Professional Insane Dog Walker.

I haven’t written too much about Toby and Tootsie lately, and there’s several reasons for that. The main one is that the dogs are now completely housebroken, and no longer pooping or peeing everywhere, living in relative harmony with us.

There’s no real source of drama, and let’s just say nobody clicks on a TMZ article about how in love Khloe is with Lamar (it is important that one keeps up with the Kardashians) and how swimmingly everything is going in their marriage. People want mischief, excitement, drama, and the ability to go ‘I knew it!’ or ‘I told you so!’ when they read something.

So yes, it is relative peace and quiet in the Cheok household whenever the dogs are inside. No more broken toys, no more yellow puddles of joy to be cleaned up, no more guessing what the brown thing is on the floor anymore. Okay, so maybe once or twice a week it might happen, but it doesn’t faze us anymore.

Leave the house, however, and it is a different task altogether.

hand silhouette protecting paws of dog or cat or wild animal

Every time we walk the dogs it is like a Jason Bourne movie, and everyone knows how good I am at being a secret agent. Karen and I hover over a map of our suburb, tracing routes with the least amount of dog/bicycle activity based on our daily reconnaissance activities, plan our meeting points, synchronise our watches, and then wish each other good luck as we go out, knowing each time might be our last.

Okay, so it is not so dramatic, but let’s just say that there is a certain amount of fear and excitement (for me at least) whenever it is time to leave the house with the dogs. Our main problem is with Tootsie, and how crazy she gets whenever she meets other dogs.

Tootsie, is, shall we say, socially challenged. I think the problem is that as rescues, Tootsie (and Toby) probably have had very little exposure to other dogs as puppies, therefore they don’t know the rules of social engagement.

With the help of our trainer, so far, we have managed to subdue Tootsie’s lunging and mad barking whenever she sees a bicycle. (Hint: Throw food at Tootsie whenever a bicycle rides past. Like lots of it. Like American portions. Soon, she will learn to… be fat, and slow, and drowsy. Haha, no! It’s Pavlovian association – read a book!)

Whenever Tootsie sees another dog, however, she gets really excited. Think of the biggest Star Wars’ geek meeting Harrison Ford in person, or a Belieber going out on a date with the Biebs, or a Bindi Irwin fan (guilty) meeting her in person. Now take the same intensity and heartswell and multiply it by a hundred times, and you get Tootsie whenever she meets another dog. Her head perks up, her tail turns into a speedboat propeller, and she starts to pull on her leash.

‘Let’s play! Let’s be friends! Let’s play, let’s play, let’s play!’ she yells at the other dogs, as she snaps and lunges at them in kindred eagerness.

Of course, to the other dogs (and their terrified owners) it sounds a little more like this instead –

‘I’m going to kill you! And then I’m going to kill your family! And then I’m going to enjoy all your bones! And then I’m going to poop you out and sniff you!’ which is why the owners have always pulled their dogs away in fear while casting us dirty looks for raising the next canine Hannibal Lector.

Mirror image of silhouette of black dog on white background.

So yes, whenever we go out for walks now, we bring a pack of what I’d like to call the Doggie Trail Mix – an assembled mixture of shredded boiled chicken, kibbles, dried liver snaps and some Schmacko (Jingle: Dogs go absolutely wacko for Schmacko’s!) naughtiness.

These are what the trainer has described as high level treats for our dogs – the only treats capable of distracting them from another more intense stimulus – ie bicycles or other dogs. Armed with this arsenal of distraction, we walk our little suburb, trying to desensitise Toby and Tootsie to other dogs.

We try our best to ration these treats so that it will last the whole 45 minutes or hour that we are out. With the weather getting better, however, there are more and more owners walking their dogs out nowadays, which means that the treats do not last as long they should.

Just the other day, I was walking them by myself and we were on the home stretch going back to my house. I had exhausted most of my treats that day trying to calm Tootsie down whenever dogs approached. And there were a lot of dogs. Everywhere we turned and walked there seemed to be a dog and their owner, and most of my ‘ammunition’ had been spent in the last 5 minutes prior to the home stretch.

The home stretch itself is usually an uneventful straightforward 200 metre walk home where dog activity is anywhere from minimum to non-existent.

That day, however, I spotted a group of four adults chatting away behind a parked car in the distance. Now, as a dog owner looking out for other dogs, you sort of develop a sixth sense for whenever a dog is in the area – the owners are talking but their heads are down, tracking something moving on the ground. Either they are admiring each others well-defined ankles, or more likely –

Yup, sure enough. A white and brown beagle appears.

I turn and walk the other way with Tootsie and Toby into a back alley lane and try to approach my house from the other side. I was busy looking at Toby when suddenly I felt a lunge from Tootsie’s leash and I looked up a little too late to see this tradie coming out of his house with his miniature dog. Tootsie went into full Ballistic Barking ™ mode, wanting so badly to just play with the little dog (until it died, or that’s how she made it sound anyway).

To my annoyance, the tradie in his bright orange vest challenged Tootsie’s death threats by walking towards us instead of away. I threw the last of the treats at Tootsie but it wasn’t working – the morsels on the floor wastefully ignored as she continued her playful barking/death threats towards the little hairy potato walking towards us. I had to pull her away to a corner until the little minx was out of her line of view before she would settle down.

I looked at my doggie trail mix bag – ah, crap – I was completely out of food save for one last kibble. I had to make a run for it.

I waited until the small dog was truly out of sight before I hurried them along. I turned the corner and I could see my front door about a stone’s throw away when suddenly I spotted a lady approaching in the distance busily looking at her phone, and although I couldn’t see her dog, I noticed immediately the tell-tale leash hanging from her hand.

I turned around with the dogs. One treat, no way out. This was it.

Gentlemen, this is what we’ve been training for.

black silhouette of a hand on a white background

I looked around. My mind whirred at a hundred miles a minute – what do I do now?  I couldn’t turn back now – the place was crawling with other dogs.

