a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Muggles and Their Dogs

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Muggles and Their Dogs

SUMMARY: A compendium of experiences.

In Harry Potter, a muggle is a person who is born into a nonmagical family and is incapable of magic.

Sometimes I have dog-related experiences with nondogical muggles. Here are some that come to mind from the last 20 years, mostly without comment.

These might be amusing, or they might be depressing. Or both.

A co-worker, who knows that I do interesting stuff with my dogs, emailed me a call for help from her sister:
"I have a small dog which I got about 3 years ago to be able to have her inside as a companion dog. She was impossible to housebreak, which I later learned is a characteristic of her breed (bichon frise). So, she lives primarily outside, as she ruined the carpets in my last house and cannot be trusted inside.

"She is headstrong and will not come if you call her and generally goes her own way. Now she has taken to barking at the birds in the trees ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT and since she won't come when called, I can't catch her and put her in the garage overnight. Last night I had to sleep on the floor in the guest bedroom because that was the only place in the house to get away from the noise.

"Please advise: 1) is there something I am missing here? Something I should do differently?
2) Should I hang on and hope she gets better on her own? Or adopt her out?"
I responded with some detailed instructions, the primary one being run, don't walk, to get some training. She sent me email a couple of months later, thanking me for my advice and telling me that she gave away that dog and got another one, but that she took my advice and first thing sent the new dog away to training camp, so that, when the dog eventually comes home, he'll be completely trained.

The day after Christmas, I walked to the end of the driveway to get the newspaper, and a cute little dog, probably 3 or 4 months old, no obvious breed, came wiggling up to me. He seemed well-groomed generally, but a bit dirty, and had a big red ribbon around his neck that looked bedraggled and torn. No other collar or license or identifying marks.

I put up posters around the neighborhood and a notice in the paper. Took him to the pound (because that's the first place I always looked when my dog got out). He was not microchipped. No one ever claimed him. The shelter put him up for adoption.

I agreed to meet an older gentleman whom I met on an online dating service in part because he has a dog whom he dearly loves. We got to talking about dog training and he made some comment about how sometimes the dog has an accident and he has to hit her with a rolled-up newspaper and rub her nose in the mess. I suggested that he was joking, but he assured me that he was serious.

I noted that dog training knowledge has advanced considerably through the years and that no dog trainer nowadays would ever suggest doing such a thing. He said that it worked fine for his grandfather when he trained his dogs so it's good enough for him.  [I did NOT say, your grandfather probably drove a horse-drawn buggy--if that was good enough for him, why aren't you driving one?]

The mentally deficient white-trash neighbors across the street [seriously, I am not exaggerating--picture old appliances rusting in the front yard, in the middle of well-groomed suburbia; the police regularly showed up at their place with lights flashing; one guy hit another guy in the head with a board because they both wanted the lady as their girlfriend] had a big black dog named Blue who went everywhere with them in the back of their truck. I suggested once that the dog be securely fastened and their response indicated that I was clearly ignorant about dealing with dogs. One day I noticed that Blue wasn't around any more and asked about it. Oh, they'd been at a park up in the mountains off Skyline and he wandered off, so they came home without him and assumed he was happy where he was. No, they never reported him missing, no, they didn't look for him, no, they didn't put up posters or put a notice in the paper.

The people next door, a large family with many children of various ages, got a puppy of some sort of bully breed. He was cute but very concerned about the size of my dogs. He played with the kids all the time he was growing up. He also was out in the back yard barking for hours on end, often well into the night, despite repeated requests from me and my renter to shut the dang dog up. Then they got a Papillon, too.  A big dog barking for hours is annoying; a tiny dog yapping for hours late into the night is like the Chinese water torture.  Sometimes I heard what sounded like the two dogs having a loud disagreement (frankly, it always sounded like the Papillon was winning) and someone would run out of the house and yell at them.

One day as I drove onto my street after shopping, three police cars and an Animal Control truck were parked on the street. Three cops were at the neighbor's front door along with an animal control guy with one of those long poles with a collar on the end for snagging critters. Another cop with a notebook was walking away from another neighbor who was standing out on his front porch. My neighbors had the door open only slightly, talking to the cops. I didn't stick around outside to see what happened next. I never found out what was going on, but the dogs are no longer there.

A neighbor whose backyard abutted ours had a young beagle. The beagle used to sit out in the yard during the day and bay. Wasn't too bad for me because it was wayyyy in the back. After a couple of years of this, I noticed one day that I wasn't hearing anything and asked about it. Oh, the beagle had stopped eating and they'd taken him to the vet. He had a fever. The vet suggested doing some tests to find out what was wrong. The neighbor said that no way was she going to pay for medical tests for a dog and had him euthanized.

