It began as a simple request from my incredibly talented friend, Leira. She is directing a production of The Wizard of Oz at our local junior college, set to run around Thanksgiving. Knowing that I am well connected in the dog world, she asked for my assistance in finding a suitable Toto. She told me that any breed or look would do as long as the dog was small enough to fit in a basket and was well trained.
I reassured Leira that I would be able to readily recruit a few suitable candidates to audition for her. I let my dog training buddies know, put out word at the dog park, and solicited all of my more than 100 dog-loving coworkers. My notions of being a successful talent scout were quickly dispelled. I heard the same response over and over again- “I’d love for my dog to be Toto, but he’s not really well trained,” or “I know a dog who would be the perfect Toto, but she’s doesn’t really obey commands.” I should have considered things a bit more carefully before reassuring Leira that I had the role of Toto covered. My experience tells me that the vast majority of little dogs are not well trained. It’s not that they are not smart- in fact the opposite is usually the case. They are so smart that it is more about them training their humans than the other way around!
I approached Leira with my tail between my legs and let her know that I’d struck out. I should have kept my mouth shut after saying, “I’m sorry.” Rather, the part of me that hoped to “fix” the situation blurted out, “You can use Nellie if you want.” What in the world was I thinking! Nellie is an 11 or so pound Terrier mix who was delivered to my hospital a couple of years ago by a good Samaritan. He’d found her wandering the streets. She was a skinny little ragamuffin- in heat, terribly underweight with horrific skin disease, and her body was peppered with BB’s. The second I looked into her eyes, I was smitten. I took her home just to “try things out.” It took just a night to know she was ours for keeps. She is the very first little dog we’ve ever shared our home and hearts with and yes, she is our very first dog that has not been taught all of the basic obedience commands. She is lovely, kind, adorable, and sweet in every way, but we simply never “trained” her. Somehow, just as for all those other “little dog people” it simply seemed that such training wasn’t really necessary, that is until now. I have until mid-November to teach my little Nellie to play a convincing Toto. Come by my house these days and you are likely to hear a high pitched “Dorothyesque” voice shouting, “Toto come!” Oy Vey! What have I gotten myself into!?
Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,
Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.
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