I looked up and I saw the parked cars lining the street. I hurried Tootsie and Toby across the road, and then lunged and rolled (or that’s how it played in my head anyway) towards a parked car just in time as the other dog pulled into view on my right. I got Tootsie Galore to Sit! and then look at the last kibble in my hand.

Seconds that seemed like a lifetime passed – with the car obstructing the other dog from her view and Tootsie Galore staring intently at my Last Stand Kibble, I manage to distract her enough until the dog passed completely out of sight.

I heaved a sigh of relief, fed Tootsie the kibble and dashed the last ten metres home without any further event. Whew!

The name is Cheok. Heng Cheok. Professional Insane Dog Walker.

(*Parked car explodes. Roll end credits with sultry Adele singing and silhouettes of  leggy female dogs.*)

The ‘Poo’ In Poodle.

Sweet chocolate cream in bowl on table close-up

Sweet chocolate cream in bowl on table close-up

If you are a pet owner, or if you have a child, there is a singular, uncomfortable but undeniable truth – you have eaten their poop at some point in your life.

Yup, whether it is dog, cat, bird or little Tommy, you would have eaten their poop at some point in your life. Oh, it’s not like you’ve smeared it like Nutella over your morning toast or topped your ice cream with it. I am saying that at some point in your parenthood, a small amount of the faeculent particles of your beloved pet/child would have made its way down your mouth, into your gullet and into your digestive system.

Think about it. Your pet/child poops everywhere and at different times of the day, whether you are awake to watch them or otherwise. You have to clean up the surprise mess, then the pet/child’s bottom, and then throw away the paper towels or wet wipes, all without trying to touch your hands or your kitchen surface.

Even if you successfully maneuver this Mission Improbable, your pet/child will sometimes scamper around with unwiped bottoms, putting their butts onto every possible surface in your home – coffee tables, couches, wall corners (what? it was itchy!). Your hands would touch these surfaces then grab that apple, or chocolate (haha!) or make dinner.

‘Oh no!’ you protest. ‘Not in my house.  My pets are toilet trained, I triple-wipe their bottoms after every evacuation, and the house has a coating of Glen 20 on it – that’s how much I use it. There is no way I could have ever eaten poop, ever.’

Curious! For someone who doesn’t eat crap, you sure talk a lot of it.

(*mic drop*)

No matter how clean you would like to think you are, you cannot be eternally vigilant, ergo, you have eaten their poop at some point in your life.

So far, we have been pretty lucky with the dogs with regards to poop. Apart from the initial dumps in the house while they were still feeling out the place, we have yet to deal with many other faecal-related incidents.

Urine, on the other hand, I think we have earned ourselves a Division 1 Certificate of Peepee Handling and Removal (an actual college diploma course) in.

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Coming home everyday when we’ve left the dogs alone for hours is always an adventure. Opening the door is like opening the garage door in American Beauty or being a contestant in a game show I’d like to call Schroedinger’s Dogs – you never know what awaits you.

Will you open Door No. 1, revealing relative peace and quiet, with everything in its place? Or will it be Door No. Poo, where there is chaos – ripped up toilet rolls, devoured treats carelessly left on the bench top, or worse still, what Karen and I christian as ‘gifts’ – little packages of poop and pee that the dogs left for us.

The way we have tried to hedge our bets is to crate the dogs. Crating, as I understand it, is an American concept of putting the dogs into crates which will settle them – a man’s cave or a ladies’ den, if you will. The idea is that the dogs remain calm in the crates as it is their safe space.

We first bought a crate big enough for both Tootsie and Toby, and although it did have a settling effect for them initially, the peace started to unravel as they realised that the only time they were being led into the crates was when we were going out. This led to a lot of crate-hate developing, resulting in the both of them fighting within the crate sometimes or whimpering to be let out. No man in a proper cave has ever whimpered to be let out.

We then had the bright idea of buying a second, smaller crate for Toby. Toby loved the idea so much he ripped a hole in the top of the crate, for him to up periscope whenever we try to sneak out of the house. I think if he could jump in the crate and come after us, which would be both a terrifying and a cute sight, he would.

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Anyway, last Thursday evening, we came home after a night out for several hours. We opened the door to the unmistakable waft of eau de merde de chien (Fragrance of Dog Poop), which caused us to groan, because it meant that one dog (or both?!) had pooped in their respective crates.

We immediately went to Toby’s crate with a disappointed sigh – ‘Tobyyyyy….!‘. Walking the dogs earlier today, Toby had semi-squatted mid-walk and pooped an unnaturally soft mushy poop, so we thought he had done it again in his crate. We unzipped the flap door, and to our surprise, Toby’s crate was spotless, with the innocent occupant giving us a puzzled look. (You want bibimbap?)

This led us to the immediate horrible realisation that it was, instead, Tooootsie! and we had not yet finished yelling out her name when she bolted out of her now unzipped crate and ran all over the house, her paws stained with the mushy poop she had been sitting in.

Tootsie, poor thing, had sat in her diarrhoea-ish poop for who knows how long, and was doing her typically excited scamper around the house. Except, you know, this time she was Poopcahontas, and was painting our mostly white home with the Colours of Her Poop.

‘You think you can crate me when you want to,
The crate is now my prison and my loo,
But with my footsteps I will teach you, 
The things you never knew, about my poo!

Have you ever heard the….’ she sang as she danced across the house, wind in her hair.

Beautiful girl in style of the American Indians dancing in the rays of the autumn sun. Western style. Jeans fashion.

Crap! Like literally! In my mind I was like ‘Ohshitohshitohshit’ while trying to catch her. Never try to catch Poopcahontas. She is a free spirit, and must  dance across the face your living room, spreading her colours everywhere.

