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First Tomato a Total Bust, but Ice-Licking Dog Makes Up For It

Here's a nice specimen; mine was rotten.

Yesterday I picked my First Tomato, which was nice and red but lying on the ground, so I knew it wouldn’t be any good. Tomatoes need to hang from the vine or they rot. I took it inside because I wanted to see what happened to it.

It’s a law here in Indiana that any thief who picks your First Tomato may be cheerfully shot with total impunity. But even the Tomato Gang wasn’t interested in this one.

You don’t think there’s a Tomato Gang? You don’t live in Indiana. We all belong to the Tomato Gang (and we’re thieves).

I brought it inside and sliced into it. The bottom half was rotten because it lay on the ground. But the top wasn’t much better, very woody, not juicy at all. I put it in the compost box.

Let’s get this clear, shall we? Tomatoes are supposed to be juicy, and I couldn’t care less if this does not meet the needs of McDonald’s, Burger King and Hardee’s. They don’t like juicy tomatoes, which drip on your skirt while you’re driving up I-65.

Those things are tasteless, which fast food specializes in. Don’t eat in your gol-dang car, hokay? That skirt never did much for you anyway.

Tomatoes, like oranges, exist for the juice. That’s where the flavor is. Never, ever buy a tomato hybrid designed for fast food chains.

Would you want to eat a dry orange that was all meat and no juice? Then why would you design a tomato that way?

It’s not my fault that people like to put tomatoes on their burgers and not oranges. (They’re both very rich in Vitamin C.) If you’re going to eat a burger Be Prepared. It’s called a napkin; you can do it.

My First Tomato was a total bust. I wasn’t that sad, I’ve got a lot more ‘maters on the way; the timing (practically the 4th of July) vindicates my decision to plant tomatoes early and wait to see if the frost got them, which it didn’t. Replacement vines would only have cost a buck or two, so I learned something this year. My tomatoes look like a rainforest, while my next door neighbor’s got these spindly pathetic things.

I’d have eaten part of the First Tomato if it hadn’t been so woody, but I threw it all away. (“Woody” is when the green part of the vine extends down into the flesh. It’s inedible, the whole thing is deformed.)

It was a hot day, and once I cut into it and saw it was worthless, I began to be concerned about my dog. Luke spends most of his time outside on a 30-foot lead, and it’s been hot here, our first hot dry spell of the season. He so likes the sunshine that I worry about how he eats and drinks. When we wake up in the morning he’s never interested in breakfast, he only wants outside, and it’s not because he’s desperate to pee; he takes forever to do that. What he wants is the sun, so I pour out food and water as he clamors to go outdoors. I take him out, and bring him back later, and sometimes he eats or drinks like I want him to. Sometimes he doesn’t, he just wants back outside.

I’ve tried taking his chow-and-water dish outdoors so he can feed when he wants to, but ants got into it and that was a mistake. In the morning I offer him food and water, but he’s not interested, so we go outside and play, and later I bring him back in case he’s hungry or thirsty. Then clamor clamor clamor, jump and turn in circles, “Outside!” Okay, dude.

But it was hot out, and I’d already given him a second chance at the doggy dish, which he rejected, and I didn’t know what to do. I took him an ice cube.

He loved it.

I held it in my hand and he lick-lick-licked; when he got tired I rubbed it on his belly. But then he wanted to lick it again, so we did that. He paused and stood up, and I rubbed it on his back. He thought that was great. Then he licked it again; in a minute it was just a nub. I finally dropped it and he licked it on the grass until it disappeared.

It’s an amazing thing to have another creature eat out of your hand. He totally charms you, while you feel strong and protective and goofy.

Since he likes being out all day, but I can’t trust him to stay in our yard, I check on him all the time; he can’t say if he’s hungry or thirsty, I have to interpret the signs. I wish I were better at doggie-speak, but maybe we’re doing okay.

Luke ate an ice cube; highlight of my day.++

Luke, ice cube-licker. Prettyboy, little wuss, total favorite.

A Christmas Eve Baptism for My Little Boy

Luke at home, 10/25/09

I very much believe in baptism. It is one of two sacraments ordained and commanded by Christ. He himself underwent it at the hands of John in the River Jordan. Baptism is how a person is joined to the Church. Some people call it a rite of initiation, for others it means we’re born again; but I’m not sure those words convey its supreme importance. By baptism we become one with Christ; if we’re old enough to talk we make vows to be one with him. If not, those vows are said by adults on our behalf, but the oneness stays the same, whatever our age.

