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Tim Istock column: Thinking outside the bowl 

By Tim Istock
For the Clemmons Courier

Recently, our 12-year-old senior canine, Maggie, an adorable if not admittedly quirky cocker spaniel, has been acting stranger than normal. And when I say strange, I’m not talking about her dressing up like a cat or conducting séances with the neighborhood dogs or anything like that, but rather doing things that have us scratching our heads and wondering just what is going on in that cute little head of hers. For instance, out of the blue and for no apparent reason we can discern, she has taken to barking at her water bowl as if the creature from the black lagoon was crawling out of it. Equally curious, she has also started turning up her nose at her food — the very same food, I might add, that she has blissfully scarfed down for the last decade or so like it was prime Kobe beef — and now only agrees to eat it if we turn the bowl over and scatter it around on the floor.

Now I will grant you that in the grand scheme of things all of this amounts to pretty small potatoes, but when it’s your only child still at home and the lovable 20-pound fur ball has you completely wrapped around its little nub, well, you tend to ponder these things with a bit more seriousness than you probably would otherwise. And so it was in the midst of one such period of musing that I tossed out the offhanded comment to my wife, “Hey hon, maybe we should take her to a pet psychologist,” to which we both laughed and continued spreading dog food out onto the kitchen floor. Then I paused and considered what I had just said, and it got me to wondering — now just how does a typical counseling session with a canine client actually go down?

“Rover, good to see you again, why don’t you just lay down here on this pile of freshly folded laundry and make yourself comfortable. Good boy. Now, I understand your owner has been making a habit of working all day and then running off to the driving range or racquetball court and leaving you cooped up in the house all day, and then has a conniption fit when you can’t quite manage to hold your water for 16 hours and end up draining your tank in the foyer. I also understand that he’s constantly feeding you table scraps under the table and then jumping all over your case when you demonstrate even the slightest bit of begging behavior with strangers at his weekend barbeques. Last but not least, he’s gone and had the vet rearrange your perfectly functioning reproductive system so that you’ll never be a daddy again and now can’t seem to understand why you don’t have the same spunk you did when he first brought you home as a young pup four years ago. Listen, I get it, I’d be ticked off too, but I’m not sure burying his $200 racquet in the back yard and dropping a load into his brand-new Reeboks was necessarily the right way of handling your frustration. You’ve got to try and relax and take life a little easier. Focus on the positive and thank your lucky stars you’re not one of those pitiful dogs featured on the heartbreaking ASPCA commercials, or worse yet, that you live in a country like China or Vietnam where they eat dogs for dinner. And hey, in another year the bratty 4-year-old will be heading off to kindergarten which will pay immediate dividends with a lot less impromptu pony rides and being dragged around by your tail when you least expect it. So, let’s spend the remaining time we have learning to relax with the help of some visualization and deep breathing exercises. First off, get our tongue back in your mouth and nip the drooling. Excellent, now slow your breathing down to a slow steady pant and picture something pleasant. You’ve just taken a dip in a cool mountain stream where you caught and dismembered a frog and now, you’re stretched out on the bank, basking in the noonday sun, and lazily licking your crotch. A big crippled, declawed Siamese cat strolls by not inches from where you are lying, but you don’t even notice, because you’re too busy listening to the sounds of the rippling water, enjoying the cool breeze caressing your whiskers, and recalling the scent of the French poodle who just moved into the house right next to yours…”

Hmmm, you know, on second thought, maybe we’ll just keep dumping the food bowl over. I’m afraid after an hour with Maggie, it would be the psychologist who would be needing the counseling.