QB revisited

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about QB lately, wanting to write about him and how the situation I was in with him related to my issues with mental illness.


June 27, 2006
“Daddy, doggie, doggie!” A young child pointed to QB and ran toward us. Closer, closer. Panic. So close I could see a drop of saliva on her pointing finger.

“No!” I tightened my grip on QB’s leash. He lunged forward. I held on tight. It often surprised me just how much power a 28-pound Sheltie could have. I held out my hand to stop the little girl. Dear God, don’t let her get any closer. “This dog isn’t friendly. Please–” my hands shook uncontrollably– “don’t come near. Please.” I turned to the child’s father, whose hands were clasped in front of him as if he were offering condolences. I took a step back. “My dog isn’t used to kids.”

“But he looks like Lassie!” shouted the child. “Lassie!”

QB leapt up a foot into the air on his little Sheltie legs and came down, then leapt up again and again. His puppy kindergarten teacher had told me, quite some time ago, that his extensive jumping would injure his knees, which, considering his age, was the least of my worries. This jumping was one peculiarity that got me suspecting he had something wrong in his brain. My neighbors called QB “Jumping Jack,” or, “Jumping Fool,” and several had said to me, “I’ll bet you wouldn’t have gotten him, if you’d known he was a jumper, all hyper, the way he is.”

The child shouted again, “Lassie!”

“Is he a show dog? Why does he do that?” asked the father. Show dog. Holy shit. QB would tear the show apart.

The father–he lived nearby, I realized, and was named Livingston–moved his daughter away.

Four teenagers, two boys and two girls, passed on the opposite side of the street, one girl talking on a cell phone. QB barked and jumped.

“Hey, there’s that dog again,” said one girl, blowing out billows of smoke from her cigarette. “He jumps. Look.”

“You’re a bitch, Shelley,” said one of the boys. “C’mon.”

I said to Livingston, “I–I have to go. He has to pee.” I ushered QB along the sidewalk.

Many of the tricks I’d tried to improve QB’s behavior hadn’t worked. I had tried different kinds of collars and harnesses, bringing a spray bottle of water along with me on walks, using a sound device, and making him sit during walks. Yelling at him certainly did no good. Sometimes I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and forced him to look me at me, and all I saw in his eyes was hostility and defiance.

We rounded a corner. At the end of the block several girls were playing with a basketball. Immediately, QB strained on the leash, snarling and barking in the direction of the girls, foaming at the mouth. I rushed him across the street. I knew he hated basketballs, for some reason. He hated balls of all sorts–baseballs, balloons, pumpkins, inflatable balls–these and many other stimuli would send him into curdles of aggression.

Coming back into my building, I said a quick “hello” to those of my neighbors that we saw in the lobby.

“How is it out there?” asked my neighbor June.

I held QB tightly to make sure he didn’t jump on her. “Nice, “ I replied. “Pleasant.”

“It’s okay if he jumps on me.”

“He’s got awfully muddy paws.” QB leapt up again.

June chuckled. “Look at that fool!”

“Yes, he’s a fool all right.” Luckily, no one else accompanied QB and me in the elevator on our way up to the fifth floor, but when the door opened, my neighbor Nicky entered. QB immediately pounced on him. “No!” I pulled QB back. “Sorry,” I said to Nicky. “I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s okay. It’s okay. Really. I don’t mind.” I could tell he was fibbing.

QB was as relieved as I was to be home. As I refilled his water dish, thoughts ran through my mind: Was I a bad dog owner? What had I done wrong? The Beings had been threatening since QB was a tiny puppy to take him away from me, was this their way of carrying out that threat? And–what was wrong with QB? Was he mentally ill? Some of his behaviors were normal results of poor training, but others….My dog was becoming a source of deep concern to me–and embarrassment.

And then I thought of my mother. Had she felt similarly when I became ill? Did she question her parenting? Was she embarrassed by me? Once, I overheard her say to my father–and yes, I knew she was talking about me–“Alan, she gives me the creeps.”

On my table, the Yellow Pages were open to the page I wanted. I knew I could no longer put it off. I picked up the phone, and called the veterinary behavior specialty center recommended by QB’s vet, and made an appointment.

Feedback and comments welcome!