I believe in infant baptism, ideally the 8th day after birth. I believe in all baptisms at any age. I got the water when I was two or three. My Methodist-baptized mother joined the Episcopal Church and had all three of us baptized; Steve was 5, Dick was 7. Mom said Fr. Ferguson paraded us around the church, showing us off as the newest Christians in the world.

I don’t remember it, but she loved it. I still believe the walk down the center aisle, holding the hand of the new initiate, is the right way to baptize a soul. We must have been a sight, three little stairstep boys, holding hands.

A couple of years ago on Christmas Eve I was present for more baptisms in my home parish; new adult converts and their children, as well as a grandson of the parish, who might have been 10 years old. I know his granddad, the former religion beat writer for the local newspaper, a nice man. How thrilling it must have been for him to live to see the baptism of his grandson. It was thrilling for me to be present for the baptism of Byron’s grandson.

Tonight, another Christmas Eve, we have freezing rain, and I can’t make it to church. This bothers me, but the weather was predicted and I have a backup plan for worship. It’s not as soul-feeding as midnight mass, but it will nourish me nonetheless.

This year, I have someone new in my life, a little rat terrier named Luke. He’s an excellent boy. I planned ahead and gave him a great feast (he likes Skippy Premium), so big he couldn’t eat it all. But while he ate, I sat on my kitchen steps and told him about Jesus as best I could. What is it like to recount the story of salvation in your own words? Have you ever done that, with anyone, even a dog who has no idea what Christmas means? All Luke knows is Skippy.

I did okay, with a simple retelling of the birth, life, parents, ministry, miracles, persecution, execution and resurrection of the Lord of Life. Luke kept eating.

When he was done (with chunks of beef and chicken yet remaining), I reached into his water dish and baptized him in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I hope I didn’t trivialize Christianity, but I want my boy in heaven. He was very patient while I did my little water thing.

He has no sins to repent of, but I want him with me forever. He wasn’t born again; maybe I was, maybe not.

St. Francis blessed the animals, but the truth is they bless us. They’re simple little beings who react on instinct and impulse—but oh my, is he a lover already. Should not he belong in the company of saints?

He let me do this, then went outside in the freezing rain. He doesn’t like the wet and cold, but he likes sniffing every chance he gets.

Back inside, we played a little while, then he went back in his house; all is well, peace on earth. He’s now snuggled up in a Purdue Boilermakers blanket, safe and snug. He has no idea what “baptism” means, but then neither do adult humans.

God said, and people heard him say it, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Merry Christmas, Luke. We’re going to heaven, buddy. We’re going to laugh and play and belly-rub, and there’s an endless supply of Skippy. Miles and miles to run with no one saying you can’t!

O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.++

Luke Escapes! But Terriers Need to Run

Luke in his house, before I learned to close the door for the sake of my dinner guests.

I had a fright the other day; I trusted Luke but he decided to escape. I knew he would sooner or later, but the first time you lose your dog is always traumatic.

I’d let him outside on his 30-foot chain for several minutes, but since this is December and it’s chilly or worse, I don’t want him out there for too long. I went to get him; I thought we had a pattern established, that once he’s on the deck-patio within a few feet of the back door, I could unleash him and he’d bound up the steps to the door. This time he decided to take off.

I chased him around the yard but then he scurried off across the street. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him in the roadway without my protection. I couldn’t possibly catch him as he chased down the boulevard median, green grass and no obstructions; fortunately, no traffic. He was off.

I went back inside and worried. Part of me was rational; I control the food supply and it’s cold out there. The other part of me paced from window to window, hoping to catch a glimpse. I finally decided to relax and wait him out. I’ve worked hard to teach him where home is and I’m pretty sure he knows. But I’ve only had him for two months and we’re still learning to live together.

In a few minutes I tried again and saw him across the street, at a house we often pass on our walks. I went outside to fetch him but he wouldn’t come, no matter how loud I shouted his name and clapped my hands. He took off again west, then turned north up 2nd Street. I was only wearing a sweatshirt, not a jacket, and I yelled, “I’m not dressed for this,” as if a little divadom would help. But he was gone again so I went back inside.

