If you are one of my new neighbors and you were minding your own business – maybe sitting outside enjoying the morning, having a cup of coffee – I’m sorry.

            I just walked the dogs again.

            This should be a fairly straightforward event.  A transaction, if you will:  I will take you out, and you will do your business, which I will scoop.  You will get to smell a lot of exciting things, and we will get some exercise and it will be nice.

            But no.  Walking the dogs so far here in Virginia has not been great.  Unfortunately, I fear, it is often a spectacle.

            We – the two Labs, Molly and Sadie, and Daisy aka “Biscuit,” our little Cavalier – had mastered the basic concept of a walk when we lived in Arizona.  We lived on a dirt road; it was very tranquil, and then we walked up to the slightly bigger but still sleepy paved road.  We had our route.  It was good.

            Here, though, it has been a struggle.  That’s because these are Arizona dogs.

            They don’t like it if the grass gets high.  They are used to dirt, rocks, and scrub brush.

            They don’t like wet grass.  This is a big problem, because it has rained a lot since we’ve been here.  Also, there is dew.  Sadie is deeply suspicious of all moisture.  She doesn’t actually speak, but she doesn’t need to.  I know what she’s thinking:

            “Sadie, get over there on that grass.”

            “No.  It is moist.”

            Molly will do her business in the grass, but she won’t do it until I urge her.  She likes these small attentions, as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice used to dispense so meticulously.

              I try to start out on a positive note:  “Good wee-wee!”

            It goes downhill from there.  Over the course of the walk, as the three dogs attempt to braid themselves as if I were a Maypole, I’m constantly shifting leashes and multiple poop bags from hand to hand as I untangle them.  You know those dogwalkers in New York City who walk numerous dogs at one time?  I have no idea how they do that.

            I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve encountered a fellow pedestrian on a walk who says, “You’ve got your hands full.”  I usually smile and say, “It’s all upper body!”  Ha, ha, the hilarity.  Meanwhile, my mean inner self says, “Big duh, Sherlock!”

            We always start out, at least on my part, with some bit of optimism.  It quickly devolves.  We don’t make progress.  They just want to smell things.  They eat things.  Unsavory and disgusting things.  They pull in different directions.

            All of these dogs have been to obedience school and know how to heel and be well-behaved.  But out here on the street, all bets are off.  Out here on the street.  I feel like Baretta, the ‘70s TV detective played by Robert Blake.  It’s rough out here on the street.  You can take that to the bank, baby!

            After a while, I just want to go home.  I turn into the worst motivational speaker ever. 

            “Make a poop!”

            “Go poop!”

            “Do it!”

            “Do your business!”

            “This is your opportunity!”

            Yes.  I actually stood on the side of the road and said out loud:  “This is your opportunity!”

            Sadie is the best one on the leash, except for the part about deeply mistrusting all damp vegetation.

            Daisy is a puller.  She missed her true calling as a sled dog.  She should be out on the tundra, training for the Iditarod.  She is 24 pounds of motivation, except when she gets distracted by the smells and other items in the grass.

            The real instigator here is our otherwise practically perfect Molly, who is notorious for coming to a dead stop every few feet to sniff new aromas as thoroughly as possible, sometimes snorting like a truffle pig.   She plants her feet and sets her legs with the solidity of a Sumo wrestler.  She will not be moved.

            Another problem:  there is traffic.  There are no sidewalks.  At some places there is brush and we have to walk on the pavement.  When a car or truck comes by, I turn into Frodo Baggins when the Black Rider is on his trail:  “Get off the road!”

             I always try to smile and wave at the passing cars, virtue-signaling and reassuring with my highly visible orange poop bag.  “See? I’m a good neighbor!  I scoop!”

            Once we reach our big front yard, our problems are not yet over.

            This brings me to the deer.  We have at least six who basically live in our yard.  Kenny and Lenny, who are young males.  They don’t have a full set of antlers; just one “spike” in front of each ear.  One spike only.  “One ping only.”

            A female, Shirley, hangs out with them.

            And then there’s Laverne and the twins, who at one point were actively nursing in our back yard.  They are bigger now, but still have their Bambi spots.  (Note:  we also have three squirrels:  Skippy, Skippy, and Skippy.  They have no distinguishing characteristics and don’t get individual names.)

