My wife Dawn and I took our dog Ginny to classes. We took her to playgroups. We gave her love and affection and discipline and water, plenty of water, because a dog was supposed to have fresh water at all times. And for all our efforts, our German shepherd was behaving worse every day, her latest victim the UPS guy, who now dropped off his packages at the foot of the driveway after the last encounter, which had involved teeth, pants, and unwanted ripping of fabric. Let’s just say it was a good thing he was wearing brown.
Word got around, and a friend recommended an instructor who used eggs. Every time Fido misbehaved, you smashed an egg on its head, to simulate blood flowing over those puppy-dog eyes.
This didn’t seem like a very good idea.
We were desperate, so we did what all desperados do: go on the Internet. It wasn’t long until we’d clicked our way onto the goateed face of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. If I were Oprah, I would’ve had Cesar come on over, but the last time I checked the mirror, I wasn’t Oprah. So we did the next best thing.
Her website wasn’t as fancy as Cesar’s, but Mary was The Dog Whisperer of Virginia. She lived in Richmond, which meant we’d have to pay for her mileage to New Jersey, but it was better than the other two whisperers, who were in Atlanta and Berkeley.
Dawn took the lead in interviewing Mary, and after several emails and a phone call, she’d determined her to be the one, like the way Morpheus thought Neo was the one. For her visit, Mary would charge $400 plus $100 for travel. It seemed like a ludicrous amount since the last six-week class we attended was only $70, but the Atlanta woman charged $600.
Because she only trained during weekdays, we took the day off for Mary’s visit. Ginny was pacing back and forth in the living room expectantly. She knew something was up; she always did.
The phone rang, and Dawn picked it up. It was Mary on her cell, and she wanted to make sure our dog wouldn’t be there to greet her.
“She doesn’t want Ginny to fail,” Dawn told me. “And she would, if she saw Mary walk through our door.”
I knew this woman would be a cut-rate Cesar, but still, I was disappointed. I’d imagined her gliding into our house brimming with confidence, converting our aggressive pup instantly into Lassie by the sheer force of her dog-whispering will. I led Ginny upstairs and locked her in her kennel.
Mary turned out to be a fit-looking woman in her mid-to-late thirties with a tight blond ponytail, the sort of person who spent a lot of time outdoors. She didn’t whisper, but she was a low talker. A few times I had to ask her to repeat what she’d said, and instead of raising her voice, she leaned closer to me.
For the next half hour, we told her about Ginny’s routine – her walks and her feedings, where she slept and played. Mary nodded here and there, and made suggestions I’d heard before in our other classes, like how we were supposed to take away the food dish after Ginny stopped eating, even if she hadn’t finished.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Mary said. “Let’s leave Ginny upstairs.”
It’s times like this when I wish I were a ruder person, one who’d say, “What the hell did you just say?” I would even settle for a “Whaaaaaa?” but I’m a polite to a fault, and so is Dawn.
We waited for Mary’s next decree, which turned out to be a question about the availability of a DVD player. From her briefcase, she extracted a silver disc from a sleeve labeled The Dog Listener, which looked a whole lot like the one I’d seen on Amazon.
On TV, a British woman told us about the three Fs of behavior, Freeze, Flight, or Fight. It was obvious which of those Dawn and I had chosen for this particular situation, but I still held out hope. This couldn’t be what it seemed. I was sure at any moment, Mary would pause the video and give us an insight into something, anything.
She did pause once, but it was to go to the bathroom. The only other sounds she emitted during the two hours of screening were two tiny coughs and a throat clearing.
After we wrote out a $500 check and Mary left us, Dawn and I opted for the other F. It was one of those fights that you think will go on forever, that the blame will bounce back and forth like a neverending game of ping pong. Ginny lay down with a sigh and looked on, her glum eyes switching nervously between our angry faces.
But here’s the thing. Even though Mary never saw our dog, she’d done her job. Because we’d spent so much money on her, for the first time, we actually heeded the advice given to us by a dog professional. We took up the food dish exactly like Mary said, and within two days, Ginny ate when we told her to, which had never happened before. And as the weeks went on, she became a sweeter, more loving dog, no question.
“I told you,” Dawn said. “She was the one.”