Tao of the Dog: Sitting Pretty

Years ago when we were taking both Cheyenne and Jetson to Sit Means Sit here in Austin, we were told by one of the instructors that dogs have two ways to sit. One is the straight-forward one leg on either side position that most dogs do, while the other is more relaxed, where the dog has both hind legs to one side and is leaning essentially on their hip. The relaxation distinction was important to the lessons at Sit Means Sit, because they were all about trying to keep your reactive dogs calm and whatnot. These days, Cheyenne only sits with both legs out to one side, but I don’t think it’s because she’s relaxed… she’s just old.

Cheyenne is getting on in years… nine by our count. She had ACL surgery a while back, and though she loves to play fetch, it’s not great for her legs. We have to limit her to a handful of throws and make sure we throw it in such a way that she won’t be spinning around or changing direction quickly.

She sleeps a lot more these days, and if she thinks we don’t notice, she’s wrong. Recently, she has taken to sleeping in El Matador’s room, especially if we’ve still got lights on the bedroom and she wants somewhere dark to put down. It’s important to stop and think about your pets from time to time. Before you know it, you’ll be writing their quasi-obituary and trying to capture everything that was wonderful about them.

She’s grown more demanding in her old age. Breakfast is at six, but don’t think for a second she won’t be sitting by your side of the bed at 5:30 a.m. just waiting for you to wake up. Dare to get up late? She’ll yip and bark after 30 seconds past 6:00 a.m. She’ll yip and bark at the door to go out. She’ll yip and bark at a French fry that has fallen under the table that she’s too scared to reach for. These yips and barks will pierce the otherwise silent house and often make you pee a little. So at least she’s keeping us on our toes.

Anyway, just wanted to share some pics.

And woe betide the creature who steps into her garden

Since Jetson’s passing, Cheyenne has been reasserting herself as the unequivocal Alpha of the Verastiqui Pack. She demands table scraps. She shoves her ball in our faces. She sleeps at the head of our bed. If she were still a pup, we’d probably take steps to correct this behavior, but she’s getting on in years and already has a couple of good cancers (emphasis the vet’s, not mine), so she pretty much has free reign in the house. No one dares to question her authority.

The backyard is a little different.

The animals that pass the boundaries of our yard have not heard of this land’s ruthless ruler.

Doesn’t matter what you are–rabbit, snake, mother-f-ing possum–Cheyenne will fight you.

So, if you were at your window past midnight the other night, you might have heard Cheyenne giving the business to the possum pictured above.

And if you then happened to look out your window, you would have seen an overweight Hispanic man in his boxers who clearly didn’t expect he’d have to go outside trying to break up a fight between his beloved pooch and a demon hell spawn marsupial.

We have fun.

I Don’t Believe in Human Ghosts

I’ve never been a big believer in the supernatural or life after death. It’s a nice idea that there’s something beyond all this, but I tend to think it’s just oblivion… an unfathomable non-existence devoid of any shred of awareness. We think we’re special because we’re humans. We think we can linger on after our death. I doubt that, and for that reason, I don’t believe in spirits or phantoms or ghosts. Now, dog ghosts, on the other hand…

A Stir of Jet-choes

Last month, I had to say goodbye to my BFF writing partner cuddle buddy prolific fart machine Jetson. The week that followed was more difficult than I expected it to be. The problem? I kept hearing him.

Sighs. Yawns. The clicky-clack of his nails on the hardwood. Jetson always made a lot of noise. He liked to let you know he was there.

I knew it was my brain playing tricks on me, trying to compensate for his absence. And as the days passed, I heard him less and less. I expected him less and less.

We haven’t shied away from remembering Jetson. His photos still scroll on the digital frames and the Echo Shows. His ashes sit in a polished wood box beneath a glass dome high on our shelves in the living room. We see him every day and remember him every day.

The memories remain, but the feeling is waning. Losing power and water in freezing weather last week refocused our attention, and when things finally got back to normal, I realized I couldn’t feel Jetson’s presence anymore.

I didn’t like that.

