The two of them so strongly won the hearts of the Canada Customs agent that she forgot to return our Passports and we had to turn back at White Rock to retrieve them! Sure there were some getting to know you missteps when we got home what with Tennessee counter surfing in the kitchen and defecating in my bedroom but “who knew?!” that they’d actually never been into a fancy home before and were just doing what any sensible dog would do in a new kennel. Our first night, we knew Tennessee was going to fit in just fine when she got out of her bed, wedged herself in between her two new People (we’d opted for a camp out that first night to give us all a chance to regroup and start the process of learning to be civilized), and then stretched herself as long as she could go (which is pretty darn long as any one who’s seen Tennessee waiting can attest) to make as much body contact as Caninely possible.
A quick in-home puppy training consultation ... “oh, you guys. You guys. You’re going to have such a hard time. Look at them! They’re soooo cute.” ... where we learned to impose the you-don’t-get-anywhere-by-pulling leash rule (thank you, Anna), several trips to Mark’s Pet Stop and Sofie’s Pet Palace for gear and we were off. A full-of-learning road trip to the West Kootenays followed where Tennessee learned the meaning of “25 feet” - the length of her long lead and thus how far to run to before turning in a circle and chasing back in fields of long grass and up and down mountain slopes, rocky river beds, and those first tentative adventures into the strange world of water ways where you wonder “will I float like the stick I’m retrieving?” or “do I sink like that rock?”
Much learning to be civilized ensued, as Tennessee mastered waiting quietly in the Jeep while her People dined, visiting Grandma’s house (such a challenge ... all those fun looking balls of wool and Grandma keeps passing platters of Tea time treats over our heads), staying off the couch and bed (okay ... that was a hard one. Admittedly, Tennessee was the Queen of ‘hey guys, are you asleep? It’s dawn and so shouldn’t we be getting up?’ bed roaming.), and staying out of the kitchen. She also became adept at making a good first impression for Inn Keepers with “Dogs on Approval” rental policies.
When we returned to Vancouver, Tennessee picked up what her job would be at work right away.
And also learned where we didn’t really need her help. Like how standing on the top of Janna’s desk, in the 12 inch space between the phone and the computer was not an ideal location for anyone, not even Tennessee. Or how not every customer who crouches down is awaiting big, sloppy, ear kisses. Sure, some were but others were looking at merchandise (and got discounts to make up for the unwelcome Coonie-kisses).
It wasn’t long before Tennessee understood how many hours she worked, what her work schedule was, which parks and interesting gardens lay between work and home, that it wasn’t as scary as originally thought to walk home after dark, and that “Coonie on the loose” meant all the customers had gone for the day and that she could make her rounds to visit closing staff, displays (look with your eyes, not with your nose!), and check out the lunch room in case some one had leftovers or had dropped a morsel during the day.