Karen, the eternal pragmatist and Voice of Reason in our relationship, kicked immediately into action, and told me to clean up downstairs while she showered Tootsie, who was now Vector No.1.

And so with much convincing, we got Tootsie into the shower, and Karen started washing her down. Meanwhile, I surveyed the carnage downstairs, trying to decide where to start the clean-up after Typoop Tootsie had blown through. There were pooprints everywhere, and it is hard to think straight when you have the smell of eau de merde de chien caressing your nostril hairs.

I got a large bag and threw away the poop-filled blanket that had lined her crate, and started taking antibacterial household wipes and Glen 20 to every possible surface in the house. If you are a parent, antibacterial wipes and cleaning products are your best friends. Stock up these things like there is an apocalypse coming. Because the apocalypse is already here.

Whenever I am overwhelmed with a seemingly insurmountable task like this one, I always pay attention to the little inner voice in me which says ‘Be calm. This, too, will be over soon. Do what you have to do, and before you know it, you will be sitting down on your couch, sipping tea and laughing at this.’

I looked at my couch.

And sure enough, at the end of the night, we were both sitting in a corner with a fresh smelling Tootsie, our eyes wide and unblinking in traumatised fear, while we gently rocked to and fro, while whispering over and over again ‘Dogs are our friends, dogs are our friends, dogs are our…’

Haha, no! The couch was spared, thank God! Man, it certainly made for a very long night and a lot of cleaning, both of Poopsie, erm, I mean, Tootsie, and the home. But yes, this too, did pass – we just had to patiently push through until we got to the other side.

Apple cider vinegar discourage dogs and cats from chewing on furniture

We no longer crate Toby or Tootsie nowadays when we leave the house, and we always make sure they have access to the Backyard Toilet when we are away. So far they have been pretty good, fingers crossed, although Tootsie from time to time has done small re-enactments of her favourite Disney princess.

Every friend of ours who has ever owned a dog or a pet would tell us this one truth – poop does not faze them anymore.

I am certainly beginning to see that now – just this morning I spotted two more mounds of poop that either Poopsie or the Notorious To-B.I.G. Business had made. Luckily, there were no trailing pooprints anywhere else.

I shrugged, a no big deal pout flashing across my face, and bent down, plastic bag in one gloved hand and a ton of household wipes in another, to Take Care of Business.

Sometimes I Don’t Want To Be A Parent Anymore.

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It is now officially two months since we have had team Toto! Which is about fourteen months in dog years! (I don’t know, can we actually convert it like that? In all fairness, it has felt like more than a year!)

Like all new parents, there is still a time for many firsts – Toby’s first time obeying the command ‘Down’ where he lies down on all fours, Tootsie’s first longest lasting toy (a home made toy made of two fabulously pink socks wrapped over two flattened mineral water bottles, and tied together – Voila, nunchuk Mt Franklins! Bruce Lee would be… erm, confused.) and their first ever shower by us!

They actually tolerated the showers quite well, although it was quite scary watching them totally wet – they looked like large radioactive hairy rodents who were wondering where their cheese went, and were ready to kill whoever stole it. Fortunately, we blew dry them into their fluffy cute selves again. Massive rodent attack averted!

There are still some things that we have not gotten accustomed to. Case in point – Tootsie’s obsession with tennis balls. She would always play with them near our entertainment unit which has this gap underneath. Inevitably, the ball would roll under the unit, causing Tootsie to tunnel away at our impenetrable tiles in order to get her ball, failing which she barks angrily at the entertainment unit. The entertainment unit, to its credit, has yet to retaliate.

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We would finally succumb to Tootsie’s incessant barking and get on our knees to retrieve the tennis ball while she sniffs at our butt or licks our plumber’s crack. We throw the ball into the dining room, sending Tootsie scampering madly, and she retrieves the ball, only to play near the entertainment unit and push it underneath again. We try to ignore this stupid repetitive behaviour but her barking each time is rather persuasive.

I have always had a fantasy that we would have well-behaved intelligent dogs. You know, like Lassie. The reality, however, would look something more a little like this if the title role was played by Tootsie:

Timmy’s Mother is washing dishes at the kitchen sink, with her favourite flowery apron on.

Toot-ssie comes bounding in.

Toot-ssie: Woof! Woof. Woof.

Timmy’s Mother: What is it, Toot-ssie?

Toot-ssie: Woof! Woof, woof. Woof. Woof!

Timmy’s Mother (who somehow understands Dog Morse code, suddenly develops a concerned look on her face): What is it you say, Toot-ssie? Little Timmy is trapped down the well?! Oh no!

Timmy’s mother starts to undo her apron while rushing to the well. She rescues little Timmy from the well, a little bruised and dirtied but who is otherwise unscathed while Toot-ssie sniffs her bottom. She hugs little Timmy tightly and brings him back to the house.

Toot-ssie waits for Timmy’s mother to be distracted by housework before grabbing Timmy and pushing him down the well again.

Woof! Woof, woof. Woof. Woof!

Rough Collie or Scottish Collie over nature background

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Seriously, these dogs!

There are so many joys in having dogs – their unconditional love, their excitement in seeing you whether you’ve been gone for two days or two minutes, and they’re just so darned cute sometimes. I feel my heart rate slow down and my blood vessels relax every time I run my fingers through their soft fur.

What kills me is still the occasional random barking at 2 am in the morning, the 530 am starts when they are scratching at our doors, whenever the two fight violently over a bone or a toy, every time Tootsie goes ballistic at other dogs or cyclists.  We are walking back alleys and quiet lanes in order to avoid other dogs, so violent have their reactions been at the sight.

Yesterday Tootsie devoured a whole jar of dog food which we (erm, I) had accidentally left open. And just when we thought we had the dogs toilet trained, Toby the Pond Maker surprises us with another pee next to his bed on the landing this morning.

