#3 – The Strategic Shrub

While pulling the weeds and tufts of grass that have sprouted up on Fleegle’s grave, Franny ambles up behind me and says, “Let me help you with that.”

She chomps down on some grass and starts chewing. As she glances up at me, she smiles and says, “I like how helping you involves eating.”

I chuckle. “It’s funny how that is so often the case.”

“ I know, right?” She takes another mouthful of grass. “Do you still miss him?”

“Fleegle? I do, but a strange thing happened a while back that helped. I was out here on my own, sitting next to his grave and quietly crying and missing him, when a voice inside my head told me it was time to stop grieving and to spend that energy on you, Huck and Hamish.”

“Whose voice?” she asks.

“I don’t know, but it wasn’t mine.”

Hearing his name, Hamish emerges from the nearest clump of bamboo, lifts his leg on a struggling shrub that is a favorite of the boys for scent marking. Somehow in dog logic, scent marking this particular shrub leads to controlling this half of the yard. When he finishes, he sits down and tilts his head at me.

“What is it?” I ask him.

He jerks his chin at Huckleberry across the yard sniffing his way through a pile of leaves in search of his ball. “Was Fleegle chocolate like the ball junkie over there?”

“Did someone ask about my ball?” Huckleberry shouts, his head popping out from the leaf pile. “Yep, found it!” He trots over with it and tosses it onto the grave.

“Yes,” I answer Hamish. “They look a lot alike.”

“That explains it,” Hamish says. “Sometimes I see Huckleberry outside peeing on my shrubs, but when I get up to reclaim the shrubs, I realize he’s lying there right next to me.”

Franny looks at Hamish and Huckleberry, then through a mouthful of grass, she says, “That’s just Saint Fleegle doing the rounds. He was here before you two and was already here when I got here. A better friend you couldn’t have, but you two are getting there.“ She finishes her grass, then quickly darts toward Huckleberry, snatches up his ball and runs off.

Huck’s eyes go wide. “Hey, that’s mine,” he says and chases after her.

Hamish is right beside him, trying to grab his flank in his mouth. “Boy, I love it when he runs. No one runs like Ball Breath Huck.”

The three of them disappear into the bamboo, their play barks and growls filling the air. I return to pulling the weeds on the grave, when out of the corner of my eye, I see Saint Fleegle lift his leg on the struggling shrub that was Hamish’s most recent scent buoy. He gives an upward nod of his chin at me and vanishes until his next visit.

#2 – Sniffles and Sighs

I’m sitting outside on the patio in the sun. It’s not officially spring, but it’s beginning to feel like it. The sun’s warmth melts my legs like butter. I look up at the pale blue sky, taking it all in, then close my eyes, feeling the brightness through my lids. I wonder if I had double lidded eyelids like a dog if it would block out the brightness. I’ve wondered this since I was a child and first learned of the double lidded eyelid. It would explain a lot of the daytime napping.

The rest of my body melts, joining the pool of butter around my chair, as I let out a long sigh. The birds chirp away as they hang out in the bamboo that runs along the border of the backyard, blocking out the neighbors and the outside world. In the background of my mellow mood, four-legged footfalls approach from inside the house and join me outside on the patio.

“Raud?” Hamish’s soft voice says.

“Yes?” I say, opening my eyes and looking at his soft brown eyes surrounded in reddish brown fur.

“I thought I heard you sniffle so I brought you a tissue.”

In his mouth is the leading edge of a roll of toilet paper that unspools behind him, across the patio into the kitchen, and probably all the way back through the house to the toilet paper holder mounted in the bathroom wall.

“That’s very kind of you, Hamish. Thank you.”

#1 – My Three Best Friends

“No, Huckleberry, I don’t want to play ball right now,” I say to my chocolate Lab as he drops his tennis ball at my feet for the fifth time. He picks up the ball and tosses it at my feet again.

“But why not?” he asks. “We’re outside and it’s not raining and I found a ball to play with.”

“Because I’m trying to write.”

“You can write with one hand and throw the ball with the other. I thought you wobbly ones prided yourselves on your ability to multitask.” He picks up the ball in his mouth and tosses it in my lap. It rolls across my notepad, leaving a slug trail of dog spit that I’ll have to write around like driving around an oily spot on the road. He backs up a few feet, his stare oscillating between me and the ball as his Jedi mind powers kick in.

I give in, pick up the ball with my left hand, while still holding my pen in my right, and toss it across the yard, doing just what he told me to do.

Huckleberry bolts after it. “Oh, boy! Oh, boy!” he slobbers as he chases.

