54: Sweeping with the Enemy

54: Sweeping with the Enemy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Sweeping with the Enemy

Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.

~Henry Ford

Forget the five teenage stepdaughters I had acquired — it was my new husband’s adopted dog that frightened me. As Michael and I settled into married life, his Australian Shepherd became increasingly unsettled. Each time Michael snuggled up to me, Frodo emitted a visceral growl from the depths of his belly, warning me that he wasn’t keen on sharing his master’s affections.

“Don’t worry. He’ll warm up to you in no time,” Michael assured me. But as Frodo lowered his shoulders, raised his hackles, and jostled between us, I remained skeptical.

“He just needs time to adjust.” Michael stroked Frodo’s head, and the dog stopped growling.

I pointed to my Collie who lay on the floor nearby. Dexter’s tail thumped and his eyes gleamed. “Dexter’s adjusted just fine. You don’t hear him growling at anyone.”

“Well,” Michael said, “you can hardly compare the two. Dexter… well… he’s just Dexter. Now Frodo, he’s a guard dog. A real protector. Soon you’ll be thankful he’s here, keeping you safe.”

A few days later, Frodo cornered me in the laundry room with his teeth bared. Thankful he’s here? Keeping me safe? I would rather have taken my chances with an armed intruder, I thought, as I shielded my body with the laundry basket and jockeyed toward the door. Frodo followed me to the bedroom and stood nearby as I folded the laundry. Every few seconds, a grumble of displeasure traveled the length of the room.

“What do you mean Frodo bit you?” Michael asked when he returned home from work.

“Just what I said. I was folding the kitchen towels, and he jumped up and bit me.”

Frodo tucked his head into Michael’s lap. The dog’s stubby tail fluttered like a hummingbird while he licked Michael’s hand. “I can’t imagine Frodo biting anyone. Did you do anything to provoke him?”

I shot up from my chair. “So you’re blaming me?”

Michael quickly backpedaled. “I’m sorry. It’s just not like Frodo to bite.”

Frodo inched his way toward me with his head bowed in submission.

“See,” Michael said. “He’s fine. Go ahead and pet him. Look, he’s even wagging his tail.”

My hands remained plastered to my sides. “Yeah, and a rattler shakes his tail just prior to striking his victim.”

Whenever Michael wasn’t home, I felt Frodo’s presence from anywhere in the house. He was a ninja. Stealthy. Intelligent. Unwavering. I considered placing a cowbell on the dog’s collar to warn me of his approach, to give me time to find an escape.

“I think you’re overreacting,” Michael said.

“Your dog stares at me. Follows me around. Taunts me. I swear he’s plotting my demise.”

Michael’s laughter eased my tension. “Maybe Frodo senses your anxiety. Try loosening up a bit and see what happens.”

For the next few weeks, I tried everything to gain the dog’s approval: treats, praise, more treats. I fed him dinner, took him for walks, and threw his favorite ball. All things positive could be linked back to me, but he continued to bare his teeth, snap, and snarl. How could I tell my husband that I wanted to secretly do away with his dog? The same dog that Michael had claimed to be the best dog he’d ever owned, the dog that had pulled him through a bitter divorce.

Out of guilt, I stopped planning Frodo’s unfortunate accident. Several weeks later, while I was drying the dishes, I felt a pinch on my wrist and heard a “tink.”

“Well,” Michael said, pulling me close, “at least he bit your bracelet and not your arm.”

I drew back. “He still bit me nonetheless.”

“Technically… he didn’t bite you. He bit your…”

“We’ve got to do something,” I demanded. “I can’t live with a dog that bites.”

Michael suggested we take Frodo to the vet to see if a medical issue was at the root of the aggression. The medical tests came back normal, and the vet suggested we write down the events that led up to the biting to gain a better understanding of any precipitating factors.

The next evening, as I swept the kitchen floor, I felt the nip before the warmth trickled down my belly. Frodo cowered in the corner as if he knew he’d gone too far. As I washed the blood from my skin, Michael expressed his concern.

I took the vet’s advice and jotted some notes: folding dishtowels, using the duster, drying the dishes, and sweeping or mopping the floor. Every act of aggression could be linked to household chores.

“What? He doesn’t like a clean house?” Michael asked.

“I think he’s been abused. You know, hit with the broom, snapped with a kitchen towel, or shooed with a mop. Frodo assumes I’m going to hurt him. You know… a conditioned response.”

Michael looked at me with pained eyes. “That certainly explains some things.”

Frodo settled down and lay quietly at Michael’s feet. I waited a while before testing my suspicions.

When I picked up the broom, Frodo ran over, snarling and bristling then ripped it from my hands. After the broom hit the floor, Frodo stopped the attack.

“See?” I said.

“So, what do we do?”

“Well, I could always quit cleaning,” I said, tossing Michael a smile.

“Uh… no.”

“Darn.”

That night, I planned a strategy to gain Frodo’s trust while still tending to the household chores. Over the next few months, I kept Frodo sequestered while sweeping and mopping but let him watch from behind a gate while I performed the less threatening tasks of dusting or folding towels. He growled, jumped on the gate, and whined while nervously pacing back and forth, and I ignored him. When he stopped, I rewarded him with a treat, a kind word, or a tweak of the ear. Soon, Frodo watched me sweep and mop, earning the same rewards. Eventually, the aggressive posturing stopped, and he could stay in the same room while I performed all the cleaning.

As Frodo grows older, some of his grumblings have resurfaced. He recently whined and drooled as I retrieved the cleaning supplies, and I warned Michael of Frodo’s regression.

“Well, we’re not getting rid of him.”

I leaned against the broom, and Frodo stood, perched for action. “Well, I’m not getting attacked again.”

“A maid?” Michael offered.

“I don’t see how we could afford…” Frodo’s snarl drifted in my general direction. “To pass up such a wonderful idea.”

 

~Cathi LaMarche

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