The whole escapade only lasted 15 minutes but I was concerned. There’s very little traffic in this town but he’s a little dog, 10 pounds, a foot high. And he’s a rat terrier, the kind who loves to race and chase things, and he could easily dart out into the street before a driver even saw him.

Tick, tick, tick. Luke, come back!

Well, he did, of course; I control the food supply and it was cold out there. Terriers are athletes, no fat on their bodies, and he doesn’t like cold any more than I do. By the 15-minute mark he was nosing around the backyard.

I got him inside, didn’t chastise him and locked him up. His cage (called a “crate” in marketing-speak, because who would want to put a beloved pet in a cage?) contains a nice warm blanky he just loves to curl up under. I was very upset with him, but I was also calm. Dogs need to run, especially terriers. I don’t blame him, or myself; instead I wish I had an enclosed estate where he could sprint till he was fagged and dragging. Or a dog park, which this little town doesn’t have.

Every time I let him out of his house, he jumps and runs around in circles, until I indicate it’s time to come to the kitchen, in which case he chases off at 60 miles an hour from the living room through the dining room into the kitchen, where he invariably crashes into the appliances. He’s hilarious.

Then he will sit on the rug under the sink, a rug he’s managed to move several feet askew, where he waits for me attentively, all eyes and ears. Food? Outside? Pee? Playtime? Anything, Pops, just show, don’t tell, I no speaka ze English.

When I finally get there (my human walk takes eight seconds tops), he’s ready for anything.

I’m learning to tell whether he’s hungry or thirsty; once I get there, if he heads to his food and water twin-dish, that’s one thing, but if he doesn’t, he wants to go outside. If I move toward the back door, he races to it and sniffs his leash, then sits on the doormat with that same intense concentration. Outside, outside? He doesn’t mind the snow, sleet or rain until he does.

Once I bring him back indoors, he very politely consents to let me dry him off with a paper towel. When it’s really cold and windy, he’ll even let me put a sweater on him.

Amidst all this we’ve had toilet training issues; I used to let him run free in the house, but then I regretted it. So he spends most of his time lately in the cage with that warm blanket. He used to poop when we went on walks (as well as in the dining room) until I learned to stake him outside and leave him for 15 minutes. I haven’t had to do the paper towel-and-plastic-bag routine with him since, because I learned to stop teaching him that walks are for pooping in other people’s yards; now he goes in ours.

It’s still a lot of restriction for his life, full-time in a cage or on a leash or a chain. I hope to ease up soon. I want him with me, not downstairs in a cage. But I also want a dining room I can serve food in.

The learning process is mine more than his. I no speaka ze Dog, but I can learn his body language. Boy needs to stretch his legs on a regular basis; terriers are born to run. Maybe I’ll buy a bike next spring and tie his leash to it.

A few weeks ago when he was still free inside the house, I tried to teach him to bring me his leash when he needs to go out; didn’t work. He won’t take it into his mouth, any more than he’ll chase a ball or go fetch something; I thought all dogs will chase a ball or fetch, but Luke gives me a look like Jack Benny, “Oh, really?”

This two-month relationship means we’re still new. I’m as clueless about ze Dog as he is about ze English. But we’ll get there, I think, it just takes time. I can tell you this: he is as loving an animal as there ever was. He thanks me all the time for his food; at only 10 pounds he’s never going to put a dent as he crashes into the stove. Boy just needs to run, that’s all, and to have rules we both understand.

I had the loveliest dream about him the other night; dreams are crazy, a visual word salad, one tangent after another, but amidst the chaotic reverie of something or other, I looked over and said, “Is that my dog?”

It was, and we held each other as he collapsed with joy; he’d been afraid I was run over by a car, and was overcome when I found him again.++

Luke Learns a Word, I Learn a Technique

Sit Horizontal

You want me to sit? Why didn't you just say so?

I’m starting to think there are no stupid dogs, only stupid dog owners. And I’ve been one.

I have a new dog, a 3-year-old rat terrier mix named Luke, whom I adopted from the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I grew up with fox terriers, but have never had a dog of my own. The Humane Society marked me down as experienced, but in fact I’ve discovered I’m not.

