A Cup of Conversation – August 2017

I’m not a writer by profession but brewing up a cup of conversation has come reasonably natural. My concern about staring at a blank page with nothing to offer hasn’t been an issue although the empty page does steep a little longer these days. It must be the “growing older” thing because there’s always plenty to talk about…like receiving my first hate mail.

A local woman raged in offense about a recent article over the use of an electronic training collar on a head-strong Labrador Retriever. The letter suggested to the publisher of the Review a boycott of our small-town business. That seemed a little extreme to me but what today isn’t? I’m sorry the woman was upset but I assured her the dog was good with it in the end.

We often spit words out in snap judgement without knowing the facts. It’s a terminal human condition. The truth is Lucy the Labrador turned out to be the finest hunting dog I’d ever seen. For the outdoorsman, there are few things more impressive than a sporting dog excelling in what it was bred and trained to master.

Another of the many things our canine-sensitive neighbor didn’t know was the time my brother-in-law strapped the training collar on his ankle in solidarity with Lucy, daring me to hit the button. It was over a Christmas holiday so he probably was in heavy celebration mode and clearly misjudged me. He mistakenly thought I wouldn’t dare throw the switch. The rum in the eggnog must have clouded his judgement.

He asked about the high-frequency sound coming from the collar. I calmly explained the device was Pavlovian in design. The collar first beeps before the electric charge is initiated. The dog then associates the unpleasant with the neutral stimulus. After a time or two, the dog only needs to hear the beep to respond with the correct behavior. This eliminates the need for the unpleasant. Lucy was a fast learner, my brother-in-law not so much.

It’s difficult to describe a grown man tripping over himself, cursing a blue streak while desperately trying to get his hands on the guy hitting the button…over and over. You can’t make this stuff up.

I survived my brother’s formidable wrath but only by agreeing to wear the collar for some quid-pro-quo, satisfying his dark revenge. No one can ever accuse me of not meeting them halfway. Hopefully my experience on the collar was more dignified than his own. Probably not but if I was a dog, I’d most assuredly be a great listener and very, very well behaved.

Hopefully these words soothe the neighbor’s rage but at the end of the day I’d match up the quality of Lucy’s life to any dog anywhere on or off a leash. The exquisite joy and skill she displayed on the grassy fields and pristine waters of the great outdoors far surpassed dog life in the backyard, dog park or poop-walks through the neighborhood. There’s no question Lucy would bark wholeheartedly in agreement but not for too long lest a high-pitched sound starts beeping.

Be good not bitter.