It was Molly who reminded me. Molly is an English Springer Spaniel. Her soft, silky black ears make it irresistible to gently pull them. Her owner was bewailing the fate of her garden, as young Molly had developed a fascination for a particular potted spider plant. She sought my advice.
My mind went drifting back to my third Irish Wolfhound, named Shredder. ( You can see photos of Shredder and I on my Facebook Page) If there can be karma in the name you give your dog then he was blessed with boatloads of karma. He lived up to his name. The glue on envelopes fascinated him, and given his size, no kitchen counter was safe for the deposition of mail. He took what he pleased and to this day I blame him for receiving a 5 day cut-off notice from the electricity people. He’s the only dog I’ve ever had who actually did eat the children’s homework. No one laughed. But the real pain in the neck was his attitude towards a tiny potted lemon tree I had started on the back patio. One morning, as I made my garden rounds, I noticed that the tree was a little crooked. Doubtless the dirt was settling, so I carefully righted it, tamping the soil down gently at the base. A few days later I noted it was tilted again. Puzzled, I again returned it to its proper position. As the days passed, I began to realize a pattern here, namely that the tree was being knocked sideways again and again. I was righting it on a daily basis! And then I caught him, Shredder, with a lemon leaf in his mouth, grinning happily, tail wagging. Such fun! Sigh.
So I moved the plant. Nope. Now, as a veterinarian, I had lots of training for behavioral problems. This was drummed into us students as very important, because poor animal behavior can lead straight to the Pound. I became annoyed. I staked the tree with a bamboo stake. Apparently this was not deemed fair play by the dog and next morning I found the tree completely sideways, a branch broken. I righted it. He knocked it sideways. Finally I took metal rebar, settled the tree more deeply in the pot, and firmly staked the trunk every few inches. Satisfied that I had prevailed, I went to bed.
The following morning the lemon tree was nowhere to be seen. When it was no longer fun, Shredder had simply removed the entire plant and shredded it. Who says dogs don’t have a sense of humor?
I did not share this story with Molly and her owner. I wanted them to have confidence in my advice. But when next I saw her, Molly had become truly devious. She not only enjoyed her spider plant but had branched out to include ALL the potted plants. I understood her owner’s angst. I wished I had a fabulous know-it-all answer. There are special Behaviorists in the field of veterinary medicine. They listen for hours to your problems and have reams of questionnaires to fill out. They have many inventive cures to modify and “cure” your dog of his or her behavioral problems. Most of them involve owner intensive time: “Take your dog for a 5 mile walk twice a day, he’ll be tired out and have less energy”(me, too); “Tell him no! sharply every time he goes near your plant, then distract him with a fun activity” (but I needed to run to the grocery store, I won’t be home to distract him); “Use the dimes or rocks-in-the–tin-can method” (but first, how do you really securely seal the thing and second, my aim REALLY is that poor – ouch!). Somehow, behaviorists always have the answers and most of it involves time that most of us don’t have – or the dog wouldn’t be doing it to begin with, right? Fence either your dog or your plants in (expensive! Not attractive!).
In the end, I wanted to tell her to dump the spider plants and try roses. It’s karma. You see, one of the meanings associated with the name “Molly” is “rebellion”. They should have looked it up first.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM
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