He’s a fine, healthy little boy with an uncertain background. He’s well-socialized in some ways, seldom barks or gets aggressive when he shouldn’t and has a wonderful instinctive disposition to be a most happy fella. But at other times he’s absolutely clueless; for instance, he doesn’t know how to play. He has no interest in squeaky toys or chasing after a ball; I thought all dogs knew how to do that. He won’t play tug-of-war with a sock. He loves to interact with me but his repertoire is limited to jumping up or lying on his back for a belly rub. I suspect he mostly grew up on the streets.

But he’s also been around people, probably from spending the last few months at the animal shelter; he has no problem accepting a leash and sleeping in a crate. He has a good appetite, is the ideal weight for his size and breed (10 pounds) and walks away from his dish when he’s full, leaving a few pellets behind—so I don’t need to worry about giving him too much food. The shelter feeds their dogs once a day so that food dishes are never empty, while I feed Luke twice a day. He generally cleans his plate but not always, so I’m able to adjust his amounts for what he needs.

But toilet training has been an issue, and I’ve been clueless until the last few days. But now we’re getting there, and each day is better and better. He can’t learn if I don’t know how to condition him; it’s Psychology 101. Perform the desired behavior, get a reward. The onus for performing the desired behavior is on me, not on him. He’s a dog, he no speaka ze Inglish.

I can’t “make him do what I want.” But I can and must help him learn behaviors that put us both at ease. How awful it must have been for him the last two weeks to figure out what I want when I no speaka ze Dog. Why is this crazy person upset with me?

But he hasn’t given up or lost any affection for me, he just keeps trying until he gets it right—meaning I do. And yesterday he learned a word: Sit.

He already knew how to sit, but he didn’t know how to Sit. But now Sit = Treat! Luke likes his treats. Oh, is that what you meant? Why didn’t you say so?

It’s been two days now since he pooped on the rug. And two days since I learned always to have treats in my pocket.

I get treats for pooping? Hmm, this ain’t a bad gig. No, boy, it’s where you poop that counts.

More little lessons await us. “Sit” ≠ “before we go outside.” Sit = sit wherever we are, before something good happens, no matter where we are. I’m the one in charge of his mental associations. He can’t associate unrelated concepts unless I teach them to him, and the way to teach a dog is with rewards.

I’ve changed more than he has since I got him October 22. He’s always been affectionate and reasonably smart, but now he’s starting to have a competent human to be with. Yay for our side!

One of my biggest lessons has been to stop thinking that restrictions are bad. His crate helps him stay out of trouble, and besides he likes it; it’s Luke-sized, with a very nice stadium blanket (Indiana University, fit for a dog here in Purdue Land), great for sleeping. That it also keeps him from eliminating when I’m asleep or not watching means he doesn’t get in trouble and there’s no friction in the house. We’re both happy fellas.


IU football has gone to the dogs. Again.

Yesterday we tried another new thing: another restriction (to my former way of thinking) that in fact increases his freedom. We went to Wally World and bought a stake-out kit, so he could be outdoors with me while I rake leaves. The idea of being outdoors without going for a walk was new to him; he lasted about 20 minutes before I decided he was getting overstimulated and took him back in the house. It was mid-afternoon, kids were getting out of school, other dogs were going on walks, the guy next door was also working outside, and it got to be too much. But now Luke knows he can be outdoors in the sunshine and I’m right over there, while he has more independence and can look at stuff. He’s got a 30-foot radius but that’s a 60-foot diameter, outdoors in fresh air. We’re going to try it again this afternoon, because I’ve got a lot of leaves to bag up.

Before I met Luke I would never have chained up a dog outside. But in fact it makes us closer emotionally, and gives him a better idea of what’s our yard and what’s not. That is crucial, because I don’t have a fence, and of course I don’t want him running off and getting lost or being hurt.

That’s really been my #1 concern, helping him adjust to a new home and a new human relationship.

Home is a place with walls—that is, restrictions AND safety. The outside world can’t come in, this is our house.

This is our yard, from here to here. Dogs of course have a territorial instinct, but Luke’s got to know where his territory is and is not. It takes time to figure out. (I’m so glad for that new stake and chain.)

This is our neighborhood. If he does someday find himself on his own, I want him to be able to find his way back to my crate, where his supper dish is, where his pal lives.

