Notes From The Madhouse

Going back through my dog-related posts, I notice many of them include the phrase, “Mary was having a good day today.”

Well, unfortunately, Mary did not have a good day yesterday, and Bob’s wasn’t exactly spiffy, either.

Where do I begin?

Okay, let’s see. Number one, I’m the lone human in the house this weekend. Ranger Sue is downstate visiting our “honorary grandkids” – the family who adopted Abbie’s brown boy Kona, and turned around and adopted us back. She’s got Ernestine along, and another littermate lives nearby (Tug, a mischievous and playful black male), so besides having fun with the grandkids, there will be a mini-reunion as the gang approaches their fourth birthday.

I’ve got my own special guest, though: we’re dogsitting a different grandpuppy, the extremely personable Ellie. She’ll be here all week while her people are taking a cross-country train trip. (…color me envious…) Ellie is just a delight, and I’m always thrilled to have her spend time with us.

Unfortunately, however, something about adding an extra and (to her) unfamiliar dog to the home environment tripped Mary’s circuit breakers yesterday. She’s at a point in her good day/bad day cycle where this is not surprising, but yesterday’s episode was about as severe as I’ve seen in a long time.

Usually, when we’re dogsitting Ellie or her other nearby sister, Sophie, things settle down within a half hour or less after their arrival. Not yesterday. After letting Ellie, Abbie, and Nelson sort things out- no big deal, really- it was time to let Mary into the yard. Whoa, Nellie! She just flipped, whirling like a dervish, barking frantically, spinning around the yard like a fuzzy black tornado. The other dogs did their best to stay out of her way, but the sheer randomness of her course made that difficult, and woe betide any dog she bumped into; in her frenzy, she snarls and nips at any canine leg within reach.

Chasing Mary down to hold her and comfort her was like trying to tackle a greased pig- I get dizzy just watching her high-speed corkscrews. (And as I’ve said before, it’s a tribute to the Newfoundland temperament that even at frenetic moments like these, Mary still understands the difference between fellow dog and human; there’s never a question of her nipping at me.) When I finally did manage to grab her and cuddle her, her head continued jerking spasmodically and the rapid nystagmus motion of her eyes showed this was more than just Mary being excitable; her brain circuits had begun going haywire.

We’ve been here many times before, and I began the “Mary needs her pills” drill without undue concern, but poor Ellie didn’t know what to make of things. All she knew is that her people had just driven off, leaving her trapped in a fenced yard with a mad dog. Her distress was plain. Now I had two oversized dogs in need of attention: one going nuts and one simply terrified.

I brought the two of them into the house- it wasn’t easy- and let Ellie find herself a safe den while I cuddled Mary and waited for her meds to kick in. Ellie’s a smart cookie: she ran straight to the guest room and jumped up on the bed; I can only figure she remembers from previous visits that she’s safe there from the crazy dog who doesn’t look up.

Eventually, the tranquilizers took effect and Mary drifted off to sleep. She went out like a light- to the point that I kept coming back through the afternoon to make sure she was still breathing- but I thought maybe things would quiet down and I could get to work on settling Ellie in.

Not to be- it wasn’t very long before a strange woman knocks at my door, setting off the Newf alarm, but fortunately not waking Mary. I open the door and she says, “I think one of your dogs is out- he’s running around in the cemetery.” My stomach knotted… did Ellie manage to get loose? Then I looked around and realized all the dogs were right here, including Ellie, still up on the guest bed. I had to convince the lady it was somebody else’s big black dog.

Calm the gang down, coax Ellie off the bed, and sit on the floor with her to kill time watching college football. An hour goes by and another stranger raps at the door. “I’ve got one of your dogs tied up in my yard- he tried to kill one of my chickens.”

No, ma’am, all my dogs are here. Barking at you.

Calm them all down again and wonder where the hell that other dog belongs, and hope he finds his way home toot sweet. Ellie runs back to the guest room.

Then my vet calls and wants to chat about the starving snowy owl that somebody just brought in, and get my advice on how to track down anyone from the Department of Natural Resources on opening day of deer season…


Finally make it through the day. Mary wakes up for supper, and seems to be past the worst of things. Having missed their walks, Nelson and Abbie are bored and restless, and remind me frequently. Ellie is beginning to leave the guest bed long enough to come over and nudge me with her nose, seeking reassurance.

At 10:30, I’m bushed. Settle Mary down in her crate for the night, leaving it open in hopes that the inevitable accident will be out on the tile floor and not on her crate pad. (I was right, fortunately.) Just as I get ready to join Ellie on the guest bed, the phone rings. It’s my octogenarian mother, calling from a different time zone.

“So, Bob, are you enjoying batching it?”

Don’t ask, Mom. Don’t even ask.

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