            My phone is quickly filling up with deer pictures and videos.  The animals are beautiful and I like them.  But our yard is their toilet.  I feel oddly intimate with them because, after all, I have seen them eating, scratching themselves, and going to the bathroom.  They’re like relatives doing gross personal hygiene in public.  It’s uncomfortable.

            “Daisy, don’t eat the grass.”

            “Oh, no, sweet mercy, that’s not grass!  Thanks, Kenny and Lenny.  Thanks a lot.”


© Janet Farrar Worthington

When it comes to dogs, we are stuck on Labs.  It hasn’t always been this way. We have had many mixed breeds over the years, including Jake, a Lab-Shepherd mix; Lucy, a Lab-Dalmatian mix; Betsy, a Lab-Beagle mix; Jenna, mostly black Lab; and Henry, a Golden Retriever-Bassett Hound mix, who looked just like a Golden Retriever except he was short – the coffee-table version. There is our beloved Stanley, a buff-colored Cocker Spaniel who came to live with us at age seven; and years ago, we had Penny, a beautiful Springer Spaniel.

But mostly, and inadvertently, there has been a theme here: the Lab constant.

Then we got Molly, our Chocolate Lab, and our daughter, Blair, rescued Roxy, a Yellow Lab, and we just fell in the tank for Labrador Retrievers. We now have three Labs in our family (I’m getting to that).

Here’s a very brief guide to Labs: All they care about is one thing: being with you.

And food. So okay, two things: Being with you, and food.

And having a job to do, so well, that’s three things.

Also, they love to play.

Okay, basically there are four life goals for the Lab.

Molly loves to have a job, and she has several missions. One is, when we’re walking, and Stanley – who thinks he is a large, ferocious warrior and gets the Viking “red mist” when he sees other dogs – starts barking at the neighbor’s dogs in their fenced-in yards, Molly turns on the speed and pulls us away. I have trained her to do this, and she does it without fail. She knows her job: extraction. Get us out of there.

Molly, like all Labs, is enthusiastic. She threw herself into obedience school, just plunged into it, much as she would a wading pool, horse’s water trough, or any other exciting water scenario.

She was so excited to go to class, in fact, that it was a problem. For the first few weeks as we parked and walked to our lessons at the Whiskers Barkery in downtown Prescott, I would have to slow our progress by holding onto street lights and grabbing the edges of buildings, because she would be pulling so hard to get us there.

Molly also retains the distinction of being the only dog ever to break off one of the obedience studio’s built-in leashes that are anchored to the wall. We were doing “recall,” where you have your dog stay, walk to the far end of the room, and say, “Molly (or whatever your dog’s name is), come!”   This was her best subject. She would just flat-out run across the room to me. So one day, we did our turn, and it was wonderful. Then another dog, whose name sounded very similar, was supposed to go. His owner squatted down, flung out her arms, and yelled, “Wally, come!” Molly was leashed to the wall, and she just busted out of there. Our trainer, Kathy Morris, was so great. All she said was, “Hmm. That should have been anchored to a stud.”

When we started walking at the heel position at various paces, Molly would get so excited that, when I gave her a tiny treat as a reward, she would cough it up, drop her head down, scoop it up and eat it again, and never slow her pace.

This brings me to one of my favorite Lab stories, courtesy of Josh’s orthodontist, a Lab guy. Two families were travelling together, going on vacation. They had two black Labs, littermates, crated in the back of the SUV. The crates were the metal kind, with a little space between the bars.   Immediately beside the dogs was a 40-pound bag of food, which was supposed to last them the whole two weeks. Now, even I can see that this was a tactical error, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

One of the dogs set to work on the bag and, by industrious use of front paw, was able to claw a hole in it. The food spilled right inside the crate. The dog ate, and ate, and ate. When they reached their cabin, three hours later, the dog looked “like he was massively pregnant.” As soon as he got out of the car, he started throwing up – pound after pound of food. The family looked on in horror. Not to worry: the second Lab started eating. And ate all of it. Then that Lab threw up – and, as you may have guessed, the first Lab started eating it.

I laughed so hard when I heard this story. Blair said, “That’s disgusting,” when she heard it later. I said, “Can’t you see Roxy doing it?” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes.” Of course she could. Roxy ate an entire bag of flour off a shelf once. Our beloved Jake once ate an entire bag of Oreos, double-stuffed, and also got into a can of Crisco. We know this because there was the unmistakable imprint of his snout in the otherwise untouched Crisco.

