New York Times Bestseller Marley and Me has inspired many
stories about loving, yet hair-pulling relationships between dogs
and humans. This is one of those stories. And the fact that our
five-year-old female boxers name is Harley signaled to me
that this story should be told.
The name Harley seemed inappropriate when we first rescued her
from an outdoor pen in which she had been confined the first twelve
months of her life. With her pretty fawn and white coloring, delicate
build, and innocent, liquid brown eyes, she appeared to deserve
a more feminine name. Then she settled in and became our very
own Hells Angel with four-paw drive.
You need to understand that this is not our first dog. My husband
and I have shared our home over the course of our thirty-year
marriage with five strays. All mutts of ignoble breeding, we have
dealt with a terrier, two setters, a Labrador retriever, and a
German Shepherd. So we are not inexperienced with training and
handling large and energetic dogs.
But when Harley arrived
when she jumped into our lives
with all four feet
we were quickly bowled over by her playfulness,
energy, intelligence and determination. And I became the fall
My first challenge was controlling a strong, rambunctious fifty-pound
dog when on a walk. And as a relatively fit, five-foot three inch
woman, I took pride in walking beside our other dog, a seventy-five-pound
German Shepherd. Harley, however, seemed to feel that the fun
started when I said the magic word outside. Paws scrambling,
she happily bolted for the door, knocking me into the nearest
wall or piece of furniture. Then, with leash secured, she trembled
and whined with excitement as the door opened. And she was off,
snapping the leash (and my arm) against the door frame as she
streaked out the door and around the corner. Then came the real
fun for Harley. We played a splendid game of tug of war, consisting
mostly of her dragging me and the leash across the grass. I quickly
accumulated more bruises from this angular mass of sinewy legs
and bone than with all our previous pets combined.
Time to turn to the experts. I checked the internet. I perused
several books. My favorite was Boxers For Dummies. Despite
my experience, I felt like a novice at controlling Harley, and
I had certainly been banged around enough to qualify as a tackling
dummy. Then I turned on the television, and my prayers seemed
to be answered.
According to a popular TV show, I was not establishing my role
as the Alpha Dog, or in Marlin Brando speak, The Leader
of the Pack. I was supposed to be the bad ass that set the
norms for behavior and kept the rest of the pack in line. Instead,
according to the TV host, our canine Hells Angel was claiming
that position. So besides being in a physical tug of war, I was
also in a psychological war of wills with a highly intelligent
and stubborn opponent. I needed to win.
To accomplish this objective, training was recommended. So off
we went to Dog Obedience School. On the first night
a class of two dogs
Harley promptly landed in doggie
jail. While she stewed inside the cage (I could almost hear
the cup dragging across the bars and the woeful singing of nobody
knows the trouble Ive seen), I learned about commands,
rewards, and control. After eight weeks of work, and, I am embarrassed
to say, a few more trips to doggie jail, we graduated with the
ability to walk, come, sit, and stay. The Alpha Dog was in charge,
although we still had alternating opinions about who that was,
especially when her nose picked up a scent.
However, I felt confident enough to take her to the community
dog park so she could run without the leash. We were doing fine.
Harley was checking out the scents, and I started talking to another
dog owner with a mixed breed about Harleys size. The dogs
decided to run together. Being our first time at the park, I wanted
to be sure that Harley was behaving. The dogs looped around behind
I turned to see Harley tearing up the gravel path toward me. We
had played this game of chicken before. I stepped over to give
her room. She adjusted as well
to the same side. My legs
were swept out from under me and I hit the gravel, luckily in
one of my more padded areas covered in denim. My right elbow,
however, was bare and was the second part of me to hit the ground.
The other dog owner looked horrified. Harley thought it was a
splendid victory. She sat there smiling, as dogs seem to do when
their tongues are hanging out of their panting mouths. And, according
to the rules of obedience training, it was too late to correct
her behavior, although I did give her my best scathing Alpha Dog
look. So instead, I picked up my bruised body, put on her leash,
and tried not to bleed on the SUVs upholstery as I drove
home. I had earned a Purple Heart in our war. I wore it on my
back side for days.
As the months rolled on, I felt as if I was trapped in a Keystone
Cops movie. I fell flat on my face chasing her through the neighbors
field when her leash broke, vainly calling, Harley, come!
My ankle was tattooed with a spectacular bruise after she whipped
around behind me in pursuit of a squirrel, her lead digging into
the exposed skin as I called, Harley, stay! I hopped
around in pain after she stomped on my toes while marching along
under the Harley, walk! command. I went ice skating
in sneakers, arms flailing, when she took off down the frozen
grass of our front yard. This time, I didnt blame her. I
had told her Harley, sit, and we all know what its
like plopping down on a cold chair with bare skin.
Was I winning the war? I never knew from day to day. But what
I did know was that while her four-paw antics had gotten us into
a lot of trouble, our love for each other always got us through
the worst catastrophe. Or so I thought until a Friday morning
By now, Harley had been a part of our family for four years. She
had definitely settled in, though not settled down. Puppyhood
for boxers seems to last until just prior to old age.
We really dont know what triggered the argument. One minute
our German Shepherd was nosing around the empty food bowls; the
next minute Harley was letting her clearly know that her nose
did not belong there. Teeth were bared and the barking was ferocious.
Being the Alpha Dog, I stepped in to make sure that there would
be no escalation to physical contact.
But there was physical contact. Still barking furiously, Harley
caught my hand in a quick chomp. She got me, I told
my husband, who was then successful in separating the two dogs.
Washing my hand, I discovered that I had ripped open a one-half-inch
gash on the back of my hand when I had jerked it away. My hand
throbbing with pain, I sentenced Harley to doggie jail
for an indeterminate time while both she and I cooled off.
I wrestled with my emotions. I was mad, but more at myself than
Harley. How could I be so stupid? Then things took a turn for
the worst. The gash became infected and I had four days in the
hospital (an IV dripping antibiotics into my veins) to really
think about Harley and me. Did I want to continue living with
this animal? I was no longer just the comical fall guy in her
antics. The bangs and bumps had culminated in a serious threat
to my health, despite all my efforts. Friends and relatives were
asking the obvious, Are you going to keep her?
The mental debate continued after I was discharged. We made changes
in the feeding arrangements and were stricter with both the dogs.
Harley was her usual energetic self, but also snuggling with me
more as if to say, I missed you. But I was now nervous
at feeding time or when Harley started barking near our Shepherd.
I struggled with this negative intrusion into our relationship.
Could I again feel comfortable around this dog
to behave? I just didnt know.
I still dont. But as in relationships of reciprocal love,
you forgive and move forward. Harley remains a part of our family.
She still crams as much of her fifty-pound body on my lap as possible
as she nestles in for a nap. I give her a quick scratch behind
the ears, then quietly stroke her fur. Ahh, peace. Later, she
pops up, enthusiastic and again in accelerated four-paw drive.
The war of wills resumes. The Alpha Dog howls in frustration.
So it is with Harley and me.
Michaud-Kay began a career in writing because she was curious.
She found writing provided an excuse for digging deeper into subjects,
both human and academic. She turned this personality quirk into
a 30-year career in corporate communications. Now retired, she
lives in Tennessee
still exploring where curiosity leads.