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Dog Diaries

Turtles: Slow, but Deadly

by Diane Wainwright

It started out like any other typical Friday afternoon in the fall. I had the day off from work and walked my Greyhound, Chad, along our driveway and through the development up to the main road to meet the children as they got off the school bus. Because we live in a very densely wooded community with lots of “green space” bordering the local lake, we usually encounter a lot of wildlife.

The squirrels were in the street chattering and scattered as we turned the first corner. The birds watched us cautiously from the trees waiting for us to pass so they could once again search the dense undergrowth for food. We even saw a bunny sitting silently and still under a bush at the last turn. Chad was content to observe as he walked quietly in a beautiful heel at my side. As we started to climb the last hill, we hit a bit of a snag.

In the middle of the road was a turtle, making his way across in the slow, deliberate, and awkward manner only turtles use. Chad cocked his head with curiosity and gave an easy tug on the lead to let me know he wanted to investigate. I felt that he would do no harm to the turtle, so I turned and let him walk towards it. He approached cautiously with his nose going a mile a minute, his ears pricked forward indicating he was on alert for anything suspicious. I suspected the turtle would retract himself, but before he did, my attention was distracted by the kids’ bus arriving at the top of the hill.

At that instant, there was a sharp tug at the end of the leash and I suddenly found myself watching the bus while holding a leash attached to an empty collar! I watched helplessly as Chad ran full blast up the hill with his tail tucked between his legs. If you’ve never seen a Greyhound run full blast you’ll likely not believe just how far away from me Chad was by the time I registered that he was gone.

I screamed his name, hoping he would turn around and felt powerless as my heart stopped from fear. It was shear luck that my eldest daughter, Alyssa, whom Chad adores, was the first child off the bus that day. Chad bowled her over as he launched all 79 of his quivering pounds into the air and jumped into her arms with all of his momentum, begging her to save him from the mean, vicious turtle. Alyssa sat on the ground, a bit dazed, as she held on to Chad’s neck trying to figure out why he was there without me. At that point, I had jogged halfway up the hill and was able to get her attention.

That was about the point when the boys got off the bus and joined their sister. I yelled up to them to bring Chad down so they got on either side and behind him and corralled him my way. When we reached each other, I put his collar back on being sure to tighten it up a bit to try and prevent another break out.

I told the kids all about the mean, nasty turtle and how he taunted Chad before biting him on the nose. Pure speculation on my part, but I think Chad’s body language indicated I wasn’t far from the truth. The boys were eager to teach the turtle a lesson about messing with our family, but I suggested that we merely move the turtle out of the road so it would be harder for it to accost any more unsuspecting passersby.

The walk home was not a fun one. Chad kept one ear plastered to his head with his other ear up and roving. His eyes were wide and he gave broad berth to anything that was remotely like a turtle. In his mind this included leaves, large rocks, and sticks or twigs. Considering that we live in the middle of the woods, it was amazing he found any “safe” path home.

Once we got home, it was as if nothing had every happened. Since he recovered so quickly, I figured that my walk on Saturday would be uneventful, but it was not to be. We walked out of the house and as soon as we made it to the street, Chad’s radar ear went up, his other ear was plastered to his head, his eyes went wide and he darted away from all the leaves, large rocks, sticks, and twigs. This went on for days and then weeks; so long in fact we termed his stance “High Turtle Alert.”

By week three, even my husband was annoyed with him. We did some research on how to desensitize him and decided to try “immersion” therapy. Yeah, you read that right: therapy for the dog. The idea of immersion therapy is to take the object that causes so much stress and put it everywhere until the dog is desensitized to its presence. We spent days putting rocks, leaves and twigs in strategic places around the yard and driveway. We took long walks two or three times a day, but nothing seemed to work. I was beginning to see it as “normal” for my dog to be wide-eyed with radar ears, panting and stressed.

And then, one day while out shopping, I found the ultimate object: a hand-painted, life-sized statue of a box turtle. I bought it, rushed home, and snuck around back to put it right at the bottom of the steps leading from the house to the back yard. I went back around to the front of the house and came in normally, wading my way through the happy herd of hounds to open the door and let them all outside. As usual, Chad led the pack down the steps towards the yard. I ran out onto the deck behind them to watch the show and I was just in time to see a four dog pile-up on the steps when Chad put the brakes on in fear.

Chad was frozen in a high turtle-alert while the other dogs recovered and flowed around him into the yard. None of them even noticed the statue as they went about their business. I walked up behind him and said his name quietly; he jumped in the air about 20 feet, contorted himself in a 180 degree turn, and came down shaking and facing me. There was a part of me that felt so sad to see him so scared, and another part of me laughing so hard I couldn’t see straight. I mean, he was an 80 lb dog scared of a concrete turtle!

I quickly took him by the collar and turned him back to the statue. I put my hand on it and pushed it, showing him that it wouldn’t fight back. His confidence bolstered by my presence, he crept slowly toward the statue, stretching his long neck to push his wriggling nose close enough to sniff the statue.

When the statue didn’t accost him, he got a little braver and reached around to sniff its butt. Once again, the statue didn’t make a move. I walked away and let Chad snuffle and nudge it so that he could regain some courage alone. He must have spent 5 minutes coming at that statue from every conceivable angle and stance, until he finally deemed it unworthy of attention and busied himself playing with the other dogs in the yard.

I left the statue at the bottom of the steps for the day, and then each day I moved it to another location in the yard. It took about a week for it to work its magic until one day Chad no longer noticed it and was happy to take our nature walks again without a second thought about turtles. Ain’t therapy grand?

Greyhounds aren't just dogs, they are a way of life!