I think my main problem is that I expect these dogs to be human beings, in fact adult human beings, which they are not. I somehow expected that with some training they would stop barking at cars which drive pass the house, that they would be Great Friends to All Other Dogs and learn to share and play with each other, and that they would stop putting poop in their mouths.

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Which explains why two months in, as much as we love these dogs, we occasionally still toy with the idea of giving them away. Not that we ever would, of course; but I think it is something that both Karen and I have had the chance to honestly talk and work through.

We joke about it with our friends, and we get some interesting responses, the most frequent of which is – Yeah, at least they’re not children, those you can’t give back! Mired in that single sentence is a little anguish, a little surrendered humour, and a lot of truth.

I am binge-watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix at the moment, which is fast replacing Frasier as one of my favourite sitcoms of all time. How I Met Your Mother follows the story of Ted, a 20-something year old New Yorker who takes nine whole seasons to explain to his kids about how he finally met their mother. The sitcom follows Ted through disastrous relationship after disastrous relationship; through it all, the only constant is his friendship to the wise-cracking Barney and his first love, the tomboy Robin, and the happily married couple Lily and Marshal Eriksen.

PASADENA - JULY 15: Cast of "How I Met Your Mother" at CBS's TCA Press Tour at The Rose Bowl on July 15, 2006 in Pasadena, CA.

There is a wonderfully poignant scene on a rooftop of their apartment one winter’s evening, where Lily, who has just become a mother to baby Marvin, is trying to get Ted to confess that he still has feelings for Robin, who is now engaged to Barney. (complicated, I know!)

In order for Ted to admit to this awful secret, she trades him with one of her own darkest secrets – ‘Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t a Mom. Sometimes I wanna pack a bag and leave in the middle of the night, and not come back,’ she blurts out, her voice almost choked with tears.

‘You serious?’ Ted asks her.

‘I don’t know,’ she wipes away a tear. ‘I mean, I love being a Mum. I mean, I love Marvin so much. But do you remember when I wanted to be an artist? Art was my whole life, but now, it’s been months since I have even picked up a brush. I spend the whole day taking care of kids at my job, and then I come home and it’s more of the same’ – her hands fling up in despair – ‘it just never lets up. It… it’s just, really, really hard, Ted.’

They go on to talk a bit more, and after awhile, she quietly makes her peace with this difficult admission and with being a mother, while Ted realises he has to let go of Robin.

This wonderfully written scene brings to the fore something that is rarely talked about, because we are all so afraid how terrible it will make us look. Parenthood is supposed to come naturally. The desire to sacrifice yourself for your children should be an innate one, and if it isn’t, there must be something wrong with you.

Well, it is not so easy. How do you go from being an adult whose only concern was for your own wellbeing to one who is now responsible for another life, whose schedules and priorities are now dictated by these little beings who are dependent on you? They demand your time, your finances, your sleep, your careers, your dreams – they turn your world upside down.

How do you go from being someone whose love was transactional – where whether or not you were my friend or my lover was dictated by how you made me feel or what you could do for me – to one where it was unconditional – that I love you because I can, because of who am, despite who you are or what you can offer me.

For my friends who believe in a God who reaches out to us, I guess parenthood offers a glimpse into the agape or unconditional love of God.

I am not divine. I am human, and sometimes I fail at being even a decent one.

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I look at my dogs and wonder why they can’t be better behaved. We sometimes watch with envy other owners with their well trained dogs who sit quietly while they brunch, who invite people to pet them, who get along famously with other dogs. And then we look at our own madly barking ones, who cannot even stand the sight of television dogs, and we are quietly disappointed.

I can only imagine the frustrations of parents with poorly behaved children – who go around yelling the place down, who have to attend the principal’s office for the eighth time this year because little Johnny punched another kid, who are paying bail because their child was caught for drug possession. I can imagine them remembering the 3 am wakes to feed the child, all the money spent on clothing them, feeding them and putting a roof over their heads, and thinking, This is the thanks I get?!

And who can blame them. I can only remember with guilt all the times I have upset my own parents, and finally understanding their exasperation when they say “Lei ah! Kum kuai geh! Seng yat te mm teng wah! Yau si hah, sang kau char siew te ho ko sang lei ah! Ngo ho yee sek cho ke char siew ah!” (You naughty child! Always so disobedient! Sometimes I wish I had given birth to a piece of barbequed pork instead! At least I could have eaten the pork!)

Asian parents – even when they scold you, it is food-related.

And yes, they would have eaten us. Ask any of your Asian friends.

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Not all of us struggle with this. Some of us take to parenthood naturally and some of us accept it as our lot in life. Some of us, though, will wrestle with these ‘awful’ thoughts and worry about how selfish or self-centered we are, and what terrible human beings we must be.

Let’s talk about it. Let us say that parenthood is not easy, and sometimes it is a full-out struggle. Let us admit that some days we want to give the kids away. Let us be okay with that confession. Let us allow a healthy discussion of these feelings. Let us make our peace with parenting, and support each other through what is actually such a challenge for first-time parents.

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‘One day when you have your own kids, you’ll understand,’ our parents used to say. And then one day we finally do understand.

May we all forgive ourselves and grow into the parents we had always hoped we would be.

Poop Du Jour.

So it is Week 6 of #totoadventures and so much has happened in the past fortnight! Toby and Tootsie have both been to the groomers, who took one look at all their matted hair and decided we had to go crew cut to allow it to grow back naturally again. It was hard enough hearing their heart-breaking whimpering as I left them alone to these canine barbers, but even worse was coming back to see a completely bald Toby, who had lost his boyish Korean boyband member good-looks, and now just looked like a withered old Korean auntie who asks if you would like more bibimbap.

