Thursday, February 19, 2009
"Do you want a puppy?" My friend Lori grinned at me wickedly. I was at the Morgan Horse gala last weekend and Lori, who breeds Cairn terriers, was there. She explained that one pup from her last litter was born with a hole in the top of his head. He was deaf and blind for several weeks.
"I think he may be A.D.D. or retarded or something," she added. "I need him to go to just the right place. When I saw you, I knew there was a reason I came tonight!"
I needed to deliver some art work to Lori's house, so I got to see the pup yesterday. At twelve weeks old, he is just under five lbs – the size of a Chihuahua. His littermates are a hefty eight lbs.
When Lori first took him out of his pen to show me, she turned him loose in the living room and he went zipping around crashing into walls, acting like he’d been wound too tight. I thought he had a neurological disorder or perhaps trouble seeing. But I could tell right away he wasn’t deaf. Lori stood in the living room talking to me while the puppy zoomed in circles around her feet at top speed. Unlike his brothers, his haircoat was short and coarse, more like an adult dog that had been shaved.
When I put my hand out, he chomped down on my finger, hard. I screeched and he let go immediately. That was the correct response, and I started thinking maybe he wasn’t so abnormal, after all. But he was WAY hyper; wouldn’t make eye contact, and wriggled frantically when he was picked up and held.
Of course, I was pretty intrigued and wanted to figure out this mystery. How much of his problem was behavioral, and how much was brain damage?
Lori's dogs are well cared for. She's an ethical breeder and she could have given this pup away several times over, but she wanted to be satisfied that he would get the attention he needed.
For me, it wasn't much of a hard sell. When I put him in the crate, he started circling again, bumping into the walls. He finally settled down and actually traveled quietly all the way to the vet for his second shot.
The vet Dr. Robinson asked Lori, "Are you sure he's not mixed with a rat terrier or something?"
We can see why she asked. Next to his littermates, he didn't even look like the same breed. I told her that I thought maybe his vision was messed up, as it seemed he could track, but not focus. She said the only way to tell would be to take him to a canine opthamologist and have his cornea checked.
Anyway, he came home with me. I am not sure yet if he is borrowed, or what. On the way, we stopped at my friend Claire's and then went to the grooming shop so everyone could make a fuss over him. He walked down to the barn with me when we got home. It's a long walk down the sloping back yard and he kept losing his way and trotting off aimlessly. I would walk back and get to within what I thought was his field of view, and he'd follow again. His attention span seemed really short and I had to circle back five or six times. When we got into the barn, he rejoiced. The aisle was apparently right up his alley. He flattened out and ran -- first one direction, then the other.
I have been calling him Stewie, for Stewart Little. Not too original, I know.
He slept soundlessly in the crate all night. Today he rode in the car, on the seat next to me. I could see that this time, he was beginning to watch me and listen to my voice. Then this afternoon, he went out to help me feed the horses again. He was starting to bond to me a little now, and he has suddenly figured out that his job is to follow me.
When this happens with a puppy, it's a beautiful thing. Most young puppies have a strong following instinct and it's a great time to take advantage of that. It can be instilled so easily this way. I walk a normal pace, which requires this guy to run as fast as he can. He still lists a little, first one direction, then the other. I am thinking there is probably nothing better for his balance and muscle tone, than to run a straight line over a long distance. So that's what he does. I don't call him, or talk to him much at all, but I do keep moving and he begins to learn what a task it is keeping up with me. He follows as I walk back and forth mucking stalls, feeding hay and filling water buckets.
The horses, of course, are off limits as he is just too tiny, but I do hold him up so the perpetually curious Clifford can check him out. Clifford gives him a good once-over, snuffling and snorting into his fur. The pup squirms and licks.
I find out later that this puppy has never been outside before. So the smells, the grass, the snow and ice are all new to him.
Regardless of the distractions, he is doing a great job keeping up with me and seems more focused than yesterday. So we go up to the porch and then I do something of which Lori would not approve. I put him on the cement step, and let him find his way around. He promptly runs to the edge, and, plunk! Falls off. It is not far enough to hurt him, but it is a hard enough fall to smart. He grunts on impact, gets up and starts to run off. I grab him and put him back on the porch. He runs to the edge -- and stops! He leans over the edge, looking down.
This tells me two things:
1) He has depth perception, and
2) He is capable of learning something the first time around.
Back in the car again, trundling off on another trip, he sits and stares at me through the door of his crate. He's not making eye contact just yet, but he is watching.