Multifunction dogs

Suzy with Pepper, Bruce with Salsa. Chase Race and Paws, Conway, Ark., March 10, 2012.

At our house, we have a multifunction printer. It does three things: prints, scans, copies – hence its model name, HP 750PSC.

But that ain’t nothin’ compared to our multifunction dogs, whose functions are too multiple to mention in one blog post – too numerous to sum up with a succinct model name. I’ll stick to the highlights.

In some ways, our canines’ services are similar and work in tandem; in other ways, they are different yet still complementary. A few examples:

Emergency Response System (ERS): The girls (or the Spice Dogs, as we like to call them) carry out this function in various ways, not all of them necessarily effective. Salsa (ERS Dog 1) barks a warning – loudly – when she encounters something she perceives as evil. In this category would be squirrels, cats, large flying insects, leaves falling from trees, vampire bats, snakes, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and small children on bicycles. Pepper (ERS Dog 2), on the other hand, cannot be relied on in emergencies, as she barks at whatever moves or breathes in her general vicinity. That includes people entering the kitchen to feed her, people trying to have a conversation over her head (and many things are over her head) and subtle movements of the human body (for instance, crossing or uncrossing one’s legs, reaching for a tissue or taking a sip of one’s beverage – all perceived as evil acts that must be addressed. Loudly).

Pepper likes to make her opinions known. A lot. And you never know when you’ll get one.

Cleanup Crew: Both Spice Dogs are punctual and efficient at taking care of unwanted food, or food that has dropped to the floor, your lap or, in Pepper’s case, within 100 feet of where she’s sitting. When food falls, she’s Johnny on the Spot. I occasionally time Pepper when I feed the girls breakfast. When she was on dry food: 12 seconds to consume her little 2-ounce scoop (she doesn’t chew, she inhales). Now that she’s on canned food (very specific reason for that – more later), I’ve seen her suck it down in a flat three seconds. Right before she burps – loudly. This dog weighs 3.9 pounds and could put a third-grade boy to shame with one of her belches.

Pepper puts Salsa under the table, so to speak, when it comes to eating. In fact, helping Salsa eat is one of Pepper’s many food-related functions. When we got Salsa from the animal shelter in August 2005, it was hard to get her to finish her food. She’d rather play. The experts said to keep her on a schedule, putting her food away after a few minutes if she didn’t eat it. I established a twice-daily meal schedule and began following the suggestions. It helped some, but she’d still rather play and would leave her dish unattended. Same with Potty Outside. I followed expert advice, taking her out on the leash (even though our yard was fenced), walking her back and forth along a short strip of real estate and repeating “Go potty” over and over and over. In the summer, I often gave up after about 20 minutes. Too dang hot to stay out there trying to get her to poop.

The acquisition of Dog 2 changed all that. We inherited Pepper (long story) from relatives (who inherited her from other relatives) on Thanksgiving Day 2005 – three months after we got Salsa. Now, with Salsa and the bowl of food, there was the threat of another little dog stealing what was rightfully Salsa’s. So Salsa started finishing her food before being sent outside to potty. I’m not sure what did the trick on the Potty Outside, but that miraculously resolved itself with Dog 2’s arrival.

Pepper sleeping under her bed. Yes, that’s her tiny heiny peeking out.

Bed Warmer: If we ever worried about being cold in our house, such as during a power outage in the winter, those fears were set aside when Multifunction Dog 2 (also known as Our Little Space Heater) came along. The first night she was with us, Pepper slept curled up in a tiny ball right under my chin. I tolerated that for one night, but if you know me, you know that I have to have near-perfect conditions for sleeping, and having a dog for a beard ain’t one of them. The second night, Pepper slept curled up at my back so that if I tried to roll over, I’d have to disturb her beauty sleep or risk flattening her. Also not ideal, although I did come up with a work-around (which I won’t bore you with). Before long, I had the brilliant idea to put her little doggy bed on top of our king-size bed and pile it with fleece blankets. She burrowed under (under the doggy bed itself, actually) and was more or less content. She is a burrower. (Bonus fact: Pepper fits inside one of Bruce’s sweatshirt pockets.) She’d much rather be glued to a human being than in her little bed, but the bed suffices. Because if Mama don’t get no sleep, ain’t nobody happy. And lest I forget Salsa’s function in this category, let’s just say she, too, is happy to be a bed warmer but knows how to take a hint.

