Friday, June 21, 2019

UNDERSTANDING SASSIE, Ch. 4, "Goldie's Escape"

Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

Buckets filled, the shelter worker headed to the Play area.  The hurricane-like wind began to blow icy blasts of water into his face.  The worker’s thoughts of the suffering dogs made him determined to ignore the weather.  He was going to concentrate on his mission and get the dogs into a warm and dry location.  All I need to do is open the play yard’s locked gate, shoo the dogs away from the entrance, and at the same time bring in the food buckets. 

The worker believed that the food buckets would be the most important part of his plan.  The food would be a perfect lure and encourage the dogs’ movement toward their crates.  As he was struggling to get the gate unlocked, while juggling the food buckets, he noticed that the dogs had already smelled the food and began to move toward the south area run.  It seemed that most of the dogs would soon be moved away from the entry gate.  That was good.  He began to believe that his plan was going to be successful. 

He was starting to breathe a sigh of relief when a sudden wind gust blew the now-unlocked entry gate wide open.  As he started to grab for the swinging gate, the food buckets fell and rolled in every direction.  The worker panicked.  He wasn’t sure whether to run after the buckets, grab one of the running dogs, or try to shut the opened gate. 

The dogs, seeing the opportunity for escape, ignored the spilled food and bolted though the opened gate.  Their tails were up, and their ears were forward as they ran toward the hills.  My mom, Goldie, moved slower than the other dogs due to her pregnancy, but she was still able to get free.    She watched the other dogs as they raced over a far hill.  She knew that running faster was not an option for her. 

Instinctively, Goldie searched for a nearby hide-away.  With her nose up, she smelled the pine trees.  She moved forward and followed the direction of the scent.  She saw her solution for an escape and disappearance.   There was a nearby forest surrounded by a golden skirt of yellow shrubbery.   She hurried into the tangled shrubbery, and her golden hair blended perfectly with the brush.   She seemed to have melted and turned invisible.

Goldie kept moving deeper into the wooded area.  She continued to move cautiously, but her nose did confirm that there was nothing to fear in this area.  She continued to search for a hole or outcrop of stone that would serve as a den.  She believed that this would provide the best safety for her and her unborn puppies.  She finally located a rocky area that contained a large group of various sized stones.  She slowly circled the area, smelling and cautiously navigating the rocks and dirt.  She detected nothing harmful. 

Satisfied with her inspection, she concluded that this could be her new home.  She moved to a hidden opening above one of the larger rocks and began to relax.  Goldie not only had found a good hiding place but would soon share this with her puppies.  She slept, and her dreams contained visions of her future family.  

My name is Sassie.  I was one of the puppies born after Goldie’s adventuresome escape.  Although my eyes would not open until I was about two weeks old, I was able to smell my mom and feel her warmth as I nuzzled her underbelly.  It was there that I discovered a warm pleasant tasting liquid.  It was a food that filled my belly and made me sleepy.  I noticed other smells and thought about doing an exploration, but my thoughts turned into sleepy dreams. 

I slept, ate, and began to grow.  Around the time that my eyes and ears opened, I decided to investigate more of the world around me.  It was a time of fun, adventure, and learning.  Some of my dog communication lessons had already begun. My smelling skills had improved.  I had been aware of several other creatures that were just like me.  They had been pushing me as we fed, and I knew them by their scent.  These bundles of fur could be demanding and pushy.   Sometimes our feeding actions would become a little rough.   Mom would tell us this was unacceptable with a correction.  This correction would sometimes be a growl, but more often we would receive a nip or bite.   

Mom continued to teach us our dog language lessons.  My sibling and I liked to practice this knowledge on each other.  We began to bite or nip at each other and then realized that some bites hurt more than other ones.  We started to understand that the bite pressure could be controlled and that a bite did not have to hurt or puncture the skin.  This controlled bite was enough to tell others that we were unhappy with the situation.  The biting that drew blood was only used if a serious warning was needed.    We soon found that a pretend bite or an air snap would also get the message that said, “Stop!” This biting of the air was not a badly aimed bite but a first warning.  Air snaps did not hurt, but they said, “If you do not understand, I will bite you the next time.”  

Playing with my brothers was an opportunity to practice our communication skills.  If we wanted to play, we would ask each other by giving a Play Bow.  I’d lean forward and put my front elbows on the ground as my hips stayed in the air.  If my brother decided that he also wanted to play, he would respond by doing his own bow. 

It was a clear communication that any aggressive moves that we did after the bow were only play.  We could growl or jump on each other, play fight or chase and know that it was only play.  Play was a fun way to work with and test our communication skills.  

We loved to explore the world around us.  When one of us was curious, our intense investigation was never a secret.  Our body language would sometimes show us using our paws.  Our ears would be relaxed and floppy.  Our lips were also relaxed with the mouth usually closed.  Our eyes were never wide open as in fear, nor staring or squinting but probably blinking.  Our head might tilt downward toward this interesting object.  There could also be a bit of sniffing.   

I can still remember the day when I saw Mom’s dangerous anger.  I call that day “the day of the wrinkled face lesson.”  I was playing with my siblings outside the den.  When we heard Mom’s low growl, we all looked in her direction.  We had been hearing a strange noise but were too busy playing to bother to investigate.  The strange noise grew louder.  We began to smell an unknown scent.   We saw Mom’s face become extremely wrinkled and her growl became more of a threatening roar.  

I don’t know who ran the fastest into our den, but we all knew we needed to hide and that this was the safest place to go.  We were familiar with Mom’s face during any type of correction, but we had never seen this wrinkled face of anger displayed like this.  We were scared and started to move to the back of the den.   Mom’s growl was getting louder.  I was scared, but I wanted to see what my mom was doing.  I crept out to the edge of the den.  Mom had not moved but she was now showing her teeth.  Her eyes were fixed on something.  Her front legs were braced.  Her tail was up.  That’s when I noticed the hair on her back.  I had never seen hair stand up like that.  Her ears were forward, and she looked like she would launch forward at any moment.  

It was then that I saw it.  It was a furry and very large creature.  At first, I thought this strange smelly thing looked a little like me, but it was so much bigger and made such a strange sound.  Mom did not wait for the wild cat to come closer.  She lunged at the cat with such fury that only a mother who is protecting her young would do.  Her vicious attack caused the cat to turn and run.  Mom followed the fleeing cat for a few feet and then returned to the den.  As she licked each of us with calming kisses, we felt she was our hero.


With her permission, I will be serializing a chapter a week, on this blog, the material from this novel by Helen A. Bemis, published by Outskirts Press and available through

As her editor and coach, I aided Helen through my endeavor.

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