Today is Mother's Day and while I'm not a mother in the usual sense of the word, I am the happy owner of 3 cats (+ one on-and-off stray), 2 dogs and 2 budgies. Sometimes this feels a little like being a mother, sometimes a little like being a zoo keeper, but frequently it feels suspiciously like I'm running a mad house!
Our animals have issues - and thus we have issues (or maybe it's the other way around???). What this translates to is that the dogs and cats and budgies must all be kept separate. While my black lab has always been cat-friendly (we got her when she was only 7 weeks old and she used to sleep curled up with our cats), my little Jack Russel Terrorist came to us when she was a few years old. She already had developed quite a few life patterns that were unacceptable. Some I have been able to break her of - others, not so much. Unfortunately she was trained from a young age to hunt and (attempt to) kill cats. In actual fact, being a terrier she would love to hunt and kill pretty much anything including things smaller than her (mice, birds, rabbits) and things much larger than her (horses, cows, and especially the dreaded garden statues which seem to be particularly repugnant to her murderous little mind). Which means that my dogs and cats must never meet. And although I have heard lovely stories of cats who have bonded deeply with birds, the only way my cats want to bond deeply with my birds is through that time-honoured system known as digestion.
So a year ago when we finally managed to enter the modern world of civilization, ditched our TVs antiquated rabbit ears and connected to cable, I was delighted to discover Cesar Milan, that dog-training guru, whose program "The Dog Whisperer" airs regularly on the National Geographic Channel. Oh, he made the whole dog training process look so easy! I watched religiously. I took copious notes. I became a die-hard fan. His words became like manna to my parched and harried soul. I learned that I must exude confidence, breathe deeply, remain calm in every situation, and always, always maintain a balanced emotional state so that my dogs would sense that I was the Alpha Dog, the Leader of the Pack, the Great Gazoo in my family unit.
In fairness to Cesar and his wonderful program, I have to say that things have improved since I started to practice his techniques. No longer do the dogs burst out of the door as soon as it is opened. They now pause inside the open door, bums wiggling with excitement, tongues lolling out of their mouths, looking up at me with intense joy until I signal them that they are allowed to go outside. This is a major improvement! I have also managed to curb their food aggression issues by taking control of the dog kibble, forcing them to stay several feet away from the food dishes while I prepare their supper, and only allowing them to eat once I have given them the signal. This is another major improvement and means that the two dogs no longer end up in outrageous fights over the food dish, outrageous fights that were almost inevitably initiated by the 11 pound Jack Russel Terrorist, but most certainly, without my timely intervention, would have been finished off by the 85 pound black lab!
But along the way, there have been moments when I have felt like a complete and colossal failure. I was out walking my dogs one day, each one on their four-foot leash. Everything was going fine. I was breathing confidence, feeling my calm inner-self taking control, shoulders back, head up, I was the ALPHA DOG! When suddenly Bella, my black lab, darted into the hedge and in less than 30 seconds emerged from the hedge with a full-grown angry, frightened muskrat in her mouth. Deezer, my Jack Russell, began to yip hysterically. She was so full of jealousy, anger, and the desire to kill that she was literally hovering above the ground on the end of her leash. The muskrat was shrieking for dear life! Bella began to shake the muskrat viciously, blood spattering everywhere. Her eyes took on that ominous red glow I have noted before whenever she gets the taste of red blood and raw meat. My heart rate escalated to alarming rates. My shoulders were no longer held back in a stance of confidence. I was no longer feeling calm, confident energy. I had two dogs and a dying muskrat attached to the ends of my arms by four-foot chains, all three animals attempting to go in different directions, one animal growling, one animal yipping, and one animal giving out a final death rattle before succumbing to a high-speed shaking death. Where was Cesar when I needed him?????
Within a few moments the muskrat had been entirely inhaled by my lab, and I do mean INHALED! She left nothing but the claws behind. And then, having morphed into a blood-thirsty wild beast, she turned on my Jack Russell with a vengeance. I actually don't know if she would have seriously injured her but I wasn't about to give her the opportunity, especially since Deezer is the hugest pest in the world and frequently nips at Bella's paws for no good reason. I wasn't sure if this was the time when the "still waters that run deep" in Bella might erupt into some kind of raging volcano.
Fortunately, as I have discovered to be consistently true after a fresh-blood kill, Bella only took about 5 minutes to turn back into her sweet and lovable self. Deezer, who will always be a trouble-maker, remained hyper and aggressive, but it's hard to incite anger in a laid-back, mellow black lab who likes nothing more than to be as happy-go-lucky as can be and has just had a delicious snack of fresh muskrat. So the walk eventually ended with a modicum of calm, even though my own heart was still racing.
Later the guilt settled in as I reviewed all that I could possibly have done differently. And it occurred to me that perhaps this is how parents feel, second-guessing their decisions, trying to remain calm and appear confident in the midst of chaos, and then later feeling guilty, completely convinced that someone else would have handled the situation in a far superior manner. It makes me appreciate my own parents even more. Having 5 kids in 6 years must have been quite a handful and I'm sure there were moments where we gave my Mum and Dad reason to second-guess themselves and their decisions. I hope through all of it, they realize how much we appreciate them. And to all of you who are mothers, I take my hat off to you today and wish you well! I bet you get more things right than you realize, I bet your kids love you more than you can ever know, and I bet you will never have to deal with one of your children holding a bloody muskrat in his or her mouth while shaking it to death on the side of the road!
Here's a pic of Deezer trying to look as innocent as can be having just given herself purple spots all over by rolling around under the mulberry tree. No one would guess from this picture what a little tyrant she is!