Where were we? O yes, Virginia was as sweet and affectionate as they come.
Outside (anywhere outside, and the instant we stepped outside) the insane creature she had been hiding under her short black-and-tan fur emerged like that snarling beast out of the poor bastard’s belly in Alien. It developed that the dog could not abide sudden movements of any kind. And I’ve been a Manhattanite so long now that I stopped noticing decades ago that life here is all sudden movement, every minute of every day and all night as well. We live hereabouts in an always active pinball machine, a game of Frogger, a never-ending Rube Goldberg device, and poor Virginia, exposed to it, basically never stopped barking.
She meant no harm, was incapable of that, but kept being surprised by, oh, bikes, skateboards, strollers, rollerbladers, people coming out of apartment buildings, shopping carts, baby carriages. And she expressed her surprise with an amazing high gattling-gun bark that seemed not to require any pause at all for reloading. It was moreover a loud and piercing bark, alarming enough to turn the heads of people a block or two away, many of whom probably took it for a rifleshot, or the sound of a psychotic being crushed between two cars.
Well of course we went to the vet, where we had to be quarantined in a room of our own (apt enough, what, for Virginia Woof?) after dear sweet Virginia induced a headache in everyone present. This only took a few minutes, you should know, thanks to the timbre and frequency of her explosions. After hearing her, and my testimony, the vet decided this was a job for a dog psychiatrist, and no fly-by-night one either but the most eminent practitioner in her field, the Sigmund Freud of canine shrinks, the very well-regarded and expensive Dr A____ C_____.
Before you conclude that I’m the one needed a shrink, please consider that by then I was spending much of the day working up the fortitude to take Virginia out; that there were streets I could no longer go down at night because folks were beginning to yell at me from windows on high floors, “Shut your goddamned dog up;” that I was having fights on the street with scowling strangers who kept telling me to watch the Dog Whisperer, and didn’t I know anything at all about dogs, why all you’ve got to do is…..
Also, you should know, I had by then tried:
A spray bottle, to get Virginia’s attention, and thereby distract her from barking.
Shaking a can of coins, with the same object.
A “calming cap,” which is a kind of mesh mask for dogs, meant to cut down on their anxiety by forcing them to see the world through a kind of screen door.
Several special no-fail halter and head-straps, all of which failed.
A muzzle, which (to my amazement) didn’t even mute Virginia, much less shut her up. She evidently possessed powers of ventriloquism, and could bark at full throttle without actually opening her mouth.
An electronic collar, which was supposed to emit a piercing sound audible only to dogs when triggered by barking.
A quick-draw pouch with treats of all kinds and sizes, every one of which she gratefully accepted before resuming her racket.
So we went to the shrink, and came away with a prescription for anti-depressant (no, for her), a 20-page-long analysis of the problem (detailed, and very cogent) and a long, long list of behavior-modification strategies I was supposed to implement. I tried, and before very long Virginia was sitting on command, lying down on command, staying in one place on command, coming when called, and barking insanely whenever we stepped out. She was quiet at the dog run, when chasing a ball, but the instant I stopped throwing it, she went off again, like an inexhaustible string of fire-crackers.
Look. I loved the dog, and she loved me, and together in the house we were fine. If I lived in a place almost totally devoid of movement (a cemetery, say) or we were residents together in a home for the deaf, it all might have worked out. But it happened to be right around then that I was abducted to Cancerland, in the sixth month of the torture Virginia and I were inflicting on one another. And frankly, I began to feel a wee bit sorry for myself. I like the story of Job as much as the next man, but did not fancy living it out my own self.
So I sent up a distress signal. My daughter came and got Virginia and took her north to the very same shelter she would have gone to in the first place, had my soft head and heart not decided for once to act together. She wasn’t there long, I am happy to report. Has since been adopted by a family Down East and when last seen by me (in a photo on the shelter’s website) seemed to be smiling. So all is well.
I don’t know precisely where Virginia is, but it happens that I have long experience of Maine (twenty-five summers on the coast) and so I know absolutely that wherever she is, her immediate world is not perpetually crisscrossed by Andeans on bikes delivering Mexican food, or Malaysians on bikes delivering Chinese food, or schizophrenics on scooters, or wizened women like upright cockroaches pulling shopping carts with shrieking wheels.
Wherever she is, Virginia Woof (if that is what she still is called) now has a lock on insanity in her particular neck of the woods, instead of just being another cog in a vast and complex madness machine.
And she has my abduction to thank for that, because, short of abduction, I would have persisted for who knows how long (suffering being something of a hobby of mine) in trying to get a country dog to like the city.
It’s an ill wind, as they say.