by Daryl Anderson
It’s a cliché that writing is a lonely job. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly solitary, which is why I have dogs. Their unconditional love and easy companionship make the whole business of writing a little less lonely.
At least 99% of the time…and it’s that other 1% that’s been bothering me of late.
I suppose it started with Pitch, the stray puppy I brought home several months earlier who decided that his mission in life was to chew his way through the entire house. Pillows, table legs, even a ceramic pig enticed him.
But I took it in stride. With the possible exception of Labs and Boxers, all puppies outgrow their youthful mischief. It was the problem with Fera—my fifteen-year-old Rottweiler mix—that pushed me over the edge.
For practically all of Fera’s life, she’s eaten from the same bowl—a heavy-duty plastic job that my old dog had grown increasingly fond of with each passing year. (Only when it was too late did I discover just how fond.)
But as I said, it started with Pitch, who had also taking a liking to Fera’s bowl. Bluntly put, he ate it.Or tried to. That he did not entirely succeed was not for lack of effort. His sharp puppy teeth had managed to gnaw off most of the black rubber coating from the bottom, but I was more concerned about the deep gashes in the bowl’s interior, which provided a perfect medium for bacterial growth.
I took a shaky breath—time for new bowl.
On the first attempt Fera backed away from the metal bowl as if it were a coiled viper. Reassessing the task before me, I opted for the slow, safe route. For a week—or two—I continued to feed Fera from her old bowl, but placed the shiny new bowl in increasingly close proximity, thereby sensitizing my old girl to the new reality. When I reached the point where the bowls touched, I was ready to try again.
And as an added incentive, I sautéed some ground turkey and rice and mixed it with Fera’s kibble to sweeten the pot—or rather the bowl.
This time Fera was way ahead of me. Before I’d put the bowl on the floor, she was already backing away. I was about to dump the mess into the old bowl and try again another day when my husband intervened.
“Leave the food,” he said. “When Fera gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it.”
But she didn’t eat it—not that day, nor the day after that.
I wasn’t ready to accept defeat, but neither could I watch Fera starve herself so I began feeding her by hand, cajoling all the time for her to eat from her “nice new bowl.” When that didn’t work, I tried other dinnerware: plates, pasta bowls, aluminum pie pans, but nothing worked.
Then one night, just before falling asleep, the answer came to me! The next morning I found an old cereal bowl that fit snugly into Fera’s battered bowl. Sure enough, Fera ate her chow. Maybe it was a little crazy, but it was sanitary, which was always my primary concern. I bragged to anyone who would listen about my ingenuity.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” my husband said.
But like so many victories, mine was short-lived. The next day when I placed Fera’s bowls on the floor, she cowered, tail flat as road-kill. We stared at one another for a long, long moment. I’m no dog psychic, but I’m pretty sure Fera was thinking the same thing as me: Have you lost your friggin’ mind?
I blinked first. I poured the kibble into her old bowl and put the new one away. “Here you go, girl.” I pushed her cherished bowl toward her, relieved that the awful game was over.
Only Fera wasn’t ready for it to be over. She shied from her once-beloved bowl. I grew cold with the realization of what I had done. Instead of acclimating Fera to a new bowl, I’d managed to instill a fear of bowls—indeed, of all dishware!—into my elderly dog
Since that awful day, I’ve fed Fera by hand. It’s a slow process, but the other morning she actually ate a few morsels from her old bowl. Hopefully in another day or two things will be back to normal.
I don’t know what—if anything—Fera learned from the entire ordeal, but one thing is crystal clear, at least to me.
Maybe you can teach an old dog a new trick, but not always the trick you wanted.