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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ten days was a long time to go without Chet Baker. It was a long time for him to be in the kennel, down underneath Dr. Lutz's office. There would be times when we'd have to leave him, this dog we were only contemplating, and that was one of the things that kept me from getting a dog for 13 years; 13 years in which Bill steadily worked on me to just go ahead and do it. I didn't even know the dog yet, and I already dreaded leaving him in a kennel. I knew how much I'd love him. Part of deciding to get Chet was becoming comfortable with the concept of kenneling him, because living where we do far from any neighbors, and as much as we travel by air, there is no alternative. We decided that we'd start leaving him at the kennel while he was very young, for short stints, and by the time we were inseparable, he'd be comfortable with it, and we would too.
It worked. Chet always strains at the leash to get into the kennel lobby; he greets his caretakers enthusiastically, full of curiosity about the other dog smells emanating from the place. This time, though he did all that, he also cried from his cage for as long as he could hear me talking to the attendants. That was tough. So I cried on the steering wheel for awhile.
When we got him back Thursday night, he had lost a couple of pounds, and looked a bit gaunt. That would be the equivalent to my losing 13 pounds in the same time frame, which I can assure you did not happen. The caretaker I spoke to told me that he hadn't been interested in food for the first three days, eating only about a quarter of his rations. Then his appetite kicked in, and he finished his food every night.
She told me that some of the dogs that kennel there refuse to eat or even perform bodily functions while incarcerated. Imagine holding it for a week. It's amazing what dogs can do, or refuse to do. I feel blessed with a well-adjusted dog who undoubtedly misses us, but realizes that life must go on. I hope he'll continue to be this good. We'll have to leave him for a week or more only a couple of times a year.
There's no doubt that it takes Chet a while to get over being left. I read in Temple Grandin's incredible book, Animals in Translation, that when dogs act standoffish upon returning home from the kennel, owners often interpret this as the dog's being "mad at them." In reality, Grandin says, the dog is acting subordinate, because it figures it must have done something bad to have been locked up all that time. Being confined to a kennel reduces a dog's self-esteem, and it takes awhile for the animal to feel right about itself around its owner again. I see this in Chet, and notice that for the last few days, he averts his gaze from me, needs more reassurance than usual, and is not nearly as ready to growl when one of the kids hauls him around.

Chet and I are a lot alike, and the best remedy for low self-esteem, we find, is a walk (or a leap) in the woods. And so this afternoon when the light got buttery we took off, I putting a flame-orange vest on for protection from deer hunters; Chet using his speed and blackness as his shield. We had no encounters. I took Shila's good good camera for a final shoot; I'm already dreading giving it back to her tomorrow.To get this shot, I tracked Chet with the camera moving along with him, hoping, in the low evening light, that I'd get an acceptable image of him in full bound. It turned out better than I'd hoped. It captures a bit of the joi de vive that makes Chet who he is.

I get a lot of pictures of Baker from behind, since I always let him lead in the woods. This is part of why walks make him feel better about himself. He gets to be lead dog. And I get to watch him experience the woods. Today, I wanted to try to get some profiles and head-on shots. Chet knows very well when I'm trying to get those kind of pictures, and he poses like a champion. I'm always amazed at how he strikes those show-dog stances--and holds them--while I compose the shot. But then, I've been photographing him since he was nine weeks old, and he is anything but slow, and he wants most of all to please me. Here, I've asked him to sit and stay, something he's loath to do in the woods. But he does, because I've asked him to. Here, I've just asked him if he thinks there might be any squirrels in the trees. I love a dog who's fluent in English.
Right after this session, Baker spotted a young raccoon lumbering through the brush, and gave chase.The coon flowed straight up an enormous double tulip tree while Chet circled the base. Here it is, quietly bumming out, wedged between the trunks. I'm going to miss this camera with its 12x zoom. Never once did Chet yelp or bark; he just tried once to run up the trunk, then stopped and gazed up at the animal, cutting glances back at me to be sure I appreciated what he'd accomplished. When I'd documented everything, we moved on and left the little coon in peace. Above all else, Chet is cool. He doesn't yap or make a commotion, and he knows when he's beat. Some dogs would stay there all night, barking away. Baker's happy to moonlight as a coonhound, but he never loses sight of what his real job is: Zick accomplice. He falls into step beside me and we turn toward home.


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