I have three dogs, whose combined weight is about 150 pounds.
The largest dog I had previously — Pasha, a lovebug Keeshond mix — weighed a little more than 45 pounds. When Pasha tore his cruciate ligament, I had to carry him up the stairs and into the house. That was the moment I swore I would only have pets that were light enough that I could safely carry them if needed.
We adopted Jasper and Lilah at the same time from the same foster mom; they had both been pulled from a kill shelter in Louisiana. Jasper was just a little bigger than Lilah, and the rescue organization, foster mom, and even our vet at first thought he’d top out at 45 pounds, maybe 50.
Try 70 plus.
From the start, I worked with the two dogs, and with Tucker when he joined our family, to improve their leash-walking behavior.
With the help of a trainer, we established a few simple rules.
- No pulling.
- Walk next to me.
- No, you may not chase that squirrel / rabbit / deer / tiny human on a skateboard.
It’s been nearly seven years (six for Tucker) and we’re still working on it. They’ve all improved, but every once in awhile, there’s a Thing That Must Be Chased, and a couple of dog brains short circuit (Hint: it’s never Lilah), and a combined Jasper/Tucker yank is more than I can control.
Thus a few times, a hundred and something pounds of dog have sent me sailing, and the only thing that saved me from a dirt facial was the fact that I had heeded my trainer’s advice: Never loop the leash around your hand and let go if your dogs pull you off your feet.
Jasper, Tucker and Lilah have also mastered the arts of braiding and knot-tying, and can, in seconds, weave a complex leash web around my legs faster than an eagle scout in a rope tying competition. A perfect recipe for trippage.
So, in addition to leash etiquette and the rules I mentioned above, I also bought a lead and harness set that discourages pulling — the Wonder Walker Body Halter. They also sell couplers that enable the leads to swivel, which helps prevent tangling. The system works like a charm. (Note: I was not compensated in any way by the makers of the Wonder Walker. I purchased all the items myself. )
I trained my dogs that walks only happen when they are in their assigned spots: Lilah by my heel on the right, Tucker on my left, and Jasper on the other side of Tucker. We simply don’t move forward if anyone is out of place.
With practice and patience, the dogs stopped pulling. We could walk nearly anywhere — even if there was a chaseable Thing!
The plan worked, until it didn’t.
Keen observers of my blog may notice that my last entry was August 22, almost a month ago.
It was a lovely morning, and the dogs and I were taking one of our favorite routes through the neighborhood. My daughter was getting married in a little more than two weeks, and these daily treks were great for both canine and human to burn a little of the stress off.
As we were walking up the street, something caught Jasper’s attention. And by caught, I mean whatever it was (to this day, I have no idea), grabbed his head and said, “Look! A Thing! A very important Thing! You must stop and turn around and look at it.”
As those of us who live with multiple dogs will tell you, if one dog sees a Thing, the other dog did too. Even if he didn’t. Thus Tucker saw the Thing because Jasper saw the Thing. In fact, Tucker may have seen the Thing first. Whatever it was.
I hadn’t given the dogs permission to stop so I kept moving forward, giving slight tugs on their leashes while telling Jasper and Tucker, “Let’s go.”
Only they didn’t go. Lilah did. And I did.
And somehow — and I can’t say exactly what happened because I have no memory of it — I tripped over the leashes. It wasn’t the dogs’ fault. I don’t know how the leashes were down by my legs instead of up by my waist where I normally hold them. But it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is I fell. Hard.
Worst part? I was still holding the main leash in my hand when I fell. Which is why I landed on the side of my hand, instead of with my hand stretched out. Then I bounced on my shoulder. Then my head. (Which might explain why I can’t remember exactly what happened.)
At that moment, whatever the Thing was became instantly unimportant, and three worried noses suddenly appeared in my face.
I was on the ground, in the middle of the road.
My first thought was something like Oh crap! My daughter’s going to kill me. I can’t break my hand before the wedding.
Second thought? I think I broke my hand.
I still had about three quarters of a mile — uphill — to walk home. With three dogs. A possibly (no, no, really it can’t be) broken hand, an injured shoulder and a bump on my head.
And so we walked. Slowly. With three very well behaved dogs alongside me. In their places. Not paying any attention to a single barkable, chasable pullable Thing all the way home.
Once in the house, I unhooked everyone, grabbed the ice pack from the freezer and popped a couple of Motrin. Jasper, Lilah and Tucker curled up next to me on the couch.
Calvin came by, and wondered why, instead of a lap, I had a stack of pillows with my hand resting on it. Then he tucked himself next to me as well.
Amidst the pain and the worry, all 150 pounds of dog — and at least ten pounds of cat — stayed by me, until I left to go to the doctor’s office.
On September 4th, after two weeks of planting and assembling centerpieces, crafting burlap runners, and performing assorted wedding-related tasks as assigned, I sat among friends and family in a wildflower preserve and watched my daughter marry a wonderful man.
The next day, I played bongos at a jam session, along with other musically inclined guests who were still in the area.
The following week, after Xrays and a visit to a hand specialist, I learned that I had, in fact, broken my hand. The fifth metacarpal to be exact. A so-called boxer’s fracture. I guess it’s what happens when you punch the street.
I’ll be wearing a removable cast for the next few weeks, so the break can heal. It makes typing a little challenging (it still hurts), but manageable.
I didn’t ruin the wedding. And I know that my dogs (and cats) will be there for me no matter what, even if there’s a Thing.
Do your pets know when you’re down? Do they act differently when you’re sick or unhappy?
You may also like:
- Tick, tick, tick… Lyme Disease, part II (The Homecoming)
- What My Dogs Do When I’m Down
- Want to Save Your Dog’s Life? Train Him or Her to Come When Called
- Fall is the New Black: All Dogs Look Good in Autumn
- Speechless in New Jersey: What laryngitis taught me about my relationship with my dogs and cats