I love dogs. Other people’s dogs, that is. Let me explain. When I was in grade school, my sister and I asked our parents if we could get a dog. Like most intelligent parents, they immediately said, “No.”
“We’ll feed it and take care of it!” my sister whined.
“I’ll take it for walks and clean up after it!” I promised.
“Sure you will,” my dad said, “for the first week. Then your mother and I will end up doing all the work.”
We begged and pleaded for days until we finally wore them down. My mom found a farmer in the area that bred Norwegian Elkhounds, a hearty breed of dog that can stay outside year round. We picked out a puppy and named her Princess. She was a beautiful, well-behaved dog and brought us a lot of happiness...until she got hit by a car in front of our school one Thursday morning. My siblings and I were devastated. To help heal the pain, my mom went back to the same breeder and got us a second Norwegian Elkhound. We named this one Milla. As in human families where no two children are the same, the same can be true of dog families. Milla was not well-behaved. She was the most rambunctious, ill-tempered, disobedient mutt we had ever seen.
Milla would run wild all day long. She would dig holes and tear up flowers in the cemetery across the street from our house. She would chase cars when they came flying past our place. How she didn’t suffer the same fate as Princess I’ll never know. Worst of all, when a neighboring farmer would put dead chicken carcasses in his manure spreader and fling them across the barren corn field next to our property, Milla would drag those dead chickens covered with manure back to our yard. When I was supposed to put her in the garage for the night, she would engage in a spirited game of ‘Catch Me if You Can!’ By the time she tired of it, I would be so angry that I had to restrain myself from strangling her with my own bare hands.
My older sister, Becky, (God rest her soul) was more even-tempered than her younger brother and decided to take a practical approach to teaching our recalcitrant pup some manners. As a member of a local 4-H club, she decided to enroll Milla in the dog obedience training class that they offered. Each Saturday morning, she would take the dog to class. Milla was having none of it. She chafed at the collar and leash and had an uncanny way of squirming her way out of the collar or jerking the leash out of my sisters’s hand and heading for the hills in pursuit of the poor squirrel or cat that caught her attention.
After eight weeks of training, and I use the word training loosely, my sister entered Milla into the 4-H dog show at the Wisconsin State Fair. The event was held at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison. My little brother and I attended the event with mom and dad. My sister had won countless blue ribbons in other 4-H classes like sewing and cooking. I’m still not quite sure what she was expecting as she and Milla entered the center of the pavilion floor.
Each dog (and trainer) was expected to demonstrate mastery of basic commands like sit, stay, come and heel. When it was Milla’s turn, she appeared as if she might actually cooperate with my sister. She made it through the first set of basic commands. She sat obediently. She stayed. She came when called. Well, you know what they say, “All good things must come to an end.”
When it came time for Becky to lead Milla around the fenced in area to show the judge that her dog could heel, Milla snapped. Something in the audience spooked her and suddenly she pulled hard to the left and jerked the leash out of my sister’s hand. She bolted across the pavilion, jumped over the fence and ran up into the audience. My mom and dad were mortified, but my brother and I thought it was the funniest thing we had ever seen. My poor sister jumped over the fence and took off after Milla. Up one aisle and down another they went before Milla’s leash finally got stuck in a chair. Becky, thoroughly humiliated, grabbed the dog and carried her back down to face the judge. Needless to say, Milla did not go home with a Best of Show blue ribbon that day, but she did provide the audience with some rowdy entertainment.
This funny memory forms the basis for Book 3 in the Burgerhead and Mean Jerry series called Burgerhead and Mean Jerry Go To Obedience School.