Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Understanding Sassie: A Novel of Dog and Human Communication

Ruth continued to spend time with Sassie.  In between her work duties, she was able to reinforce Sassie’s positive association with hands near her food bowl.  Ruth’s training continued to be a positive experience for Sassie.

Ruth continued to bring some meat scraps from home because she knew that Sassie considered them high-value treats.  She was willing to work and try to please Ruth when she had these treats. 

When the six-day waiting period was over and no one came to claim Sassie, the veterinarian inoculated Sassie with the routine shots.  

Ruth walked in as the veterinarian was giving the report on Sassie to Jane.  “Her exam is satisfactory – actually better than that – I would say everything is good.  Her heart rate is good.  Temperature is normal.  Mouth looks healthy and teeth are in good shape.  There are no skin lesions, and her hair is shiny and free of pests.  I’ll know more when her bloodwork comes back, but she appears to be healthy.  I’m no expert on behavior, but she seems to be friendly and playful.  I think someone will be adopting a wonderful dog.”

Jane smiled at the report and asked, “When will she be spayed?”

“I will schedule the procedure for tomorrow,” was the vet’s reply.

Jane walked him to the exit and returned to Ruth.  “If the basic behavior test is successful we may be able to consider your request for this dog.”

Ruth could not contain her joy.  She felt like hugging Jane but thought that that would not be proper.  She simply danced around and did her own “happy dance.” 

Jane continued, “Now remember, it is not a done deal yet.  She will need to pass the behavior test.  I’m not sure when Millie will be giving this test, but I’ll check with her this week.”

Ruth replied to Jane’s remark, “I understand.” 

At the diner, Millie continued to enjoy her waitress job.  She loved meeting people and enjoyed serving them delicious food.  The tips were a big help in paying her college expenses.  She had earned a college scholarship, but books and supplies for homework as well as other small essentials seemed to chip away at her savings.  She appreciated Mike’s large tips, not only for the fact that he seemed to recognize her need for money, but for his encouragement and compassion whenever they were able to talk. 

Millie had been studying the behavior of animals and would soon be earning a degree in animal behavioral science.  She had been a dog walker at the Riverview Shelter for many years and loved to help Jane during the Saturday puppy play dates.  She felt comfortable doing the basic dog temperament evaluation and was able to help Jane match the perfect dog with its forever home. 

Today she was planning to do a quick overview of some of the dogs at the shelter.  She hoped to be able to select a group of dogs for the temperament evaluation she planned to schedule soon. 

She had heard that there was a new volunteer at the shelter and wanted to meet the woman Jane described as a treasure.  The diner was empty, and Millie recognized that it was time to clean up and put up the closed sign. 

After locking the diner’s door, she walked to her car.  Millie climbed into her car and turned the radio on.  The music was pleasant, and she discovered herself singing with the radio as it started to play her favorite song.  The Riverview Shelter was a quick drive from the diner.  Within minutes she pulled into the shelter entrance and found a parking spot in the staff parking lot.  She picked up the clip board with the shelter information that she would need and locked the car.  As soon as she entered the shelter, she saw that Jane was at her desk.  She seemed to be concentrating on paperwork.  

“Never-ending paper work?”  Millie asked. 

Jane smiled when she heard Millie’s voice.  “I’m happy to see you!”  Jane replied. 

“I want to go over some ideas for next Saturday’s Puppy Play Time.”  Millie answered with a smile and nodded her head yes as she sat down in a chair across from Jane. 

Jane was comfortable with sharing her thoughts and concerns with Millie, who had proved to be honest and sincere whenever she talked to Jane.  Often Millie was able to apply some of the scientific college information when she answered Jane’s concerns. 

Millie was glad to help her friend.  She knew that Jane was always in need of volunteers, and her work at the shelter seemed to be never-ending. 

They continued to talk for a while and as Jane stood up, she said, “Come meet Ruth.  She is probably in with Sassie, our young Golden mix.” 

Millie followed Jane and saw Ruth on the floor with Sassie.  “What a beautiful young dog!  Is there a reason you named her Sassie?”  Millie asked. 

Ruth was pleased at Millie’s reaction to Sassie and responded to her question with a smile.  “She seems to have a bit of a sassy nature, so I thought the name Sassie was a good match to her personality.” 

Millie was careful not to stare into Sassie’s eyes as she fished a treat from her pocket.  Millie stood at a right angle to the dog as she held the treat down to Sassie’s nose.  Sassie sniffed the treat and decided to accept the gift. 

Millie turned to Jane and asked, “Is this the person that you have described as your treasure?”  Jane nodded yes and introduced Ruth and Millie.  Ruth felt comfortable with Millie and delighted that Jane would call her a "treasure."

They shook hands.  Millie remembered that she wanted to start a list for her dog temperament evaluations, so she turned to Jane and said, “I’d like to start the testing with Sassie.  I believe you said that you have other dogs that will need testing?” 

Jane and Millie moved to look at some of the other dogs as they continued to talk.

Ruth began to talk to Sassie, “Remember, you are loved.  You are special, and I’d like to give you a special forever home.  When you have your temperament test, you will need to be on your best behavior.” 

Sassie kept wagging her tail and kissed Ruth’s hand as if to say, “I’ll do my best.”

Ruth knew that the testing would be an important event for Sassie.  Ruth thought, an important event for me as well. 

Ruth decided to practice some more of the items on the temperament test, so she put a leash on Sassie’s collar and grabbed her bag of treats.  Ruth had already taught Sassie that the leash was just a guide.  Sassie knew that if she stayed near Ruth she would randomly get a treat.  Sassie kept an eye on Ruth because she knew that Ruth was interesting and that surprisingly good things would happen if she watched Ruth’s body language. 

As Ruth was walking Sassie, she stopped to get a pig’s ear from the store room.  Sassie had never seen a pig’s ear before, but this new object had an interesting smell and Sassie wanted to investigate this new thing.  The closet that held the fake hand was nearby, and Ruth obtained the hand before letting Sassie have the pig’s ear. 

The hall in this area was wide and free of distractions.   This is why Ruth decided to practice this temperament test item here.  Ruth placed the pig’s ear on the floor and encouraged Sassie to chew on it.  As Sassie started to chew on this treat she saw a strange hand reaching for the pig’s ear. 

At first Sassie did not want to let the strange hand get near the pig’s ear.  Sassie grabbed the ear and moved it away from the strange hand.  Then she heard Ruth say, “Trade” and thought about the meat treats that she had gotten whenever Ruth used this word.  She decided that the meat treat was better than this pig ear, so she dropped the pig’s ear and sat waiting for her treat. 

The fake hand was then able to move the pig’s ear because Ruth had given a meat scrap to Sassie.  “Good girl!” Ruth kept saying to Sassie.

They practiced this procedure several times.  Sassie was willing to let Ruth take the pig’s ear every time.  It was a successful training session.  

Ruth knew that it was time to leave, but she took a few minutes to brush Sassie’s hair and change her water.  Ruth felt reluctant to leave; she knew she had to go home and make sure that Mom was obeying the doctor’s orders.


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


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