Back when I had a somewhat booming pet-sitting career, I began walking Gracie when her people went out of town. The visits became more frequent with the onset of the husband’s dementia, eventually becoming a bi-weekly walk to give the wife a reprieve.
For several years, Gracie and my dog, Jessie, enjoyed all kinds of outings through any kind of weather. While not exactly besties, the two got along and it was a perfect arrangement.
I use the word “perfect” loosely. Gracie was a handful – really a pill! I love her to pieces, but she is her own dog and does her own thing. A water Spaniel mix, she is a rescue whose past is a mystery. It seems likely she came from country living as she does not like to be contained. She is very curious, adventurous, and has a bad habit of getting out of enclosed spaces — breaching any kind of fence, barrier, or obstacle to break through to the other side.
Once she is off leash, that girl runs as far and as fast as the wind. And if there is any body of water to be found — puddle, pond, lake or river — she finds it.
One thing that is known about Gracie is that she’s got buckshot in her hip. Her adoptive family was told this up front, and so far no ill effects, but it’s there. No ill effects that is, except that I believe it is likely what causes this fearless girl her only known fear: any kind of loud noise. Fireworks are a nightmare, and gunshots at the lake we frequent send her into a frantic state. One blast, and all she wants is to get back to the car wherever it is – getting out of her collar at times and running in a blind panic to what she feels is safety. Once, even a noisy tree chipper brought this on. Another time was a school bus coming to a screeching stop.
Over the years, I have tried to avoid places where this may happen or have learned how to handle it when it does.
Last year, Gracie’s mom got a new dog from the shelter. Sophie is almost an identical twin to Gracie, except she has curlier black fur and a somewhat wolf-ish appearance. I didn’t walk Sophie right away because she was a little reserved when I came to walk Gracie. We also weren’t sure how she would be with other dogs (specifically Jessie) in the beginning.
I took her out alone a couple of times and she did great. The total opposite of Gracie. Very mild and almost too slow-mo walking on leash. I thought she was older, but it turns out she is several years younger than Jessie or Gracie.
In time, I took Gracie and Sophie together on walks without my dog and all was okay. Except for one problem: it added so much more time to my already-packed days as I then had to take Jessie out separately. I agonized for weeks how to make it work with the three of them.
I needn’t have fretted about introducing her to Jessie. It was a walk in the park! Jessie tends to be territorial about “her” car and that was my biggest worry. After getting Sophie’s scent in my car and introducing them on neutral territory, I felt silly for having stressed over it.
I think the similarities in Jessie’s and Sophie’s personalities played a big part in the smooth transition. Both are sweet, easygoing dogs who are excellent off-leash, sticking close by and keeping me in their sights – unlike Gracie.
And so it began – my bi-weekly visits with the three motleys.
It’s been a couple of months now, and I can’t say it’s easy. Getting the three in and out of my car on their leashes and walking them to where they can be released is hectic and comical. Usually going in all different directions and first taking care of the business that requires bags has me performing body contortions that no one should see.
One week after a snowstorm and then endless rain, I took the three to the port — a place that was once wonderful for walking dogs with just grass, trees, dirt trails, bird sounds, and plenty of smells. Developers building ugly industrial complexes have wiped out most of the naturesque landscape and made it impossible to visit during the week. On this off-day no one was around, so we decided to check it out.
It was hard to get around all the construction paraphernalia to arrive at the once-undisturbed trails, and there was muddy slop everywhere.
Once we reached a point where it was safe to let them off leash, the first thing Gracie did was dive into those muddy holes and slosh around. Sophie has a habit of backing up into clumps of grass to do her business and ended up with mud and poop all over her bushy black tail. Jessie, nose to the ground, came upon some really aromatic goose poo and began her roll dance of which she is famous for (or is it infamous?) — getting green slime all over her beautiful yellow coat.
Looking at the three of them I couldn’t help but laugh. Muddy, Poopy and Stinky is what I called them throughout the walk that day. Since then, I have come up with other names for my three motleys, depending on the trouble they get into. None are particularly endearing, but the time spent with Muddy, Poopy and Stinky always is.
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), and some chicken friends. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.