DURING THOSE FIRST days with Trixie, we learned that her personal tao, the code of virtuous conduct by which she lived, included a proscription against pooping on our property. She would pee on our lawn, but she refused to do the nastier act within the borders of our domain. She lived with us for eight years, nine months, and five days, and not once in all that time did she break this self-imposed rule, which had nothing to do with her training.
As part of CCI’s excellent instruction, their canine graduates obey a toileting command. When you speak this word, they do number one and then number two (if they need to), with nearly as much dispatch as they sit or lie down when given one of those commands.
Considering the many tasks these dogs can perform, I was for a while surprised that people unfamiliar with CCI were routinely most amazed by the toileting command. “It’s astonishing,” friends would say, and then at once wonder, “but why would anyone even think to teach a dog such a thing?”
The answer is that a person in a wheelchair is not easily able to escort a canine companion outside at the animal’s whim. It’s more convenient for them if the dog is fed on a strictly observed schedule that establishes a daily toileting rhythm. If in addition they can speak a command that encourages the dog to do its business promptly, instead of waiting while it wanders around in search of precisely the best spot to leave its treasure, all the better.
Trixie needed to toilet after breakfast in the morning, again between eleven o’clock and noon, again after her three thirty meal, and just before bed. Overnight, she could wait twelve hours, if necessary, without a need to visit Mother Nature.
Because she had an hour-long walk each morning and a half-hour walk in the afternoon, we didn’t always employ the toileting command, and she did not absolutely require that we give it. She realized we were allowing her some license in the matter on the longer walks.
But even if we gave the command while on our property, she would refuse to do more than pee. After she had done number one, if we then repeated the command, encouraging her to proceed to number two, she would stare at us in disbelief, as if to say,
We are blue-baggers. We always pick up after our dog and double-bag it, whether we’re on our property, a neighbor’s, or in a park. Regardless of where Trixie did number two, we collected it, so she knew we weren’t going to leave it where it dropped. When returning from a walk, we always went directly to our trash enclosure to put the filled bags in the proper can. Gerda would often say to Trixie, “We have to stop at Bank of America and make your deposit,” and it seemed to me that our furry daughter knew this was a joke, as she would wag her tail and grin.
Our house on the hill had an ocean view, and like many such communities in southern California, the lots were on the small side because the land value was prohibitive. On the view side of the residence, we had no lawn, only patios, but on the street side, a modest breadth of grass offered any dog an appealing lavatory. Any dog but Trixie, who insisted always that she must cross our property line before proceeding to the more momentous half of her potty routine.
The beach house required of her a more complicated analysis in order to live by her toilet tao. The back of the house, which faced the water, had no lawn, only patios and a sandy beach. The front of the house faced on a street so narrow that it was more properly called an alley, though I heard it referred to as a lane, a court, and a gallery by those who didn’t want people to think that their front door must be flanked by Dumpsters against which winos slept. Across this alley, behind our house, lay three lots that were also part of the property. Here were grass, gardens, and lemon trees. Often, I commanded Trixie to relieve herself in this green haven, but intuitively she knew this was still part of our grounds, and she would not squat.
A high wall separated those gardens from the public street to which, inevitably, I would have to lead her. Between the street and the public sidewalk, a four-foot-wide greensward offered grass and trees. The city required us to mow and keep healthy the grass in this public greensward, for the length that it paralleled our lots. Other neighbors had to tend their portions of the strip, and some of them replaced the grass with bricks, for easier maintenance.
Although this narrow green belt was not our property, Trixie seemed to know it nonetheless remained our responsibility. That was enough to make it a no-poop zone. We had to walk her to a neighbor’s portion of the strip or across the street to a pocket park, before she would proceed with the second half of her potty.
How this dog could know where our land ended and where that of a neighbor began, I do not know. But she had such a precise sense of property lines that she needed to take just one step across the boundary before she would heed nature’s call.
The funniest toilet-tao incident was also deeply touching. It occurred during a four-week period when she vomited routinely at least once or twice a day. Previously, she had not been a sickly dog in that sense, and her condition greatly worried us.
By this time, we had sold the house on the hill and had moved into our current home, which is the first house we ever built from the ground up. We are on two and a half acres, so Trixie had abundant room to run and play.
When she began to suffer stomach problems, the awful sound of her retching woke us in the middle of the night. A few times, she threw up on the light-beige carpet in the master suite, and this clearly distressed her. Outside of the master suite, most floors in this house are honed limestone with a matte sealer. If she could wake us in time, she waited for us to open the bedroom door, raced down the stairs, and disgorged on limestone, where the mess could be cleaned up more easily and without leaving a stain.
As the reader must now realize, this is not going to be a memoir about a pillow-destroying, cat-chasing, furniture-chewing, miscreant kind of canine. I did not exaggerate earlier when I said that she was something more than a dog, just as each of us is something more than the physical body we inhabit. This dog, this individual, this furry person, this
Her veterinarians had difficulty diagnosing the cause of her stomach upset. Even after they decided that we must be dealing with a food allergy, we had to discover by trial and error which food irritated her. By the time we knew it had to be either wheat or beef-and decided to eliminate both from her diet rather than risk one more spell of sickness-we had cleaned up enough vomit to get a spot in the
During this period, Trixie’s worst episode of each day occurred between two and three o’clock in the morning. As her distress grew, she woke us by coming to our bed in the dark and panting loudly, for she rarely barked and never whimpered.
