Let me tell you about this non-human member of my family.
He mostly took after his father – slight, aggressive, very intelligent and duck toed – even though he was supposed to be momma’s boy.
Karen and I were both cat people; I’d lived with cats since the age of ten and Karen, well Karen apparently kidnapped kitties when she was a young girl, so desperate was she to have one of her own. When we put our families together, I’d recently lost two (Hamlet and Vicky) and she brought Stimpy, a Maine Coon born to a feral mom, with her.
She also brought a bit of a fear of dogs with her, so I was a bit surprised when one day she told me that she was hankering after yorkies – Yorkshire Terriers.
At the time I was more enamored of larger dogs “ones you can wrestle with” as I put it, but I had no general objection to any kind of dog, other than preferring to adopt one rather than purchase one from a breeder. (All of my previous non-human companions had been adoptees.)
So I responded that it was ok with me if we got one, so long as it didn’t cost too much.
Karen went on a hunt. Offerings were plentiful, all starting at around a thousand bucks and going astronomical from there.
We queried shelters and rescue organizations and not a one we could accomodate could be found.
Then, one day, Karen found an offering from a breeder across the state from us: a male Yorkie for only $400.00. We called and arranged for a visit.
It was nearly a four hour car ride and the entire time I kept on telling Karen not to fall in love with the first puppy she saw; there might be good reason why this dog was going so cheap, we very well might be disappointed, yada yada yada. All to no avail of course. How can anyone not fall in love with the first puppy they see?
Bo – or Burt as he was known then – was penned with a “snaggly-toothed, snuffly Shitzu” (Karen. “Ugh. I can’t stand them!”) when we arrived. The Shitzu backed off, Burt came bouncing up, practically shouting “I knew they’d come!” and of course it was love at first sight. While Karen cooed, I spoke with the breeder.
I got a somewhat confused story but the gist of it is this: first, she claimed that she bred show dogs and ‘Burt’ was a non-showable male, owing to his being duck toed and with dew claws way higher on his forepaws than was acceptable.
He also had a lip deformity, but these were all superficial. Otherwise he was a perfectly healthy, happy little ‘yorkie’.
Later during our visit we were informed that Bo had originally been gifted to the breeder’s son, but then had chewed through an extension cord and the son had returned him. He was the last of the litter to go.
Even later, and after discovering that Bo’s papers identified him as a Silky Terrier, not a yorkie (some breeder, huh?) we put things together more logically; ‘Burt’, not being breeder or show quality, had been gifted to the son. The son was not a great dog person and “some things” happened we don’t know the details of, but they induced a dreaded fear of bare feet in Bo and an electrically burned lip (which healed completely over time btw); Bo’s show training had also started very, very early, such that we had to teach him that he could eat or drink whenever he wanted to, even if people weren’t around (and he knew how to heel without our having trained that).
We brought him home. So much for not falling in love with the first puppy you see.
No, he did not get along with Stimpy (though they did sometimes play “lets see who can bite whom first”) and so we had to divide the household up into two living areas, with Stimpy’s privileges including the master bedroom. (To this day I still get a twinge of guilt when I think of Bo’s first night, going to bed alone.)
Despite best intentions, Bo became ‘my’ buddy. (Mostly because I did most of the feeding and walking.)
We named him Bo (“Burt. Yuck. What an ugly name! How can anyone name a dog ‘Burt’?), though we’d been leaning a bit towards ‘Bondie’. (Bondie, the Bondage Dog. We’d put girl clothes on him and when people remarked, we’d explain “no, he’s a guy, he’s just crossdressing today” or some such. Always fun to shock the neighbors.) We did (yes) get a stroller for him and (yes) were once asked if someone could “see the baby”, which we happily complied with, never mentioning his non-human nature.
As mentioned, I was a cat person, not a dog person, and I despaired somewhat over my lack of knowledge of dog language (after decades of living with cats, if you pay attention, you learn that they are communicating all the time, just not with words). No need to worry, Bo picked up the slack. He was truly amazing in his desire to learn.
My philosophy with “animals” is that they are capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for (research is proving this again and again on a nearly daily basis) and so, with my cats, it was always a first goal to help them understand that communication was sought after, encouraged and would be rewarded. I applied the same concept to working with Bo. One of the first things he learned was “show me”.
