Bear learns not to be naughty

Published 8:42 pm Saturday, May 28, 2011

By Tammy Carter Adams

In late January, we adopted a large dog and named him Bear. We knew nothing about him, except he was a stray on death row in Georgia.

By his picture alone, I wanted him, for he favored the goldi-wolf I had growing up — solid black, massive shoulders and amber glowing eyes. On the agreement we would foster him — just to see — my husband Jay loaded the dog in his car and brought him home.

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It wasn’t the perfect night to bring home an undernourished, gamey-smelling dog. Dinner guests were to arrive any minute, and the dog’s smell quickly overpowered the stuffed shells baking in the oven. I shoved him out by the pool and threw him a bone, until I had the time to wash him.

Later, I peeked out the window. Bear had pulled a pillow off my settee and placed his prize bone on top, unchewed. His legs were crossed in front of him, like the perfect gentleman. I knew then that I would keep him.

But before long, I wanted to change his name to Lucifer.

Whole chickens disappeared off the countertop, rawhide bones popped up in my garden and in my sofa cushions and pee ponds yellowed the white tile floor. My hands shook with frustration.

One day, I found him sitting at the table waiting to be served.

“Bear, get down. Dinner’s not for another hour,” I said.

Another day, he stepped it up a notch and stood on the kitchen table, all 65 pounds of him.

He whined at the door, begging to drag me down the sidewalk after squirrels, only stopping to mark anything standing in his way.

He was taking over my life, my home and my sanity. I knew if something didn’t change, I’d be sent away in a paddy wagon, catching invisible flies, and Bear would destroy the house in my absence.

Everyone advised, “Get rid of the dog!”

Yet every evening, I watched Bear gently wrestle with my boys, and I knew I couldn’t do that.

Then, hope arrived.

I discovered a glorious place for my sweet but mischievous Bear called “Police Dog Training Boot Camp.” I imagined the promised land washed in heaven’s glow as Jay took him Saturday morning, and the first thing the instructor did was to snap on a pinch collar.

“There needs to be immediate consequences for bad behavior, or he will continue, and soon his behavior may turn violent toward the children,” he explained.

That day, Bear returned home a new dog. Instead of bounding into the house with a cocked leg, he walked cautiously to his bed. I nestled beside him and praised him. He looked up at me with those big sorrowful eyes and placed his paw in my lap. Right there, we made our truce.

From then on, I didn’t allow him to drag me down the street or cock his leg on anything. The world is no longer his oyster. Now he knows his boundaries, and his place in the world is under my authority.

A funny thing has happened to big Bear. He is happier. He’s transformed from a hoarding, wild-eyed dog to a content and peaceful one.

Yes, he still has accidents on occasion, tries to bury his bones in the sofa and sticks his nose where it needn’t be, but when I tug his chain, he sits corrected. He still licks the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and I turn the switch to sanitize. I have to give a little.

I figure Bear is like us in many ways. A disciplined life brings peace to those who live it. Many times, God needs to remind us where our place is. We feel His pinch as he attempts to keep our destructive behaviors from destroying our homes, families and lives.

Sometimes He has to remind us that the world is not our oyster, but our work.

Bear escaped yesterday, and I sent the boys out to catch him. He took a run around the neighborhood, splashed in the retention pond, chased ducks, and then returned, sprinting through our front door and sliding to a stop.

“Did you have fun?” I asked. “You know that is naughty.”

When he stood to get water, I noticed he was limping. He didn’t return from his 20-minute adventure unscathed. He’d split the pad on his paw. I hope he learned that no good thing comes from being naughty.

Tammy Carter Adams, daughter of David Carter, an occasional Suffolk News-Herald contributor, is a Suffolk native. She lives in Orlando, Fla.