Tag Archives: dog

Point of No Return

“The point of no return” is often used to describe the moment in time when, upon reaching it, there is absolutely no way to stop or reverse what has been done.  Here is a true story that illustrates the importance of that moment.  It came from a seminar that I attended and involves the speaker’s dog…..

The person speaking had a family dog that totally and in every way loved its freedom to run outdoors.  They had a fenced-in back yard in a semi-rural suburb, but this dog always seemed to find a way over a certain part of the fence to its freedom beyond.  It always waited until the family left in their car and no one was around.  It would wander around the neighborhood, saying hi to all the other dogs and lesser life forms (also known as cats) and eventually come back around to its own house again.

This family realized that they had to do something to try to keep this dog within the limits of the back yard (which was a rather large one at that).  So they decided to get an invisible fence.  This is an electric fence that’s buried just below the surface of the yard.  The dog wears a special collar that picks up a signal the fence emits from below the ground.  This signal transfers into an electric shock that the dog feels around its neck.  The closer the dog gets to the fence, the stronger the signal that is received in the collar.

This might sound cruel at first, but there’s something important to understand about this.   When the dog’s collar first picks up the signal, the shock is light enough to just warn the dog that it’s getting too close to a boundary.  If the dog continues to walk closer to the fence, though, the shock becomes stronger until it’s just too much for the dog to take.  (Certainly not a point of no return, but probably in the ball park.)  This produces a nice brown streak across the yard as the dog suddenly repents of its actions and runs back from whence it came (besides the brown streak, you also see the dog).

Once the invisible fence was in and the dog had been trained on it for a while,  the family decided they would try leaving again and see what would happen.  They did so and came home to find their dog greeting them at the front of the house!  This happened quite a few times and became the unanswerable question.  Eventually, they came up with an idea to see how this dog was getting out of the back yard.

They made it very evident to the dog that they were leaving for a while.  Once they had driven out of sight of the house, however, they quickly circled back around and parked where the dog couldn’t see them, but they could see the dog in the back yard.  They were just in time to see the incredible actions of their family pet.

The dog was facing its favorite spot where it used to jump over the fence.  It backed up as far as it could and gave every indication that it was psyching itself up for something.  But what?  Suddenly, the dog started running towards the invisible fence!  As it got within shocking range, it started to yelp at the shocks it was getting on its neck.  But, incredibly, the dog ran even faster towards the fence!  It had reached the point of no return!  As the shocks became more intense, the yelps coming from the dog grew in volume to match.  But within seconds, the dog had crossed the buried fence and was free once again!

What can be learned from this dog’s actions?  Well, the dog wanted something bad enough that it was willing to endure whatever it had to to get it.  So what about you?  Is there something you want bad enough that you’re willing to cross the point of no return and endure whatever you need to to get it?  Your Big Dream?  A risk you might be scared to take?  A promotion at work and the unknowns of new territory that would bring?

If a dog is willing to cross the point of no return for its freedom to run around, what’s holding you back from what you really want to do?  Endure the pain, the discomfort and anything else that may arise.  It’ll be worth it in the end!

One more thing, in case you were wondering.  If memory serves me correctly, that family decided to put the old fence back up and may have used both as a deterrent to the dog’s escapades.

The Dog Poo Yard

As much as that lightning was enlightening, I can’t help but feel that the highlight of my mowing experience was the infamous yard with the dog poo.

The first yard we had to mow every Friday morning was “The Dog Poo Yard”. This place consisted of an open front yard with a back yard that was completely fenced in with a six-foot tall wooden fence painted red. It was the back yard that no one among us wanted to set foot in. The home owner had at least three very large dogs that were allowed to roam free in the back yard.  They would leave mountains of smelly nastiness anywhere they wanted to and then the home owner would do absolutely nothing about picking up those rank piles of poo before we were to mow there.  (This memory is so distinct that, even though this occurred 16+ years ago, I could take you down the exact street to the exact house and show you the exact back yard where this dastardly deed was done.)

So every Friday, our experience there would go something like this:  We leave the shop with the foreboding feeling that we are embarking upon a doomed expedition.  As we drive to The Dog Poo Yard, we reflect upon the life we’ve had….fond memories of loved ones and good times with friends.  A question floats across my conscious brain:  What’s the worst thing I’ve experienced in my life so far?  Was it really that bad compared to this?

