just 2 dogs.

From the very beginning when she came into my life as a gangly rescue pup — serendipitiously and unplanned in January of 2000, Lily kept benevolent control over the human and animal gang. My aide-de-camp. An organic nanny cam. Chase games with Bean. Tolerance of Trip’s terrier antics. A jarring habit of one LOUD bark at the cats if they walked too close to her while she was resting. Never phased the cats. Freaked me out when I wasn’t prepared. I miss it.

When she hit adulthood, she did become protective and reactive on occasion [she nipped at my sister’s visiting dog once but I take responsibility — they had been good friends on previous visits, I have the video!] which I worked with in the last four years of her life once I understood all the triggers and ensured safety.  In all her orchestrations of the Better Pet posse that lived in my house, permanent and visiting members, she never resorted to so much as a lip lift. Elegant. Graceful. Feminine. Strong. Athletic. Gently persuasive. Calming. Gosh I miss that.

The Boys, Trip and Bean, do all those things boy dogs do. Marking and one upmarkingsmanship — this time of the year all the more obvious by the yellow discolored snow streaks in the piles that abound. Being goofy and find it difficult to multi task. They rarely ask for directions but always end up following my lead. They both like to push their heads into my hand for rubbing; Lily would just calmly insist without force that her head be rubbed.

Two weeks ago, my 10 yo daughter Sophie and her sleepover friend Schuyler were happy to be spending much of the following day together. The tweenager energy spilling out of them after waffles (too much syrup?) needed venting. I sent the girls off into the great outdoors, each with a dog on a leash and a bag of treats.

Some 45 minutes later a frantic Sophie called from her cell phone. Her hysterical rant produced only a few legible words — dog fight, blood, lots of blood — and her location — her elementary school playground and fields.

Arriving minutes later with my oldest daughter Zena in tow, all four — the two girls and two dogs — were sitting calmly on a large hill of deep snow. As we neared the group we could see the snow flecked with quite a bit of blood. NOTE: I remained incredibly calm — both because I knew it wasn’t serious and because I didn’t want the kids to be any more freaked out than they already were. I inspected both dogs. I found a few scrapes and shallow puncture wounds. I kicked snow over the bloodstains.  Later I would find a gash on the inside of Trip’s rear left thigh and a cut near Bean’s right eye. None of the injuries were serious but there was an edge in the air.

Moving slowly to maintain calm, I assured the girls that it was boys being boys and much like human brothers fighting. I took responsibility because I had been developing an awareness of an unsettlement with the dogs. I shouldn’t have had the girls take both without me.  I explained that the dogs were rudderless without Lily. Behavioral mutations were afoot and it was an ongoing process. That even though I often took just Trip and Bean on walks without Lily, her presence in the home was was kept balance on the pack. Her death was a loss for all of us to deal with, however we needed to, including the animals. But the good news is that, in terms of this fight, like human boys, usually, once it was over it was over. And it was over despite the trail of blood and the cuts and punctures.

We took the dogs home, I bathed them up, slathered their shallow punctures with neosporin and really observed. I’ve been observing ever since.

Trip and Bean have not had any issues since The Fight. The next day Sophie and I returned to the scene of the crime with just Bean. We played on the playground with Bean — having him do what I call Playground Agility — and he was drawn to the area in the snow where I had covered the blood. His usually very reliable recall was seriously compromised — he couldn’t stop sniffing deeply into the snow. What was his plodder brain processing? It’s at times like this I wish I had one of those translators ala one of my favorite movies, UP!

Both dogs are fully recovered. They seem to my mind and observation to be more settled in their new role without Lily since then.

And in Lily’s memory, because she loved those car rides so, I have started taking Trip for more experiences (have I ever mentioned he’s a horrorshow in a car?) and I dare say he’s improved by at least 75%.

Isn’t making observations grand?

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