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November 1, 2014: Jenna

The hardest part about Pete’s being away is not the physical, hands on, maintenance end of things, though this is time consuming and tiring. The late night routine is the toughest, and takes about 1 ½ hours. At 10:30 p.m. (if I haven’t already) I do the dishes and feed the dogs. Then I get water ready for the horses. If need be, I turn on the generator, and fill umpteen four gallon supplement buckets. I generally put the water on the stove in the empty buckets, then cart the warm water down to the horses, using either the fish hauler or carrying it by hand. While I’m down there, I give the horses some hay and also pick up poop. Once back up at the house, I water and feed the goats and chickens. Finally, before retiring, I stock up the wood stove, which in my absence has usually died out. Right now, because it’s warm, I’m using up the punk wood.

No, this is not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is dealing with Jenna, our 13 year old Australian Shepherd. I am her exclusive service human being when Pete’s away. This makes me realize just how hard a job this is for service dogs. Like their human counterparts, these dogs must remain attentive, vigilant, alert, and patient. I can see why a dog might be tempted to bite the hand that feeds it.

“Wherever I go, he goes, me and my Arrow.” This was a song by Nillson. Change the name to Jenna and you have an apt description of my situation. Plain and simple, if I’m six feet out of range, fore, aft, sideways, she will start barking. I call this the drippy tap bark. It’s not like Rainbow or Ryder’s “I see something and you better come and check this out, right now.” No, Jenna doesn’t have that kind of a bark, and in fact, when they bark, she who has no idea what they are getting at, just stands there and drippy tap barks.

The canine behaviorists advocate ignoring undesirable behavior, saying that in time, it will go away. This is not the case in this instance. If I’m upstairs Jenna will (for example) stand at the base of the stairs and bark for hours on end. I know that as in the case of dealing with a drippy tap, that if I don’t deal now, that I will have to deal later. We now have a routine in such instances I go downstairs, gently grab the hair above her tail, and lift gently. Jenna then goes upstairs, staying a few steps ahead of me. We sort of reverse the process when I go downstairs, me putting a guiding hand on her side, so that she does not fall off the edge.

I put her outside, she turns to the door and barks. I go in the horse gate, shut it behind me, and she barks. I go to the bathroom, she stands outside the open bathroom door and barks. I don’t think she poops or pees anymore.

I take her for walks. Jenna goes a short ways then returns home. On my return trip home, at the point at which I get to Oceanview Drive, I hear her barking I know why this is. Jenna’s already pea sized brain is atrophying. And at the same time, her warped and distorted memory of the past is returning to haunt her. Imagine it – being haunted by something that isn’t the way you think it to be.

Jenna’s story is that she was abandoned by her former owners. Life intervened, and we ended up with her. There was no happy parting of the ways for this dog. The former owners left her on the front porch with a bag of dog food and a bowl of water. They called us and asked if we’d take her. Pete said we’d find her a new home. We rode horseback over to her place. Jenna, of her own volition, followed us home. She’s been with us now for seven years.

So, what to do? I believe that when one takes in an animal that an unconditional pact is formed. Each member of this pact has a job to do until they can’t do it anymore. Jenna’s job was to be a good inside and outside companion. My job was much the same. Jenna’s now having a problem keeping up her end of the deal. However, I must keep up my end. What she needs now is to have either me or Pete close by at all times.

I’ve decided to use this as an exercise in remaining in the present. So . . . (as the song goes) wherever I go, she goes, it’s me and my Jenna.

Next: 293. 11/2/14: The Writing Life: A Moment of Indecision