A top-dog tale

When a new dog arrived, cocker spaniel Heidi seemed to lose more than her familiar status.

He arrived at our house with only one agenda in mind.


He would stake out his claim of dominance. And he knew how to do it. It started with raising one little brown leg on every floor-length drapery in both the living room and the dining room. That done, he took on the rest of his agenda.

Now let me explain first, he was a very small (in physical size) miniature dachshund named Baron, who initially came to visit us for two weeks. (His family first asked if they could give him to us, and I explained that we had another dog but would take him while they went on vacation. I should tell you right now and get it over with – and with some reluctance and admission of weakness – that he never left our household.)

Back to his agenda. The whole second part of that agenda can be defined in one brief sentence.

He was charming.

He was the Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, George Clooney of his breed. There was never one doubt in his mind of how disarming he was and that it must be understood by all that he was master of his new kingdom. And all capitulated. The children loved to play with him, and, I admit, so did my husband and I. So the agenda was fulfilled: He staked out his territory with the draperies, and he mesmerized the family with his charm. Done.

But there was another factor in this picture. We already had Heidi, a black-and-white cocker spaniel who had lived with us and been cherished by us for many years. And I mean truly cherished.

Now Heidi was a different dog all together. She was quiet, peaceful, and warmly affectionate. She knew her place in our family. And probably without even thinking about it, she knew that place was unequivocally hers.

So this is what happened: One day someone in the family noticed that Heidi was not walking very well. Her hind legs both seemed to be getting weak. And after a short time we also noticed that she was losing her hair. Finally, she had no strength left in her two back legs and she had lost all of her hair except for a three-inch collar of fur around her neck and the same around all four ankles. It was necessary for someone to carry her outside to relieve herself. The whole family was very disturbed by this. So one Saturday morning it was decided that my husband, Gene, should take her to the local veterinarian. The two of them came back in about an hour, and Heidi came running into the house on all four legs. Well, not exactly running, but under her own steam.

We were overjoyed until Gene told us what the vet had said. He told Gene that Heidi had a skin disease and it was not curable. Further, he said that she had a serious case of arthritis, also incurable. He had, however, given her a shot of something that gave her strength in her legs, and if we would bring her back every five days for that shot she could live with a fair degree of comfort. Sadly, he said she would never get her hair back.

That night we decided to have a family conference about Heidi. We went back into a little of her history. We realized that she was fine until Baron appeared on the scene. Then we all recognized how much time we spent with the "Charmer." We would talk about Heidi, pat her a little, tell her how much we loved her, but hadn't we spent most of our time with Baron? We all admitted to this – it just hit us – and then and there we vowed that this would stop. We talked about the fact that our love had to be demonstrated. We had to let Heidi know how much we loved her in a way she could understand.

Starting that night, the children, David and Barbie, got down on the floor to put their arms around this little uncomplaining member of the family. And from that time on all homework was done on the floor. One always had his or her arm around Heidi. During the day, if I was home Heidi would be in my lap. Patted and loved. This she could understand. Gene, when he was there, gave her the same attention and love. When the children came home from school, immediately after opening the door each one would call for Heidi.

I don't know how long we did this, but this I do know: We never stopped until one day we found our little dog running around the house and asking to go outside by herself. And, yes, she gained all of her hair back and during the day often ran with a fine pack of dogs around the neighborhood.

Baron still thought he was master, but we knew differently. And so did Heidi.

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