Annie Wilkes was closer to sixty than fifty. Quiet in a crowd, even with her own group. She had wary eyes, and the prairie wind constantly blew her tousled, unkempt hair into her eyes. Her shaky health made her unsure, the betrayal of her body made her restless and sad.
"I had no idea what I was getting into. He wasn't even the dog I went to see. He's the smartest dog I've ever had in my life. Also the most arrogant, mischievous and neediest, all wrapped up in a fluffy OCD package," she said.
Mad Maxine was intelligent, sleek, beautiful and fit. She wore black, it highlighted her thick strawberry blond ponytail, pale skin and shiny black dog. A military career made her confident and gave her very good posture. She moved with power and grace, and was completely intimidating. Her dog was as lean and fit as she.
"Your dog should be working on a ranch, people don't think before they get a dog, they get one because it's pretty, then everybody pays. If a person needs a pet than they should get a lap dog with medium intelligence at best," she said.
"Adult rescue dogs are notoriously unsuited for farm and ranch work. They have enough to overcome to become a decent pet, much less become a working dog,"
"The reason they're so screwed up is because people get dogs they have no business having," Mad Maxine said.
"Exactly my point. My dog was a three time return to the pound when I adopted him. He was never, ever going to see a ranch. Now that he's with me, he's been exposed to horses, cattle, goats, barn fowl...funny thing is, he has absolutely no interest in any of them. His primary focus is to keep me safe. He's the one bright light in a very difficult time of my life."
A long, uneasy silence ensued. Annie Wilkes raked her hair back with her fingers.
The young woman squared her shoulders and put a hands on each knee . It was clear she wasn't the type to fiddle with her hair. "When I picked my dog I knew exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a hiking companion. The bitch was a purebred shepherd and the stud cleared an eight-foot fence."
"I guess you knew they'd be athletic."
"The pups were structurally correct with good temperaments. I visited the litter several times, sat with them and watched them. I didn't want the biggest or the smallest. I rejected the ones that crawled all over me and the ones that were shy."
"That was certainly pragmatic of you."
"There were four that were right in the middle. One was happy and playful when I messed with her, but when I ignored her, she walked off a few feet, sat down and studied me while I played with the other pups. I knew she was the one and she's been perfect."
"That's exactly how my Dad picked his hunting dogs when I was growing up. He could pick outstanding dogs. I tend to go with my gut."
"You mean you are completely emotional instead of realistic."
"I think it's more of an instinctive feel that I trust instead of following a guide from a how-to-pick-a-puppy article off the 'net. I was one of those kids that stray dogs followed home and I got along with all of them. I like dogs and they like me. I had specifics in mind when we chose each other too. I wanted a big dog, I like herding breeds, I knew I would eventually need a service dog, so I wanted brains. I need to walk an hour every day. He definitely met my criteria."
"Everybody likes dogs. I just think it's unfair to them if they live in a world they don't fit in. There's so much risk when you adopt a stray. You don't know what's been done with them or if they're structurally sound. I'd like to hunt my next dog. I'll probably go to Europe and get a couple of good ones, I'll raise them to be proper hunting dogs, I won't have to deal with unexpected problems, like shyness, aggression, or separation anxiety-- I'll know they're worth my investment." Mad Maxine stretched and crossed her legs at the ankles.
"I completely understand, "Annie Wilkes said. "If I was going to pursue this," she waved her hand towards the field where they worked their dogs, "I would invest in a sport specific breed. The thing is, I would never have learned this discipline, or met this group of people, if my dog hadn't brought me here.We came to resolve the training issues that he came with, found some talent, and now I'm learning something brand new."
"I'm only here because I ran out of things to teach my dog," Mad Maxine said." She has obstacles down pat, obedience was a walk in the park, Frisbee is a given, I have to keep her occupied." She reached out and stroked her dog's sleek, black coat.
Lenny Small was close to the older woman's age, battered by life, gentle and a little tired. He followed the conversation with interest. His dog was a lovely shepherd, gentle like her owner. He leaned forward and looked earnestly at the young woman.
"Have you seen Annie's dog work? He's got the best obedience in the group and his protection work is coming on like a train. He's a nice dog."
"Thanks Lenny," Annie Wilkes smiled and leaned back in her chair. "You've missed a lot while you were waiting for your dog to heal from her surgery. My dog has come a long way. The guys seem to enjoy figuring out his off the wall mind-set. Your dog tore an ACL?"
"Both hind legs." The young woman grimaced.
"Wow, that's awful. How old is she?"
"That's terrible. I'm so sorry. I hadn't even heard of an ACL surgery before I came here. Thank goodness our trainer, Clyde Beatty taught me how important it is to work young dogs low until they're two. It never would have occurred to me to wait to let my dog jump for his ball or over obstacles if it wasn't for him."
"It doesn't matter, I got her to hike with, so my goal is to get her to where she can hike again and be happy with that. I'll make sure my next dog has the breeding to stay sound."
"So you think it's poor breeding that made her tendons snap instead of a training decision, or, like it could have been if I hadn't listened to Clyde, a lack of knowledge?"
The pause grew until Lenny Small broke in.
"Breeding doesn't always run true. Look at my girl here. She's Czech bred, from a long line of competitive and working dogs, but she has no bite, none at all. Her brother, on the other hand, is a maniac."
Clyde Beatty entered the conversation.
"There's more to the story than that. Our "maniac" was a middle-of--the-litter puppy. He was loaded with prey drive, but had a decent temperament. He was almost two before he turned on, and then we got more than we needed. He's a great dog, but we still don't trust him with the public. Sometimes you can have genetics and training in place and still not get what you were looking for."
"This comes back to the draw for adoption or rescue," Annie said."I was able to assess my dog's temperament and conformation before I committed, because he was older. I'm not an expert, but once a dog is a year or so I can spot things like bad hips and shoulders or erratic behavior."
"Except you said yourself, you came here because he was much more dog than you expected and you've talked about his anxiety and separation problems," the young woman said.
"That's true, I think where you're missing my point when you assume I care about those things. I like dogs. I like learning new things. I'm as interested in learning how to help his separation anxiety as I am teaching him to stop an intruder.When I get a dog, I can't wait to see where they take me. In my lifetime I learned to aim a few inches below a ducks feet in order to make my shot. No matter how I try, I jump when I pull the trigger. If I hadn't been hunting over a couple of good field labs I never would have known that. I learned when a good pair of vermin dogs is on the hunt, one is the runner and the other lies in wait. I've watched them strategise in order to hunt prairie dogs, pigeons, rabbit and mice. I learned a good basset hound can follow a three day old track and will never learn to quit getting high centered on a fallen tree. Now I'm learning how to train my own service dog and if you decide to try to hurt me, well, my dog will eat your ass." She smiled down at her dog. "This dog is a new adventure every day."
"I guess I want more control of my outcome," Mad Maxine said.
"You told me you ran out of things to do with your dog, which brought you here."
"Except I wanted an intelligent dog, I chose her on purpose."
"You certainly succeeded, just look at the adventures she has brought you."
Lenny Small looked over at Annie Wilkes and fondled the ears of his adored dog, who defied her breeding with her gentle soul. Annie smiled back, took the ball from her wound up, hairy beast and drew back to throw it out onto the field, taking care to keep her big galoot from stomping the sore hind legs of the beautiful black shepherd mix.
The conversation drifted to whether a Beuceron was better suited for guard or protection work as the sun rose high over the training field.