Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cur de Lion

This has been a week of learning new facts about Cleo.  Maybe by now you’d think I know her pretty well, and I do, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of daily surprises. 

According to our trainer, for instance, Bedlingtons have the largest teeth in the terrier group.  Since she judges shows all over the world, I believe her.  In our class, there are a couple of other terriers, though most of the dogs are big guys.  We even have an English sheepdog which, I have to admit, I think is a bit of a lump.   I cannot imagine this dog having the sense to herd a flock of sheep if his life depended on it.  Thank heavens our trainer talked its owner into trimming the hair around its eyes.  It has suddenly started obeying visual commands.  Who knew that being able to see might help with that?

Cleo checks out the Chico art scene. 
It’s funny how much dogs and their owners grow to resemble each other.  I’ve always loved that scene from the animated 101 Dalmatians that pans across New York showing dogs and their people walking down the street or through the park.  The sleek, laid back, stylish Afghan with her sleek, laid back, stylish mistress.  The top-heavy matron mincing down the street with her Pekingese.  The gallomphing, down-at-heel artist with his large-pawed, jowly hound dog.  In class, it’s the same thing.  The man with the Jack Russell is good natured, but misses a lot of the instructions because his ADD has him gazing at the setter across the room.  The woman with the Australian shepherd can be counted on to tell her neighbors if their dogs are out of position.  The Vizsla’s owner gives commands with such intensity that every dog within ten feet of her jumps to obey.  And the woman with the English sheepdog…well, enough said about that subject.

This isn’t to imply that I have large teeth.   But Cleo and I are truly starting to work as a team.  I had no idea how much fun training would turn out to be.  It is very much a mommy-and-me kind of experience.  It is an active, engaging time for both of us that is one hundred percent about Cleo.  I think we both have enjoyed getting compliments lately.  We’re about to embark on our fourth 8-week session, so it’s about time, honestly.  When Cleo gets a “Good job!” from our trainer Pluis, or I hear “Nice follow through, Cleo’s mom!” it really does count for something.  Pluis doesn’t praise unless she means it.  And yes, she does call me “Cleo’s mom.”  She was very honest the first day of class to tell us all that she would learn the dogs’ names before the hour was up (she did), but that she would never learn our names (she hasn’t).  I have no quarrel with that whatsoever.  As I say, class is Cleo-time.

Pluis has started picking us to go first in an exercise.  Last Monday, she borrowed Cleo to demonstrate a new technique.  I felt like we had really arrived.  Cleo admires Pluis, so she was ecstatic when Pluis came over and took the leash from me.  She trotted with her to the center of the room.  But then, they turned around and Cleo realized that I hadn’t come along.  The laughing look fell from her face and she stared at me.  She went through the motions of the exercise, glancing once or twice up to Pluis, but for the most part, her eyes never left mine.  I kept smiling at her to reassure her.  When the demonstration was over, Cleo ran back to me and sat on my feet.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, this is not an anxious dog.  She adores people and will snuggle up to or play with any student who comes into the room.  She just feels best when someone she loves is very close by.

As we chatted about Bedlington traits (our dogs were all in prolonged down-stays at the time), Pluis mentioned that the lamb dogs have a reputation for bravery.  “That’s what they say,” I replied.  “They have the hearts of lions.”  Okay, well, that is, indeed, what they say, but I was pretty much just being loyal to Cleo.  I didn’t want to embarrass her; it’s a toss up sometimes how brave she will be.

As our daughter took us on a tour of the science building at Chico State last Wednesday, we passed by a glass case with a stuffed and posed mountain lion.  We stood in front of it for several minutes, commenting on the odd disjointed quality of its aggressive pose, springing after quarry, and the sleepy gaze of its glass eyes.  Cleo sniffed at a spot on the floor, oblivious.  We walked down the hallway.  While John and Sisarie used the restrooms, Cleo and I read the notice boards on the wall.  She turned—and stiffened.  A low growl started deep inside her.  It broke off, then started again.  “Rrrr-rowf,” she said.  I looked where her quivering nose was pointed.  From right up next to the case, the shape of the lion hadn’t registered.  But from her new vantage point of the end of the hall, she knew what she was seeing.  She let out a roar and surged toward the case.  We ran down the hallway and up to the mountain lion.  Cleo was flummoxed.  Again, from below the case, she couldn’t see the form.  Even more perplexing, there was no scent.  I picked her up and held her at face height with the lion.  “Grrrr.  Grrrrowr.”  Back on the floor again, she put her feet up on the glass.  Now she could see it, and told it, “Arr, arr, bar!”  If you’ve never heard a Bedlington’s bark, they are surprisingly big and deep.  There wasn’t an ounce of fear in her as she gave the lion what for.  She was completely ready to take it on, should it ever finish its leap.

After our tour of the campus, Sisarie took us home to see her apartment.  We were greeted at the door by her roommate’s small black cat.  Both Cleo and Faithful were mildly surprised to see each other, but Cleo has learned to speak some Cat from Rufus and Marvin, so she politely touched noses and backed away.  Faithful stalked into the kitchen.  Behind her, Cleo tiptoed into the living room and sat down in the middle of the floor, watching the cat.  The cat wound around Sisarie’s leg, then sat down, watching the dog.  In a sudden flurry, the cat charged Cleo who, tail tucked as tightly as it would go, flung herself up onto the couch.  Three humans told the cat to “Knock it off!”  The cat retreated a step or two.  Then, with a look of glee, it launched itself at Cleo again.  Cleo apparently forgot that the couch was pushed up against a wall, because she tried to escape the cat by going over the back of the couch.  If this had been a Roadrunner cartoon, there would have been a Wile E. Coyote shaped hole in the wall, but since this was real life, there was a thunk and a trembling dog stood on the back of the couch, pressed tightly against the immoveable wall, blinking at a hissing cat.

Sure, she has the heart of a lion.  It’s just that it’s Frank Baum’s lion.  What was I saying about dogs and their people?


  1. What a charming essay! While Faithful was, on this particular occasion, channeling her inner Margaret Hamilton, Cleo remains a true Queen of the forrrrest!

  2. So glad to hear from you, Joycie! Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot. Give my love to the Tin Man.