Greta loves people and loves to allow them to stroke her, but she’s been drummed out of the Pets on Wheels (http://www.petsonwheels.org) candidate corps.
I had been thinking about Greta’s need for affection and her willingness to give soft-eyed gazes and tongue caresses in return. She seemed to be a natural for visiting senior centers or assisted living or nursing homes.
We went first for an informal tour at a local continuing care retirement community. For her first visit to a strange place, Greta did well. She met people walking, in wheelchairs and beds. She sat down and let them pet her and talk about the dogs they remembered from younger days.
There was one bad moment when a man walked up, using a cane. Greta backed against me and tucked her tail between her legs. To her, the cane was a stick. She must have seen one raised against her, somewhere along her way. Mental note: be careful with Greta around anyone walking with a cane. One man had a cane by his chair, which she didn’t seem to mind. But I would have pulled her back if he had picked up the cane.
The volunteer coordinator suggested we qualify through Pets On Wheels, so Greta would get training as a visitor dog. We piled into the car and drove to Baltimore, where the screening was held.
On a sun-broiled summer afternoon, dogs lined the waiting area. It resembled, and probably was, a converted school gymnasium that now echoed to canine toenail clicks rather than children’s footsteps. There were little Scotties, patient golden retrievers who must have been elderly, because young goldens seem to have a lot of energy, and several just plain dogs. A table held official Pets on Wheels t-shirts and dog harnesses, for graduates of the program. Staff and visitors alike were female, not a man in the place.
Greta and I had plenty of time to wait, so after she sniffed every dog in the room, we walked outside to circle the building and check scents in the park across the street. At last the screener arrived, a wiry, dark-haired woman. She called Greta and me to a table. I started to make out a check, but she stopped me. No, one does not pay unless one passes.
The screener held Greta and began pinching the skin between her toes. Greta opened her mouth and wrapped it around the pinching hand. She did not bite down, but the warning was pretty clear: that hurts; stop it; now. The woman did not stop, but continued, I assume to see whether Greta would continue to mouth her hand. Short answer: yes.
Released, Greta returned to my side. She sat down and looked at the screener, apparently bearing her no ill will now that the pinching had been stopped.
“My job is to be mean,” the screener said. “And the meanest thing I can think of to do is pinch the skin between the toes. You never know what a patient is going to do, so the dog has to not react.”
The screener said the usual response from dog owners is to ask, “How can I work on that and get her to pass next time?”
I shook my head. “No. My goal is not that Greta should ever bite anyone, nor that anyone should ever be mean to her.”
I turned to Greta. “Well, kid, you flunked.”
We got back into the car. Greta curled in the back seat and napped, which I think was a good way to handle it. I fought my way around the beltway at rush hour. It could not be said that we got nothing out of the experience. Greta got to meet some nice, friendly dogs, and I got to thank my lucky stars I don’t have to drive the Baltimore beltway at rush hour every day.
(c) Donna R. Engle 2011