A few weeks after we brought Haymitch home, we realized that his natural demeanor was not that of a calm, sleepy dog, like he appeared to be when we first got him. He was very playful, would run faster than any dog we’d every seen, and was inexhaustibly willful. So we decided to figure out his breed. Not the official way of course, that cost $86 and a blood test, but the way all Americans diagnose things. Google. We learned from the internet that Haymitch is at least part Basenji, which prior to our e-sleuthing, was a breed neither of us had heard of before.
“Speedy, frisky, tireless at play, teas(es) the owner into play, dislikes wet weather, likes to climb, can easily get over fences, and very clever at getting their own way.
Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something; Basenjis chase after fast moving objects that cross their paths.”
Then we saw this: “According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, [Basenji’s] are the second least trainable dog.“
That also made sense, considering that we’d tried every training trick and tool we could find, and NOTHING would get him to walk on a leash without pulling, or make him to come to us when called. But since he wasn’t aggressive at all, towards dogs or people, and we’d found a good “no-pull” harness, we weren’t worried. We just chalked his un-trainablilty up to God playing a joke on us. To repeat, we decided, short of Cesar Milan knocking on our door, that training was not something that would work for Haymitch.
However, one thing Cesar (who we’ve become addicted to watching) recommends to help all dogs, is daily walking. At least two walks a day, for no less than 30 minutes each. After convincing Ryan that this was important, and good for us too, we started walking Haymitch 30 minutes before work, and 30 minutes after. Ryan usually walks him in the morning, and I take over at night. I’ve really started to enjoy the walks, and we’ve noticed Haymitch has not run away, had an “accident”, or chewed up anything in the house since starting this daily exercise.
Last night, about 10 minutes into the walk, Haymitch and I turned down the road near our house that leads to a neighborhood park. Unlike the wooded park directly behind our house, this one is mainly open space, including a large, grassy field. While we were passing the field, I noticed a bright red, brand new, expensive looking Mercedes SUV pull into a parking spot 40 yards in front of me.
Oh, maybe they have a dog with them and Haymitch can meet him. It’s always fun to meet other dog owners on our walks, and Haymitch is incredibly friendly. Once I got closer though, I saw that the car was occupied only by an older woman, who seemed lost. Shortly after parking, she got back in her car, and pulled out of the spot. Once she was within a few feet of us, she rolled down her window, I assumed to ask for directions.
“That’s a beautiful dog you got there.” She said through the lowered window.
“Oh thank you!” I replied, still walking. Haymitch sensed me slowing and wasn’t pleased, so he pulled a little. Right as she was passing us I joked, “Too bad he doesn’t like walking on a leash!”
At that she slammed on her breaks, and in surprisingly swift motion for a 60+ year old, put the car in park and hopped out, all in one movement. She was older than I initially thought, clad in Snoopy scrubs, with her gray hair pulled back into a low ponytail. Her voice was that of a lifelong smokers, and she was wearing thin wire glasses down low on her nose.
I stopped, caught off guard.
“I’m a dog trainer!” she said, crouching down to Haymitch’s level. She began fiddling with and criticizing his harness. After a few seconds of this, she then lectured me on how tight his collar should be. Haymitch was looking at me the whole time with an expression that read, “Who the hell is this and what the hell is happening?”
Then, before I could stop her, she grabbed his leash and took off down the sidewalk. In the opposite direction. Left empty handed and alone, I stared at her Mercedes. Is this how she affords that car? Dog-napping?
I kept thinking she’d turn around and come back, but she didn’t. What I gathered, thanks to watching hours and hours of Cesar Milan, was that she was trying to get Haymitch to walk by her side, not in front of her (ha! good luck!) Every time he pulled, she either stopped, or turned and walked in the opposite direction. This went on for TWENTY minutes. All the while I’m just standing there, dumb-founded. And then because of course it would, after twenty minutes, it started to rain.
“Ma’am (since I didn’t even know her name) you don’t have to do this you know, I don’t want you to get wet!” I called out to her.
“Oh don’t worry about that!” She said, motioning for me to stay where I was, since I had started walking towards them.
“You know,” she said, turning around for the umpteenth time, “I’ve been training dogs for twenty years, and I’ve never seen one this stubborn! He’s a little brat!”
Tell me about it. Right when I was trying to explain to her that we thought he was part Basenji, and therefore she could just, you know, give me my dog back, Haymitch decided “I’ve had enough of this.” He jumped up on his hind legs and started, what can only be described as, “slapping” her arms. If this sounds weird, it is. Haymitch does this to us all the time–apparently Basenji’s use their paws like cats do, and swat when they’re annoyed. It doesn’t hurt, but obviously I was alarmed, since on his hind legs he was almost as tall as this woman.
“Are you OK?” I shouted to her.
“Oh I’m fine!” she said, “I’m used to training Great Dane’s!” Ten more minutes went by, with her getting more and more agitated, trying to get Haymitch to calm down, lie down, or just stop being the little bitch that he is.
She turned around at one point and matter-of-factly yelled, “I’m bleeding!”
When she walked close enough for me to see, she was indeed bleeding. Profusely. Her left arm was dripping, nay, near gushing, huge bright red trails of blood. Oh, so THAT’s how she affords the Mercedes. She attacks people’s dogs, then sues their owners! I’m screwed!
Panicked, I started apologizing. She assured me, to my relief, he hadn’t bit her, but his nails had gotten her, which she was used to. No biggie. Right when I thought it was finally over, as she was two feet away from me, Haymitch lunged towards me, no doubt thinking “GET ME AWAY FROM THIS CRAZY LADY,” and she stopped and attempted to turn him around again. He jumped up on her once more, knocking off her watch, which fell to the ground. She started walking away again, while I’m still apologizing.
“Hey, I’m the one who stopped and grabbed your dog,” she said.
“Oh I know,” I replied, “And that’s exactly what I’ll tell my lawyer if you try to sue me!” I meant to laugh but it got stuck in my throat.
Finally, mercifully, me shooting eye daggers at him the whole time, Haymitch stopped pulling her. “I’m going to give you my number,” she said, blood still pooling off her arm. “Darn. I don’t have anything to clean myself off.”
I searched my purse. “All I have is poop bags?”
“No problem,” she sighed, “I’m just sad about my watch.” She held it up. It had snapped right at the joint. Broken. Irreparable.
“I’m so sorry, was it expensive?” Please say no. Oh God, whatever you do, don’t tell her your name!
She looked down her nose at me. “Let’s not worry about that.”
She scribbled her name and number for me on a piece of paper, and handed it to me. Despite my brain’s pleadings, I told her my name, FIRST name only, and wisely didn’t offer my number in return. When she finally drove away, after sitting in her car to “watch me walk him and make sure he didn’t pull” I looked down at the paper.
It was spotted with blood.
Then I looked down at Haymitch. His face was smeared with red as well. By the time we got home, most of it had washed away in the rain, but a little can be seen in the picture below.
The weird thing is, as awkward and weird as the entire experience was, it taught me a really valuable lesson. We don’t need to hire a dog trainer, because there’s no way in hell we’re paying money to injure someone else.
But, Cesar, if you’re reading, Haymitch would love to meet you.