Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Good, The Bad and ...The Dumb

Past readers of these pages have been introduced to “The Noble Basset Hound” and Zoe the “Thief.” Today, dear reader, you will meet three more of the members of my household menagerie.

Coconut is our eight year old West Highland WhiteTerrier, “the Good.” Readers of my ITP novels have already met him, because “Little Bit” the intrepid, space traveling Westie is modeled after Coconut. As far as West Highland Terriers go, Coconut is not what one would call a real “looker.” His legs are too long, his nose is too short, he has more than a bit of an underbite, his legs are too long and one ear tends to droop, unless he makes the effort to hold it up.

But, when it comes to good dogs, Coconut wrote the book. Our home is his domain and he guards it ferociously. Unwanted intruders, human, canine, feline or rodent are cornered and held at bay until their presence is approved by the other residents. Rats, mice and other vermin are driven away or dispatched; keeping our home safe from invaders. Visitors to our front door must pass Coconut’s inspection before being allowed to pass and, I have to admit, he is an excellent judge of character.

His exploits, however, go far beyond protecting the house. He has single-handedly been responsible for rescuing birds, squirrels, frogs and other creatures. For instance, there was the day he kept barking and barking at the storm drain. None of our other dogs seemed concerned, but, he kept at it. Finally, we were forced to open up the drainage system and out flew a baby bird. Accolades were sent his way for the rest of the week. Then there are the numerous beasts that have managed to fall into our backyard pool. Rats, mice, frogs, lizards and at least one squirrel have been rescued by our resourceful little Westie announcing their presence.

Finally, there is his never ending battle against the “pool monster”, otherwise known as the Polaris pool cleaner. Coconut battles this demon almost every day, waiting at the pool’s edge for its ugly head to appear. He actually caught its tail once, rendering it impotent and forcing me to make a trip to the pool store for repairs. “Don’t mess with the Westie” is his motto.

And then there’s “the Bad”, Rebekah by name. She is a twelve year old Solomon Island Eclectus Parrot. She shares her cage with Isaac, another Eclectus Parrot who has been with her since they were babes. (Isaac appears in my novel “Joshua and Aaron: ITP Book Two”) Whereas Isaac is friendly, inquisitive and just wants to be part of the gang, Rebekah, like Greta Garbo, just wants to be alone.

She spends her days inside her cage, rarely making the effort to come out and socialize. She spends most of her time plotting ways to attack and maim the people who provide her care, which is me. Every day I prepare fresh food for them, clean away old food and, once a week, I thoroughly clean their cage and give them a bath. It is during these times when she is at her dastardly best (worst?). While I’m nonchalantly cleaning away old food and bird poop, she will surreptitiously inch her way closer, hoping that I don’t notice. I do my best to keep one eye on her and, when I see her making her move, I clean faster, hoping to finish before she reaches striking distance. The race begins as she moves into position and once she is close enough she lunges forward with her powerful beak. Most of the time I just laugh at her and move out of the way, but, either I’m getting old or she.s been practicing, because twice over the last few months she has managed to take a piece out of me, one from my arm and another from my hand. She just missed biting off the lower end of my right earlobe one day.

She also bites a bit differently than other birds we’ve had. Rebekah’s bites are relentless. Unlike some of our previous birds, who may take a quick swipe and then pull back, Rebekah bites and holds on, driving her powerful beak deep into the flesh in an effort to permanently maim her nemesis. I’m not sure dear old Rebekah has any redeeming qualities, except as Isaac’s companion. But, in her eyes, humans are to be attacked and vanquished. Truly, biting the hand that feeds.

Finally, there’s Leo, otherwise known as Dumbo, “The Dumb”. Leo is an eighteen month old Shih-Tzu adopted into our household about 8 months ago. If one is to “Google” dumbest dog breeds Shih-Tzus will be found in the top ten. Leo more than lives up to his breed’s good name. Why do I call him dumb? Surely, I’m prejudiced against toy breeds, surely he is just as smart as Bonnie Blue Basset Hound, another breed often, unjustly in my opinion, listed as a dumb breed.

Leo is the only one of our four dogs that runs to the front door if a doorbell rings on television, expecting visitors who never appear. He is the only dog that runs outside to bark at a nonexistent passing dog if there happens to be a barking dog on the TV. He will race along our polished marble floor and try to turn the corner, lose his footing and smash into the couch, or wall, or table or other dog. And, it’s not he’s done this once or twice; it’s over and over and over. It’s good thing he seems to be made of rubber and such trauma doesn’t inflict any injury.

Then there’s treat time. Each dog gets their allotted pile of treats in the evening. Leo, invariably, leaves his treats, and goes to check out what the other dogs have received. Of course, they guard their pile closely, warning our dumb Shih-Tzu to stay away with a stream of growls, snarls and bared teeth. While Leo fruitlessly pursues Bonnie or Coconut, our little thief, Zoe waltzes in and spirits away Leo’s stash. I could see something like this happening once, twice or even three times, but every day?

There’s also the time Leo wanted to come into the sunroom, where Isaac and Rebekah live. This room has a door from the kitchen and one that leads outside. Leo looked in through the open door from the kitchen, but then decided that the way to enter was through the locked outside door. He raced out through the doggy door and then stood staring in from the outside door, begging for admittance.

Another shining example of Leo’s complete lack of mental facility is the time we were throwing scraps of food to our dogs, who were all sitting on the floor, waiting patiently. Leo demonstrated excellent hand mouth coordination and caught his in his mouth, and then proceeded to spend the next two and a half minutes searching for the treat that was sitting in his mouth waiting to be swallowed. Is there any doubt about this beast’s mental fortitude?

He does serve one important function. In our home, he is the comical, stupid sidekick to Coconut. If Coconut is on a mission, such as tracking a rat outside at night, Leo is always along for the ride; I can almost hear him saying “What are you doing? Can I help, can I help, is there some food there?” And, when Coconut has his quarry trapped, Leo is right there racing around, back and forth, completely oblivious to the fact that a dangerous enemy has been cornered.

Need more proof of Leo’s lack of intellectual capacity? Let’s examine the physical evidence. Measurement of Leo’s cranial capacity reveals that he has at least fifty per cent less brain volume than our other dogs. Less brain volume translates to less mental storage space, and, thus, a lower IQ.

Leo’s dumb, alright. It’s just something we’ve learned to tolerate.