At the recent meeting of the Dogs of Dustlandia committee, I was invited to speak about the ancient ones who have crossed the rainbow bridge. Oral traditions are important since dogs have no thumbs so their handwriting is illegible, and their spelling is atrocious. The young ones were curious about the legendary Roxxi, who came to live with me way back in 2005. In dog years that’s considered ancient times. So here is her story.
It is a good thing Roxxi was a dog. If she had been a human, the consequences of her attitude and behavior would have been severe. In spite of her manic personality, I carry her memory close to my heart. She was my crazy little Rat terrier mix who drove us all nuts. She had a penchant for climbing over or digging under fences, pacing neurotically through the house, and had a nasty temperament with other dogs. Picking fights was a daily activity. We became regular clients at our local vet who stitched up a number of injuries resulting from either the fence escapades or the fighting.
During the meeting, our young female Nala seemed particularly fascinated. What happened to her? Was she like that as a puppy, Mama? Good questions, young princess. Sometimes we don’t know what happens to puppies before we bring them home, but in Roxxi’s case we knew. She was born on a farm that looked normal enough at first glance, but there were some rather serious personality disorders among the humans, and an overpopulation of puppies.
Competition for food was an ever-present conflict. As babies they had to fight for the kibble rations and scraps, so aggression was normal among all the dogs. One of her many siblings was brutally attacked for getting too close to the food and was left with a bad wound. His poor little head was misshapen. He survived, but was never fully functional and may have been blind in one eye. Yes, he came to live with us also, but not right away. Roxxi was the only child for about a month, and what a child she was. We had no idea how psychotic she could be. She was absolutely beautiful, very smart, and completely smitten with her new mama. She spent every possible moment at my side being adorable, and seemed like the perfect companion. Then we brought home her poor damaged brother, whom we named Cheech because of his goofy expression.
The transformation from angel to demon was quite alarming, but I expected she would calm down once we all settled into a routine. She did not. With each new addition to the dog-pack she got worse.
At this point Skorchie spoke up. We got into some pretty bad fights and we weren’t allowed to play together after I whooped a time or two. She was a meanie. Mama, why did you let her get away with that? How come you didn’t make her go to another home?
Skorchie raised a good point. Our lives were always complicated when she was here, having to be vigilant to keep her separated from certain dogs, extra trips to the vet for those stitches, and medications to calm her down because she was unbearably high strung and aggressive.
Trauma during early childhood can lead to severe problems for the rest of a dog’s life. The same is true for humans. Much of our irrational behavior and anxiety can be traced back to our early life. The difference between humans and dogs is that we have the ability to self-evaluate and move past the trauma responses we experience.
Paranoid ranting and aggressive behaviors are not a beneficial way to deal with other people. They may think we are crazy or out of control if we spout angry conspiracy theories and act in belligerent ways. Sometimes people have mental health issues that, if left untreated, can create the same kinds of unacceptable outbursts. My poor Roxxi did not possess the ability to go to therapy and examine her actions, so medicating and separating was all we could do, and to give her all the love she needed. I don’t regret a minute with her. She was loyal and loving towards us, although a bit creepy in her obsessive ways. One tennis ball was never enough. She wanted all of them and would fight you for them. On the other hand, she was the GOAT when it came to copperheads. She managed to rid the yard of quite a few over the years.
The meeting ended. The Dogs of Dustlandia had much to think about. Time for a good scratch and a nap.
Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher living her best life in rural Stone County with her husband and a pack of rescue dogs. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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