The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 12, 2013

A tale that wags

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— Before Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan, there was Bob Grossman, who enticed dogs with head pets, belly scratches and with the remnants of T-bone steaks that Bob broiled over charcoal on Saturday nights.

Along with most dogs, Bob devoutly believed that the human race separated into two kinds of people: petters and non-petters.

Bob lived in a town where, every day after work, he could walk to a beach and go swimming in the warm, salty Caribbean Sea until the sun sank low and the sky flamed with pink and orange.

It was a dog town — no leashes, no laws. On his treks to the ocean, Bob encountered other people’s pets. Some would bluster a protective growl. Others would lope out, head bowed, ears floppy and tails wagging to see if a new friend had happened by.

In a tropical place, dogs come with mites, ticks, fleas and deeper disturbances. There was a pervasive fear of distemper, which many believed upset the balance of humors in a body.

Bob would meet a dog, pet it, scratch it, name it and invite it for a swim and a steak bone. So, although we never actually owned a dog, we always seemed to have one, drying out in a sunset, recently bathed of mites, fleas and parasites.

The best dog was Willie Touchstone, a mixed breed with expectant eyebrows and a rugged bulldog/boxer build — a mixed blessing because Willie was pretty sure he was a born lap dog.

Willie and Bob would swim every day, down the lagoon toward the harbor and then back to Rogers Beach. If Bob encountered someone and stopped in mid-swim to chat, Willie, who could not tread water, would circle the humans until it was time to get back on course.

Willie would hang out with me on weekends, tagging along for soccer, baseball or any adventure, wholesome or otherwise.

A British kid whose name I cannot remember — though it must have been Nigel or Trevor because they were all named Nigel or Trevor — once sicced his trained, exercised, groomed and obedient German Shepherd on me, in the way that British people mangle the English language, with the command, “Set to him, Prince!”

Willie went a few nasty rounds with Rin Tin Tin — communicating to Nigel/Trevor/Prince that life would be better and longer if they bullied someone else.

On Saturday nights, Willie would follow Bob and Alice as they walked to the movie theater, keeping his distance and hiding behind telephone poles whenever either of the humans looked back.

Willie believed that if he could not see you, then you could not see him. So hiding behind a telephone pole meant that three quarters of Willie’s lower self stuck out in plain sight where a stubby tail went back and forth in greatly misplaced satisfaction with his own cleverness.

We had Willie for a few years, including full time when the Touchstones went on vacation and needed someone to formally look after their pet.

Bob and Willie were walking back from their swim one evening when Spezially, a smallish cocker-spaniel (owned by the Speziallys) came out yapping and snarling. Willie did to Spezially what he had done to Prince. The odds, this time, were far less even.

Willie seized Spezially by the neck and shook him. When Willie dropped Spezially,  Spezially never got up.

Spezially, the man, had great affection for his pet, the now dead, smallish cocker-spaniel. In that company town, Spezially, the man, was somehow Touchstone’s boss. So a consensus formed around the idea that Willie had caught distemper, for which the only known solution was a swift and merciful death.

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, teaches that dogs can be dangerous when dog owners don’t apply DEA — discipline, exercise and affection — in proper order and proportion.

Like many people who earn the undying loyalty of seemingly dangerous dogs, Bob knew about exercise and Bob knew about affection, but Bob didn’t have the heart for discipline.

If you adopt a dog, good discipline (delivered with Millan’s “calm, assertive energy”) is a lifesaver. Shelters are full of dogs whose owners did not know that and whose lives are now in danger.

Gary Grossman is publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News