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I have decided that the actual make up of these two dogs are:

Tootsie   Toby
 5% fur  90% fur
 10% meat and bone  10% meat and bone
 85% brain  May contain traces of brain

We also had a dog behaviourist (Ooo, an animal Mentalist! Not as cute as Simon Baker, though. Oh wait, that’s right, I am a straight married man.) come over and teach us how to best settle the dogs and learn the Request-Response-Reward technique. This is me trying the Request-Response-Reward technique:

Request: ‘Toby, sit!’
Response: *Toby stares at me blankly, the wind swirling in his right ear and coming out his left*
Request (again): ‘Toby, sit!’
Response: *The wind is blowing fiercer now, whipping up a frenzy in such a vast amount of space*
Request (please, Toby): ‘Toby, sit!’
Response: *The wind is now blowing at full gale force, if there were anything in there it would be holding on for dear life now! But, y’know, nothing.*
Request (defeated): ‘Okay, Toby. Look like an old Korean auntie asking me if I’d like some more bibimbap.’
Response: Toby does it!
Reward: ‘Good boy Toby! Good boy! So clever!’ *treats galore*

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Okay, so it wasn’t so bad. Toby can now 1. sit 2. shake hands 3. up! and has also been seen to fetch the occasional ball.  Tootsie is, on the other hand, yawning frequently at these tasks which she has already mastered awhile ago and is wondering when we would get the unicycle already so she can ride it on a tightrope 50 metres in the air, juggling doggie treats with one paw whilst holding an umbrella in her other.

For all their differing intelligence, these dogs are pretty much the same when they go out on walks. They are sniffing everything from telephone poles to grassy knolls, and are still barking madly at other dogs (the AniMentalist assures us that if we expose our dogs to other dogs in a graded fashion, they may finally be able to play with other dogs calmly, oh,  in about ten years) but were surprisingly quiet when their Master (T.O.H.) was swooped by an idiot magpie the other evening while on a walk with them.

You don’t got my back, dawgs. You don’t got my back. (The magpie gots my back. The back of my head, to be precise. Repeatedly.)

What is even more frustrating is that these dogs are indiscriminately putting shit into their mouths. I mean, like, literal poop. I mean, I would be walking with them, my eyes dead up in the air looking for swooping Collingwood mascots, and the next minute I look down, and Tootsie and Toby are both sniffing vigorously at another dog’s poop, with the occasional tasting of these delightful hors d’oeuvres.

‘I say, Toby,’ says Tootsie. ‘Come and sample these fine delights. Come here, good chap, and allow me to train your nose. Take a whiff of that poop. Go ahead now, take a whiff. Nice and deep now. Now, tell me, Toby,what can you smell?’

‘Poop!’ barks Toby.

‘Ah yes, good sir. That is indeed an astute observation, but you see, there are so many more intricacies than mere poop to be enjoyed in this wonderful little morsel. Go ahead, take another deep breath…’

‘Poop!’ Toby barks again.

‘Yes, yes. But look, smell it now, inhale the oakiness and musk of this poop, and if you are really careful, sir, you will detect fine traces of shredded chicken and beef, some carrots and dried dog food. It is, *sniff sniff* I believe, Hills Science Diet Healthy Development and this poop is *sniff sniff* about 23 hours old, which makes it a great vintage. I believe it has been aged before for about *sniff sniff* 3 hours in a *sniff sniff* two-year-old *sniff sniff* Labradoodle, and is that some tissue paper I detect? Ah, wonderful!’

‘Poop!’ Toby agrees.

‘Go ahead now, carefully put a tiny piece onto your tongue, and ohp… sure, inhale the whole piece. That works too. Can you taste the subtle hints of the chicken and the slightly overpowering taste of the dried dog food in there sir? The chalkiness of its vintage should bring out the butteriness of the beef.’

‘Taste poop!’ Toby nods in agreement, his mouth crunching on the poop-truffle. ‘Much yum! Very more!’

‘Okay, now just take another small… Say, I do say. Excuse me, do you mind, The Original Hengster? I am trying to teach Toby here the finer art of poop appreciation. You want him to have a bit of class don’t you?’

‘Toby! Tootsie!” I cluck my tongue in frustration. “NO!! Poop is bad for you!” I say, pulling them away.

‘How do you know?’ Tootsie’s educated gaze challenges me. ‘Have you tried some before?’

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There are some flower beds around a park nearby where I bring them on walks, and I no longer let them sniff in amongst the leaves, because I have realised to my horror, that is actually a poop-fet (a crappy buffet, a Smorgy’s if you will). Too often I have had to pull them away from sampling some other dog’s confectionery hidden amongst the plants there.

Just the other night, we had a steamboat dinner at my house and Mum and my brother and sister-in-law were over. Toby and Tootsie kept coming to the table repeatedly hoping for scraps. We have a No Scrap policy in our house, so they eventually lost interest and slinked defeated onto their beds, watching our festivities from afar. They finally drifted off into a disappointed sleep when it came time for dessert.

Now Karen had gotten us a special treat for dessert – Malaysian durians packed away in a box. Now for the uninitiated, the durian is a most divisive fruit – you either love it (in which case, you are, officially, Asian) or you hate it (in which case, most definitely, Caucasian). It is known as both the ‘King of Fruits’ and ‘a mixture of cheese, vomit and farts’ depending on your leanings. No sooner had I cut the plastic wrapper holding the box of these fruits when Toby and Tootsie suddenly snapped awake, leapt out of their beds and quickly approached the table – so mesmerising was the durian.

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‘Ah Toby, can you smell that?’ Tootsie’s tail wagged in excitement. ‘The intoxicating mixture of truffles and honey and milk and cream and day-old sock and custard. How heavenly, how marvellous! See? The humans enjoy their poop too!’

(P.S. Karen wants me to tell you that a lot of creative license was used in the writing of this blog. She reassures you that our dogs do not actually eat poop. It is still safe for them to lick your hands.)

Of UnderDogs and Shuttlecocks.

