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Sit. (04/21/2014)
By Sarah Squires
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you might be able to teach her her old tricks in sign language when she stops pretending she’s deaf and actually becomes deaf.

That would have been the headline, or the punchline maybe, but it was too long for the header and I just couldn’t keep it to myself until the end. Her name is Raisin — Raisin He(ck) in the style of Chuck Norris, to be exact, and at nearly 13 years old, she started the new wave of Chuck Norris jokes. When I named her, Chuck Norris had become so obscure people just a couple years younger than I didn’t even know who he was. For shame.

Raisin has not raised even one lick of heck during her years by my side, but has played a main role in many of my adventures. It wasn’t by choice. She was born an old lady, scared of loud voices, scared of men, scared until something threatened her mother, at which point she’d sprout wolf teeth and pop up her neck hairs to look twice her size, sending threatening strangers into at least apology mode, if not full-run-away streaks. Still, I brought her everywhere — to work, friends’ houses, camping almost every weekend. She was my college* dog, and I wanted her to be ready for anything.

But now, in retirement age, Raisin has cataracts and honestly can’t hear me. She’s one of those dogs with the desperate, I MUST please my humans gene, and I’ve done some amateur testing, so I know. She’s deaf. I spend a few minutes every day talking into the soft top of her head so she can feel the vibrations, and she wiggles her butt and grunts in happiness to kind-of hear my voice again.

Sign language is not difficult with Raisin. She’s always been one of those dogs who tries to read her mom’s mind; she knows more words than just about any canine I’ve met. One time, she was at my parents’ place, and my mom was looking out the window, doing the dishes, and commented to herself about the cute neighbor girl playing outside. “What a pretty girl,” she said, and Raisin hopped up and began prancing around, waiting for the petting to begin. “Pretty,” she clearly thought, was her other name.

The only problem with the sign language is the cataracts. I mean, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and you certainly shoulden’t make an old dog do stupid tricks. I’m not inventing signs for “roll over” or anything like that. These are the necessities, and pretty much consist of “come,” “sit,” and “stay.” “Come” can’t be a mild gesture because of her eyesight, so it’s pretty much a wild, chicken flapping of the arms. She got it right away. “Sit” is more of an aggressive bleacher-wave move, arms dramatically flailing in an up-down motion. “Stay” is just a hand and “the look,” which she’s always known. We’ve got them all down pat.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do when the eyes go completely. She’s definitely smart enough for some Helen-Keller-style touch signs, but “come” would probably be tough. I might just decide I’m ready to cough up some serious dough for eye surgery, or invent doggy hearing aides, which, now that I think about it, could probably be a money-maker. At least enough for canine cataract surgery.

*I know I’m a hypocrite, but don’t get a puppy when you are in college unless you are prepared to be homeless to keep her. Seriously. I spent at least two weeks in college sleeping on a picnic table after work on the night shift, getting sunburned and tick-bitten, with Raisin’s leash tied to my ankle, until we could find a rental that would allow her. Having a dog is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.



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