Once he knows everything he needs to know, we can try even more freedom. But it’s all got to have a structure; Sit = sit. First you sit, then supper comes. First you sit, then we go outside. First you sit, then you get what you want. It’s not just “do as you’re told,” it’s “follow the rules so you’ll be safe.”

And it’s my job, not his, to know the rules and provide the structure until the rules are his own habits. Go ahead and run, baby, but when I call, you come back. I’ve got treats.

There are no dumb dogs, just dumb owners.++

Luke Passes a Test


My dog Luke and I have had our ups and downs lately, primarily over pooping in the living room, but today he passed a test: being outdoors without a leash and not running away.

I’m very pleased, because the boy needs to be able to run at his own pace, which is faster than my walk.

You should see him when he comes tearing into the kitchen from the living room at full gallop; he slides across the floor, screeching to a halt just like a cartoon character. He makes me laugh.

He’s a terrier; he’s got to run. But like any new doggie-dad, I’ve been cautious about letting him loose. Does he know where home is? Will he come back? What will I do if he just runs off?

I mean, he likes his suppertime but still, you never know what an animal’s going to do.

I want him to be able to stay in our yard when I’m outside. This is important for the whole Side Porch Experience when it’s warm out, because that’s where I entertain. It’s also important for his peace of mind, I think, because he doesn’t have enough to occupy him so far.

I took him out the porch door this afternoon; that’s unusual. We usually walk out the back door, but I’ve been trying to get him accustomed to the side door and the porch, too. So we left that way, went down the steps for our walk, then back up the steps when we were finished; and there I took off his leash while I straightened up a few furnishings that had blown over in the wind. Ten days ago, when I first got him, he wasn’t very good with steps; he’s only about a foot high and he wasn’t used to stairs. But today once I let him loose, he scrambled down the stairs, ran a circuit around the house, returned to the backyard, sat to look at me—and came when I called him. “Good boy!”

He loves being outside. And I want to be able to take him there without having to watch him every minute. The good news is that he does understand where home is; this is his territory.

One other incident: early this morning we encountered That Cat; she lives next door. She’d parked herself by my garage (considering my house as part of her territory, which it isn’t; she’s destructive), and I don’t think she saw Luke or he saw her until they met a few feet apart. She wasn’t moving and he didn’t know what to make of her. He didn’t bark or growl, he was just curious; while she was perched like Judge Judy, “And who might you be?” He took a step closer; she hissed. He pondered a moment, then approached again; she hissed again. From there he started to wander away.

That Cat likes to dig in my flowers and has destroyed several plants the past few years. I use a non-toxic garlic spray to keep her out of my flowerboxes and off my porch furniture. So I wouldn’t have minded at all, since Luke was on a leash, if he’d chased her away forever. Instead she got the upper hand. I had to chase her away instead.

Some watchdog, little man.

But I like that he’s so gentle instead of being hostile. Cats and dogs get along together in millions of homes; how was he to know I don’t like That One?

All in all we’re doing okay; he does like suppertime. Won’t chase a ball if you paid him. Seldom barks. Only chases squirrels he can’t catch. Comes when I call.

Shits in the living room. In other words, he’s about as perfect as I am—not very.

But he knows where home is, and we’re pals.++

Luke Day 2

Luke, the Squirrel Terrier


You’ve heard of a fox terrier; he goes after guys who look like the red fox below.


Fox terriers don’t chase after them, like in the movies; those are foxhounds. Fox terriers root out the hunted fox who’s gone to his underground lair. That’s his specialty, to expose the fox who’s hiding, thus ending the hunt for the hounds and riders.

You’ve heard of rat terriers; they go after guys like this.


In the last century rat terriers were useful on grain farms, because the rats are no dummies; they like to go where the grain is, typically living in a barn so they could always grab a meal. Rat terriers killed the rats, sometimes hundreds an hour, so those little dogs were a farmer’s best friend. (Today they make great companions.)

Today on our walk, I found out that my dog Luke, officially a rat terrier mix, is really a squirrel dog. He’s never tugged so hard on his leash before—and we saw half a dozen of them in our four-block walk this afternoon. This is a busy time of year for squirrels, they’re storing food for the winter. Autumn is harvest time for squirrels—and today was almost harvest time for Luke.