When we first got Toby and Tootsie, we knew that they were poodle crosses, but we didn’t actually know what with. We made a lot of jokes about how Tootsie was crossed with someone handsome and intelligent, like George Clooney (I’m assuming he’s intelligent) and Toby, well, Toby was probably crossed with a Minion, cute, and ‘Baa… Naa… Naa…’, if you know what I mean.

The mystery was revealed this week when we went through their papers in order to set them up for pet insurance (Hello Medibank, do you cover eviscerated Teddy Bears?). Tootsie is, of course, crossed with a Schnauzer, those cute little ‘old man’ dogs, which explains her hunting pedigree, effortless elegance and gorgeous gray coat. Toby, on the other hand, is crossed with a Shih Tzu. Which makes Toby a Shiht Poo, which, once again explains everything… sigh.

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I thought we were making progress the other day – I was trying to train both the dogs to ‘Sit’, ‘Go up!’, and ‘Go down’. For Tootsie, this was revision – she’s got these three moves down pat ever since we got her. For Toby, this was summer school, if you catch my drift. He can now almost Sit on command, and I pray that he never confuses it with ‘Sh!t’ on command, otherwise it will be a very messy affair.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when in saying ‘Up!’, Tootsie immediately assumes the position, as usual, and Toby actually climbs up with his front legs onto the chair where I was sitting. The treats could not leave my hand quick enough to praise Toby for his progress, and he repeated it a second time, which was just the greatest thrill for me. Yay, we’re getting there! I thought. Maybe I am a good father after all! – my imaginary hands reaching all the way to my back to pat my imaginary shoulders.

The joy was short-lived though, because on the third ‘Up’, treat in hand, Toby just sat there with a blank expression. Looking into his eyes was like looking into the Abyss, it was like looking into the Earth of Genesis 1:2, awaiting God to breathe life into it – formless and void. I had to shake myself away from the gaze as I felt myself being sucked into the vacuum that was Toby’s mind.

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Even as I write this, Tootsie paws at me to come and play, and I oblige (being the tough, no-nonsense marshmallow that I actually am). We play a game of tug-of-war with a twice-dead rubber chicken, and I am trying to distract Tootsie so that I can throw the tennis ball for Toby to fetch. Toby has been actually playing fetch with the tennis ball of late, which is encouraging, but only if Tootsie is distracted. Otherwise, Tootsie is far too lightning quick for Toby’s golem-like reflexes – Schnauzer 1 : Shih Tzu 0 every time.

I am tugging hard at the chicken, right, and Tootsie’s eyes actually follow the ball while pulling at the chicken with the crazed ferocity of a caffeined-up multi-tasker. I throw the ball, and Toby goes after it. The ball lands behind a tin, out of sight, and Toby trundles back, confused. It’s gone! his open mouth says. It disappeared! Are you sure? I say, eyeing the ball from where I am. Yup, poof! No more! his open mouth says again. I facepalm myself with my non chicken-wielding hand.

I go to retrieve the ball, and I am reminded of a story I heard last week. A friend was telling me about his Uncle’s German Shepherd in India, whose name was Donkey. Why do you call him Donkey? he asked his Uncle. Because when we bring him to a park, and we try to play fetch, we throw the ball and we are the ones retrieving the ball, sighs the Uncle. Donkey just sits there without moving.

Toby. Donkey Junior.

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Part of the reason for Toby’s slow progress, I feel, is that Tootsie actually gets in the way of Toby’s learning. Tootsie is so hyper-intelligent and often so selfish, that she is the one who gets first dibs on all the toys, and the first to get to any thrown object, and she has not been one to include Toby in most of the play. We were hoping she would be more sisterly, but their relationship is like a bratty teenage girl picking on her two year old brother.

Which brings my mind to  Sunday badminton. We have a group that meets every Sunday to play badminton. Badminton, for the uninitiated, is the Asian version of tennis, except that this is tennis for ninjas. It is played with racquets and a feather-light shuttlecock, and requires lightning-fast reflexes, a strong wrist and dazzling footwork to be able to land the shuttlecock in your opponents’ court.

It is actually quite a good group that we play with, actually, with different skill levels and man, some of them are just a joy to watch, with their elegant net-play, their powerful leaping smashes and their confusing cross-court shots.

How good am I at badminton, you ask? Well, let’s just say that I am the Tootsie of the badminton world.

Oh sorry, did I say Tootsie? I meant Toby. I am the Toby of the badminton world, a lot of chasing after the ‘ball’ to little effect, setting up my body to smash and then catching wind with my racquet instead, a perpetually perplexed look on my face as I play. I have once or twice been tempted to pee on the court.

Because the court is booked for two hours and each game lasts only about ten minutes, we often mix and match players so that everyone gets a chance to play.

It is always difficult when there are mixed levels of experience and skill on the same court. I have great respect for the Tootsies of the badminton world who are able to Toby-fy themselves – they bring their play down to your level, their cultured wrists attenuating the strength of their smashes and they don’t care if they win or lose, they just want to make sure a good time was had by all. Of my group, all the players are of this mould, which makes for a fun Sunday evening.

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I have heard of, and don’t really understand, though, the Tootsies who remain Tootsies, and would snigger at your suggestion for a game, or who would attempt to murder you with their smashes (Cause of death: Shuttlecocked), or growl at you when you miss a shot. Hey dude, let’s pretend it’s Sunday evening at the Maribyrnong Sports College and not March at the All-England finals.

I do get it, sometimes, though. You want a good workout, you want to be able to play at your level best. You want to win. Well, there will be opportunities for that. I believe the sign of a true master is someone who is so comfortable with him- or herself that they are able to then forfeit this constant need for victory in order for everyone to have a good time and to encourage the weaker players.

Which is why when I look at Tootsie, I just wish that she was a little kinder and more inclusive to Toby, you know? Instead they get involved in these little dogfights (punpunpunpun) when Tootsie grabs at the tennis ball that poor Toby was trying to go after as well.

