by Patricia Gail Burnham
When Braveheart had gone to Christine, that left Ringo, Jirel, Kira, and Starfleet in the puppy pack. I wondered who would take over Braveheart’s position as litter boss. What happened was that the pack turned on Kira. She had been the top-ranked girl, a position won in spite of her size by her speed and cleverness.
I was in the front yard weeding the vegetable garden when I heard the fight start. By the time I had run through the house and reached them, Kira was definitely getting the worst of it. She was fighting toe to toe with Jirel while her old friend Starfleet nipped her from the rear. Sheena was dancing around, uncertain of what to do. Ringo was staying out of it looking confused. I herded the combatants up onto the patio, grabbed Kira, pushed her into the puppy room, and closed the door.
She was covered in blood with a deep gash on her front leg and another on her back leg. I held her against me while her frantic heart slowed. I hugged her to me for reassurance and told her she was safe. When she had calmed down, I retrieved a wet washcloth and wiped away the blood. At seven months old the puppies had not done nearly the damage to each other that an adult dog will do in a fight, but she was covered with small nicks. The only deep cuts were on her right front leg and those looked too deep to have been caused by puppy teeth.
When I put her back on her feet, she limped badly. I carried her into the house, fending off Jirel who wanted to finish the fight she had been winning. In retrospect, Kira was probably running in front of her pack. They loved to dodge through the big hedge at a full run and Kira’s leg was trapped between two trunks of the hedge. When she cried out in pain at the injury, the others turned on her. It is simple dog pack behavior that makes them turn on a screaming pack mate. Cries of pain will nearly always trigger an attack, which is why it is so dangerous for a small child to run screaming away from a dog.
Kira never went back to the puppy pack.
That night I carried her outside to potty (with the rest of the puppies shut in their room) and then carried her to bed. I slept with Sheena on one side and Kira on the other. Kira crept up my side and slept under the covers with her chin on my shoulder, breathing softly against my neck. She proved to be a wonderful sleeping companion. I have tried to bring dogs to bed that were too anxious to allow any of us to go to sleep, but Kira never moved. She was just a small, warm, living weight on my shoulder. By morning she could walk with a limp.
For the next three weeks Kira spent the day crated while I was at work. Dog books urge owners of puppies to crate train them. I tried. In Kira’s case it was not a success. I was coming home at noon to let her out, so she was being crated for only five hours at a time. During the first week I would arrive home and find her sleeping. During the second week she started to fret. By the third week I would come home to find her bedding wet with saliva from her frantic panting.
Moving her back in with Jirel was not an option. Once two of my dogs fight, I never put them together again. The only other choice was to leave her with Sheena, but I was worried. If I was wrong about those deep gashes on her front leg and they were from Sheena’s big teeth, then Sheena might injure her. Finally one morning I left her with her mother, though still fearful that Sheena would treat her as prey and play too rough with her.
Sheena and Kira Become Buddies.
But I should have had more faith in motherhood. When I came home at noon Sheena and Kira came bouncing into the house full of high spirits. Kira and her mother had become best buddies. Sheena was the one dog that Kira could acknowledge as boss. They loved to play together. Kira would fly around the yard, race up to Sheena, fall at her feet, and then leap up and race away. At first Sheena would chase Kira only to slip and fall, unable to turn with a puppy half her weight. This must have been a shock to Sheena who had been the quickest and most agile of her own brothers and sisters.
But Sheena was smarter than Kira’s littermates had been. The puppies would chase Kira until they couldn’t run any more. Sheena, at nearly ten years of age, didn’t have that kind of stamina. So she would chase Kira for short distances and then let her run alone when she started to run big laps of the yard. Or Sheena would run a small circle on the patio while Kira ran a big circle around the outside of it.
They even set up a running course in the house that extended from one end of the living room to the far end of my bedroom. I would be napping on the bed with Sheena curled up next to me when Kira would trot in carrying a stuffed toy. She would look at us, waggle the toy, and trot back to the living room, only to repeat the performance if Sheena didn’t accept her offer to play tag. I once counted fourteen circuits back and forth before Sheena gave in and chased her.
At first they shared Sheena’s beanbag bed in the utility room. Then I noticed that Kira would pounce on the dog bed and she wasn’t planning on sharing with her mother. So I made up a second bed from piled fleeces to give them each their own place. I hadn’t expected Kira to evict Sheena from her beanbag. A mother’s tolerance goes a long way.
Chewing Becomes a Favorite Pastime.
Spending her evenings in the living room broadened Kira’s range of toys. She quickly developed a talent for chewing anything I left within her reach. Her favorite targets were my summer work shoes. Sacramento is hot in the summer, so these were expensive sandals with narrow leather straps. She could chew through the straps in a matter of seconds. I took to storing the shoes on top of the china cabinet, but one young concentrating Greyhound is more than a match for a busy owner.
One night the phone rang just as I arrived home. I let Kira and Sheena into the house and settled down on the bed to talk to Beth Anne. This wasn’t going to be a short conversation. I removed my shoes but held on to them, knowing that if they hit the floor they would be Kira toys. When I hung up the phone twenty minutes later I found Kira in the living room on her beanbag with a pair of neatly chewed shoes. She had come into the bedroom while my attention was on the phone, taken the shoes out of my hands, and carried them into the living room to be dismantled. She had asked politely for the shoes while I was busy and I had handed them over without thinking.