About a month ago, we were having dinner with Blair and her husband, Ted. Blair has been looking for a puppy, and she got a text from a breeder: A four-and-a-half-month old yellow Lab had just come back. Did she want her?

Blair is looking for a younger puppy, but she knew an older puppy would be just up my alley. She showed me the picture, and I was done for.

A lost-looking dog is just sitting there, so serious and sweet and uncertain.

I showed the picture to Mark and our sons, Andy and Josh. “We can’t just leave her there,” said Mark.  God bless that man.  This is not the first time he’s done that, either.  Years ago – heck, decades ago – we didn’t even see Jake, but we heard about him from a friend. He had been rescued from the mean streets of East Baltimore, where he had been hanging out at the local Popeye’s and a hot dog stand in front of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two friends got him off the streets, took him to the vet and got him all fixed up – but he had nowhere to go. I was so moved by Jake’s plight, and I told Mark about it one night.  He was almost asleep, and with his eyes still closed, he said, “Bring him home.”

This time, we brought Sadie home. The breeder brought her over at 9:30 that night. Her van pulled up in the driveway and Sadie got out of the car. So serious, and so sweet and hopeful, too, as if to say: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to do my best.”

Why would anyone let go of this awesome dog? Apparently, the person who had bought her had been overwhelmed with some health issues and was unable to take care of her; in fact, had never even gotten Sadie any of her shots, so she had no immunity to anything. We took her to the vet the next day, have gone back for the boosters, and I’m glad to say that now she’s protected against disease and varmints. She’s even had part one of her rattlesnake vaccine – something I had never heard of before we moved to Arizona.

Like Molly and Stanley, Roxy, Jake, and all the dogs who have been part of our family, Sadie is adored. That’s not to say she’s a perfect angel: despite my fervent wishes and efforts to change this, Sadie gets up at the crack of dawn. She’s a morning person, full of energy and raring to go. When she gets into a dispute with Molly (basically, when Molly has something she wants), she produces this sharp, ear-piercing puppy bark that drives me crazy until I distract her with something else. And yesterday, she ate two of my potted plants. So, like all of us, she can be a pain in the butt. But she’s our pain in the butt. Sadie is home.

©Janet Farrar Worthington

I made a Pandora station called Skyrim Soundtrack. It’s all music from video games, and I love it.  I made another Pandora station called John Williams film scores.  It’s got other stuff I love, especially Howard Shore’s music from all of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and tunes by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who wrote the scores for movies like “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” — the good one, starring Errol Flynn — and “The Mark of Zorro” — the good one, starring Tyrone Power.

I vacuum my shower.  This may or may not be as gross as you think; one of our dogs likes to walk around in there, and always leaves a hair or two as a calling card.

When I was three, I kissed my parents’ little black and white TV screen because I thought Bob Barker was so handsome.  This was way before “The Price is Right” — we’re talking “Truth or Consequences” here.  I don’t know why I did this.

I love kids’ books.  I used to read them with my kids, and now that they’re older, I get them, read them, then try to get my kids to read them, too.  Ranger’s Apprentice, the Brotherband Chronicles, Percy Jackson, the Nicholas Flamel series, and for young adults, the Heir Chronicles.  I also scour used book stores for Nancy Drew books (nothing past 1980) to complete my collection.  My daughter, Blair, and I love reading Meg Cabot books, too.  She reads them first these days; she’s faster (see below).

I love Pop Tarts.  Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon first, cherry second.  I grew up in the South, where we err on the side of sweet.  I have learned that this is a regional thing; not everybody does this.  Living in the Southwest now, I have figured out that people here err on the side of spicy.  Chiles in everything.  It’s a lot healthier.  I try to stay away from stuff like chocolate chip cookies, coconut cake, custard pie, banana pudding, chocolate cake, frosted sugar cookies… you see a theme here?  I love them too much.  I’m weak.  And I have learned to love unsweet tea with lemon, something I thought I would never do,  Great sweet tea is the house wine of all respectable Southern establishments.  By itself, it’s kind of like syrup, but when you cut it with lemon — dang, it’s good!  And yet, I’ve managed to wean myself from it.  But by golly, I’m not giving up Pop Tarts.  In fact, a couple of days ago, we ran out, and I scoured the house, looking for that beautiful silver wrapper like a desperate nicotine addict rummages through ashtrays looking for cigarette butts to smoke. I started in my son Andy’s room.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  He loves them, too.

