JD Allinder

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

John and Jane: A Work in Progress

In Posts on April 16, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Jane and I went to LeFurge with Annika and Duke for our post-lunch walk today. It was a gorgeous afternoon – cool and breezy with a bright blue sky and little fluffy clouds. Spring is always a challenging season for me – it’s so indecisive, constantly vacillating between winter and summer-like conditions (with decided leanings toward the the latter, which fills me with dread) – but today was so mild – even chilly at times – that yesterday’s preoccupation with the encroaching inevitability of summer’s discomforts completely dissipated. I really can’t stand being warm. I don’t mean to be a grump – I realize the vast majority of people enjoy heat (a fact as perplexingly mindbending to me as the Mobius theory) – but the spring awakening, though beautiful, begins a season of melancholy for me. It’s ironic that when the world is reborn, I die a little bit. There must be others like me in Greenland or Siberia. I’d love to live with the white wolves on Ellesmere Island. Actually, I’d like to be one of the wolves on Ellesmere Island. I think I suffer from species envy.

At any rate, today was a fine day for walking in the woods, cornfields, and wetlands of LeFurge. The pups played well together, sometimes Jane leading, sometimes Duke. Like every Lab I’ve known, Duke keeps an eye on his people while on the trail. He occasionally runs out of sight, but he’s always just around the corner, waiting to make sure we’re following. He runs back and forth, constantly keeping tabs on all members of his pack. Jane has none of those instincts. She’s got her own agenda, and she really doesn’t seem to care if it’s aligned with ours. While I’ve been very successful in training her to keep up with me on the trail, she, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to follow the rules when others are with us. It’s very frustrating. The past few days she followed at my heels on our outings. Today she repeatedly disappeared in the brush and refused to acknowledge me when I called for her. She eventually came to me every time, but it was almost always with yelling and/or negotiation. Last week we walked with Annika and Duke in Saginaw Forest, and Jane disappeared for 45 harrowing minutes. She was walking parallel to us, maybe 30 meters away, when she just vanished. Like a bleeding watercolor, she’s got this amazing ability to be absorbed by the scenery. She literally disappears. She always returns to the spot where she left me, but that’s little consolation for the anxiety her absence causes. Last week’s disappearing act took me a couple of days to get over. I was so stunned, because I thought she was finished with all of that. I also took it very personally. I was deeply hurt that she would do that to me.

So she made it up to be by being the best dog in the world and staying by my side every day. I’ve even stopped communicating with her verbally the past few days on our woods walks, letting her choose to stay near me. Then today she started testing the boundaries again. There’s something about the presence of others that makes her think either the rules have changed or that I’m not paying attention. Frustration. I don’t want a robot. I want a dog with a free will. My dad sent me a copy of Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote several months ago, and I just got around to reading it last week. Aside from an unnecessarily protracted death scene, it’s a moving memoir of an intense human/dog connection. Kerasote’s philosophy of dogs is very similar to mine: they’re autonomous beings who need to be allowed to make their own decisions about stuff. (It’s a little easier in Kerasote’s case; He lives in the-middle-of-nowhere Wyoming.) Despite the necessity of Jane responding reflexively in certain contexts – we live in the city, etc. – I really want her to be her own dog. I don’t want to necessarily dominate her or have her respond with Pavlovian numbness to my every command or request. I want her to want to do what I want her to do. Maybe I’m just a control freak. Maybe I’m the one who needs to change. Maybe Jane’s patiently waiting for the day when I’ll finally see things her way.