Column July 2005


Chafing under scrutiny, Sadie was not a happy camper.

When my nephew was expelled from day care for a week because he bit another kid, I didn’t understand all the hoopla and had no sympathy for my sister-in-law’s child-care dilemma. Then I received a call from my dog’s camp while in Pittsburgh on business. I looked at the caller ID on the vibrating phone, and immediate panic set in as I recognized the number.

Now, I’ve dealt with dog-care emergencies when away before. I’ve been called out of meetings when she wouldn’t move away from the front door of her dog sitter’s apartment — not even for a treat, which was serious. And there was the time she escaped from her crate and chewed up the window blinds resulting in long-distance panic worrying if she’d swallowed any fragments of the metal or paint.

I’d managed to get through all of these trying incidents and finally found a place where Sadie could stay and there would be nothing to worry about. Camp. Yes, she was off to her dog camp, otherwise known as the boarding facility at her vet’s. It’s clean, safe and the workers are dog lovers. I couldn’t ask for more. But why were they calling me?

I excused myself from the meeting quietly, hitting the return call button as I left, leaving everyone to assume I was needed on a matter of great legal urgency. I identified myself when the phone was cheerfully answered. “Oh, yes, Sadie’s mom,” the girl said, followed by a long pause. “We need someone to pick up Sadie today.” I politely told this girl that Sadie was not scheduled to go home until tomorrow, and I was in Pittsburgh.

“Yes, we know that, but we feel best that she leaves today.”

Even with my miserable cell-phone reception, the insistence in her voice was quite clear.

During the second it took me to grasp this, I remembered my nephew’s day-care disaster and was horrified. Could sweet Sadie have bitten another dog?!

Sadie’s infraction of dog camp rules happened as she was returning to her kennel after exercise. Before entering her crate as usual, she paused to look at the chart hanging on the side. Each dog has a chart recording their activities, medications and comments about their behavior. Sadie stood stubbornly “reading” as she ran her nose up and down the paper slowly.

When finished, she let out a series of short barks, knocked it off the kennel with her paw and destroyed it! She clawed the sheets of papers with her paws; picked the paper up in her mouth and shook it vigorously, like a stuffed toy. She chewed the chart into illegible pieces, then tramped all over it and finally sighed and sat on it! The vet’s assistants interpreted this as “extreme stress exhibited through aggression,” a valid reason for expulsion!

So, to all the moms out there struggling with summer child care, I sympathize like I never did before. Sadie was retrieved by a friend she was so happy to see and kept trying to tell her side of the story by intermittent periods of barking and sighing. I keep trying to find out just what was on the chart that she didn’t like. Did they record her weight a few pounds too high? Or that she’d been asking for too many treats or not sharing her toys? Had she anticipated going home sooner than the checkout date indicated?

She still goes back to camp when I work out of town, but the charts now are kept up high and are enclosed in plastic — just in case some other intelligent dog like Sadie takes issue with what their chart says!