In the deathly heat of the Arizona summer, we quickly learned that dog paws are not meant to be on the pavement when it’s 115 degrees outside. But we more slowly learned that rocky hikes can be equally damaging to a aging dog paw. Dog-friendly hikes are somewhat hard to find, so we were excited to take Domino out to Brown Mountain for an early morning 4 mile loop hike up along the ridgeline of the mountain. She slowed down as we neared the top of the mountain, but knowing our dog could be pretty manipulative and lazy, we forced her onward. Eventually, though, she put on the brakes and forced us to acknowledge that something was wrong. We wondered if she had stepped on a thorn which happened pretty frequently in Tucson, and when we checked her paws we were aghast to find they were completely pink and even bloodied from the rocks.
What the fuck had we done? And what the fuck do we do now?
We were deep into the hike, and it would have been about the same to continue onward or turn around. Domino didn’t even balk when Craig picked her up to carry her and we pressed on along the ridgeline, all the while wishing for the parking lot to appear. It was taking forever – and the desert air was warming up. We hadn’t brought enough water for more than a couple of hours of normal hiking in the cool morning air. It slowly occurred to us that we could actually end up being those people that die in the desert because they don’t take enough water. We could be those people. We both silently agreed to not talk about that and to conserve our water. It was our first time on this hike, so we had little idea how far we actually still had to go. Mistakes and wrong turns could literally be fatal.
Luckily, the trail was easy to follow, and the relief was overwhelming when we finally made it back to our car. We all lived, but Domino’s paws had to be bandaged and she was unable to walk – especially on gravel (which is basically all of Tucson) – for days. To take her out to pee, we carried her to our car and drove her to a patch of grass down the street.
We might have almost gotten her killed out on that mountain, but we also saved her from being stranded there. And somehow she only understood the latter. Our biggest mistake actually made our dog trust us – at least a little – for the first time.
In addition to hiking, we also took Domino to dog parks, but were dismayed that she would only play for a short while before lying down and being “boring.” To entertain ourselves, we convinced her that tennis balls are the shit. Unfortunately, we did too good of a job of convincing her of this, and she became OBSESSED with tennis balls. As faithful “Dog Whisperer” watchers, we tried to break her of this obsession, but inevitably, on every trip to the dog park, she would run straight for the tennis ball and strut around the park to make sure every dog knew that it was HER tennis ball. Not surprisingly, the other dogs did not like this kind of asshole behavior. On lucky days, they would avoid her. But the last trip I made with her to the park, the dogs started circling around her and barking at her. She growled in return and slobbered on her tennis ball. She was a stubborn asshole. I pulled her away from the swarming pack, and we gave up on dog parks and tennis balls.
The environment of the dog park was impossible to control, but we found that doggy daycare was the perfect place for Domino. A place where the dogs are well-behaved and managed by trained staff – and there aren’t any tennis balls or toys to possess. We would take her every few weeks and pay the extra for her to go to daycare whenever we boarded her while we traveled. Domino LOVED going new places (she even genuinely loved going to the vet). She never hesitated to run away from us to her new friends. She loved new people and new dogs and had no problem leaving us behind.
She was 7 years old before she started to believe we were actually her people (saving her on Brown Mountain was only a step in that direction) and that we were keeping her forever. The first time we saw it in her eyes – that she might actually LIKE being around us – was when we were dropping her off for doggy daycare, just like we had done a hundred times before. As they walked her down the hallway, she glanced back at us. As if she was going to MISS us. And our hearts melted.
She was 9 years old before she started actually wanting to be petted or to cuddle at all. The first time that she climbed in my lap was a year ago – and we commemorated it with a picture because it was that big of a deal.
We decided that since she was getting older, it would be the perfect time to break her of her tennis ball addiction. So I nonchalantly pulled a tennis ball out of the closet and placed it on the floor. Craig and I made a pact to ignore the ball and pretend that it didn’t exist at all. Domino snatched up the ball and promptly clenched it in her jaw, slobbering all over it because she refused to put it down. Just like she used to do at the dog parks, she ran up to us, proud to show us what she owned – and what she would never give us. When we continued to ignore her, she dropped the tennis ball as if she wanted to play fetch. But we knew her tricks. And we laughed as we continued to ignore the ball. Domino tried over and over again to get us to acknowledge the ball that she was so pridefully possessing. And we gleamed with our own pride, knowing our plan was going to work. After a week, Domino didn’t care about the ball one bit. And after 2 weeks, we were able to play fetch. The obsession was broken.
When Domino turned 10, we were in the process of moving across the country – again. Craig was in New York looking for jobs, while I continued working in Tucson and caring for our dog. We had wanted to have a party for Domino and maybe fill one of those kid-size swimming pools with balls and toys like you see online. But with Craig gone, I settled for taking Domino to the bar with me where she could bask in the attention everyone gave her and catch popcorn I threw to her. It was perfect.
It was perfect right up until I saw she was about to puke and had to run her outside where she puked on the sidewalk. I chalked it up to too much popcorn before dinner, and life went on.
This is part 2 of 3 of The Memoirs of Domino. Click on the follow button and you will be notified when I post a new blog.