Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I haven’t written much about my dachshunds, Nicky and Freddie, lately, because now that they’re middle-aged (6), they have mellowed significantly, and we all know it’s a lot easier to write about a bad dog than a good one.

Even Huckleberry, my friend Hilary’s dachshund-Chihuahua, has settled down a bit. We had a peaceful winter with all the pups curled up under their blankies, but when spring arrived with an early bang, the barking season began.

Huckle is the barking ringleader, though Freddie and Nicky are no slouches in that department. Warm weather means people out walking, skateboarding, talking on cellphones, biking, pushing strollers and – cardinal sin – walking their dogs.

Huckleberry takes immediate umbrage at these threatening activities and flies outside, barking shrilly. Though he’s not much bigger than an average rat, Huckleberry races along the fence, menacing as if he were a pit bull, with Nicky and Freddie hot on his heels.

“Shut up, you goddamned rats,” a passer-by once shouted at them, a phrase that immediately became part of the family lexicon.

Then Doug, who lives in one of my back sheds, brought Ricky into the fold. Ricky is a rescue dog who looks like a cross between a Chihuahua and a gazelle but is actually part miniature pinscher and part basenji.

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Ricky is lively, loving and smart. He has learned that it is not OK to chew on my Crocs or bite through my oxygen tubing, especially when it is in use. Best of all, he does not bark (this is the basenji part), or at least he had not barked until one afternoon when the others dogs were in top voice, and Ricky yelped.

Lordy lord, don’t learn to bark, Ricky!

Extreme measures were called for. It is bad enough to have three goddamned rats barking, but three rats and a gazelle in full bay were enough to bring down the authorities. Two quart-sized spray bottles filled with water were stationed by the front and back doors, to be kept full and ready at all times. At the first “arf,” the person nearest to the door was to shout “Hut!” (the dogs’ word for “stop what you’re doing”), grab the bottle and start spraying.

My yard is small; the spray bottles are powerful, reaching the farthest corners. The dogs hate being sprayed, and after a few weeks, just the sight of anyone pointing the bottle at them is enough to shut them up and send them slinking inside.

When I’m home alone, I don’t wear my screech-squawk hearing aids, which handicaps me in the anti-bark campaign. Yap, yap, yap, and I spring to attention, but I can’t tell whether the perpetrators are in the front yard or the back. If I run to the front door, they’re barking in the back; by the time I get to the back door the dogs are sitting innocently on the grass in sweet silence.

“Just say ‘Hut!’ to them if they bark at you,” I tell the little girls next door, and I can hear them coming: “Hut, hut, hut.”

Gradually, it is working. I should put a sign on the fence reading “Just say ‘hut'” and maybe place spray bottles along the fence. Don’t spray Ricky – he’s the one with the curly tail – because, fingers crossed, he hasn’t yet caught the barking fever.