I do most of my reading in the bathroom.  This started when the kids were little, and it was the only place I could get any peaceful reading time.  Now, I have so many other things to do, I feel somehow less guilty if I just read when I’m in there.  It’s not just on the toilet, thank you for your interest; I just stand by the sink and read a few pages when I’m in there.  You know, when the shower’s all vacuumed, it’s otherwise pretty clean and kind of a nice place to be.  But what about the bedside table, you may ask?  Well, at night I pretty much just read the Bible and then do cryptograms.  Helps me clear my brain and get to sleep.  It works out pretty well for me, but it does take me longer to get through books (because I’m reading them in the bathroom a few pages at a time) than it should.

I love mysteries.  Books and TV series.  I just love the genre.  Favorites include, but are by no means limited to, Helen Macinnes, John Marquand, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham, Tom Clancy, Ellis Peters.  And binge-watching entire series on Netflix is the greatest thing ever.  For example, “24.”  The only way that’s even bearable is to binge-watch it.  Who could stand that kind of suspense over a period of weeks?  I come by this love of mysteries honestly; I got it from my dad.  When I was a kid, we’d all watch them on TV together; in fact, I’ve got the great TV mystery theme songs of the 1970s branded on my brain: Mannix, that lovely jazz waltz.  Barnaby Jones.  Hart to Hart.  Switch, with Eddie Albert.  Kojak.  Rockford Files.  Hawaii 5-O, from back when McGarrett was a Lord (Jack Lord, to be precise).

I don’t really like broccoli as much as I say I do.  I love roasted cauliflower, and cabbage, and turnips, and kohlrabi, and all kinds of vegetables.  But broccoli… I’ll eat it, God knows I’ll eat it.  But meh.

I just can’t stand cats.  I’ll eat ‘em, God knows I’ll eat ‘em — oh wait, that’s broccoli.  Just kidding!  When Denzel Washington bow-shot that cat for his supper in the awesome post-Apocalyptic movie, “The Book of Eli,” I thought I was going to hurl.  I don’t have anything against cats; I love watching funny cat videos as much as anybody.  But I’m allergic.  Even if it’s just cat residue on the clothes or furniture of a cat person: my eyes start to sting, my nose gets stuffy, my throat gets scratchy.  Cats know this, too, and in a room full of people who would love some quality cat time, choose me to rub against and purr.  Ugh.

I don’t know most of the films at the Oscars or on the New York Times bestseller list.  If it’s some tormented downer, no matter how deep it may or may not be, I’m just not interested.  Sue me.  That’s why this is called “True Confessions” instead of “Things I Pretend to Like Because They’re Supposed to be Culturally Relevant or Really Important.”  Life is too short, and there are so many sad things in it already, for me to want to put more dismal, creepy, or disturbing stuff in my brain.  The Greeks liked that sort of thing; they enjoyed the catharsis, and if Oedipus falling for a stranger who turns out to be his mother, causing him to put out his own eyes and walk around town blind, worked for them, I say, “Good for you, Ancient Greeks.”  Similarly, if Shakespearean audiences like seeing King Lear ruin his life and go mad, or watch Othello blow it with Desdemona because he is stupid enough to believe Iago, I say, “You do you, Theater-goers.”  Give me “Much Ado About Nothing,” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” any day.  Or the Minions from “Despicable Me.”  Or a good vintage Nancy Drew book.  Or a dog.  Especially a dog.

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday, I was riding on a tide of victory.  Molly and I won a ribbon in our very first Rally Obedience trial!  This victory was particularly satisfying because in the last thing we attempted, the Canine Good Citizen test, we bombed.   In that test, if you fail one of ten things, you fail the whole test, and Molly, then a one-year-old Lab, was incapable of “meeting an unknown dog” without wanting to play.  But she had been doing so well lately.

