One sign of wisdom is knowing when and how to listen to advice. It’s especially important to give careful consideration to advice provided by experts on a topic. I know that, but seem to have forgotten it last night when I repeatedly ignored some very insistent signs from our household expert.
The dog in the picture is my Shepherd-Chow mix, Muttley. Both German Shepherds and Chows were bred as watch-dogs, and Muttley lives up to her inheritance with her even-bigger-dog bark and with a strong determination to protect and serve not likely to be rivaled by any real-life law enforcement agent. Thanks to her constant vigilance on the landing next to our front door, I tend to respect rather than resent any salesperson persistent enough to stand there while I open the door, since she could get out.
She loves our fenced in back-yard too, and protects that as well. But the stairs down from our deck are steep and rickety, and since Muttley’s getting older she’s starting to have some mobility problems; so I don’t want her climbing up and down them anymore. Instead, I try to take her out the front door and let her through a side gate into the back yard. She usually likes going that way, although she often climbs up the back stairs to come back inside. I was thinking of putting up some kind of obstacle so she’ll stop doing that.
Anyway, last night was warm, and so we closed just the screen separating the kitchen from the back deck to let the cool air in, and when I walked into the kitchen I found all three of our dogs sitting there waiting to be let out. I went up to the landing and called Muttley, thinking I would let her out first. But she wouldn’t even come when I called. So finally I called all three and they came and sat at the top of the stairs going down to the landing, looking at me. I tried to call Muttley to come down to me, but again she wouldn’t budge. The other dogs finally came down though, so I took the two of them out front and then let them into the backyard.
When I came back, Muttley was again sitting at the back door, now whimpering to go out. I tried to let her out two more times through the front door but she wouldn’t budge. It was the back door or nothing. Now Muttley has a special bond with my husband, so of course when she misbehaves I refer to her as “his dog”. I confess to stooping so low as to think it would be fun to tell my husband (who had already gone to bed) in the morning that for a change his dog, normally the paragon of her little pack, was misbehaving and acting kind of dumb. Couldn’t she figure out that she would end up in the same back yard as the other dogs no matter which way I took her out? I understand that she probably doesn’t think of space in the same way as a human, but surely after many trips in and out she must know that the destination is the same. I should add that every time I got up to try Muttley again, I had to put on my socks and shoes back on and pause my DVD. Hey, I was trying to enjoy the Final Cut of Blade Runner, and this was getting really annoying.
But the whimpering wasn’t stopping so I tried one more time, and this time, very reluctantly, she cooperated. I figured by now the other dogs had been out long enough and I should let them in to avoid further interruptions. I slid open the screen, and there stood a big fat rat. I would like to say he scampered away – that’s normally the appropriate cliché to use in such situations. But this rat, who really did have pretty good rat judgement, instead sauntered slowly and defiantly (I thought) off. Oh, also he was kind of a fat rat, so sauntering probably came more naturally to him. He realized that finding the best exit from our porch was the highest priority, what with 300 pounds of dog wondering the back yard. An apparently catatonic human, standing there ineffectual and horrified, would present far less threat to him, as he correctly assessed.
Now I understand what Muttley was trying to say. She’s the best hunter of the three, and she wanted to grab that rat before it could find an escape route. She probably also wanted to protect her house, her pack, and her human, however undeserving, because that’s what she does. But somebody had been acting kind of dumb, and it sure wasn’t her. I can’t plead ignorance either because I knew that rats had started to come into our yard again. We recently hung up bird feeders on our deck, and not long afterwards the dogs started to take a renewed interest in the space underneath the deck, sure signs.
I’ve been punished further for ignoring her too. Today from the basement window that looks out beneath the deck I saw not one but two rats, one kind of chunky, making their way up onto our deck. So what have I learned? Well, clearly she’s the expert. She knows her backyard at night, she knows her rats, and she knows how to protect the house from creatures of all sizes, from mice to UPS men. I should’ve listened, and we’d already have one less rat. Rats scare the crap out of me, but I hate to think of them suffering. Muttley would have either chased it off or at least killed it quickly, something I’m not sure can always be said about traps.