If I’d let him chase a squirrel, would he have killed it? Or would the squirrel have outrun him and jumped up a tree?

I don’t know, and I didn’t want to find out. Not today anyway. Someday I might let him go after one just to see what happens.

Now don’t worry your Old Yeller head about poor Mr. Squirrel; he’s nothing but a rat with a fancy tail. Rats and squirrels are both rodents, mammals with incisors that never stop growing, so they have to gnaw on things. Acorns aren’t just dinner, they’re like a trip to the squirrel dentist. And yes, squirrels are “cute” when you see them in Central Park, but here in smalltown Indiana they’re pests as often as not; there’s a whole industry of squirrel-defying bird feeders, because one squirrel will eat an entire stash of birdseed before the cardinals and jays and chickadees even know where to look.

Some hunters I know, the human kind, like to kill squirrels and eat ’em. The rest of us Hoosiers co-exist with squirrels; we don’t harm them and they don’t harm us. Meanwhile, hang your birdfeeder on a string so the squirrels don’t think they’ve just found a 24-hour Denny’s.

I don’t know whether squirrels carry rabies, but Luke got his shot this week. Took it like a man, too, and didn’t whimper.

Once I know he’s protected, I don’t care if he wants to go after a tree-dwelling rat. I’m curious whether he wants to chase or kill or eat. Whatever you do, buddy, don’t drag him over to lay him at my feet. I don’t do squirrel stew.

Hunting is a respected part of the culture here. Though I don’t care to participate in it, I don’t have a problem with killing Bambi. There are hundreds of thousands of white-tailed deer in Indiana and they cause a lot of destruction, including fatal car accidents. I’ve encountered several deer while driving in northern Indiana; the general rule is to brake if you can do it safely, but don’t swerve. If you’re going to hunt, then eat what you kill, don’t just kill for the “sport” of it.

What does squirrel-chasing mean to Luke? I’m curious to find out, but not while he’s on a leash. And I don’t trust him enough yet to take him off it.

We went to the park yesterday; I was tempted to let him run, but I didn’t. There were no fences and I’m still learning his habits. He’s excellent about coming when I call him in the house, but I haven’t tested him out on open land, much less when he’s got squirrel on the brain. I have to be patient with this mutual learning process we’re going through. I won’t even let him loose in my yard, though I do think he’s figured out where home is. I’m trying to slowly enlarge his world, so that on our walks, sometimes we go east and circle back, sometimes another direction. Home is always at the center, the beginning and the end of our walk. It’s fascinating to watch him learn. I have to remind myself not to expect him to graduate from high school in a week.

He knows we always go in and out by the back door. He knows the sound of his leash because the chain rattles. He knows that no matter how excited he is as we start to go out, he has to settle down enough for me to attach the leash; he knows when we get back not to go very far until I get him unhooked. He knows when we go out that we always head for the basketball pole, whether he has to “go” or not; I think he’s learning to lift his leg there, for show if no other reason, otherwise we never set out. Once we’re walking he lifts his leg two dozen times whether he needs to or not, but I don’t care as long as he does his business somewhere. If he defecates too he knows he gets elaborate praise.

When it’s rainy out, as it has been the past few days, he knows to wait in the kitchen, because I’ll towel him off. He rather likes that, I think. Then he shakes himself, runs around like a crazy person for a minute, and comes back to lick my hand.

If I want him to take a drink of water, I put an ice cube in his dish; he noses at it, walks around for five seconds, then gets a good drink.

He’s figured out what the refrigerator is for, that occasionally he gets food out of there, but mostly I do. He doesn’t act disappointed if it’s not his time.

He’s not manipulative; a lot of dogs are, but not this guy. If food’s around he’s interested, but he doesn’t beg or whine or act obnoxious.

When I give him a treat he runs into the other room so no one else will get it; the Humane Society told me he was “jealous of his food.” Here he doesn’t have any competition so I feel no need to correct him.

I’m unsure of the best treats to buy, and solicit your recommendations. The ones he’s got now are chewy and made to look like meat.

Dogs have little sense of taste, which is why they eat so fast. Their enjoyment of food comes from how it smells.

When I make up human food for him, as opposed to the good pellets he’s used to, his dish tends to walk as he eats. What’s cute about Luke is he then walks it back to where it goes.