Paranormal Jetivity

Jetson could have been an emotional support dog. He was always there to get right up in your face and take your mind off of whatever was bothering you. In contrast, his sister Cheyenne hardly lifts her head from the couch when we come back after an afternoon out.

Like I said before: Jet liked to let you know he was there.

With a toddler in the house, I sleep with one eye and one ear open at all times. The slightest noise wakes me up, which is great because I’d rather hear my son at the bedroom door rather than stay asleep until his face is an inch from mine.

A few days ago, I woke up randomly in the middle of the night. And as I rolled over to go back to sleep, I heard Jetson yawn. Some dogs can yawn silently, but Jetson like to add this weird high-pitched muted scream to his. Sometimes I yawn like that too, so who am I to judge? The point is, I heard it plain as day coming from the living room.

I stared at the open bedroom door, fully awake, fully aware there was no way it actually could have been Jetson. What broke the spell was the security panel on the wall by the door. When disarmed, it has a little green LED that indicates the system is ready. The light goes out when a door is opened or if motion is detected in the living room. As I was sitting there waiting, the light went out. Since there was no accompanying chime, that meant the motion sensor had gone off.

Oh, I thought. It must have been Matador who made a sound.

I got out of bed and walked out of the bedroom fully expecting to see a sleepy toddler waddling his way through the living room. Instead, there was nothing. Thinking he might have already started walking back to his bed, I went to his room and found him under the covers and fast asleep.

I checked out security cameras to see if he’d gotten up at all, and he hadn’t. The only thing that had moved in the living room was me coming to investigate.

Confused, but half-asleep myself, I went back to bed. When I woke up the next morning, two questions were waiting for me:

  • Who or what had made that very distinctive yawning sound?
  • Who or what had tripped the motion sensor?

The JetsoRcist

I don’t believe in human ghosts because if they do exist, none of them have interacted with me in a way that proves their existence beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But… now…

Okay, so maybe I don’t really believe in canine ghosts now, but I do have a better understanding of why you believe in human ghosts.

Something made a noise. Something tripped the sensor. The very idea that it could have been Jetson’s spirit or ghost brought me so much joy. The idea that he is still with us in this house, loyal to his pack, watching over us, keeping us company, tied to us with an unbreakable familial bond…

It just warms the heart.

I hope you are here, Jetson. I hope you see how much we continue to love you every single day.

REPOST: Paw Prints in the Poop – A Petrospective

Originally published in 2015.

Dom and I learned a lot about dogs in our first year with Cheyenne, from how to raise a puppy to how to properly scrub pee out of a carpet. It’s strange that even with all the hard work and property damage, we ultimately decided that one dog simply wasn’t enough. This wasn’t a personal decision; Cheyenne really needed a brother. Here’s a look back at 2014 and everything we’ve learned about living in a household with two dogs with two radically different personalities.

January 10th rolls around, and we celebrate Chy’s first birthday. We treat her to sushi and treats from Lofty Dog. She eats casually, taking each piece individually to the living room to enjoy it. There is no reason to worry about a plate of food left unattended in the kitchen. Who else would eat it? Surely not the humans.

For the first time, Cheyenne has another dog visit her home. His name is Jetson, and he’s a rescue from a shelter in San Antonio. He doesn’t know his place in the pack, so he’s submissive and lovable. He’s a little sick and a little underweight, so Chy is able to overpower him when they wrestle. His true passion is sleeping. Dom is in love with him. Chy and I are cautiously aloof.

A day before Valentine’s, we officially adopt Jetson. He had to go back to the original foster mom for a little while, but eventually he ends up at home with us. His absence was felt by every member of the family, but mostly Chy. Within a week of his homecoming, I snap this photo of them cuddling under my desk. In all the time he had been with us, he and Chy rarely slept near each other and certainly not touching. I like to believe Jetson is relieved to be back with us. He needed a home, but little did we know he would soon go from this is my HOME to this is MY home.