We arrive at the house and park in the driveway.  We just sit there for a minute or two, gearing up for the inevitable and watching the wisps of green and yellow vapors from the dog poo piles wafting up and over the back yard fence.  Then one of us says, “Well, I guess we should get this over with.”  We all heave a heavy sigh and exit the truck.  We get the two big mowers, weed whip and blower ready, taking as much time as possible to avoid being the first casualty of the dog poo mine field awaiting us.  A period of time is spent with “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine who will be on the big mower in the back yard.

This, of course, means that the guy on the mower doing the front yard takes as much time as possible–including mowing at a much slower speed–to make sure that every blade of grass is cut exactly right (after all, it is the front yard and everyone sees the front yard, right?).  On the opposite extreme, the guy mowing the back yard is in a quandary:  Do I mow at the fastest speed to get this over with (knowing that this means I can’t see the poo piles coming at me until it’s too late)?  Or do I mow slower to avoid stepping in the poo piles (risking olfactory overload and a complete mental shutdown)?  No matter who lost the Rock, Paper, Scissors game, we were all very adept at “The Dog Poo Dance”.  This consisted of the mower operator moving his feet any way he needed to in order to avoid stepping in the freshly mowed-over piles of dog poo (think of fancy breakdancing footwork and you’ll get the right picture of dog poo dancing).  If he was feeling particularly daring, he did the Dog Poo Dance at the fastest speed on the mower.

If no third person was with us, the first one done with mowing got on the weed whip.  This was almost worse than mowing, because sometimes those poo piles were very close to the edges of the yard where the weed whip needed to trim grass.  This meant that, as hard as the guy on the weep whip tried to avoid it, the weed whip line would make contact with the dog poo, whipping dog poo everywhere (including the shoes, socks and legs of the weed whip operator).

The safest job for that yard was getting on the leaf blower.  All that consisted of was walking around the yard (in as many pre-designated dog-poo-free places as possible) and blowing cut grass around.  Of course, it was a good idea not to blow pieces of dog poo on anyone that might be close by….but we won’t talk about that.

Once the yard is completed and everything is loaded back up on the truck and trailer, we all stand around the truck, assessing the outcome of our venture.  The smell is still hanging in the air, mostly due to the fact that we’re standing next to the dog poo remains that are mashed into the mower tires as well as what is probably on the bottom of our boots.  With watering eyes and no signs of permanent injury, we all look at each other with smiles on our faces, triumphant in knowing that we once again overcame and conquered The Dog Poo Yard.

The Bottle-Rocket Launcher

A family that Cindy’s family and ours were friends with when I was growing up had an English Springer spaniel named Cinnamon.  We had one at the same time named Nutmeg.  She had some issues, though, namely the fact that she was hit by a car, so for a while, we were dogless.    In the meantime, this family moved to South Carolina and eventually bred Cinnamon.  They contacted my Dad and told him that we could have one of the puppies if we drove down to get it!  My Dad was ecstatic, to say the least.  So I rode shotgun with my Dad from Michigan down to South Carolina to get Max (the English Springer that I told you about in a previous tale).  And thus begins my story….

This family had a son named Jeff who was a year younger than I was. By this time, we were both entering the high school years of our youth, not quite able to drive on our own, yet feeling that urge to experience some sort of independence that sooner or later inevitably befalls every teenager–especially teenage boys.  So we did the best we could do at the time:  we ventured out into his suburban neighborhood armed with his bottle rocket launcher and a mess of bottle rockets.  Ok, it was more like he dragged me out there with him as his accomplice to whatever mayhem and malice aforethought he was contriving in that fourteen-year-old brain of his.  I was a quiet, obedient kid and that didn’t change as I grew up.  So this was really taking me out of my comfort zone.  And what made it worse was knowing that once I lost sight of his house, I had no idea where we would be or how to get back if I had to break away and make a run for it (yes, I had a distinct feeling that I would eventually be doing that, any specific reasons for it unknown in that moment, except for the aforementioned  contraband that we both had in our possession).  I had no choice but to stick to him like glue if I ever wanted to see the comfort and safety of the only thing that was familiar to me:  his house, where I knew both our Dads were preparing some amazing steaks that I couldn’t wait to eat.

As we were jogging down the street and began darting between houses, Jeff asking for a bottle rocket and me handing him his first load of ammo as we were doing so, I began to think that our Dads may be picking us up from a local jail cell before this was all over.  What would I say??  “That’s not mine.”  Or, “I don’t know how that fire that burned down five houses got started.”  Or, “Dogs howling and barking all over the neighborhood?”  (I begin to break down, sobbing uncontrollably) “It was him, officer!  I was coerced and forced into this against my will!  He made me hand him those bottle rockets!  I…I….(Oh, no!)  Hi Dad….”