One last thing: besides all the squirrels today, we also encountered a little dog staked out in its front yard. The other dog barked a fair amount; Luke wanted to check it out, but he didn’t bark back and wasn’t hostile. With Harlee next door, the big Doberman puppy, Luke felt a need to test and be on his guard, while Harlee was big and dumb and gentle. Terriers are fearless, they don’t get intimidated by a bigger dog; my neighbor Debbie and I are hoping Luke and Harlee become friends soon.

I love my little guy; he’s almost perfect. Funny thing, though, he can’t play fetch to save his life. The stuffed one-eyed kitty is starting to get a little action, but the only toy Luke really likes is his chew-bone.++


Doggie-Sized Den


It is a fact undisputed by the parents of every small child: give the kid a big present and she’ll spend more time playing with the box than the toy inside it.

When I was little I was that way, and so were you. Little ones like kid-sized environments.

As an adult I’ve come to admire parents who buy their children kid-sized chairs—not just a highchair for din-din, but a kid-sized rocker and a kid-sized lawn chair. We didn’t have those when I was a kid. In my family children who were old enough moved from a crib to an adult-sized twin bed. I suppose it shows the affluence of today’s families that they can afford to buy furniture a child will only use for a little while. It also shows a sensitivity to the child’s needs and perspective. Who wouldn’t have fun in a modrocker?


Dogs and cats are the same way; they love places that fit them. My little terrier Luke slept under my bed the first few nights not only to hide from me and feel safe, but because the low “ceiling” felt proportional.

I am having to learn to look at things from Luke’s point of view. And today I reversed an earlier decision, went out and bought him his own little “den.”

He loves it. What I saw as a cage he sees as his own personal Playboy mansion. It’s got his Luke-sized blanket, his kitty toy (good for poking, chasing and chewing) and best of all, it’s too little for me to get into.

We drove to Watseka again to buy his crate. For the first time he jumped into the back seat; he approached it four times before giving it a try, but now it’s one more thing I don’t have to do for him. His legs aren’t very long, that’s all, and sometimes steps look too tall.

We found that the Big R store (sort of a country K-Mart) carries the Science Diet that we’re probably going to switch to when his current Eagle Pack food runs out. That’s what he was on at the Humane Society, and his vet Dr. Kay says it’s very good, but she sells Science Diet and recommends it, and now I can compare her prices here in town with a large retailer. It’s good to have more than one source.

But this post is mostly about “the cage.” I had the wrong attitude about it. It’s going to help us with housetraining, because at bedtime I’ll shut the gate and he won’t be pooping at 4 a.m. in the living room. We’ll get on a regular schedule now that he’s eating well. The crate is a tool to help us learn to live together without any stress. When I have to leave him for a little while to run errands, I won’t have to take him downstairs to the cold ugly basement; he’ll be ensconced in his own little pad in the dining room. When he’s sleepy in the middle of the day, he can take a snooze in his own special place whenever he wants.

What I saw as confinement (bad, freedom-limiting), he sees as his right-sized sleeping quarters. I have to learn that he’s a dog, not a human. Dogs are domesticated wolves and wolves sleep in dens. I didn’t even have to remodel the house and now he’s got his own den!

I’ve been pretty clear about other people’s mistakes in anthropomorphizing animals (he’s not my baby, I’m not his daddy, and I’ll be damned if he’s sleeping in my bed), but I’m having to learn to think like he does. I don’t want him jumping on other people, so that means I can’t let him jump on me either. I am the leader of this pack. Since he’s not buying the chow, I’m the one who decides things here.

When I get down on his level to play, we can roll around like terriers and have all kinds of fun. At other times, no can do.

I’ll never be Cesar Millan or Generalissimo Franco; Luke’s a little spirit of joy, affection and comfort, and I want to be those things to him too. But when he’s sick or hungry or needy, he needs a grownup who looks after him.

I gave him the best possible comforter, my late brother Steve’s stadium blanket with the name of That Other School on it. (He went to Indiana University while the rest of us are all Purdue people.) It’s totally appropriate that the IU logo be the covering for my mutt’s butt, especially since Purdue art covers the walls of the dining room. And since Luke couldn’t wait to have his own little house to live in, everybody’s happy.

No pooping in the house, buddy, though I suppose it would be okay to use the IU blanket in an absolute emergency.++