Every time I go to the nice park up the street--the one with the huge lawns on which kids play soccer and baseball--the one with the poop-bag dispenser next to the garbage can--and walk around the perimeter, I pick up several random dog poops. Every. Damned. Time.

Another neighbor whose shared our back fence had a huge Rottweiler who used to throw himself at the fence while I worked in the yard. Came home one day to find him in our [huge] back yard with Remington and Jake--Remington who always had a chip on his shoulder about other big dogs--and they were just cruising around companionably, sniffing shrubs and peeing on things. After that, I didn't worry about the dog, and he fairly regularly broke through the fence and came visiting.

I suggested strongly to the neighbor that he needed to have the dog neutered if he was going to keep going walkabout. He said no, he planned on breeding him. I said, oh, so he's a champion at something? He said no, he's just a really nice dog. I said oh, so his parents are champions at something and come from really good genetic lines? And he said he didn't know anything about that, but his dog was cool so it would be neat for him to father some puppies. I said that fathering random puppies on some other naive neighbor's unspayed female dog and having mixed breed puppies with no built-in market for them was one reason so many dogs are euthanized. He didn't really care, that wasn't his business; neutering guy dogs is just mean because then how will they have sex--*he* wouldn't want his balls cut off; and of course when he was ready he'd find a good female Rottie.

While I was walking the dogs around the neighborhood, a woman in the front yard of a random house (which contains a yapping dog) said something nice about my dogs. So I stopped, told them to sit so that I could talk to her, and she said, "Oh my god! Are you a professional trainer?" Me, puzzled: "No." Her: "How on earth do you get them to do that? [Sit. On command.] My dog never does that!"

I drove to a stranger's house to pick up some free plants; the dogs were with me in the car. He struck up a conversation about dogs. I noted that I compete in dog agility with my dogs and explained what that is. He asked whether they know all the commands that a dog should know. I said that they know what I've taught them. He said, oh, his cousin has a dog [of some specific breed] that was born knowing how to understand commands in English. So if he ever got a dog, he'd get one of that breed because they don't need any training.

I'd like to get one of those, too. Preferably that is born knowing how to do agility as well.

I'd bet you've got a lot of stories like these, too.


  1. Never mind agility, I want one that's born knowing how to clean bathrooms.

    My next door neighbors thinks a 3-4 block (total time out is usually around 8 minutes) leash walk twice a day is enough exercise/attention for their Australian Cattle Dog. And the only reason he even gets that much is because they don't want him pooping in the yard. And no, they don't clean up after him, ever, when he poops in the neighbor's yard.

    My other neighbor has a wolf-hybrid that's bitten several dogs in the neighborhood. I've run into them on a neighborhood trail, wolf-dog rearing up on its hind legs, hackles up, snarling, growling, lunging, basically losing its mind and she smiles and says (as it nearly pulls her over), 'Oh she just wants to play'.

    Then there's my friend that locked his Doberman in a garbage can as a form of discipline. Thankfully I didn't know him at the time and he no longer has dogs.

    Unfortunately I'm sure we all have way too many stories like these.

    1. Clean bathrooms would be a bonus; just brushing their own hair would be good enough for me.

      My mom tells the story of when she was a kid and her family moved from the country into the suburbs. Their dogs pretty much ran loose. Her mom (my grandma) thought it was hysterical that their dogs always stepped into the neighbor's yard to poop rather than doing it in their own yard. One day the neighbor saw it and had words to say. My grandma was stunned--it had never occurred to her that dogs pooping was not a natural thing that they did wherever they were, not something that anyone ever picked up, ever, out in the country. After that, they did monitor their dogs and pick up their poop. I doubt that most people these days have that excuse.

  2. Often these stories make me very sad. Sad for stupid human beings. Sad for dogs.

    1. And very sad for responsible dog owners.

  3. Loved this post. Being involved in dog rescue, I encounter all those people too (and, sadly, many who are worse), and it's just a constant uggghhhh.

    Especially in the context of evaluating them as prospective adopters, it can grind you down. Not every dog in rescue, unfortunately, is destined for a dream home -- not when there just aren't enough homes, period, to go around. At some point you have to figure out where to draw the line of "good enough." More often than not, these dogs go to live with "muggles"... and while we do what we can to educate and encourage and get people involved on a deeper level with their dogs, that's just not a value shared by everyone.

    So yeah, it can grind you down.

    1. I'm so glad that people like you do dog rescue. First, because there are so many dogs, and second, because I've read about places where the home has to be perfect or the "rescuers" feel that the dogs are better off dead. I don't think that any of the people I mentioned were cruel to their dogs (or anyway not deliberately). And many many dogs have happy homes that are nowhere near what one might consider ideal. I didn't always know that much about managing dogs, either, and made some mistakes.