So how smart are Border Collies? Really smart. Supposedly as smart as a 7-year old.
A case in point. Usually my husband feeds the dogs but he had to leave early this morning for work. So there I am trying to eke out a few extra minutes of sleep and what does our dog, Floppy do? He jumps on the bed and lies directly on top of my bladder until I have no choice but to get up or wet the bed.
You might well guess where Floppy got his name: because he flops. When he was a puppy, he would flop everywhere and you could not get him to move. I got him from the South Central Los Angeles pound. You can tell they really treat the dogs nice there because every time the cable guy or someone in uniform came to the house, Floppy would go bounding over, tail wagging, in puppy euphoria. Now, under our tutelage, he has become Cujo, the problem dog, but that's a story for another day.
Now, I'm not taking any chances. Before I feed the dogs, I'm going to call my husband to make sure that he didn't already feed them before he left this morning because I live in a family of actors and that includes the dogs.
If my husband (we'll call him "Kenny" for the sake of this column since coincidentally "Kenny" is his name), feeds the dogs without telling me and then goes somewhere, they will follow me around the house with a plaintive look in their eyes as if to say "Aren't you forgetting something?" until they get fed. Later you find out that they were faking it to get a second meal. If their water runs dry, they'll nose their dish out into the center of the room. Lassie had nothing on these dogs.
Now, I just called my husband and he DID feed the dogs so Floppy may get a nomination for the Coscars, (the Canine Dog Oscars), but he ain't getting fed again by me. No ho, I'm too smart for that. Barely.
Now a sad thing happened the other day. Kenny called me to the backyard to see a stricken baby squirrel (not a baby baby but a juvenile squirrel -- I looked it up on a squirrel rescue organization website). The little guy (he was a guy, I realize in retrospect because he had a little you know... thing) had fallen out of a tree and our other dog, Snickers, had him in his mouth.
The little squirrel was in bad shape but still breathing. He looked dazed. I was scared to touch him so I turned him over with a stick as gently as I could to see what was wrong. No signs of bleeding but no sooner had I carefully nudged him into a cardboard box then he seemed to go into shock.
His eyes flickered a few times and he stiffened. Not even a drop of water or a poke with an actual finger could rouse him. I later read on the squirrel-saver website that I should have kept him warm and hydrated (Take note: if you find a squirrel in your backyard.) but I don't think it would have made any difference because he was probably so gravely injured from a fall, possibly aided and abetted by dog teeth.
Wanting to make absolutely sure I did not accidentally bury the little squirrel alive, I let him lie in state in the front yard for an hour or two. Then I borrowed a neighbor's shovel (where did ours go?) and buried the little squirrel under the lilac tree and gave him a little squirrel funeral as the sun set. I started to say the Jewish prayer for mourners, the Kaddish, but that didn't seem right since I've said the same thing for my Dad, so I just riffed on the one thing that came to mind: "From dust you came and to dust you shall return," no doubt mangling the phrase. The only flowers I could find in the yard were little white ones spiking up from the top of my variegated sage so that's what's adorning the grave.
I could not help adding on to the end of the squirrel funeral service that looking on the bright side, he would not be eating my apricots next summer though his family no doubt would.
The neighbor I borrowed the shovel from considered the dead squirrel business to be a good thing. I can't get to that point despite the fact that half the oranges in my yard have squirrel bites taken out of them, and last summer, I walked into the backyard and questioned my sanity because the branches of one of my apricot trees that the day before had been laden with fruit was completely stripped bare. Not a single apricot left for us. The contrast was so striking that for a minute, I wondered, "Had I truly just imagined apricots on those branches?" They went from green to gone in the blink of an eye.
This was not the first squirrel that has met a tragic demise in our backyard. I have always wanted to publicly praise Petco for this; maybe now is the time. Several years ago, our late dog Buddy, a sweet, gentle Springer Spaniel mix, bounded up to us with a tiny baby squirrel in his mouth. (I always wondered: Did Buddy chomp the baby squirrel and bring us his prize or nobly rescue it? I prefer to think the latter.) This squirrel was so tiny, at first we had trouble identifying its species. (Squirrel? Mouse? Rat? Bat? ) We knew he'd have to be fed with a bottle so my daughter, Jenny, and I took the little thing to Petco for advice and supplies. I was amazed when the Petco manager instructed us to bring the baby squirrel to a local emergency vet. Petco would foot the bill.
At the vet's office, someone was delegated to feed the baby squirrel and minister to its needs off and on all night -- all on Petco's tab! We were allowed to come back and visit the squirrel that night--the whole family did-- and the little squirrel hung in there long enough for Jenny to name it "Todd" and for a plan to be formed for Todd's rehabilitation at a local squirrel rescue facility after which he would triumphantly return to his family and friends and the all-you-can-eat fruit buffet in the Lerner backyard. Sadly, the little squirrel did not make it through the night. Jenny and her friend, Dani, ultimately volunteered to work for the squirrel rescue organization. (Well, they did one day of work anyway. Shoveling up squirrel poop and washing cages for eight hours turns out to be way less romantic a pastime than in the mind's eye.)
Years later, Buddy ended up at that same emergency vet hospital (well I'm pretty sure it was the same--there are two in practically the same block) dying of spleen cancer with the vet who was trying to save him sobbing 'cuz he reminded her of her own dog. And half our bank account gone. What are you going to do when you stare into your dog's eyes and don't want him to die but put it on your home equity line of credit?
It took me back to my teens when through an odd and bewildering set of circumstances, our 10-year-old beagle terrier, Piccolo was shot by a police officer in the small Michigan town in which we lived.
Piccolo's carcass was left to rot and molder in the smelly, fly-ridden city dump. That experience was so painful that I waited 25 years to get another puppy. That puppy was Buddy.
And after that, we got Buddy and us a pal, Snickers. And what I learned from Buddy and Piccolo and Snickers was that all I did by waiting 25 years was deprive us all of 25 years of dog love. So the day after Buddy died, before he was even buried in the backyard, I was at the South Central pound picking out a puppy who looked exactly like Buddy. It felt a little strange and disloyal but I made a deliberate choice to push away the tears and substitute the joy a puppy brings. Which is how we came to have a dog named Floppy who wakes you up by lying on your bladder and pretending he hasn't been fed.