So there I was, trailing Jeff as we jogged down back alleys and became one with the dark that was the night around us (actually, it was a well-lit neighborhood with plenty of street lights, but that’s what it felt like).  At different times we would stop and take up position.  I would hand Jeff a bottle rocket, he would put it in the launcher, light it and tap the rocket down into the launcher.  We would wait an eternal two or three seconds as the fuse burned and we eventually heard a  FWOOP! sound that told us the bottle rocket had left the launcher like a missile cut loose in the water to leave its mark on an unsuspecting target with no way to stop it.   We got this routine down so well that muscle memory took over and we began launching bottle rockets from a full run.  Somewhere along the way, though, one of Jeff’s neighborhood buddies joined us and took over my role (a position I very willingly gave up), so now all I could do was make sure I hid and ran and kept up with the other two.

We made our way to the lit-up tennis courts (yes, this neighborhood had tennis courts) and Jeff proceeded to ask for another bottle rocket.   These tennis courts were nestled in the bottom of an earth bowl, surrounded by trees on three sides (which is where we were hiding out).  I watched his buddy hand him a bottle rocket with shaking hands.  As I got my hands calmed down, I watched as Jeff placed it in the launcher and lighted it.  FWOOP!  We watched as it arced itself over the middle of the tennis courts, an increasingly loud whistle giving way to a very loud BANG!!.  Foul language wafted upwards from the courts as the unsuspecting victims looked up into the sky, wondering what atrocity had just befallen them from the sky above.  Jeff launched another one.  FWOOP!  BANG!!  Now at least one of those unsuspecting victims had turned rogue and was walking in our direction very fast.  We turned tail and ran like the wind for a block or two.  We started to see vehicles driving around more frequently.  They’re on to us.  They’re hunting us like dogs.  We were “on the lam”, fleeing like the criminals we were!

We found ourselves inbetween apartment complexes, looking down a swath of backyard fifty feet wide and fifty yards long.  We all looked at each other and we all knew what the other was thinking.  Me:  No!  You wouldn’t….you really want to, don’t you…..but….  Jeff (and his buddy):  This is perfect!  How can I pass this up?!  Give it to me! (in Jeff’s buddy’s case, Give it to him!).  When Jeff launched that rocket, the whistle it made ricocheted off the backsides of the apartment complexes, making it five times as loud as it normally was.  As a result, the BANG! we normally heard from a bottle rocket was more like a BOOM! from a cannon.

We all  turned and fled the scene, me going the direction I was pretty sure was Jeff’s house and didn’t care if I was right or not, and Jeff pleading with me to go with him and his buddy as they headed off in another direction.  He saw I was done, though, so he acquiesced and walked with me back to his house.

I was emotionally exhausted.  Spent.  Ready to turn in for the night (or at least turn myself in).

I’ll tell you this:  There’s nothing like a hard night’s running from justice and the long arm of the law to really appreciate a good steak.

Max

You’ve heard about Major already.  Quite a character.  But so was an English Springer we had whose name was Max (not the English Springer from the camping story–this is well after that incident).

We got Max somewhere around my Freshman/Sophomore years of high school.  My Dad and I drove down to South Carolina where a family friend had bred his English Springer and had a puppy for us to get.  I held him in my lap all the way back up to Michigan.  We grew quite attached on that drive back.  So how does such a cute, submissive little puppy grow into….Max?

The older Max got, the more stubborn he became.  We lived in the country (as you already know), so when he had to go outside, we just let him out the door and came back to let him in around 10 minutes later.  And that’s where his stubbornness really showed.  Especially in the winter!  I’d be standing there in my pajamas, holding the door open for him to come in, my extremities turning white from frostbite, and he’d just stand there looking at me, suddenly unable to comprehend the English language.  And if I started out the door after him, he’d just romp out into the yard a little further and turn around to see what I’m going to do about what he just did.  Since I could no longer feel my fingers or toes anyway, I would sometimes try to coax him in with a treat….or a stern voice….or sobbing….fact is, he came in when he was good and ready to and as far as he was concerned, I wasn’t about to change that.