Ah well, we as the adults have to get involved, I guess. Toby is slowly but surely growing in confidence, and we actually had him grabbing at a toy with Tootsie the other day, which warms me right in the shuttlecocks.

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Yo, Dawg.

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Walking Tootsie and Toby has been really difficult of late. I don’t mind the pee or picking up their poo, but whenever we meet other dogs, I always feel that there is a 15% chance of certain mauling or death. My certain mauling or death, that is.

Tootsie and Toby have both been growing in confidence with every walk. In fact, together, with me as their leader, they think that we are some kind of a bad-ass gangbanger crew.

They walk with that assured swagger like they own the place, y’know? Tootsie (a.k.a Tootpac) and Toby (a.k.a the Notorious To-B.I.G.) goin’ round town with their head dawg, erm (quick, what’s a good street name for me?) The Original Hengster just rollin’ in our ‘hood, marking out our territory, yaknowwhaddImsayin’?

They bark like they are bigger dogs. They are not bigger dogs. In fact in the scale of the Dog World, I think they come in somewhere between Giant Rodent and Petite. But Tootpac and The Notorious To-B.I.G. don’t know that.

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Case in point, Monday evening.

So me and my dawgs were just walkin’ the parks, y’ know? Just doin’ our thang, pissin’ on trees (the dogs, that is. I don’t piss on trees. I urinate on them.) and poopin’ everywhere (once again, just the dogs, ‘cos y’know, jail time for indecent exposure if I did it), and then suddenly Tootpac pulls at her leash. The Notorious To-B.I.G. is straining as well, because in the distance, there were dogs from the Rival Gang, y’know?

Let me paint you a picture of these dogs. These dogs were mean-ass Dobermans, black as night, standing the height of a human person and they looked like they had spent time in prison for killing other dogs (and maybe a human or two), you know what I mean? These were bad ass motherfather dogs, if you catch my drift. They just stood at attention, staring on bemusedly at these two little living mops yelping at them, while they silently sharpened their teeth.

Yo you! Hey you! Hey ugly! Hey stupid! Tootpac yelped. I bet my Dad can beat up your Dad!

Yeah you! Hey you! Hey! Hey! The Notorious To-B.I.G. echoed, with not enough vocabulary to throw any meaningful insults. My Dad, your Dad, bam!

And then I saw their Dad walk up to these three unleashed cold-blooded murderers – this scrawny Asian dude who I am sure I could have taken on, and maybe even beat the crap out of (at a game of Scrabble or Magic The Gathering ™ or something. Maybe.)

But it wasn’t Dad I was worried about. I looked at the dogs and I could already feel their teeth clenched shut against my neck (or worse, hanging off my googly bits) and a painful, bloody visit to the hospital with emergency doctors sniggering at the triage notes.

Come on, Tootpac. Come on, To-B.I.G. I said hurriedly. I, urm, remember a store we urm, have to rob, I said, trying not to sound like my testicles were riding high in my pelvis.

I had to pull hurriedly at the leash to budge the leaping, barking Team Toto away from these Canine Crips before they got killed, or actually, before got killed.

And so we ran away into a nearby lane, their little hearts pounding in excitement, my little heart pounding in a mixture of fear and relief.

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No sooner had I taken a breath when Tootpac and the Notorious To-B.I.G. started pulling at their leashes again and barking, and I ran along with them anxiously. What? What? I yelled. I looked behind me to see if the Three Horsemen of Death were chasing us.

Instead, to my relief, all the ruckus was actually caused by this pretty little snow-white Maltese dog bounding happily and quietly in front of her assured owner, who was jogging while dressed in a grey and pink tracksuit. She may or may not have been attractive. (I was too busy looking at the ground, ashamed of my two misbehaving gangster wannabes to look her in the eye).

Alright, calm down, dawgs. Don’t be goin’ all crazy over dem pretty ladies! Dem all just love you and leave you, you know. And you, Tootpac! You a girl, dawg! Be cool! was what The Original Hengster should have said.

Instead, T.O.H. just kept tugging madly at the leash and saying ‘Come on, this way!’ wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him up. Or perhaps, I could go back to the Three Horsemen of Death and let Tootpac throw a few more insults, and then, just, y’know, see what happens.

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After all the excitement of dodging rival gangs and pretty women, we ended up in the third dog park in our area.

Tootpac decided that now was a good time for a poop, and so squatted to take care of business. T.O.H. was clumsily searching in his pocket for a plastic bag to pick up the poop in and was bending over to retrieve Tootpac’s No.2 when once again I felt a tug on the leash. I was half-bent with my plastic-bag semi-wrapped around the poop, when I looked up, and then, like a horror movie, I saw – almost in slow motion – my worst nightmare. An entire flock of seagulls spread across the park, begging to be chased down and barked at.

I could see it happening – Tootpac pulling wildly at the leash, Tootpac’s No. 2 (not the fragrance) flying up mid-air while The Notorious To-B.I.G. in all his clumsiness would position himself perfectly beneath my feet so that I would trip, and land face first in Tootpac’s Poop-pack.

My mouth almost closed into a slow ‘NOOooooo!!!!….’ imagining the horror that was about to unfold.

Mercifully, Tootpac backed down, and actually did not bark or run at the seagulls. She just stared curiously at them, and I gratefully walked to the dustbin and disposed of the evidence before pulling them slowly away.

Maybe this posse’s not so bad after all, I thought, walking now with my own swagger. Maybe they are starting to look at me like some kind of leader. Maybe I am The Original Hengster after all.

And then I tripped over The Notorious To-B.I.G.

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These dogs, these dawgs, these dogs. Sigh. They will be the life and death of me. They bark wildly at other dogs, this morning they ran blindly across the streets to bark at a family who had brought their young daughter, all dressed in pink, out for a scoot on her scooter. I almost had a heart attack! They were unleashed! Luckily they did not attack the girl, but even luckier was the fact that there were no cars speeding around the bend at the time. Otherwise this could have been a very different post.

