The Puppy to Prison Pipeline


It never fails out here in suburban New England. One dog in the neighborhood lets out a bark, and the one next door feels compelled to answer. Then the hound across the street and the one around the corner join in. Pretty soon the air is filled with the howls and yips of a dozen pups, each one standing as close to their fence as they can possibly get.

So I was thinking this morning, as the canine cacophony made its way around the block, the life of a suburban dog is a lot like life in prison.

No, I mean it!

Think about it. The dog wakes up in the morning. He’s hungry and he has to pee. Can he just head outside and do his business before grabbing a bite to eat? No, sirree. Instead he has to wait patiently until the boss decides it’s time. If he gets frustrated and starts to make trouble, he’ll probably either be ignored or yelled at.

And when he’s finally fed, will he get a plate full of beef and cheese, or at least some toast and peanut butter? Nuh, uh, not in most houses. Instead he’ll get a metal bowl filled with a single scoop of tasteless, overcooked, unidentifiable “food”. Or if he’s lucky, a blob of vaguely meat smelling goop with embedded bits of orange and white stuff.

If he doesn’t eat it, he waits until the boss decides to feed him again.

And what does the dog’s day entail? Mostly boredom, right? He can nap, gaze longingly out the window at the world passing by, and dream of freedom.

If he’s a lucky dog, he’ll get a little time outside in the yard. Of course he’ll be confined inside the fence, or possibly allowed to “walk” alongside the boss. But he definitely won’t get a chance to run into the woods the way he wants. He won’t be allowed to roll himself in a dead animal or dig in someone’s compost pile.

Every minute of his day is controlled by the boss. Will he have a chance to play ball, or fetch a stick? That’s up to the bosses and their moods.

But the most striking similarity between suburban dogs and prison inmates, as far as I can tell, is the way they try desperately to communicate with each other.

Of course, I’ve never stepped foot inside of a human prison, but I do read mysteries and crime novels. I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption about 10 times, too. So I know that lonely inmates yell things to each other from cell to cell. I know that even when they can’t see each other, they call out, make jokes, complain and plot devious methods of escape.

Apparently they sometimes even tap on the walls or bars to send morse code.

They are desperate to connect with others in their same situation. They are determined to share their experiences with sympathetic souls.

Exactly like the dogs in my neighborhood.

Just this morning I was sipping my coffee. I hadn’t fed the dogs yet, but I had let them out the door and into the fenced yard. One of the big dogs down the street let out three loud barks. The little dog across the street from him answered. They went back and forth a couple of times, just short woofs and arfs.

“Nice morning.”

“Gonna be warm.”

“I’m starved.”

“Me, too. And I haven’t pooped yet.”

The next voice to join the conversation belonged to a Shepard mix a few houses past ours. His deep, bell like voice added a note of tension to the exchange.

“I smell chickens! You know the guy across the street is raising chickens, right? Chiiiiiiiiiiiickens!”

“And ducks! Ducks! I smell ducks! I want to eat duuuuuuuucks!”

By now my two dogs were standing at full attention in the farthest corner of the fence. Both had their heads up, noses twitching. Both had hackles raised.

“I WANT OUT!” One of them suddenly howled. “I gotta get outta here!!!” Every dog voice in the area joined the chorus.

“OUT!”

“HUNTING TIME!!!”

“Owooooooooot!”

“GOTTA GOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Within a minute, the air was filled with howls, rising and falling in the morning air. You would have thought that a pack of wolves was out there. The howls were chilling in their desperate intensity.

The hair on my arms rose.

The inmates had to be restrained before there was an uprising.

“Come on inside, sweeties!” I called. “Time for num nums!”

I shook their metal bowls of crunchy food-like bits.

They came inside, but they weren’t real happy. They sort of slouched past me.

I swear the terrier mumbled something about a breakout.

Panic in Puppyland


It’s so damn hard to be a good doggie Momma.

I’m very good with human children. I can usually tell when one is sick, or hurt, or coming down with a cold. A few times in my classroom teaching days, I was able to tell that a kid had a fever before the kid even complained.

But dogs are different. They don’t cry when they hurt and they don’t say, “Nonni, up!” when they are needy. You just have to try to figure it out, right?

Sometimes you can guess what’s going on, something not so much.

Take this morning, for example.

We were in our living room, bright and early, talking about the foot of heavy wet snow we’ll be getting today. We were making sure we are prepared in case the power goes out.

I was feeling anxious. I despise the cold, the snow, the sleet….especially when they come in the spring. I was also anxious about my daughter driving to work in the bad weather, six months pregnant and getting over bronchitis. I was worried about my granddaughter Ellie, who has had a cough all week.

And our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King, has been struggling with his back and spine and hips. He’s been in pain.

At least puppy Lennie seemed fine, and full of his usual energy.

But then Kate and Ellie arrived, and Lennie went into fits of excitement. He started his usual jumping up on Kate routine, running in circles, wagging his tail furiously. Everyone was talking at once, “Lennie, down!” “Ellie, let’s take your hat off.” “Can you leave early today?” The Wolf King was barking and Lennie was squealing.

It was your basic morning bedlam.

Suddenly, I looked over at the pup, and saw that he was having some kind of terrible back spasm. We had seen this happen to him a couple of times in the past, but it was never this severe. His back end was hunched and sort of curled forward, and his whole back end was sort of pumping forward and back, really fast.

He looked very uncomfortable.

Now, let me digress for a minute. Tucker, with his arthritic spine, sometimes makes the almost same motion, but with less vigor. His vet told us that it happens to Tuck when his back muscles go into a spasm. I massage his spine and his spasm goes away.

So, I grabbed little pumping Lennie and tried to massage along his spine. It didn’t help a bit. When I let go of his collar, the little guy started frantically licking at his private parts, or what’s left of them. He was neutered before we got him, we were told.

He kept on sort of nipping at himself and turning in circles and that back end just kept on pumping.

“Oh, no!” I said it out loud. “He’s in real pain! Oh, poor baby!”

Paul joined in and so did Kate. We all thought Lennie was suffering from some terrible crazy muscle spasm or seizure or something. We were so worried!

We all looked at him and his pumping backside.  He started to bite the tip of his tail and run in circles.

I grabbed him as he raced past me, and decided I should check his undercarriage.

Holy hard as a rock, Batman, the little guy’s niblets were like steel.

This is the part where I have to confess to complete idiocy, but at least my husband and daughter are as dumb as I am.

At the base of his fully erect little doggy rocket, there was a huge, hard, round mass, about the size of a golf ball.

Did I mention that he’s been “fixed”? You know, altered. Neutered. Deballified. There should not be a big, hard, round mass where his testicles used to be, I thought.

“He has a tumor!!!!” Was my first comment. Or maybe my second, after I quickly pulled my hand away from his altogethers.

We called the vet. Paul got dressed in a hurry to take him in. I cuddled the poor little boy, feeling overwhelmed with worry. As I stroked his neck, I noticed that he seemed to be slowly relaxing and feeling just fine.

The little rocket went back into its socket, and the golf ball disappeared.

Huh.

So. Paul took the pup to the vet, who examined him thoroughly and calmly announced that what we has witnessed was a “natural hormonal response to excitement.”

The little guy got kind of worked up from all the joy of greeting Kate and Ellie.

The vet suggested that we find a way to get him some doggy playdates so he’ll learn how to control himself a little.

Ewwww.

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He looks pretty relaxed in this shot…