July 2001 - September 2004
Three years was a short life for Mickey. How do we reconcile such a sweet disposition with a Dr. Hyde like streak of dangerous aggression? He was a dog.
Mickey joined our family in late July 2001-- like many of his attributes, this arrival was not planned or by design, but he managed to be center stage. We had recently lost our beloved lab-doberman mix Fudge to a stomach tumor. We waited not long before deciding to look for a replacement. Two weeks.
The plan was to find a female black labrador. We had always gone to the dog pound for our dogs, but after trying 3 dog pounds we decided to look for a breeder. An ad in the paper led us to a house on the far west side of town, where a yellow lab dad and a black lab mom had given birth to a litter of maybe 7 cute black puppies. We first picked out Cadu from this group. However, in the middle of this was this cute, rust colored male, a bit bigger than his sisters, with the cutest face. We could not resist, so our plan to get one dog led to two. Enter our lives, Mickey.
It was on the long ride home, that I decided to name this new pup "Mickey" which was one of the nicknames for my Dad, who was at that time in the last month of his battle with cancer. Dad never got to see his namesake beyond photos, but I felt like this was a tribute for him. So "Mickey" it was.
Mickey and Cadu were constant, glued-at-the-hip pals, sleeping together, playing together, barking together, Mickey laying down with his neck exposed so his sister could nibble at his skin or tug on his ear, Mickey chasing her around the yard, the living room, everywhere. They sure slept a lot, saving their energy for a frenetic hello when we returned.
He had one of those very expressive dog faces, like he would furrow his brow, or cock his head to one side, as if he was trying to communicate his feelings. Or maybe he just wanted more food.
Mickey was an attention addict, and he cozied up to all humans who visited. He often tried to work his way into our laps, something not viable as he grew to 75 pounds. He was headstrong, even a bully, opening the back door to let himself in or out, jumping in to Cadu's food if she left it for a second, taking her bones away.
On the other hand, he was always calm at bath time and seemed to enjoy the attention. He acted, well, like a king who knew he owned the kingdom. He was rather picturesque, and I used (and still use) his image as my chat icon and on the banner for my weblog at work.
Both dogs greatly enjoyed our trips to the cabin in Strawberry, and were great passengers on the trips back and forth. The spent much time staring out the rails of the porch, romping in the back yard, laying in front of the fireplace, stealing apples from our tree, barking at squirrels, doing what dogs do well.
Two incidents at the cabin gave us hints to some behavior problems with Mickey- the first when he aggressively chased the dog of our tree cutter, Tommy, who had paid a visit to say hello.
We brushed it off, but it registered concern.
It was much. much, worse what Mickey did shortly after. It happened in a flash. One minute we were standing there chatting with another neighbor who walked by with his dog and next there was a brown blur as Mickey made a beeline for the little white dog. We were horrified, almost frozen in shock, as Mickey shook the dog in his mouth. I foolishly and vainly tried to pull them apart (and only later saw on the internet the bloody photos of people who did what I had tried). It was Natalie who did the right thing and sprayed Mickey with a hose. He disengaged. and he acted as if it was no different than chasing a ball tossed across the yard.
Fortunately the man's dog had only some scrapes, but we were all shaken up. At least the humans were- to Mickey, it seemed like just another dog activity. I will never forget that awful pit in my stomach knowing that we were responsible for owning a dangerous animal. We needed a "Beware of the dog" sign. And more.
After taking Mickey to a dog behavioralist (doggie shrink, not so cheap) we began to accept the truth that he has a dog, a descendent of wild animals, and he had an instinct to attack smaller dogs. With some suggestions for small behavior modifications, we had to accept the truth that Mickey needed to be kept away from other dogs, and we also started using an electric bark color to reduce his aggression towards passerbys (it worked rather well).
We were alert, worried, but felt like we managed him the best we could do for more than a year.
However, Mickey struck again in September 2004. My step son paid a visit from with his new Great Dane puppy, and this time Mickey managed to squeeze out the front door of our home and went straight for the puppy's throat. Weirdly, even Cadu joined in.
While the puppy was being patched up at the emergency animal hospital, there was no question in our mind that we could not risk this again.
Mickey's collar hangs on a tree near a big rock at our cabin- this was a place he would perch like a lion and look out at all the land below.
I miss you little buddy.