Everyone feels the effects of Jetson’s separation anxiety. While in his crate, he barks and whines and generally fills the house with scary noises that send Chy running into the corner to hide. When not in his crate, he makes several attempts to jump over the gate separating the kitchen from the living room. But it isn’t all bad news. Every once in a while, his escape attempts knock over the trash can (which hold one side of the gate to the wall). In this pic from March, Chy investigates the spilled garbage. Both of them enjoy a whole clementine before I stop snapping pictures.

As the months progress, Jetson learns two important things: this is his home, and he is safe here. One of the ways he shows his comfort is by lounging in the backyard. He loves darting out of the back door, running to a nice patch of grass, and throwing himself down to sunbathe. It’s behavior we’ve never seen in Chy; she is constantly searching the grass for lizards or frogs or snakes. Jet is more confident when it comes to relaxing, and honestly, in general. It’s one of the factors that will make his adolescence such a trying time for all of us.

I remember the first time Chy slept on our bed. It was cute. I remember the first time Chy and Jet slept on our bed. It was not cute. By May, Chy has started to reach her adult weight, and Jet is well on his way to recovery. That’s about 90 pounds of dog in the bed. The only reasonable course of action is to confine the dogs to the loft overnight, allowing them to sleep where they can see us but not get to us. It works well, for the most part, but then there are some mornings when Chy lays at the gate just like in this pic and whines softly. Did I say mornings? I mean nights too. Jet doesn’t really care too much about being kept out of the bedroom. He often carves out his own spot on the couch downstairs.

By June, the novelty of having a brother / sister has worn off. Chy and Jet have now had a few knock-down drag-outs over food, toys, and our affection. They argue like siblings, and instead of looking to each other for entertainment, they try their best to engage us. New behaviors start to show. Jetson is now constantly underfoot and nips at our faces. Chy is defiant, obeying commands only when it suits her. Foolishly, we think the behaviors are endearing.

I just wanted to include a picture of Jetson getting a bath. Look at that face. Does that look like the face of a cold-hearted killer? I think not.

It has been seven months since Jetson arrived, and we still haven’t figured out an activity he likes. Chy loves to fetch and play with the water hose. Jetson, on the other hand, can’t be bothered to fetch. He likes to play tug-of-war with the rope, but he’s so strong and I’m getting so old. We try running with him, but he has no concept of heeling, so the danger of tripping over him is always there. Dom and I agree that Jetson needs a healthy dose of training and exercise. We start running him through the training we learned with Chy, and he takes to it well, learning to sit, stay, down, etc. But it’s not enough, and we learn it the hard way.

We get a visit from Jetson’s former foster mother, who brings her dog over to play with Chy and Jet. Jetson lived with her and her two dogs for weeks with no issues. From the outset, it’s clear something has changed in Jet. He goes after the dog. He goes after the foster. Dom and I are mortified. We pen him up and begin a long conversation about what went wrong. Eventually, we try having the foster mom stand tall and be forceful with her commands to Jetson. It seems to work, but we don’t let him out. It’s not worth the risk.

By October, we’ve stopped going to the dog park completely. Our walks are stressful; Jetson lunges at every passer-by, both human and animal. Friends rarely come to visit. Chy and Jet are forced to look to each other for interaction, and they have become a close-knit pack. They’ll defend not only us, but each other. Dom and I realize this isolation can’t be good for them, so we start researching training in Austin. We settle on Sit Means Sit and schedule a consultation right away.

Before we get a chance to start training, we take Jet to the vet for a checkup. Unfortunately, his growl evokes instant fear from the vet tech, and he lunges at her. She refuses to continue the examination unless Jet is muzzled. We comply and have to stare into the eyes of an animal who has no idea why this is happening to him. Sometimes we forget that Jetson is just doing what he thinks he should be doing, and that it’s our fault for not teaching him better. “Don’t worry, buddy. We’re going to get some help,” we tell him.

Training is hard, and it takes its toll on both Chy and Jet. Rules and boundaries are new concepts. They can’t run around in the house like they used to. They have to stay on their placeboards most of the day. It’s tough. We try not to expect too much out of them too soon. We survive Thanksgiving by shuffling the dogs from one place to the other. Will they ever be able to roam the house with the family? We’re starting to think not. During their breaks from place, Chy and Jet wrestle and play with new intensity. They wear themselves out, and even if it’s time to get back on place, we let them sleep.

