Could Isis have been a flying disc contender?

In the prologue for my book, Bark and Lunge, I describe Isis spinning and flipping while catching a soccer ball. She was partial to soccer balls, but reading Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc at a Time made me wonder if I could have transferred that drive to a Frisbee.

While I think Wallace might have the best subtitle of all time, the title doesn’t address the aspect of Wallace’s story that I most relate to. Wallace started out dog aggressive. Maybe he was just experiencing barrier frustration when he lashed out at other dogs while in the shelter, but he was in danger of being euthanized. Lucky for Wallace, Roo and Clara Yori stood up for him. Lucky for us, author Jim Gorant (who wrote about the Vick fighting dogs in The Lost Dogs) wrote their story.

By channeling Wallace’s drive into flying disc, Roo Yori effectively gave his dog a “job,” something trainers will tell you dogs need to keep them from developing bad habits and behavior problems. From that point on, Wallace seems never to have another aggressive episode.

At one point, Yori worries about throwing the disc in the direction of the grandstands. What if Wallace runs too far and wins up confused in the middle of the bleachers? As an ambassador for pit bulls, if Wallace got into any scuffles at all, it would be bad news for the breed.

From the description of the disc arenas, it sounds like other dogs were shielded from Wallace’s view while he was competing. Even so, I wouldn’t have been able to take Isis to such a public place. She would have barked and lunged at everything. Even if she never could have competed, I wish I’d figured out a way to make catching soccer balls her “job.”

Another aspect of Wallace’s story that resonated with me is that even when it seemed like the sport was rough on Wallace’s body, Yori kept playing disc with him. Yori recognized that Wallace’s love of/drive for the disc was so strong, that Wallace would play long after the lights at the park went out.

Isis was like that. Here she is with Rob, practicing weaving, hurdles, and what I call the “high jump.” You can see after she finishes, she runs right back to her ball.

And here’s a highlight reel of Isis catching the ball. Doing what came naturally to her. Just think what she could have accomplished if we’d actually trained her for this sport.


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The Drunk Intruder or Why we got German shepherds in the first place

More than six years ago, when Rob and I had been in our house only a few months, a sketchy transient dude walked up our long driveway and knocked on our front door. I can’t remember what he wanted, or what Rob said, but I do remember thinking that when we got a dog, we should get a big dog.

Generally speaking, I feel very safe living with Rob. He’s never actually beaten anyone to a bloody pulp (to my knowledge), but I’m confident in his ability to defend himself (and me) from evildoers.

The funny thing about getting Isis as our first guard dog is that both Rob and I would have taken a bullet rather than see her harmed. Same with Leo and Mia.

Anyway, a guard dog’s bark should be protection enough. No one’s going to break into our house when we’ve got Leo’s big boy bark rumbling from behind the door.

No one sober, that is.

Friday night, I fell asleep around 10:30. I awoke around 11:45 (thinking it was morning) to hear Rob saying, “What the hell?” Both dogs were barking and then I heard Rob say, in a lower-pitched-than-normal, atypically tough-guy voice, “Hey, man. Whatchu want?” (guess that’s his big boy bark.)

I sat up in bed, and couldn’t hear the response, but I heard Rob say, “You’re in the wrong area. You need to leave.”

Banging on the door. Dogs barking. Rob dialing 911. “Yeah, I have a drunk guy at my front door.”

The guy was persistent in his pounding. He really thought this was the place he wanted to get into. I looked through the peephole and saw a thin white dude wearing a bright blue baseball cap, saying, “C’mon, man!” He was swaying and his eyes unfocused. Definitely drunk.

Rob offered to go outside and restrain him until police arrived, but I said, “Please don’t.”

To be honest, I’m disappointed in the dogs’ level of concern. They barked like crazy, yes, but in the same tone of voice they use on the postman, or anyone who comes to the door, whether a salesman or invited guest. I expected them to sound scarier when they sensed how agitated Rob and I were about the guy on the porch. Though it seems there’s no level of barking that would have deterred this individual.

The front door vibrated from his banging. When Leo and Mia paused to take a breath, I said loudly and calmly through the peephole. “You have the wrong house.”

“Oh,” he said, banging fist falling to his side. “Sorry.”

He leaned back against the wall behind him, fumbled for a long time with his keys and his phone. Dialed a number and then staggered down the driveway as the squad car arrived.

Rob spoke to one police officer while another questioned the suspect. Pretty sure he was just a confused partygoer, but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out what he would have done if the front door hadn’t been locked.

Leo keeps watch while Mia "woofs" for effect.

Leo keeps watch while Mia “woofs” for effect.

The Next Big Thing

Well, this is interesting timing. My friend Cami Ostman tagged me in the following author meme. I just created a page for my memoir, Bark and Lunge, and wondered if anyone would notice the new link over there to the left. Is it premature to publicize a not-yet-published work? Too late now.

What is the working title and genre of your book?

Bark and Lunge: The Isis Story

Where did the idea for the book come from?

My dog Isis died suddenly at only four years old. I was taking a fiction class at the time, and I don’t think she knows this, but Cami had guest taught the night before Isis died. At the time, the thought of writing a memoir hadn’t crossed my mind. The next day, I realized I was meant to write the story of Isis’s life.

Which actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie version of the book?

Claire Danes as me. Matt Damon as Rob. Casting Isis will be the challenge.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Bark and Lunge is a love story between a woman and a beautiful, brilliant, and aggressive German shepherd.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency or publisher?

We’ll see.

How long did it take to write the first draft?

One year.

What other works compare to your book?

I call it Marley and Me meets Merle’s Door for the generation who raised their dogs under the influence of the Dog Whisperer. It also compares to Last Dog on the Hill: The Extraordinary Life of Lou by Steve DunoA Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz, and Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill.

What or who inspired you to write this book?

Isis, obviously. Also my teacher Laura Kalpakian and fellow memoirists Tele Aadsen, Pam Helberg, and Jolene Hanson. And my mom.

What else about your book might pique interest?

There are a lot of dog memoirs out there, but I haven’t read any that take as careful a look at the roots of dog behavior. Bark and Lunge explores why a dog might behave aggressively. During this tragic love story between me and my dog, I experiment with an array of dog training methods until I arrive at the one that worked for us: positive reinforcement.

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Tagged Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Laurie Frankel

Andi Brown

Katie Woodzick

Kelsye Nelson