Thursday, November 05, 2009

Levi's Issues

As much as I love Levi, it pains me to admit that he's not a perfect dog. Like a lot of us, he has issues. Unhappily, the one issue that's ever come up with Levi that I consider serious is an occasional display of unwarranted aggression aimed at other dogs. Though he lives harmoniously with his pack, in a dog park situation he can be a  bully. Making the problem worse is Levi's ordinary choice of victim. Levi likes to beat up puppies.

He never injured a puppy, but he liked to roll them, and stand over them in a dominant manner, that demanded my immediate intervention. You'll note the use of the past tense, because I sadly can't take him to the park anymore, even though he plays entirely appropriately with almost every other dog. But puppies bring out the worst in Levi, as do German Shepherds, who he tends to react to with fear-based aggression. Being significantly smaller than a German Shepherd, this often didn't work out well for Levi.

Levi is an extremely sensitive dog, and in all other matters, he really is incredibly nice and well mannered. I haven't exactly trained him, but he'll usually obey any commands issued in a conversational tone by me, or anyone else he knows. The primary "trick" he knows is to "be a little gentleman." When he's getting overly excited or rowdy, all I have to say to him is, "Levi, you be a little gentleman now," and he settles down immediately, lying down and crossing his arms in a surprisingly dainty manner.

He's never shown an ounce of aggression towards people, and is unusually gentle with little kids and old people. He good naturedly takes abuse from Rocky, and occasionally Erica and Chi-Chi, treating the smaller members of the pack with patient indulgence.

Coming from the esteemed Abeytas breeding grounds, Levi should be a perfect dog. He has the genes for it, the nature. Like everyone else, though, Levi has been shaped by both his nature and his nurturing. Though the crying puppy at the park doesn't know or care, there is a reason Levi acts like he does. 

As with most delinquents, or psychopaths, for that matter, the problems stem from an extremely difficult childhood. That might sound like a cop-out, but when you hear Levi's story, you'll not only understand why he does the bad things he sometimes does, but you'll marvel at how he turned out to be such an overall splendid dog despite his early adversity.

Karen and I got Levi when he was about three months old. He had been weaned from his mother for a couple of weeks, and in late June of 2001, he and his sister, Esmé, had been taken by my friend Rick's irresponsible daughter and her boyfriend. On July 4, Rick asked me if I would help him clear out the trailer his daughter had abandoned. When we got there, besides a trashed trailer, we found Levi and Esmé curled up, together, scared, hungry, and ditched.

Karen seemed to be recovering from her cancer, and the only animals we had were Arthur, her German Shepherd Seeing Eye dog, and Erica, the cat. It didn't hurt that Levi and Esmé were the two cutest puppies you ever saw, but I had no real choice. They were coming home with me and joining the pack.

Karen was delighted. Levi and his sister were not only adorable, they were smarter, more sensitive and more responsive than any dogs I've ever known before. There was never a housebreaking issue, or, indeed, any issues beyond the most casual of puppy shenanigans. Erica loved them instantly, and they would play with her with the kind of unfettered joy that only puppies really know, and that maybe only cats can really appreciate.

And then there was Arthur.

Arthur was absolutely enchanted by the puppies. He put aside his Frisbee obsession enough to be instrumental in raising them, and in teaching them how to act right. The thing was, though, Arthur was in no way temperamentally qualified for the job of raising puppies. In fact, as I've written earlier, Arthur was half-crazed by this time, after having been involuntarily retired due to Karen's illness.

Initially, Arthur treated the puppies well. He clearly loved them, and just wanted to teach them right from wrong. Unfortunately, "right" and "wrong" were rather fluid concepts in Arthur's head. What might be fine on Monday would merit a harsh correction on Tuesday. Though there was little consistency to his rules, Arthur vigorously enforced them anyway. This led to Levi getting beat up, a lot, for doing things he had no way of knowing Arthur considered wrong.

By mid-August, Arthur was head-over-heels in love with Esmé. She was sweet, and coquettish, and was the first dog Arthur had ever truly loved. Despite his feelings for her, though, Arthur knew he had a duty as her teacher. When she misbehaved, when she broke one of his ever changing rules, punishment still had to be meted out. But Arthur could no longer bring himself to discipline Esmé. So whenever Esmé did something Arthur considered wrong, he would promptly punish poor Levi.

Esmé never acted with intent to get Levi in trouble. They were almost like conjoined twins, connected at the shoulder, and Esmé would no more have done anything to hurt Levi than she would have to hurt herself. They slept wrapped up in each other, and when they were awake they were almost always touching each other. 

We lived in the country, and Levi and Esmé would go out every day to swim in the arroyos and hunt rabbits. Arthur never joined them, because he was too busy guarding and worrying about his Frisbee. I'm not sure how often the hunt was a success, but a number of times, Levi would come home with a juicy rabbit leg, and deliver his tribute to King Arthur. Arthur would take it, happily, though not gratefully, and later that night would punish Levi for some imaginary infraction that Esmé committed anyway.

Imagine your crazy Uncle Arthur beating you up every time your sister did something he didn't like. This injustice began to make Levi, this perfect, joyful, puppy, a little jumpy and submissive. Meanwhile, Esmé, his shadow, enjoyed total immunity. Even Levi knew this wasn't fair. 

He was about to learn how unfair life really could be to a little yellow puppy...

Tomorrow: The Conclusion of Levi's Issues
(I promise to only infrequently write two-part stories. I don't like them, and I don't intend to regularly have cliffhangers, but this particular story was just too important and too involved)

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands

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Veronica Lee said...

Hi! I'm stopping by from EC!! Great blog.

marion said...

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