Small Mammals


small black and white puppyI have a dog. I’ve named him ‘My Gym Membership.’

“Carol-Ane!” my husband interrupted. “His name is Shiloh and he’s NOT your dog!”


So, once upon a time, I got a dog. I got him to distract myself from the fact that my baby was sick. This, as it turned out, was not a good reason to get a dog.

My baby (my two-year-old) had chronic diarrhea and was losing weight.

So we got an adorable lab mix puppy. He was an exceedingly puppyish puppy, friendly, gentle and…ummm…excitable.

I thought it would all work out. I was from Rehoboth, a country town, and my parents had always had dogs. We never crated them, we never fenced the yard, we never trained them, we never exercised them…at least as far as I knew. We just had dogs. My mother loved her dogs…

This dog thing, as it turned out, did not work out nearly as well in suburban Foxboro. My adorable puppy tore the house apart. He pooped and peed and ate shoes and coats. He had a particular predilection toward telephone cords. I would get home from work, and take my panty-hose off in the car before the dog could leap on me. Then I’d survey the damage. And run down to radio shack to buy a new telephone cord.

My two-year-old turned out to have lactose intolerance. None of my doctors could figure this out, but my sister-in-law was able to diagnose it over the phone, as well as prescribe the cure, namely lactose tablets, and lactose milk. So it was all fine. I didn’t need to have bought that darn dog.

Meanwhile, my baby gained weight and just lived to open the front door and let the dog out. We did not have a fence. After all, my mother had never needed a fence. But that dog ran off and stole the fish that my neighbors were using to fertilize their garden, deposited it all over my yard, and then happily terrorized a nearby cat.

The cat owner called and threatened me.

“Your dog seems nice. If it doesn’t stay out of my yard, I’m going to capture it and call the pound. It’ll cost you $200 to bail him out.”

I learned that people who have 3 kids and a job really have no business also getting a dog. That day I put the dog in my car and took him down to my parents, who still lived in Rehoboth. They gave him to my aunt and uncle, and the dog lived happily ever after.

This was a while ago. The dog has long since gone over the rainbow bridge, and my baby now has an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, and lives in Western New York.

Shiloh, ‘my gym membership’ is ‘technically’ my daughter’s dog. A year ago, she moved to Foxboro, two houses down from me. And she thought it would be a good idea to get a dog for her children.

I should have discouraged her. I should have told her that people who have 3 children, and 2 jobs really have no business getting a dog as well. I should have regaled her with all my sorry tales of dog failure. I should have been a responsible adult. I mean, I’m 68. If I’m not a responsible adult by now, it may never happen.

What I actually said was, “Oh! You should get a dog!! Your boys need a dog! I need a dog to walk in the woods with me! It’ll be fine. I’ll help you! ”

Parents complain that their children never listen to them. I don’t think it’s true. I think children listen way too intently to their parents. They care too much about pleasing their parents. I mean, I still want to make my mother happy, and she died 20 years ago.

In any case, my daughter got the dog, to surprise her son, on his birthday.

I sat outside and held the creature for a few minutes, just before he got taken into the birthday chaos. He trembled in my arms. He was so small and so frightened.

That was 4 months ago.

And at the moment, this story seems to have an unlikely happy ending. We still don’t know what kind of dog it is, but it’s gentle, friendly, and smart. My daughter got it for “the kids” but she is so much more attached than she thought she’d be. And so am I. I mean, I’m not a dog person. I’m really not. I failed as a dog owner. I only encouraged this dog thing because I thought my grandson needed one. I only petted it because I had agreed to help train it. And walk it. I only agreed to that to make sure that my daughter didn’t also become a failed dog owner.

It wasn’t at all because he trembled in my arms…

But the other thing I’ve learned is this. Small mammals are so much alike. Children and puppies just want to do what you want them to do – when they love you. And they do love you. Frantically. Desperately. And things do go better when you love them back. They say it’s the simple key to successful small mammal training. Affection, rewards, attention, and petting, mixed gentle words. No responsible pet trainer recommends aversive conditioning. Instead, they prescribe love.

And maybe it backfires a little. My puppy turns inside out whenever I come to take it for a walk. It’s hard not to respond.

“Well…technically…” I explained to my husband. “Technically, he’s not my dog. But your daughter says I have joint custody. And…” I paused for effect. “I’ve totally beat you out in steps ever since we got him! So…Ha!”

So, at this moment, it’s all good. He’s a sweet creature. He’s small. He trembled in my arms. I’m getting steps. And, I bet that this would have made my mother happy.

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Carol-Ane Woodard was born in Rehoboth, which is in Massachusetts, but really should be a part of Rhode Island. She grew up taking the Trailways bus into Providence and shopping at the Warwick Mall. She currently lives in Foxboro, Massachusetts with her husband of of 38 years, Paul Woodard, but she misses coffee cabinets, red clam chowder, and hot wieners, and she still considers Providence to be her home city. Carol-Ane graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1973 with a degree in sociology. She minored in business at U Mass Dartmouth and took a job for the FDIC as a bank examiner. She worked there for 30 years and retired 10 years ago. Other than her 3 children and 5 grandchildren, her hobbies include reading, reading, and more reading, interrupted only by hikes in the woods, Freecell, and knitting. Although her Linkedin profile lists her as a stay-at-home grandmother, Carol-Ane actually has a rather nervous disposition and is frightened by small children. Nevertheless, she persists.