Party Animal: When we take the Spice Dogs to events (festivals, farmers markets, Nanny’s house [where the “event” is a treat they’re not allowed at home]), they get a lot of attention. Pepper gets most of it because she’s tee-tiny and can be picked up by small children and generally doesn’t mind being handled. (Our girls are people dogs.) Salsa is just too happy to be out among people, smells and the occasional dropped hot dog to care that everybody loves tiny little Pepper. Everyone loves tiny little Pepper because they don’t live with her. She may be cuter, but Salsa is by far the gentler, more humble (although not always the quieter) of the duo. When given a treat, Pepper will race up, snatch it out of your hand and zoom away to her treat-eating spot without saying thank you. She acts like it’s the last morsel of food she will ever receive, and you have to count your digits in the aftermath. Salsa trots up, looks at you for a second with her soulful brown eyes, gently (really: gently) takes the dog biscuit from your hand and trots away to her designated treat-eating spot. Which brings me to …

Creature of Habit. If ever we could learn something valuable from our dogs, it’s in the area of consistency. For instance, each dog has a precise spot where she likes to eat her treats. And Pepper can tell time with her biorhythms. She knows when it’s precisely 7 p.m. (the final evening-treat time) or any other time she’s entitled to get a free piece of food. Salsa knows when it’s 4 a.m. and time to be let outside to alert the neighbors to the presence of squirrels, falling leaves, vampire bats and what-not. And you never know when a kid on a bike may be riding past the house at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Public Service Announcer: This is really Pepper’s function alone. She lets us know when Salsa should go outside, when Salsa should be let in or when Salsa is occupying her sister’s spot on the couch or the bed. And she is not above subterfuge. Pepper likes to sit outside on the deck in a sunny spot, or occasionally just inside the sliding door in a sunny spot on the carpet. When the sun moves, Pepper’s sunny spot moves, and sometimes action must be taken. If Salsa happens to be in Pepper’s newly positioned sunny spot, Pepper will helpfully let us know that Salsa would like to get up and go outside (or come inside). Sometimes we misunderstand, assuming that Pepper herself wants out or in, but we quickly realize that she just wanted the sunny spot vacated so she could take up residence.

Pepper also helpfully announces to us that she has just made potty on the floor. This is usually about 30 seconds after she has made an announcement that we misunderstood as a need to go outside to potty. It might be 2 a.m., but we’ve learned not to ignore her when she wakes us up like that – just in case it’s legit. We’ll go to the door, assuming she’ll trot right over and go out. She’ll stand 12 feet away looking at us, we’ll grumble and go back to bed (or back to whatever we were doing), and a half-minute later we’ll hear another announcement: “Hey, look what I did! I peed on the carpet! Again! Clean it up!” She’s very helpful and conscientious in that way.

Reminder of the Delicate Balance of Nature: In the aforementioned Cleanup Crew category, I alluded to Pepper’s switch from dry to canned food. My awareness of this necessity came quite by accident. Pepper had been sick, and the vet put her on soft food for a few days. One morning I noticed that when she ate the canned food, she didn’t run up on Salsa and antagonize her after sucking down her own food. It was almost vicious, this daily exchange over Salsa’s food dish. I would have to yell at Pepper in order to break up the fights, which almost came to physical violence sometimes. I thought the wet-food phenomenon might be an anomaly, so the next morning I gave Pepper dry food and stood by to watch. Sure enough, she “attacked” Salsa again. Morning 3: wet food, no fighting. So now we spend a little extra to buy canned food for Princess Pepper so that she will leave her sister alone at mealtime. Little twerp.

Morale Officer: When Bruce had his latest Crohn’s disease flare-up, his buddy Salsa may have saved him. She might not have saved his life, literally, but she saved his morale. In early 2007, Bruce had to quit working full time and before long couldn’t work at all. By October, he didn’t have a job. We had to sell his vehicle, so he didn’t have transportation during the day – even if he had felt like leaving the house – because I had to leave my work-from-home freelance job to get a 60-hour-a-week position with health insurance (but no overtime pay). The lingering effects of this flare-up lasted until 2010, so Bruce considered himself nothing more than a dog-sitter for a really long time. (Bruce literally learned to speak Dog. He could identify what was going on outside by Salsa’s different bark sounds.) And, yes, Pepper is a morale officer, albeit a more aloof one. She’s somewhat like a cat; if you can’t do something for her (feed her, keep her warm, toss her squeaky toy), she’s not always interested in your company. But she, too, is a constant presence and cuddly companion.

Loyal Buddy: We complain about soiled carpet, hairy furniture, middle-of-the-night prowl-fests, stinky blankets, loud barking and the fact that we can’t go anywhere for very long on the spur of the moment (it’s almost like having small children), but we wouldn’t trade our Spice Dogs for any amount of money, any material possession or any other creature on the planet. We’ve grown quite attached to the little goons.

The Spice Dogs. They’re stuck with us. And that’s a function with multiple rewards.

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