Me and Sally
My dog Sally likes to jump and bark at the TV if there is anything on that gets her excited which is almost everything. I think she thinks that what she sees on the screen is actually real and is coming to get her.
This gets more than a little annoying especially if I am watching something and a part of the program comes along that is energetic and drama filled and my screen is partially obscured by a jumping barking dog.
She is a strange little dog. She is standoffish and fearful. She doesn’t like people very much. Most dogs will come up and sniff and get their canine measure of a visitor, Sally runs away. She wants nothing to do with anyone.
She is the result of a backyard breeding, sold as a Shetland Sheepdog because somewhere in her genetic mix there was a fully blooded Sheltie. She looks enough like a Sheltie except she is way too small.
Probably raised in a cage with no human contact or socialization. She keeps people in her sight, but will not get close to them.
She and I mirror each other. I got Sally at a time when I was in a downward emotional spiral that lasted a long time.
I didn’t want to see people. I isolated myself from everyone. I essentially was a shut in, only emerging to go to work. Sometimes, when the black hole got too deep, I would call in sick and stay home.
Sally was with me through all of it. She saw the worst of me. The filthy house that got dirtier and filthier because I didn’t care about cleaning it.
She and I would sit by the hour on a broken down couch watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and Six Feet Under, me smoking and eating whatever I had delivered that day.
I lived on Long Island, which was a very easy place to isolate yourself, as crowded as it was. It was simple to get lost. Just one person in the teeming masses of people, easy to misplace and forget about.
And that is what happened. I lost myself. Parts of me were scattered amongst the rolls of dust weevils that barely moved in the stagnant air in my house.
I would leave the house at intervals to buy cigarettes, but most of the time I stayed inside. I couldn’t walk more than half a block without gasping for air. It was easier to let Sally out in the yard.
i sat on my broken couch, and waited for the day when I could stop feeling this way. I didn’t care about myself. But I did care enough about Sally to keep things going. I had to see to her needs. She was the one thing that I felt responsible for.
I hit the bottom of my black hole and realized that I wanted to live. I made the decision in the hospital after nearly dying.
Life became precious to me especially when faced with the very real possibility of not existing. There was no question of “what if “ anymore. No theoretical wondering of fading out gradually. There were no shades of grey here.
Live or don’t live. The decision was suddenly very simple.
I came home from the hospital and Sally was there to greet me, wildly happy to see me. In addition to my promise to myself, I made a promise to take better care of Sally as well.
Dogs don’t demand anything of us. I demanded it of myself. There is an unwritten contract and I definitely didn’t hold up my end. For all those long never ending days of blackness and inner turmoil, she was around and I took care of her basic needs.
I had thought of giving her away a couple of times because I didn’t feel that I could care for her properly. But I knew she would end up as she started, in a cage in an unfamiliar place, filled with barking noisy dogs. I couldn’t do it.
I am her person. I made my mind up to do better by her as well as myself. I started on a new road and she was right by my side.
I started to walk her more. I knew how attached she was to me, so I decided to try walking her off leash. That worked out really well only because she was too scared to wander off.
Now when we’re walking and she gets a bit too far ahead of me, I tell her to Wait for Me. She seems to be keyed in on the word “Me”. I tried “Stay” and that didn’t really get the necessary response from her. Whatever works.
The next thing I wanted to teach her was not to jump at the TV. I did this at the suggestion of Jon Katz who has written extensively about dog training.
I had treats by me and when Sally would jump and bark at the TV, I would hold a treat at eye level and say “Watch Me”. Sally’s attention was turned to me and then I would make her sit before giving her the treat. Jon says give nothing away for free and set up the dog for success. Words to live by.
Sally is fixated on food and me so I knew I could get her to do it. It took a lot of treats and consistency and patience, but now she will come and sit by me when I say “Watch Me”. I give her a treat about every third time.
We are working together and I’m surprised at how smart Sally is. I mean she is no Lassie, but she certainly likes our little training sessions. I enjoy them as well, because they take me out of myself and allow me to enjoy being with her.
We’ve expanded our territory to the edges of forest and pastures. Sally makes sure to keep me in her sight. We walked by a brook yesterday on a beautiful sunny day.
Sally jumps at every sound. The wind whipping through the grass or a distant song from a bird. Sounds that are beyond my range of hearing. I can see her looking, letting her senses help figure things out.
It was a sweet experience for me. I want her to explore her world. She trusts me and it is a pleasure for me to see her just being a dog. She walked ahead of me, stopped and looked back at me, eager and happy, tail wagging. I heard the words in my head.