Small and perpetually salty

Giving a hyper-vigilant little dog a break.

Giving a hyper-vigilant little dog a break.

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My wife, my daughter, and I are continuing to stay home and social distance for the time being regardless of our state supreme court’s short-sighted decision to rescind the state’s “Safer at Home” order. But we still make a few regular trips each week to drop off Moses, our anxious little Maltese mix, at doggy day care.


Moses’ day care—the charming, tiki-themed Dog Hut in McFarland—was shut down for weeks after the stay-at-home order was initially issued, but recently reopened with some stringent new safety precautions. We used to walk Moses inside to the front desk and let one of the employees take him through the gate and into the party. Pick up was basically the same process in reverse except now there would be a upside down frisbee full of Starbursts to pick from on the desk.

Dropoff and pickup now involve taking Moses inside of a chain link fence enclosure around the front door, putting his lunch in a crate on the ground and removing his collar and leash before the door opens a crack and he goes rushing in. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but all the customers respect each other’s and each doggo’s space, and there’s even a bottle of hand sanitizer attached to the fence just outside the gate. Truthfully, though, I’d be willing to deal with a lot more precautions if it meant Moses still got his time in with other dogs.

Doggy day care wasn’t a service we realized that we and Moses would miss so much until it wasn’t available. I work from home even when there isn’t a deadly virus on the loose, so we don’t need doggy day care in the same sense as people who need to balance having a job with avoiding the crushing guilt of leaving a dog home alone. We enjoy taking a break from devoting our lunch hour to walking the dog. But for Moses, it’s an essential opportunity to play and socialize with other dogs and friendly people without feeling the incessant need to keep us safe from all real or perceived threats.

Moses gets plenty of walks and exercise when he’s with us, but never any relaxation. He’s almost five now, but he was only a few months old when a dog about four times his size squirmed underneath her backyard fence and attacked him. It took the efforts of four adults to pry the larger dog’s jaws off Moses’ neck. My wife was walking him at the time and when she returned to the house, she was cradling Moses in her arms. We were afraid we’d lose him. We feel so lucky that he’s still here today. But despite his physical recovery, I don’t think he’s ever gotten over the trauma, which left its psychological scars on him just as he was beginning to form his bond with our family.

Bless his heart, he’s dedicated each day of his life since to protecting us from any living thing that gets within 100 yards. When we walk him and another dog comes along, Moses gets so bent out of shape. He also has a particularly strong distrust of men. When Moses sees a man he doesn’t know, he gets in his little stance and barks in a menacing way to warn them to stay back. These men almost always make some crack about his diminutive size. Well guess what, dude? Moses may only be the size of an expensive prosciutto, but he’s just as salty. If he gets off his leash, he’ll tear your ankles to shreds.

When Moses is not terrorizing the neighborhood, he’s sitting in our front window, quietly growling at everyone and every dog that passes by. It must be a terrible burden to be that on edge all the time. We’ve tried to tell him we’ll be fine, but there’s no talking to him. He’s our furious little defender, perpetually braced for another sudden attack. Except when he’s at doggy day care, where he doesn’t have to worry about us and he can just have fun with the other dogs.

I know Moses would love to play with almost every dog he sees, but his sense of duty overrides it every time. It’s heartbreaking to know he’ll never have the chill lifestyle of a more well-adjusted dog, but we’re happy that he gets a small taste of it a few times a week.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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