Things you give up when you have Dexter:
- Any sense of cleanliness
- Objections to horrible smells
- Much of your wardrobe
- Knobs on your stove
- Your gag reflex
- Dining tables of normal height
- Your heart, freely and completely
Dexter was a “Special Needs” dog. Or perhaps better put, he was a dog for which I’d go the extra mile (or 1000). I was told time and again that many parents would have given up and said goodbye. In truth, Hubby and I came to the brink of this decision over and over.
But that’s at the extreme end of the story. In the day-to-day world, we merely adapted our lives in a few key ways, to make his life better. Certainly I tried to address his emotional needs. I’ve mentioned that before. The Dog Whisperer would have cringed! Whatever. I still say Dexter’s life was better because of our close connection. But there were other ways that we tried to accommodate our special dog.
One way we addressed his needs – and his personality, to be honest – was to put the garbage under lock and key.
Literally. If the garbage was anywhere within reach, he’d be in it within minutes. Too many times we came home to find the garbage strewn all about the house. A covered garbage can was useless. He just stepped on the pedal and opened the lid. Put it under a cabinet in the kitchen and he’d just chew open the cabinet. Though he seemed to be able to pass just about anything he ate, it really was safer for him if we didn’t take the chance. So, we locked it in a small mud room adjacent to our kitchen. Inconvenient, but not as bad as cleaning up the destruction.
Then there was the matter of where the beast would sleep. This was an actual consideration. Getting up was hard for him, and we imagined that he’d want something cushy to lay on. Sort of like an old dog would. He certainly enjoyed the couch more than the floor.
We tried bed after bed, looking for one that would provide good cushion and support, and one he’d actually use. The dog bed we finally found took up the entire floor space in his Recovery Room. When moved to the living room, it became the focal point of the room. But we adapted, it seemed totally normal. It was part of the décor, a design choice if you will. Our house was decorated in Early American Dog.
Safety was critical, so the physical environment was a concern. It was very dangerous for him to slip on a wet floor. One wrong step and disaster could strike. Non-slip tile didn’t cut it. Attached carpet was a must – no throw rugs. That meant everywhere. And so, in addition to the wall-to-wall carpet in the house, we ended up with indoor/outdoor carpet in the kitchen. Another real design winner.
We also made the house more accessible. First, we built a handicapped ramp out the back door. It was easier for Dex to maneuver, especially when someone had to take him out with the sling. But that back door faced toward the front of the house, and the trip was a long one to get to the back yard. So, we just created a whole new door. Instant remodel! This time, we included wider, more gently-sloped stairs. Something he could navigate even in the dark – though of course we rarely let him wander around without proper lighting.
Some of the accommodations were really for our benefit, not his. Mealtime was something of an ordeal. While Zeta was also very food-oriented, her mealtime begging was done from underneath the table. Dexter, however, could rest his head on top of the table with no effort at all. Just the right height for Alligator Jaws to strike!
So that we could eat in peace, we bought a bar-height table for the back yard. Up high, sitting in bar stools, we were (nearly) oblivious to the drool dropping on our feet and the sad look of a dog denied the chance to steal the bbq ribs. We liked that so much we bought one for the inside of the house too. Again, probably not a design winner given the style and size of our house. But it sure did make life easier.
Then there were the things we did for the humans’ safety. For example, after he almost burnt down the kitchen, we made sure we took all of the knobs off of the stove. Didn’t stop him from pushing the buttons to the oven, but at least he couldn’t turn the burners on when he was taking pans off the stove top anymore. Yes, this happened more than once.
Speaking of which, pots and pans could not be left on the stove for any length of time, nor was it advisable to leave anything in the sink. I guess that was a good motivator to keep on top of the dishes.
Eventually, we needed to know what he was actually doing while we were gone. Would he grab the bread off the top of the refrigerator? I kid you not, this dog stretched himself to grab the bread on more than one occasion. That gives you an idea of how tall he was. We had a theory that Zeta was the brains of the operation. She’d find something with potential and then encourage him to take care of it. She would remain blameless, of course.
Again we turned to the hidden cameras for the answer. As it turned out, he had a routine. Clearly honed over the years, based on vast experience of where he was likely to find treasure. He waited just a few moments – probably listening for the car to pull away from the curb – and then began his inspection. Nose across each counter. Anything in reach? Check the stove. Any dirty pots or pans to grab? Hey, what’s with the dishes in the sink – anything left there? Oh, and be sure to try every door knob to see what might be open. Run this process a few times, and then he could lay down and go to sleep.
Putting all the pieces together, we got a clear picture: Dex wasn’t like other dogs – not only did he want to get food, he had the means (and the brains) to do something about it!
Dexter provided a multitude of day-to-day challenges. Years of experience told us that we’d all be happier (and safer) with processes and reminders in place.
For example, here are the warnings/directions we left for house sitters:
Without fail, a house sitter would forget one of these steps. Then oddly, they’d run out of dog food early. Or, they’d find themselves cleaning the garbage up from all over the house. Can’t say we didn’t warn you!
You wonder perhaps why there are bungee cords and a step ladder involved. Yes… probably time to share that story.