My life has never been richer, I have never felt more loved, and the house has never been warmer, but man, with the good comes the difficult parts of parenthood as well, you know? You just get terrified that one day the unthinkable is going to happen, God forbid.

I hope we can get them to obedience school soon, and that we will finally socialise them enough so that we can proudly walk them outside, and they will be quiet and calm and well-behaved, just like the other dogs; and not flip off Dobermans three times their size who will use them (or my googly bits) as a chew toy.

The ‘hood ain’t what it used to be, youknowwhaddImean?

Signing off,
T. O. H.

Happy (Worst. Father. Ever.)’s Day!

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Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there who are celebrating it today! Take a bow, and have a great day, gents, because, man, I just don’t know how you guys do it.

Three weeks into looking after Team Toto, and it has been hard work. Fulfilling, yes, but hard work. 6.30 am starts and two to three walks a day, I have never been healthier/more tired in my life! My hands carry the stripes of the python-tight leashes constricting from all their straining when we go out on walks.

This morning on our walk, I had the best Father’s Day gift ever. I was walking the dogs in the dog park (which will henceforth be known as the Toilet) while playing our usual game of Is It A Stick or Is It Dried Poop? (hint: if it crumbles in your hand when you try to play fetch with it, it’s poop.) with Toby and Tootsie, and they had their usual pee.

A little bit more of a walk, and then somehow – and this has never happened before – they pooped at the same time. Without looking at each other, they coordinated a Boyband Time-Perfect Synchronised Poop. Backs to each other, no look, poop. Toby surprisingly took the lead and Tootsie, almost a split second later did the Simultaneous Squat ™ and were done (Ta-dah!), requiring only one plastic bag to clean up with, and to top it all off, we were very near a dustbin as well! I have never been more proud!

Or crazy.

Okay, I am officially crazy. Like barking mad. (Hah! Dad joke!) I know I am officially a new parent when I get excited about poop.

(But this was choreographed poop!)

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I have also started doing the parent thing and calling them accidentally by each other’s name, before catching myself. Which is very hard when you try and train them as well. (Sit! Down! Good boy, Toby, my you are a smart one! I mean Tootsie! And I mean good girl! Good girl, Tootsie!)

*Tootsie looks upset and confused*

Karen has been struggling with the ‘his/her’ pronouns as well for them – but you can’t blame us. Tootsie looks like a poodle crossed with George Clooney’s hair, and will probably one day marry a hot humanitarian lawyer. Toby looks like a poodle crossed with an entire Korean boyband’s worth of cuteness – pretty, and pretty useless too.  He is nothing but a great lap dog, which I guess is God’s way of being fair – Tootsie has the smarts, and Toby has the looks.

[Tootsie versus Toby Doggy IQ count:

Tootsie: able to 1. fetch, 2. sit, 3. lie down, 4. beg, 5. stop

Toby: able to 1. sit. Like you know, whenever. Not necessarily on command.]

The people at the animal rescue told us that we would see different layers of their personalities come to the fore as the weeks go by, and Toby has certainly found a little bit of his confidence – much to my dismay. He has found his bark, and he is not afraid to use it. Once or twice we have seen him fight with Tootsie when she snatches at a bone he was chewing on or when she jumps in to grab a toy off him he was playing with. He growls to show his displeasure at Tootsie, but like an annoying fly she just dismisses him.

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It certainly has not been perfect – I wish I could report that their (mostly) unconditional love has been met with the same response. There are still fleeting moments of weakness when I still want to give them away. Like yesterday, when after a long day of walking with them, and playing with them, I tried to lie down for some shut eye at the totally appropriate time of 5.30 pm.

Let me explain Saturday evening to you where we live. Saturday evening is the equivalent of Doggy Halloween – where all the dogs wander around the suburb where I live, haunting the area, trying to find someone to lick to death. Their mere passing across our front door sends Toby and Tootsie into conniptions – Tootsie’s deep bass barking (she’s a dude, really!) and Toby’s (Korean boyband) high-pitched barking coming together in a cacophony of whatever the opposite of Boyz II Men is. Toby’s, in particular, is un-ignorable. And so, after two minutes of trying my best to lie in bed and not feel their barks pierce my very soul, I storm off outside and tell them to keep quiet (my words were of an ungentlemanly nature).

Also, for the most part they have been reserving their Business Matters for the Toilet outside, but as of two days ago, mysterious puddles have started reappearing in the house. Toby (henceforth, the Pondmaker) is relieving himself in the house again despite numerous walks and cajoling to the backyard to pee, and we don’t know why.

Week 3, and a glimpse into fatherhood, in all my failures, fearful, flawed and still a little fresh. I can only imagine that looking after a little human being is so much harder. At least the dogs sleep throughout the night.

I think about the mugs or T-shirts that float around today that say ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ and I cringe a little at the pressure of having to live up to those lofty expectations. I will never be the greatest Dad. Perhaps our presence is more important than our perfection, and, with the limited energy that I have in me, I will strive to be the World’s Good Enough Dad.

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There are great moments of joy, still – the dog’s quiet company as I am typing this, Toby rolling over for his belly rubs (his only trick in the book to get the ladies. Works everytime, by the way.) and Tootsie licking Toby’s face in pure, innocent (we hope) love. They have learnt to obey the command ‘Stop’ when we go out walking, and have mostly stopped barking at the Humans.

But God help us if a dog crosses our path. The barking, the mad leaping and tugging on the leash, the look of fear and accusatory anger in the other owner’s eyes when I try to stutter and explain that they’re new, and mostly harmless. And then Team Toto attack the other dog like a WWF tag-team. I pull them away, and if my hands weren’t so secured by their incessant tugging on the leash, I would totally facepalm myself.

Happy Father’s Day.