Bo used his body. He developed specific stances and specific locations, along with a variety of sounds. One such was to come running up to you, circle once, face you straight on and chuff. We quickly learned that this meant “I’m trying to tell you something and you are too stupid to figure it out.” So we’d guess, and here’s the cool thing: we’d know if the guess was right or wrong by what Bo did. We’d offer (something like “do you need to go out”?) and if we were wrong, he’d look at whatever it was, but not move, then look back at us. “Nope, that’s not it.”
Finally, if we were unable to come up with an answer, we’d say “show me”, and off Bo would go. He’d walk right to the immediate vicinity of whatever it was (oh, I left food in the microwave – Bo standing, facing the microwave on the counter, or oh, your toy is way under the jelly cabinet – Bo standing facing the cabinet, then looking up at us, then back down at the floor).
Once he learned that attempts at communicating would be rewarded, he never stopped.
We didn’t want him to be afraid of thunder (living in Florida at the time, that would have been miserable for him and for us) so, as a puppy, whenever a storm rolled in, we’d gather with toys in our living room. Whenever a a flash of lightning lit things up, we’d clap our hands and say “Yay, thunder is coming! woo hoo! THUNDARRRRRR! Yay!” and we’d offer toys to Bo to play with. Thunder never bothered him, and the same was extended to fireworks. On his first fourth of July a boom went off. He startled, and then looked at me and I said “It’s THUNDARRRRR! yay!” and he said “Oh. ok.” and ignored it entirely.
We also taught him “no bark”. He was never a “yippy” guy, but he did have a piercing bark (which he modified, all on his own, to indicate certain thing, everything from “squirrel” to “Hey! there’s no one around and I need some help!”). Instead of just not barking when told “no bark”, he’d stifle; he had to bark but couldn’t, so he’d make these odd, strangled sounds deep in his throat.
One of the funniest things he used to do would be to sit between Karen and I while we were having a conversation, which he seemed to follow. I’d say something with him watching me and, often before the end of my sentence, he’d turn to look to Karen to see what her response was, then back to me. Visitors would often remark “It’s like he understands what we’re saying” and we’d nod and agree because we KNEW he understood what we were saying.
We attributed his high order of intelligence to that electrical shock he got as a puppy. We figure it boosted his synaptic connections or some such (that’s only half a joke). He could do things that other dogs have been known to do, but things that were not that common. One such was being able to put a sentence together. His vocabularly of human words numbered in the hundreds. You could say something like “Bo, go in the bedroom and get your ferret”, and he would.
He also knew left and right and straight (mostly for walks) and could follow multiple steps of instruction: we’d go walking in the woods and sometimes, owing to his size, the path I was taking would have obstacles for him. He’d stop and I would point out an alternate route for him: “Go here, then here, then go here. OK” and off he’d go, following the route I’d pointed out.
He loved to “river walk”; his second nature was mountain goat, so sure-footed on the wet rocks it astonished me.
One of the funnest things was watching him come to some new understanding of something: like learning that banging his food bowl on the floor would get him “second dinner”, or that the fan he liked to sit in front of needed to have a switch button pushed in order to turn on. (I’ll never forget the look on his face when he put two and two together. “OH! You have to push one of those things first!”)
He liked to watch TV – and he hated Klingons. Whenever he’d hear a Klingon speaking Klingon, he’d run to the screen and start barking at it. I think he’d have been as effective a Klingon detector as a tribble. Oddly, he liked watching baseball more than football or hockey.
Bo was also up for just about anything. He assisted Karen and I at paintball tradeshows (he had his own cammo vest and his own Tip jar, which sometimes earned more than we did) and assisted with Amazing Stories, appearing on the front cover of the Concord Monitor’s Sunday section (you can see him cosplaying as Robot from Fireball XL5 in my staff page image).
One of his most endearing (and frustrating) traits was: he knew how things were supposed to go and protested when they weren’t done “right”. I had occasion to have my neighbor take care of him for a few days (they watched Red Sox games together in my living room) and I left a couple of pages of instructions, particularly about food prep. So much food, chopped up like so, then microwaved for 15 seconds.
The neighbor did not believe all of the instructions were necessary. Food in bowl, chop chop, bowl on floor. The neighbor told me that Bo looked at the bowl, turned his head aside and then walked to the counter, facing the microwave, looking from him, to the bowl, then back to the microwave.
Bo was a great guy. A “good egg” as I often told him. He helped me through Karen’s death, supervised my working on the website and was always a joy to come home to whenever I had been away. He was exceptional and he will be exceptionally missed.
I still have some on-going expenses for Bo’s treatment and have a GoFundMe campaign to help defray them. You can find it here.
Below, a video of Bo playing with a Tribble and a few additional pictures.