In the pioneer spirit that impelled each of our forefathers to sleep with a Remington rifle beside the bed and a bowie knife between his clenched teeth, I kept nearby a pair of jeans, shoes, a roll of paper towels, a spray bottle of Nature’s Miracle, and a plastic bag. Eventually, counting from the moment Trixie’s urgent panting woke me, I could be in my jeans and shoes, with my clean-up gear in hand, ready to follow her to the nearest limestone floor, in 2.23 seconds.
If we’d had some foresight, we could have installed a fireman’s pole between the bedroom and the lower floors, enabling me to be waiting for Trixie in the limestone hallway when she reached it by the stairs.
The night that her toilet tao was put to the ultimate test, the clock showed 3:30 a.m. when she woke us. At 3:30:02:21, I was jeaned, shoed, equipped, ready to follow her-a personal best for me.
On this occasion, she raced all the way from the third floor to the first, to the hallway that leads to the garage, where she delivered a reedited version of her dinner kibble. I cleaned this up, stowed it in an odor-trapping OneZip bag, and took it to the trash can in the garage, leaving Trixie lying on her side in what appeared to be a state of exhaustion.
Because sometimes the initial regurgitation was followed by a second and more minor event of the same kind, I took a quilted moving blanket from a garage cabinet and used it as a bed on the hallway floor to make our wait comfortable. Lying face-to-face with Trixie, I stroked her side and spoke softly to reassure her.
That night on the hallway floor, as Trixie and I waited to see if she needed to purge her stomach a second time, that yearning look in her eyes, that seeming desire to speak, was stronger than I had ever seen it before. Suddenly she leaped to her feet, turned from me, and ran into the garage, where I had left the door open.
She had been lethargic for some time because of her sickness, so her energetic exit surprised and then alarmed me. I followed her into the garage, where I saw that she had sprinted to the rack on which we hung her collars and leashes.
She looked from the leashes to me, to the leashes, to me. I realized this food allergy, which previously had been expressed solely through vomiting, was about to have an effect at the other end of the dog. Trixie needed to poop.
Quickly, I put on her collar, put my hand through the leash loop, and she took off. As I gasped to keep pace with Trixie, she ran the length of the long garage, to the man door beside the big roll-up.
Just beyond this door was the driveway and, to the left, a large yard graced by a double colonnade of California pepper trees, where we often played fetch with a tennis ball. Although it was nearly four o’clock in the morning, although no one but I would be aware that she violated her toilet tao, Trixie would not trot twenty feet to the pepper-tree lawn and void there. It was, after all,
Halfway between the garage and the driveway gate, she turned right, up another length of driveway that led to the motor court. Her toenails click-click-clicked on the quartzite paving, and my feet raised loud slapping sounds as I staggered wildly after her, hoping not to be pulled off balance. She ran across the motor court, down a set of stairs to the front entrance, through the front gate, and up a 160-foot-long wheelchair ramp paralleling the entry stairs that descended to our front door.
This circuitous route equaled at least one and a half football fields. At the end of the breathless journey, Trixie stepped off our property, squatted on our neighbors’ front lawn, and instantly had explosive diarrhea.
Standing in the cool night, under a fat moon, I said to her, “You are the best dog in the world. But I
For the remaining years of her life, wheat and beef were removed from Trixie’s diet. She never had another bout of gastrointestinal distress. But I was motivated to stay fit just in case she ever again had to make a five-hundred-yard diarrhea run.
On the day we had adopted Trixie, Mike Martin had worried that because of our compulsive neatness and our need for order, we would find our lives disrupted by a dog. Instead, Trix was so fastidious, with such a natural sense of propriety, that we had to rise to her standards.
In the new house, Linda and Elaine shared a large office with plenty of roaming room for Trixie, who spent part of each weekday there because Linda walked her at 11:30 and 3:30.
In addition to the toilet tao that prohibited her from pooping on our property, Trixie was discreet about other matters biological. She did not want us to look at her when she was doing either number one or number two, so we had to stare off into the distance or into the sky, as though contemplating weighty philosophical issues.
She allowed us to bag her leavings, but while we gathered them, she often turned her back or stared off into the distance as though contemplating weighty philosophical issues. The times I caught her watching me at this task, she always appeared incredulous, as if my motives were beyond comprehension.
One afternoon, as Trixie dozed on her dog bed, Linda and Elaine were busy at their desks. Suddenly a ripe aroma filled the room. Neither of them remarked on the smell as it dissipated. But when it bloomed again, Elaine declared, “Linda, dear, please remember, I’m a delicate flower with refined sensibilities. I’m withering here. Whatever you had for dinner last night, never eat it again if the next day is a workday.”
“Nice try,” Linda said, “but we know which one of us
At that time, Trix had been with us over seven years, and if she had ever passed gas around any of us, it had been odorless.
Recognizing each other’s sincerity, Linda and Elaine exchanged a glance of disbelief, for a moment speechless, then turned their attention to the dog and simultaneously said,
They couldn’t have been more shocked if they had seen the Queen of England spit tobacco juice on an antique carpet.