No standardized tests exist, to my knowledge, which would accurately assign a psychological diagnosis of or provide temperament analysis for our lovable dog Starbucks, a 6-year-old chocolate Labrador Retriever. Even if there were and talented though she is, I am confident she wouldn’t be able to hold the No. 2 pencil in her mouth and color in the appropriate circles on the answer sheets without venturing outside the lines. Her fine motor skills are somewhat limited.
Over time, however, behaviors have been surfacing that may evidence various canine disorders, at least as they might compare to us quirky two-legged humans.
For example, with her dog dish positioned right around the corner from the garage entrance into the house, whenever we come in from a walk our furry friend turns immediately to her dish and looks at us and then at her dish as if to say, “Isn’t it time for you to feed me?” It’s at that moment that we remind her she was just fed her two cups of IAMS Large Breed Dog Food 10 minutes ago.
Even with a king-size bed, my wife and I don’t need a 90-pound beast hogging up the covers. As they say, “two’s company and three’s a crowd!” Still, on just about every morning between 4 and 5 o’clock, our playful pet will quietly hunker down outside our door and softly moan and plea to gain entrance. One of us is usually awoken to then use the bathroom and we’re a “threesome” for the next two hours until the alarm goes off.
Having a rather lumbering gait, she is convinced of her catlike quickness and relentlessly chases after squirrels, rabbits, birds, cats and sometimes even muskrat, to no avail.
She has developed a love for vanilla yogurt remains, vegetables — especially snap peas — honeycrisp apple cores and even cherry salsa. What’s more, she loves going to the vet for her shots.
Our little bundle of joy brings The Lima News to our doorstep from the newspaper tube each morning, sometimes even with the advertising inserts included. Who can figure that after being virtually abandoned at home alone for nearly eight hours some days, she’s still elated to see me when I come home?
It’s rare for her to be “under the weather,” but when she is, her preference is to puke on carpet rather than any available tile floor. Is she getting even for us leaving her home for so long? I don’t know!
With unmatched patience, she weathers all seven grandkids trying to straddle her like a pony or grab her tail as if a jump rope. Gladly she frequently helps in the kitchen by licking out the humble remains in any bowl, dish, plate or microwaveable container.
Her exuberance cannot be restrained whenever I put a Walmart bag in my pocket, grab the leash, ready my bike for a ride or fire up either the leaf blower or the gas powered pressure-washer. Curiously however, when I start up our riding mower, she quickly curls up in a rocking chair on the porch sheepishly paying me a visit only after the engine is off and I’m emptying the leaf-bagger.
I am quite convinced she thinks every drive-thru restaurant should serve a free cup of whipped cream to her while propped up in the front seat and along for the ride. After all, she would point out, Starbucks does.
Sometimes we think she’s an extrovert barking confidently from the porch at wagging passersby but then during any up close and formal “meet and greet,” she morphs into an introvert, squatting down and appearing “timid as a mouse.”
Confused, when we say “get your rope,” she brings back a Frisbee. When we direct, “where’s your Frisbee,” in her mouth is a bone or plastic football. We can command, “get your ball,” she may come back with all four in her mouth at once. Identified officially as a retriever, every toss of any stick, ball or Frisbee will result in an impassioned bounding for retrieval, and sometimes captured in mid-flight. Uncharacteristically however, after the fetch, only our playful puppy determines whether or not this activity is repeated.
Fall is in the air and leaves are on the ground waiting to be gathered in mounds at the roadside. While this is all work for yours truly, it’s all play for our featured “family member” who loves to chase her tail in tight circles atop the leaf piles, whipping leaves in every conceivable direction.
For some odd reason, when our cuddly friend enters the master bedroom from the hallway, she must first enter through the bathroom door and then through two closet doors rather than simply directly through the bedroom door. She does have an affinity for the bathroom, especially when showering as the shower provides her a refreshing drinking fountain.
All said and done, my wife and I will keep living with her, one day at a time, and loving her every day, too. Even without an exam, we’re quite sure most of her behavior is a result of her oddly enabling owners anyway.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org