Franny, my yellow Lab, ambles over to my patio chair for a back scratch, debris from a chewed stick stuck to her lips. “You’re lucky he’s the only one of us with the ball obsession.”

Without thinking, my hand goes to the spot on her back just forward of her tail and begins scratching.

“A little to the left, please,” she says and shifts her back to accommodate.

As I run my fingers through her thick fur, Hamish appears on the other side of my chair and presses his cheek against my chest. “Can I have a hug, Raud? I could really use a hug.”

I set my notepad down on the little side table, my pen on top of the pad, and gave him a hug with one arm while scratching Franny’s rump with the other, then I feel the ball land on my foot.

“Look, Raud, I brought you the ball. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?”

“It sure is, big guy,” I say, and then remember a bag of chew toys arrived in the mail yesterday. Everyone loves a good chew toy, and I love it when they love it, especially when they love it enough to let me get some writing done.

Negotiating with Cookies – Crumbs

The sound of Fleegle howling in the backyard gets me up on my feet and outside. “What’s all the howling about, Fleegle?”

“Excuse me, but I’m singing a song to the neighborhood.”

“Sorry.” I clear my throat. “You have a very nice singing voice.”

“I’m the Sinatra of the howled ballad. When I sing, the girl dogs throw their collars at me.”

“I’m sure they do. What were you singing about just now?”

“I was singing one of the canine classics. It doesn’t translate well into human speak because it’s so emotive, but it’s a song about how much I love the universe and the tiny speck where I live.”

“Our house?”

“No, our planet. But if you want, I can sing you a song about our house.” He widens his rear legs, taking up good stance for howling. “This song starts out about how much I love the squirrels in the yard and works its way inside the house to my love of the hunt for crumbs on the kitchen floor.”

“Am I in this song?”

“Of course you are. You’re referred to as the Crumb Maker, a very noble position.”

And the howling begins.


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Negotiating with Cookies – Osmosis

After reading in bed for a while, I adjust my pillow and get ready to turn out the light, but first I slide the book I was reading under my pillow.

Curled up on the bed next to me, Fleegle asks, “Why are you putting that book under your pillow and not on top of the stack on the nightstand?”

Slightly embarrassed, I dodge answering. “You don’t miss a thing, do you?”


“You’re so observant.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I say and reach to turn out the light.

“I used to chew on books when I was a puppy.”

“You specialized in removing the covers.”

“And if you want me to sleep next to one, I want an answer, please.”

“Oh, alright. I don’t want to read the book because it’s so wordy. The author uses a paragraph where a sentence would do, but it has a few gems of wisdom I don’t want to miss, so I thought I’d try osmosis.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, the theory is that if you sleep on something then whatever knowledge it has magically transfers to your head while you sleep.”

“So from sleeping on the feathers in this comforter is why I know so much about birds?”

“Um, yes, that’s right.” I turn off the light. “Goodnight, Fleegle.”

“Goodnight, Raud, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

“That’s not very comforting coming from you.”

He answers by scratching himself and shaking the bed, but then settles down. Moments later he gets up and repositions himself with his head resting on my forehead.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Well, I don’t want to listen to you all the time, but you do say the occasional gem.”


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Negotiating with Cookies – Chips & Salsa

While comfortably ensconced on the couch, I use the corn chip to shovel salsa into my mouth.

Fleegle supervises, sitting as near to me as he can without being me. “Raud, you’re going to get fat if you don’t share. Or should I say, fatter.”

I pause to look at him, the chip in my hand frozen between the tub of salsa and my mouth. “You have it all wrong, Fleegle. You’re going to get fatter if I do share. Think of me eating this chip as a favor to you. I’m saving you from yourself, from your Labrador food obsession.”

“I’ll drool to death and die of dehydration before I ever get fat. Between Buck’s calorie free biscuits and your selfishness, I’m wasting away to skin and bones.”

I pop the chip in my mouth. I few bits drop to the floor. “Look, Fleegle, chips,” I say, pointing at them.

He ignores them, his eyes on the bag. “Those are crumbs, and I’m not your floor-cleaner.”

“But I thought you liked crumbs.”

“I do, but if I leave them there maybe they’ll attract mice, and I can eat mice.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“Desperate measures for desperate times.”

I stand up and head for the kitchen utility closet.

“Where are you going?”

“To get the broom and dust pan.”

“But what about the mice?”

I pull a chip out of the bag and offer it to him. “Here, have one.”

He looks at it, not taking it until he gets it the way he wants. “With salsa too, please.”

And Fleegle’s sloppy sit-stays made me think he lacked impulse control.


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