Intelligent Thanksgiving House Guest Entertains
Bringing home a an uber-intelligent dog for the holiday makes Thanksgiving special - even with fewer leftovers.
As a bit of background, I will admit that I tend to be a collector. When I worked for a casual furniture manufacturer, I brought home all sorts of patio furniture. When I worked for Tervis Tumbler, I amassed quite the collection of tumblers. So you can imagine my husband’s trepidation when I started working at Southeastern Guide Dogs. We sat down and decided that in no uncertain terms, I would not be bringing home any dogs. And thus far, I have stuck to that bargain. You see, my husband and I don’t have kids, but we do have two very special miniature Schnauzers, Freud and Anna, who rule the household. So bringing in another dog would be very upsetting for them.
Well, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, an email went out to staff looking for a place for the weekend for a dog that was on medical hold and couldn’t be kept in the main kennel because of lameness (they didn’t want her rough-housing with the other dogs). So, I tested the waters of the “no dogs coming home pact” and immediately got a great big “no!” – which was not unexpected. What was unexpected was the call I got a few minutes later that laid out the terms under which my husband would accept this dog coming home (they were: she was totally my responsibility and I had to clean up after her). He is a big softie when it comes to animals and he didn’t want the dog to be alone for the holiday. I know that is anthropomorphizing, but whatever works.
So it was decided Pat would be coming home with me for the weekend. Pat, a nearly two-year-old black and tan Labrador, was overjoyed and wiggled her whole body when we met. I was excited at the prospect of showing how easily another dog could come into the household, especially one so very well trained as a guide dog-in-training.
Pat and I made our way home and the first test began…introducing her to Freud and Anna. Now Freud has always been okay with other dogs, but Anna, not so much. So I took the cautious steps of introducing them through the fence first. Then I got Freud out and had him meet Pat in the driveway which went just fine. Then I brought Anna out and that went better than expected. See, this is going to be a piece of cake. Then we all made our way into the house and I kept Pat on a lead and let her explore, under the ever watchful eye of Anna.
By the evening, everyone was getting along well and Pat seemed to be settling in quite nicely. We had taken a couple of trips by the pool, with a stern “no” every time she eyed it with excitement. So we went to bed with all of the Bements on the bed and Pat on a blanket on the floor of our bedroom.
In the morning, all was fine and we headed downstairs. At this point, Pat was off-lead and pretty much sticking beside either my husband or me. Being a young Labrador, after breakfast means play time, but Freud didn’t understand Pat’s playfulness so we decided it would probably be best to just keep her on lead. So, Pat was now literally attached to my hip and I got to have her with me all the time.
It’s actually kind of fun always having a dog by your side. She hung out in the kitchen while I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner, laid next to me while I watched television, went up and down the stairs to the laundry room, and we even took a two mile walk. She was fast becoming my buddy. I understand better now how our students bond so quickly with their new guides – it’s hard not to when they are always there and are as sweet as Pat.
In the late afternoon, dinner was coming out of the oven and our friends were arriving. Since it was a beautiful day out, we were enjoying the sunshine out in the yard, so I let Pat off lead to run around a bit. Our friend, Tom, took up the challenge of carving the turkey and headed into the kitchen. I didn’t notice, but he wasn’t the only one headed into the house. About ten minutes later Tom came out with a funny look on his face and declared that while he was in the bathroom, Pat decided she would help herself to a bit of turkey. I quickly made my way inside and saw the empty space where the freshly carved turkey should have been.
You have to understand, we have always had small to medium sized dogs and have not had to worry about counter-surfing. It never crossed our minds that leaving the turkey unattended on the counter would be too much temptation even for a highly trained dog – she is a Lab after all, and ruled by her stomach. Thankfully, there was enough turkey left to go around, but the much sought-after leftovers were sparse. At least now we have a really funny story to tell.
The evening and next morning went by without incident as I kept a very close eye on my charge and made sure to keep everything out of reach. Friday afternoon brought about some fun, we finally let Pat go in the pool. In true Labrador form she launched herself off the side of the pool with reckless abandon. It was a sight to see. I laughed every time she did it. We broke the rules a bit and let her have a ball, but even if there wasn’t anything thrown in for her to retrieve, she would still go in with much gusto. Water was everywhere, but seeing her having so much fun was probably the highlight of the weekend. It made me think how lucky I am to get to spend time with these amazing dogs that are slated to one day be someone’s key to independence, but deep down they are still are fun-loving dogs.
However, also in true Labrador form, she became a bit obsessed with the pool. We were now comfortable with having her on lead with me at all times, but in those few instances when she was off lead, the playful puppy would come out. She would run to the far side of the pool and look from the sparkling water up to my face as I tried to get over to her before she leapt into the pool, just to do laps or blow bubbles out her nose. Despite knowing that I would have to dry her off once again, she still made me giggle at her excitement.
Pat also got more exposures in over the weekend. She went along with me to teach a riding lesson. It would appear she had not been around horses very much as a puppy, but she soon realized that there was nothing to be scared of, provided she give them their space. I kept her lead attached to my waist while I was teaching and at one point I think she got tired of walking around with me because she just laid down right in the middle of the arena, clearly not fazed by this big animal trotting around her.
It was only fitting that Pat took a trip to our local dog-friendly pub, The Distillery, in downtown Bradenton. Everyone was excited to see her there and called her by name – kind of like when Norm would arrive at Cheers. The Distillery held Mustache Mondays during November where if you had a mustache, you would be eligible for drink specials. However, if you didn’t have one, they had them available for purchase and the proceeds went to Southeastern Guide Dogs!
The remainder of the weekend went without incident, and I was sad to turn Pat back over when I got into work. It must be said that everything that happened, was because of a lapse in my observational skills, it had nothing whatsoever to do with her training. Pat listened every time I asked something of her. It also illustrates the point that when not in harness, guide dogs are really just dogs, and subject to puppy playfulness. Pat is super-sweet, extremely intelligent and she will make a fine ambassador for Southeastern Guide Dogs, let’s just hope her host family will give her some pool time!