This May Be A Long Weekend

Don't let anyone tell you that there's no difference between having four Newfs in the house and five. Every dog you add to the pack increases the chaos level.... exponentially, not arithmetically.

Taking a break under the sunshade


Now, don't get me wrong. I'm delighted to babysit Ellie while her humans are away on the holiday weekend. Ellie is just a dear, and I love her madly. She's sweet and affectionate, alert and curious, and she's awful pretty. If the truth be known, she was one of my favorites among Abbie's pups, and I often wished we had room enough that I could have kept her as well as Ernie and Mary.

I'm not quite that crazy, though, so I was thrilled that a wonderful family in the next town took a liking to her. This way, not only do we know she has a great home, I still get to see her often. And I'll be honest: I grin like a fool when her people ask us to dogsit, and announce the news breathlessly to the rest of the gang: "Ellie's going to be staying with us, guys! Ain't that great?"

("Bob's going bananas again," they whisper to each other in dog-speak. "Wonder what's stirring him up this time?")

There's a set routine we follow when Ellie comes to the house. We let Nelson and Ernestine into the yard, then open the gate and bring Ellie in. The three dogs sniff each other, Ellie breaks away and sniffs around the yard, Nelson marks a few key posts, and then the two sisters chase each other 'round in circles for a while. Nelson mutters, "Silly kids!" and retreats to a dignified distance.

Mother Abbie is in the house all this time, barking loudly. When things in the yard settle down a bit, we let her out to greet her daughter. Sadly, she has about as much maternal warmth these days as a freshly-divorced pop princess making up for lost partying time. Abbie will bowl Ellie over, and lay out a quick but emphatic run-down on the pack hierarchy. "I'm in charge here," she declares. "The big idiot over there doesn't matter, your sisters don't matter, and you matter least of all. Got that?"

"Yes, Mommy dearest," wiggles Ellie. "Please don't kill me."

"I won't unless you make me," snaps Abbie, then struts off to mark a few spots of her own.


Now comes the tricky part: adding Mary to the mix.

Much depends on what kind of day she's having. If things are going well for the Crazy Pup, the encounter is relatively stress-free. We open the door again to let Mary out, and she runs right into the middle of things, just like Kramer bursting into Seinfeld's apartment. Ellie will walk over to perform a normal sniff-and-greet; Mary will turn a few counter-clockwise circles, then stop for a bit of sniffing. Ellie will try to follow up with other normal meeting rituals, but Mary will quickly lose concentration and run off to spin a few more lazy circles. Ellie will be a bit puzzled, but about this time, Ernestine will amble over and say, "You want to play?"

Off the sisters will romp, tearing up grass as they pivot and feint, and things are back to normal in the madhouse we call home. Pack order is set, and the weekend will proceed peacefully. Time elapsed, twenty minutes, max.

If Mary's going through a rough patch, though, life becomes more complicated. On these days, the slightest excitement will set her off on a furious circling and barking frenzy that won't stop without human intervention; maybe medication or perhaps, if it's not too bad, just a peanut butter Kong and lots of cuddling by someone strong enough to hold her down.

If another dog is unlucky enough to obstruct her path while she's circling, Mary's reflexive response is simple: she bites him on the leg. It is a testament to the wisdom of countless Newfoundland breeders that she has never once, even at her worst moments, so much as snapped at a human. Newfies are trustworthy that way; even the crazy ones.

It is also evidence of Mary's sometimes-overlooked ability to learn that she has figured out that it is not a good idea to try that leg-biting stunt with her mother or sister. Abbie and Ernestine bite back. Nelson, on the other hand, would never dream of laying a tooth on a girl half his size, so he just does his best to stay out of her way. If that means waiting halfway down the stairs at supper time until I can shut Mary in her crate, he'll be patient.

Unfortunately, Mary was having a bad day yesterday, and her quirks did rattle Ellie a bit. All it took was one good ankle-nip, and Ellie decided the best thing to do was give Mary a very wide berth. That's not a huge problem; there's plenty of room in the yard, and what's more, Mary spends much of days like this sleeping on the cold tile floor downstairs.


By evening, things were running smoothly. Ellie and Ernestine get along just the way you'd want sisters to: they hang around together in the house, run and play together outside, perk up at the same sounds, woof at the same intruders...

Yeah, there is that aspect. Just like her brown sister, dear Ellie takes her watchdog role very seriously. She notices things like kids on bikes, housewives jogging, squirrels, deer, the neighbor's windchimes... whatever... and forcefully lets them know that she's onto their shady game. That sets Ernie off, the two of them set Abbie off, that starts Mary circling, and Nelson looks at me with eyes that say, "Can we go fishing now, Dad? Somewhere real far away?"

There was one new development this morning, too. One of our neighbors apparently has a visitor who is trying hard to learn the trumpet. He practiced outdoors for about an hour; I heard scales, and then I think "Norwegian Wood," of all things, and then more scales, and then something with lots of sharps and flats. The two girls were not pleased with his performance, and said as much. Often.

Ah well, things always settle down. Satchmo Junior put his horn away and it's quiet now. Everyone's asleep but me, I think. There's Mary, and Abbie, and Nelson over there, and darling Ellie... but where's Ernestine?

Oh... she's outside in the yard, sleeping under the lawn sprinkler. My, that is one wet dog.


Next: Grandpa's Little Angel