Old Yeller Comes Home

Part Five of Five

And so in anticipation of these prolonged agonizing escaped-convict chases, we’d take two leashes, two walkie-talkies, and two containers of useless treats, knowing we might be at the task for far more time than we wanted, generating way more angst than was fitting for our once-bucolic lives in the era of Gandy, Tsuga or Buster. 

And in the end, one of two things would happen. One, he’d surprisingly show up in the vicinity of one of us, after we had split up to go different directions that the dog might go. Rarely, after as little as ten minutes, he would let us leash him and get him back home. Or the more likely second outcome, he would be totally missing for an hour; then appear over by the barn or down in Yucca Flats; or be walking down the road and out of sight; or heard barking from the neighbor’s house. That was the last straw—when he began to go bother the neighbors. We couldn’t have that.

When he was in full escape mode, the only thing that worked was to leave the front and side doors open. And after an average of an  hour and fifteen minutes (depending on the heat) he would reach a level of sheer exhaustion and walk in the door like nothing had happened. We wanted to wring his neck!

I used to joke that the likelihood of him giving up his freedom was directly proportional to the length of his tongue. The longer it drooped as he panted, the closer he was to surrendering to the authorities.

Except that is the point: WE were not the authorities. He had no allegiance or obligation or desire to please us when he was in his feral state. He acted as if he could not hear or smell or see us at all. We ceased to be a part of his consciousness, even as he ran in front of a passing truck while we waited helplessly for this tedious episode to end—until it was repeated just the same way the next day. 

Why? What made him so affectionate indoors but bolt and then totally fail to listen or care the instant he was off-leash? My theory was that, in his first life, the only time he was free-ranging was when he escaped. And when he was recaptured, he was NOT praised for coming back but punished for the aggravation he’d caused. We tried very hard NOT express our true feelings when the dog finally drug his sorry self through the open doors after a tense and fretful hour or more of being on the loose.

And it was at this point that I began writing the emails to shelters explaining why we must reluctantly “rehome” Scout. But there was one last thing to try.

I still had a “stim collar” (or e-collar) I had purchased for Dingo, a blue heeler who we reluctantly took in back last fall when he showed up and would not take no for an answer.  He was probably the smartest dog I’ve ever attempted to train—indoors. But he was freaked at passing cars. He actually was run over once, front to back of a passing truck full of good ole boys, and only lost a little fur. But the e-collar was my desperate hope to break Dingo of his car-chasing habit. The collar arrived a week before he bit me, unprovoked, the second time, just before the grandkids were coming. With great reluctance, we decided we could no longer keep him. 

So, this frowned-upon training tool was my last hope. I probably spent an entire work-week watching training videos for how to use an e-collar correctly. This was another training tool that could be and had been misused, and so there are a lot of haters—for prong collars and e-collars. And I understand that. But the point was made again that used properly, the stim collar was to be a means of communication, not punishment. And what I liked about the current crop of devices was that they offered a variety of modes of communication, with a hundred levels for vibration and electrical stimulation. 

And yet I worried that unless this negative reinforcement was applied at just the right time and with just the right cues and then positive rewards, it could make the dog want to run AWAY from us to get away from the tingle. I put it off as long as I could, knowing this was Scout’s last chance to succeed. Frankly, I was not hopeful.

I combined the retractable leash with the stim collar over a month or more, mostly using mid-range vibration (like a smartphone vibration that signals information without making you wet your pants) or very low stim levels (less than 20 out of 100). Over and over, Scout would be walking ahead almost to the full extent of the leash. I’d call COME! and press and hold the Vibration button until the instant he turned and looked my way and started in my direction. At that point, I’d gently pull him my direction, even walking quickly backwards to let him cover more ground until he reached me. I’d offer a treat, but he generally preferred GOOD BOY! And a pat on the head.

In early November, the moment of truth had come. We took the dog—with no small dread—to the end of the pasture. We allowed him sit calmly for a minute. I unclasped the leash as gently as possible so he couldn’t even tell at first the he was free to bolt. But he bolted. He ran—in big sweeping, joyful circles around us, then back and forth between Nameless Creek and the New Road, and then back to us for approval. We wanted to cry. He understood. He heard us. He wanted to follow. Leading is a lot of work, and it’s lonely at the top.

Scout is now a member–and not the leader–of the pack!

There have been the occasional lapses requiring more than verbal commands while he still wears the orange collar with the black box on it. But in late January, a typical day includes a half-dozen outings off leash—sometimes over short distances even without the stim collar. I will make a video hopefully to include with this final story—final for now at least. 

And what you’ll see is that Scout looks up frequently from his mousing to see where we are. “This way!” I tell him and he knows we’re changing direction. “Let’s go home” and he knows play time is over. “Let’s go to the garden” and he goes to the gait and waits for us to open it. 

What remains is the weakest link—a critical and absolutely necessary lesson yet to come. We (I) have to train him to NOT chase cars or trucks; bicycles or motorcycles; horses or people walking down the road. Never. Ever. I used to tell Ann, who was less worried about his great escapes than I was: “If he’s loose we’re liable.”

So this will be a challenge. And the opportunities to train him to not chase cars is made more difficult by the fact that we have very few cars, and they come at unpredictable times each day; and fewer horses or cyclists. But they will come, more and more as the weather moderates. And I will have to somehow reinforce SIT-STAY no matter what it is that you want to do, pup.