Aside from behavior issues, it’s been interesting to watch the personalities of our dogs develop over the last year. Jetson Hamish Pharrell B-Hole Verastiqui is loving, goofy, and a fierce protector. He goes crazy for his meals, but will sit patiently and drool on the floor until you let him eat. His favorite place to sleep is on your chest. When he wants attention, he picks up something from the floor or trashcan and brings it to us. Cheyenne Marie Princess Verastiqui is defiant, aloof, and infinitely sweet. She goes crazy for a game of fetch and will run herself to exhaustion. Her favorite place to sleep is pressed tightly up against Dom. When she wants attention, she barks and whines and gives you the death stare.

It’s 2015, and Jetson is making small but noticeable improvements. While he has to wear a muzzle to class, he is slowly losing his desire to attack anything that comes near us. At class, another dog owner was able to pet him. At the vet, he got through an entire exam plus shots with only the smallest growl. Just recently, at our latest group training class, he allowed half a dozen strangers to pet him in the face even after we expressly asked them not to. He’s not ready to run freely through the neighborhood by any stretch, but he’s starting to take his cues from us, and that’s really what he needs to relax and be happy.

Cheyenne, while not aggressive, lives in her own world of distractions. Her training at home is crisp, but outside these walls, all bets are off. Like Jetson, she doesn’t see us as leaders, although probably for different reasons. Maybe I should stop picking her up and carrying her around the house?

This year, we’re looking forward to going out into the world as a family. If Chy and Jet had any understanding of the places we would go if they could simply heel and behave, I’m sure they would shape up overnight.

Mind Your Burrito, Jesus

It is one of the great tragedies of our age that, outside of myself, Dom, and a few trainers, no one else truly understands the joy and wonder that was Jetson Hamish Pharrell Butthole Verastiqui. He was more than man’s best friend; he was a brother, protector, snuggler, and most often, food-stealer. He had a growl that could frighten the devil and a face you couldn’t help but love. He is family, and now our family is a little less in his absence.

We met Jetson only seven years ago. He came from a shelter in San Antonio, both underweight and sick. Unlike Cheyenne, who is often aloof to our presence, Jetson welcomed the love and attention. Once he learned that he was part of the pack, that we would love and protect him, and most importantly, that we would feed him on a regular basis, he began giving love back to us.

I’ve sometimes referred to Jetson as my writing partner, but it’s not in a cutesy way in which I imply he puts his paws on the keyboard and smashes out a few sentences. Whether it was the early morning or late at night, Jetson was always by my side when I was writing. If I hit a wall, I’d turn and pet him for a while. I’d bounce ideas off him. And when I finished a chapter, he would be there to look at me as if I were the most amazing person in the world.

Jetson was diagnosed with lymphoma in July of 2020. The vet wasn’t sure how much time he had, but in the months that followed, we tried to be respectful and thankful for each additional day. The cancer attacked his system, the steroids made him ravenous, but Jetson did his best to take it all in stride and still be his natural goofy self.

He began to counter surf a lot, but we looked the other way. He ate cookies, M&Ms (full bags, both varieties), loaves of bread, raw ground sausage still in the styrofoam tray, bags of popcorn, sandwiches, blocks of cheese, an entire chicken drumstick, bone and all, etc., etc… We tried to be more careful, but that just made him sneakier. Aside from being concerned for his safety (seriously, an entire bone), we couldn’t really be mad at him.

I could tell you every Jetson story I have, but according to science, there is only a finite amount of space on the internet. So I’ll just tell you this: he was the absolute best.

He was love in dog form.

Jetson went to sleep on January 12, 2021 in his home, surrounded by his family, and with a belly full of McNuggets.

He will be missed forever.

Our hope is that he is lounging on the grass in the hot sun in Heaven, just waiting for Jesus to get distracted so he can steal his burrito.

You get that burrito, Jetson.

Good boy.