Tennessee’s advanced education also began with a vengeance. Kathy-teacher every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from work. She started with getting through a whole City block without pulling and advanced to Transit stations, busy down town City streets, and other “out-and-about” etiquette. From this Tennessee learned that “off” is hard but learning is fulfilling. She watched the clock for Kathy’s daily arrival and gave a little stretch and sleepy groan to announce to us that Kathy had arrived, soon it’d be time to get up. And when she returned she learned it was better to go settle than it was to jump on Janna’s desk! Tennessee also earned both her Beginner and Intermediate diplomas from Dogsmart and was two classes away from completing her Recall lessons at Keam Farm sTraining Camp. To be fair, there were bumps on the way to her higher education, like lurching toward the treat table in Beginners, using her paws like a giant cat to try and scoop food while working on her leash walking. Or the time she spied the bag of balls (WOW!) about 70% into completing her Intermediate class recall. And then there was the lesson at Keam’s (aside from how good Sheep droppings taste!) ... if you leave the farm, you’d better come right back. Don’t make Dave have to come and get you! But it was worth it. With a higher education came access to four hour long urban adventures through the Green Way trails, stops at playing fields for off-leash romps (and taking squeaky toys from much slower, hopeless Pugs), mind blowing races down through the tide waters at Iona Beach and scaling the break water rocks, and successfully navigating the complex social order of crowded urban off-leash parks. Learning to be civilized also opened doors: front doors to Auntie’s house to play with all of Scotia’s (Auntie’s Sheltie) toys, basement doors to Uncle Gary’s house to ponder why that cat won’t come out of the shadows, doors to and from offices to visit with all the staff, doors to shopping centres to calmly walk down the aisles, looking with your eyes, not your nose (well ... some times with your nose), doors to Tall Friend’s car to travel to almost weekly Saturday adventures, doors to Tenny-Tuesdays all day is me day solo days at work, doors to visit Molly the nice lab-cross up the street, and doors to Sue’s house for a dinner party, no less! And very importantly, doors to the Farm where you get rewarded for making wise choices and where Tennessee mastered being a good decision maker. The last words spoken of Tennessee on what turned out to be her final visit at Keams Farm were “She was a joy to have around.”
Of course not all of Tennessee’s learning came from text books. She taught herself a whole slew of useful skills. Tree walking. Boulder climbing. Summersaults. Roof perching (an excellent vantage point to stare down at the crew renovating our basement and provide them with a long, gravity assisted view of jowls and ears). Stealing Kentucky’s dinner ... I wish I’d had a hidden camera to see how it was that she managed to take a lid off of a ceramic pot left on the top shelf of the pantry, lick clean the full contents, and leave the pot and lid sitting tidy on the shelf! Watching the rain come down while lying upside down, snug in the bed closest to the heater. Seemingly doubling her weight and adhering herself to that same bed when it came time to try and rouse her to get outside despite the winter downpour. Playing soccer. Jumping over dogs like she was in a steeple chase. Hiding behind her People on sighting those mysterious, masked bandit creatures and puzzling at our “Coonie, meet Raccoon” jokes. And yowling “it’s not fair” when ever she wanted us to think her sister had done her wrong.
Thankfully, Tennessee never mastered leaping on, and perching on top of, the heads of cyclists and joggers - a feat she appeared intent on accomplishing when she was 9 months old. It sometimes seemed like the only thing Tennessee hadn’t mastered was how to get a Cat to come see her. She tried yowling. Nose shoving. Sitting and staring. Laying and staring. And sprawling across lawns, boulevards, stairwells, retaining walls and many other undignified gestures of Cat neediness.
And when Tennessee became sick, her life well led revealed what a well rounded, accomplished individual she’d become. She patiently and dutifully cooperated with all the hospital staff. Offering up tummy rubs and dishing out ear kisses, she showed her appreciation for the care and effort extended on her behalf. In her final days at home, she brought us on a daily adventure, where she got to take the lead. We’d open the door and follow her out. One day, she went to the Park and kissed every toddler, leaving one little boy, soother in hand, toddling after her waving goodbye. She got up another day and took us to visit Molly. Another to see Mr. Murdo. Two neighbourhood dogs who Tennessee had befriended and chosen so well that both knew to play with her gently, and let her ‘win’ at every game. And on her final day she brought us to a Senior Citizen complex across a busy neighbourhood street. She stood, wagging her tail at the door until a lady in the activity room came and let her in. When I explained that Tennessee was dying and was getting to decide where she wanted to go each day, this lady said that Tennessee must have known that her dog too was dying, gesturing to the small dog at her heal. The two dogs sat for a while and then we departed.
Tennessee had a long and full life in her short time with us. We thank her for sharing it.
In her memory, it’s our wish that donations be made to the American Black & Tan Coonhound Rescue Association ... the very folks who provided for Tennessee after her abandonment by her ‘Breeder’ and who facilitated her adoption to us.
Otter, Janna and Kentucky