Our other dogs have learned this, more or less. But of course they were with us from 8 weeks on. If we succeed here, coming from where we were in the summer, it will seem miraculous. We came so close to giving up, to losing hope, to sending this dog back into a crate, waiting for one more chance to fit in.

1-Outside of a Dog 
2-Finding Old Yeller
3-And I Am Not The Alpha Male
4- Old Yeller Comes Home

Not Exactly Bored

I am plagued or blessed—depending on the way I squint my eyes when I reflect on the things that fill my vision at various moments on any day of the week—with a lot of interests.

I guess I just don’t want to miss anything before the lights go out.

One of the current spinning plates in the Vaudeville Act of Life is a resurrected interest in playing the piano—and this after giving away our old family upright that, in this moist location with drying woodstoves, would never hold a tuning.

Shortly thereafter, I had occasion to sit down at a nicely tuned old piano and was able to resurrect just enough of my ancient muscle memory to enjoy playing again, and not have that too terribly painful to listening ears.

And so, after two weeks of dinking around with a borrowed Yamaha keyboard, I ordered one this morning. Finally! An end to the empty hours when I can’t find a single thing to occupy my idle mind and hands–the Devil’s workshop, you know!

Oh—and there is Scout, our 13 month old canine with us now two weeks tomorrow. Ann entreated me to not post anything about the dog, since, for a few days there, we were not certain we were equal to the task of training a dog who had already had a former life we knew nothing of.

I think—think—we are past that uncertainty. So Scout, the pup, is another thing to stave off boredom. And more about that new hobby, soon.

April 16, 2007 and the Problem of Pain

Deep Creek near Thomas Amis House and Inn near Rogersville TN. Click image to enlarge

This is a far more weighty subject than anyone should jump into casually. So forgive me for doing just that, in a way, with a brief morning post.

For so many families, the sting of this day remains sharp and deep. And many still feel the weight of the evil that befell so many innocents at Virginia Tech at the hand of an unbalanced shooter.

I happened across this essay/sermon by Philip Yancey, who shortly after the event, addressed the students and faculty on campus after having just suffered his own near-death pain and injury in an accident.

Where is God When it Hurts?

His understanding expressed in this text of how a universe exists in which God is both good and omnipotent AND evil and pain exist might be helpful to some who make the effort to read it through.

Christians ask the same question, but like Yancey, find sufficient understanding, though “through a glass, darkly” for this life. And with that understanding, they don’t shake their fist at God (like more than a few of our friends) for creating a world where free will leads to lies and deceit, anger and vengeance, suffering and injustice.

As C S Lewis describes such a world, a knife could be used to spread butter on bread, but should it be used to threaten injury, it would turn into a blade of grass.

We live in a consequential world. And in it, perhaps the most astounding fact is that love and beauty abounds. And life is precious. And something is most definitely broken here.


Gandy, Going, Gone

Gandy is gone as of an hour ago, after seven years and four months. That’s a lot of dog years, and they were good ones. She had an enchanted life on Goose Creek after being a rescue puppy that could have ended up anywhere, and in not such expansive wilderness with two creeks! Think trailer park tied to a tree.

Three days ago she was chasing squirrels on the ridge. Then she went into a rapid decline, and was having difficulty standing, breathing, moving. The end was near. We found a vet from FloydCo who makes house calls. She came right away. Gandy did not suffer.

She is buried out the kitchen window where we could never get a pear tree to grow. And that was one of the most difficult things we have done together in 47 years of marriage—in sickness and in health. We never buried a dog together before.

It will take some while before we stop expecting her to greet us in the morning and run ahead of us on the pasture loop. I just glanced up to see a copper colored flash go past the window and thought “there she is” but it was one of the red chickens.

It is a good exercise just now to think of our friends and family and those that knew us, and knew us with Gandy, through all the ups and downs; through the Feather years. Feather left the story a year ago January 23rd and Gandy never stopped missing her, I feel sure. Maybe there are dogs in heaven after all.

We never had a smarter companion, or more faithful or more helpful–bringing in wood, doing anything in the truck, she was involved in all family activities. And so her absence, all the more the loss.

And life goes on.

There are a lot of reasons why Gandy should be our LAST dog. But the “heart has reasons that reason does not know” Pascal said. And I expect he is on to something.

It’s a Wonder-Full Life

I am happy to be often stopped in my tracks by wonder, but I wonder what exactly that is.

I know it when I feel it (or mostly when I have felt it, too immersed in the object of that state to be conscious of it or to care beyond the minor rapture of the moment.)

Attention-awareness is part of it; and curiosity; and a tacit sense of once-ness in the passing of the object or idea or scent or gestalt of the moment of wonder. Moments of wonder are benchmarks of real-ization out of a life of rote routine, habit,  and sensory numbness.

Wonder is a kind of deep-sight into ordinary reality around us.

  Are you prone to wonder? What draws your attention and curiosity and won’t let you go?  


I like the way Caspar Henderson has put it:

…wonder is, among other things, an act of deep attention. As I try so show in the book, it’s a radical openness in which we think clearly and feel good, and connect to phenomena or people beyond ourselves.

When one has these moments, it makes one think what more is going on here? What’s the context in which this is happening? Why, as a briefly-alive, historically-situated being, why am I wondering at this rather than something else?

What role does this experience play in my own sense of what makes the world meaningful? Where does that come from? Where is it going? In moments of wonder—this is my experience—you’re aware of your own ignorance, your own limits, your smallness, your mortality, and, also, I feel okay with that.

The best books on Science and Wonder — a Five Books interview https://fivebooks.com/best-books/science-wonder/