When we first started going to puppy classes, I used to have to put on the brakes by holding onto buildings and light poles as I unwillingly raced to our downtown class and Molly, who absolutely loves going to school, wanted to get there as quickly as possible.  Really, I would reach out and grab fixed objects just to slow us down a bit.  Everybody thought she was insane.  She even pulled one of the rings off the wall of the obedience studio, to which her leash was tethered, when someone called another dog with a similar-sounding name.

But lately, I haven’t even needed the Easy Walk harness, which at one time meant we could walk down the street like a normal person and dog without having people look at us either with sympathy or contempt.  In class, she not only aced every challenge, but really seemed to like it.  She is one of those dogs who needs to work, who likes having a mission.  She gets what we’re doing in there, and it’s thrilling to see her in action.

Yesterday, we knew the sweet taste of redemption.  A bad citizen no more, Molly qualified!  You have to achieve a score of 70 out of 100, and she got an 80!  She would have gotten a 90 if she had done a “down” when I asked her to, but that’s okay.  We passed!  Even better, the five dogs who competed from our school, the Whiskers Barkery in Prescott, Az., all qualified!  We all got green ribbons!  It was the best.  We laughed and celebrated, and took pictures of our dogs and our ribbons.  Today, I don’t know what happened.  Three of us failed.  Not only failed, we got the score of “NQ,” for “not qualified.”  We didn’t even achieve an actual numerical score.

It was hot, and I guess the dogs were just fried.  Molly and I, especially, were a train wreck.  From the minute we walked into the ring, she ignored me.  No craps were given, as my son, Andy, would say.  “Molly!”  “Molly!”  I kept trying to get her attention as we moved from sign to sign, hating the noise of my own voice as I sounded like an increasingly desperate parrot.  She kept wandering off, and I hesitated to pull her back because I didn’t want to get a “TL” deduction (tight leash, which I didn’t know was a fault until yesterday, when we got marked down for it).  I couldn’t get mad at her, either, because she would just shut down even more, so I had to keep sounding perky even as we baked in the sun and this judge kept writing down all the various ways in which we sucked.  It was a nightmare.  We were the Titanic.  We were the Hindenburg.  We simultaneously sank and went down in flames.  Country and Western!  If she’d had a middle finger, she would have extended it in my direction.  If she’d had an opposable thumb, she would have thumbed her cold, wet nose at me.  At one point, she wandered off to sniff a dandelion!  She was Ferdinand the bull, smelling the flowers!

Of course, I took it personally.  “Molly doesn’t love me anymore.”  But my family was awesome, as always.  Blair sent me encouraging texts before and after the event from college.  Andy, Josh, and Mark came out to support me.  Mark got up early and went to Wal-Mart to get me Mexican Cokes, the only Cokes, as far as I’m concerned, because they come in glass bottles and are made with cane sugar.  He also got water bottles and ice for the cooler, and so we had cold drinks, which were heavenly.  Our friends in the class were great, too.  As we had won together yesterday, we failed together today, and I think I can speak for all of us that, even though we failed, we wanted our classmates to succeed.  One for all, as they say.

When we got home, I took to my bed, so down on myself.  Andy and Josh whipped up chocolate chip cookies from some dough we had in the refrigerator, and brought them to me with a glass of milk.   How could I stay in bed after that? And Molly… as soon as we got home, she was her old self, following me around everywhere, responsive as ever.   Our wonderful trainer, Kathy Morris, said that she refused to be discouraged because yesterday, we were all winners.  She believes in us and we believe in our dogs.  Our hearts will go on.  Celine Dion should sing a song about it.  By the way, Molly is one of two Mollys in the class.  There’s Molly White, a Bichon Frise, and our Molly is Molly Brown, the Chocolate Lab.  Well, who’s unsinkable?  Molly Brown! And if we mess up again, maybe the boys will make some more cookies.


This post and all blog content Ⓒ Copyright Janet Farrar Worthington.

Forget the NSA. For real experts in constant monitoring and surveillance of the smallest details, turn to a dog.

At night, if I get up to go to the bathroom, I make sure never to put on my glasses, because our Lab, Molly, who only pretends to sleep but is actually watching somehow through closed eyes, knows that if I put on my glasses, I’m getting up to fix her breakfast.

We currently have four dogs in the house. We can’t make a move without being watched. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure the only ulterior motive they have is to go outside or get a treat.


This post and all blog content Ⓒ Copyright Janet Farrar Worthington.