I must say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed a game he liked to play in the house with my younger brother.  We’d be wrestling (this got Max riled up sufficiently) which would inevitably end up with my brother pinned to the living room floor, arms defenseless at his sides, while I poked my finger through the gap between his neck and the carpet.  This got Max’s attention fast, which always resulted in a slobbery effort on Max’s part to get that wiggling finger, no matter how much tickling and barking he had to do at my brother’s neck, regardless of which direction my brother would turn his head.  It was a fun time!  Until my brother got to be big enough and tall enough that I couldn’t pin him to the living room floor anymore.  Ruined everything at that point…

But my fondest memory of Max is at the family cabin at Paradise Lake.  We were up with my Aunt & Uncle’s family, all of us (but Max) down by the beach.  The cabins on that stretch of the lake are up on a bluff that overlooks that beautiful place.  It requires a pretty long staircase for most of those cabins for a way to get down to the shoreline.  But what dog likes to take steps when he can launch himself down the hill with no barrier between him and the water?

So my brother goes up to the cabin for something and calls down to my Dad, asking if Max can come down.  We all turn around to watch as my Dad gives the ok, because we all know Max’s aversion to the staircase.  (Watching a dog barreling down a hillside, barely able to control his speed as he jets toward the water, is always worth watching.)  Well this time, there were more of us sprawled out along the beachfront than he was used to.  His normal line of trajectory was suddenly compromised, but it was too late to change it.  The point of impact of least resistance was going to be a 10-inch gap between my lawn chair and the one next to me that my Uncle was in.  The realization of all of this is flashing acrossed Max’s face as he nears the bottom of the hill at full speed.  As he realizes his predicament, his eyes get real big, and then they become mere slits as he readies and commits himself to that gap between our chairs (all this happening in a matter of seconds).  He was a white and brown streak as he flew right between our lawn chairs, the lake suddenly becoming his parachute as he hits the water in an explosion of spray.  He’s frolicking around in the water, grateful to still be alive, a huge smile on his face as he laps at the water.  Quite a few moments passed before anyone could say anything because it took that long to catch a breath from all of us laughing so hard.

Many years have come and gone since then, but we all still remember the day that Max went through the “eye of the needle” and lived to tell about it.

The White Pine Tree

Here we are.  Back on the main trail again….

Let’s get back to that White Pine sapling.

White Pines are beautiful trees!  These aren’t Austrian Pines that you usually find along highways and everywhere in-between.  While White Pines are also common, they are much more pleasing to the eye than Austrian Pines are.  White Pines are used for construction, cabinetry, natural medicinal purposes and even Christmas trees.

So I got this White Pine sapling in kindergarten–my very own tree.  I found myself looking forward to many years of watching it grow in front of my eyes.  As I said before, it even went with us when we moved.  Shortly after the tree was replanted, however, something peculiar began to occur.  This took a while to notice, but the White Pine began to take on an odd growth pattern.

Enter Major.

Apparently, once settled upon our new property, Major felt it was his duty, his mission–nay, his life’s purpose bequeathed to him by God Himself–to hike his leg and pee on the north side of that tree.  He was committed.  He was focused.  He wasn’t letting anyone or anything detract him from what he was called to do with his life in this new place.  And he saw it through to his dying day.

As a result, we noticed as the tree grew that the north side of it was developing a significant stunting in its growth.   I really thought during those first few years that I was going to have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.  As it matured, though, it really began to fill out.  Except for the north side of it.

To this day, you can drive by the old house in Bath and see a beautiful twenty-five foot White Pine tree with a significantly stunted upper portion on its north side, the permanent marks of a dedicated and unrelenting Flat-Coated Retriever.  I think Major wanted to leave a mark, something that would endure long after he was gone.  And he did just that–literally.

Keep in mind that this is the same dog who bullied a couple of young kids in the winter and gave them ball-less head gear to wear.  He would take his beloved “Babe” (the female) on romantic romps in the gravel pit next door and bring her back absolutely exhausted (black fur on hot days in a gravel pit…..nice).  He even took her on a nature walk, with us in tow, and frolicked on ahead of us with his sweetheart–until he brought her back absolutely covered with ground bees.  All I remember at that point is Mom yelling at us to turn around and run the other way.  Good advice, except that dogs run faster than humans do.

So my brother and I are beatin’ feet down the trail back to the car, looking back and seeing a dog with yellow dots all over it trotting along behind us.  I don’t remember if it was Major or Babe, but the distinct memory of seeing a black dog with a smile on its face, it’s tail almost wagging as it’s trotting along after us has never left me (seeing that smile….it had to be Major).  Thing is, I don’t remember any dogs covered with bees catching up to my brother and I.  Which means that Mom probably did what moms are known to do:  She put herself in the line of fire for her kids.  I do seem to remember that she had been stung a few times.  Thanks, Mom.

But, regardless, he was a good dog (for the most part).  And his “mark” on his life spent with us lives on….

Let’s meet up again soon and I’ll tell you about a runaway horse!