By then she had cut the straps on so many shoes that my shoe repairman was as amused as I was. I could hardly cure her shoe fetish when she looked so darn cute when I caught her. She seemed to say, “What shoes? You mean that you want these? I thought you were done with them.”
I had never been able to teach Kira to not eat off the table because when I caught her, I was too busy laughing to correct her. I had the same problem with the shoes. How could I blame her when I knew she would chew them and it was my job to keep them out of her reach? Kira chewed only the thin-strap sandals but she did carry a nice closed pump out into the yard and left it for Ringo, Jirel, and Starfleet. It entertained them overnight. In the morning I found Ringo gnawing happily on it. By then it was beyond repair. The entire back had been chewed out.
Fortunately my shoe store was going out of business and was having a serious shoe sale. I wear a peculiar shoe size so I could buy shoes from only one of two specialty stores in town. And now the biggest of them was closing. I bought shoes until I felt like Imelda Marcos, legendary for her 400 pairs of shoes. I packed them away out of Kira’s reach. The storeowner cheered me up by saying that they had many customers who came in to replace puppy-chewed shoes. I was not alone.
The high point of her chewing career came the day she cut the power cord off the nail grinder. I had just bought a new nail grinder and brought it into the living room to use on Sheena’s nails. When I went to pick it up, the cord was only eight inches long, cut through as cleanly as if it had been done with a knife instead of Kira’s clever teeth. I bought a new nail grinder and kept it out of reach.
The Great Game of Keep Away
In exploring the house, Kira was looking for things that she could run with that would inspire me to chase her for a game of keep away. And she found one item that never failed to get me to chase. That was my contact lens case. Generations of dogs had shown absolutely no interest in my contact lens cases. Kira was different. Fortunately her teeth on the hard plastic lens case made a distinctive crunching sound and that would alert me that she had the lens case so that I could chase her down and reclaim it.
And that, of course, was what Kira wanted; someone to play keep away with. After I caught her gnawing on the lens case a couple of times, I took to sleeping with it under my pillow so she couldn’t reach it. And that worked until the morning when I couldn’t find either the case or the lenses. I have lost individual lenses occasionally, but I had never lost a set of lenses in a case before. Search as I might I couldn’t find them.
I looked around the bedroom and around and under Kira’s beanbag in the living room. No lens case was to be found. I put on my spare lenses and called my ophthalmologist for an appointment. Fortunately my prescription had changed enough so that I was due for new lenses. Kira had simply retired my old ones, just as she was retiring all of my old shoes.
Six months later I moved a small bookcase and found the lenses and lens case underneath it. The case had rolled under the bookcase when Kira had run by and dropped it. At least I think that is what happened. I would hate to think that she rolled it under the bookcase with her nose to hide it deliberately, the way Sheena and Braveheart would hide food items by using their noses to bury them in the beanbag beds.
Sheena’s technique of burying food for later in her beanbag bed had hit a snag. Kira would wait until Sheena had buried a piece of toast, and would then uncover and eat it. So Sheena had not only to hide the treat in the beanbag, but then she had to protect her cache from Kira’s raids. This she would do by standing on the beanbag and barking at Kira. The easiest way to resolve the dispute was to call Sheena into the kitchen for a new treat. That would let Kira unearth and eat the one from the beanbag.
The Great Nibbler
Kira had always been a nibbler. If you scratched her back she would respond by what Greyhound adopters call “nitting” nibbling with her front teeth on whatever surface she could reach, including me. Actually most of the puppies were nibblers and it was fun to scratch their backs and necks and watch them start to nibble. One day my sister came to visit and was greeting Kira when she said, “She nipped me!” I was incredulous and asked what she had been doing. She scratched Kira’s neck and Kira started to nibble again. So I explained about the nibble reflex. But while most Greyhounds nibble gently, Kira has a much more forceful nibble. Fortunately she usually starts gently and then increases the force behind her nibbles. That lets me call it off before it gets painful.
Her favorite place to nibble was standing on the bed in the evening to watch me change out of my work clothes. Standing on the bed made her the right height to hug, and she learned to sit up for hugs. First she would sit and look coy. When I stood in front of her, she would lift both front paws so that I could hug her.
After the hug, if I couldn’t resist scratching her neck, she was just the right height to make her a nipple nipper. She was delighted to discover that a well-aimed nibble could convert me into a squeak toy. We had some discussions about what I thought of nipple nips and she became less direct about it. She would nibble my arm or rib cage until the intensity grew to the point that her eyes would dance. She would cast little glances towards the coveted nipple, and I would know it was time to stop, before she couldn’t keep herself from indulging in a squeak nip.
Kira’s view of the world was neatly described in this poem that turned up anonymously on the Internet.
A PUPPY VIEW OF THE WORLD
If I like it, it’s mine.
If it’s in my mouth, it’s mine.
If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
If the toys are out, all of them are mine.
If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
If I think it’s mine, it’s mine.
CG Summer 99
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