A Wheatie Story

I wish I could coin a word in the English language to express the humiliation I feel when my pets or children do something especially embarrassing or infuriating.  Wheatie was a sweet and silly dog, friendly with other dogs and almost all people.  He had a problem with people who walked with an unusual gait, and a rather tart dislike for those who spoke English with an accent.  He barked wildly at anyone fitting either category, whether they were outside and across the street or in the front hall of the house.  I have never been convinced that our dogs’ prejudices are based in any true experience, and I also have had little luck employing training to change their unfounded opinions.  We always knew Wheatie was not going to do anything except bark, but it is still painful to remember how embarrassing it was.
Wheatie did love the kids. One late April day we drove out to central Washington for a hike, and our oldest son led the way with his friend. They were probably no more than 6 or 7 years old. Wheatie ran ahead to be with them, and then back to the adults, over and over.
Suddenly, he stopped in front of the kids, barking at something on the trail, putting himself between the pair and the something on the trail.
We probably tried half-heartedly to call him back, knowing that once he went off on a barking-at spree, there was nothing to do but drag him away.  He was not budging. The kids came running back.
“It’s a snake!” they screamed.
Indeed it was. In fact, it was a sleepy rattlesnake, and a big fat one, basking in one of the first warm sunny days of spring.

How Pluto Lost a Piece of His Ear

One day, my brother and I both had relatives visiting, and we decided to take the whole group on an easy hike on Cougar Mountain.  As I remember it, I had all three of my kids with us, both dogs (Pluto and Wheatie) plus my half-brother, Tony, who was 10 or 11.  My brother also had his daughter, his mother-in-law, and his father-in-law along.  The hike had the flavor of what my children still call a “forced march,” in that they weren’t altogether so keen to go for a walk in the woods and might actually complain the whole way.  Tony was pretty excited to go, and asked for the chance to walk Pluto.  Pluto was very strong on leash, and wore a prong training collar.
We were on our way down and almost back to the parking lot when we encountered a Dalmatian off-leash. Whether it actually bit off the bottom of Pluto’s ear, or the ear was trapped under the prong collar and was ripped off by the force of Pluto’s lunging at the other dog we can never know.
My brother was far enough behind to actually notice the piece of ear lying on the gravel path (I am sure of this detail, because later he wrote a haiku about it).  Someone did go back for the piece of ear before we loaded everyone up in the car to find the emergency vet. I don’t know if we thought it could be sewn back on. I think we folded it in a tissue and I put it in my pocket.  A dog’s ear is a blood-rich thing, and Pluto reacted to the bleeding by flapping his ears vigorously. To transport him without being showered in blood, we wrapped his head in disposable diapers and a cold compress from the minivan’s first-aid kit.
Despite these efforts, the car interior and the children and my brother’s in-laws were showered in dog blood, especially Tony who was visiting without his parents. Tony came from a home where he was an only child and did not grow up with pets.  He was very agitated, and complained the whole way to the vet’s office that he was going to catch a disease from the dog blood. I had a vet technician tell him that he could not get AIDS from a dog. Pluto had some stitches put in, and we all drove home.
For many years, the piece of Pluto’s ear sat forgotten on a bookshelf in our computer room. It dried into a nice little triangle, covered in short red-brown hair.