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"Preston had a problematic relationship with Ursus. Ninety-eight percent of the time, the two were okay. Preston went about his way and Ursus would follow him or lay down somewhere near him. Preston didn’t care. He tolerated anything until Ursus would invade his Personal Space. When this happened, Preston would look around in dismay and then stand up and leave with a “Harumff.”  (Quite seriously, he made that sound.) But, Ursus finally figured out the appropriate Personal Space to leave Preston and as long as he didn’t cross into that territory, Preston tolerated his presence.


And when the third dog, Lupi, was still alive, there was harmony amongst all of the dogs. That was because Lupi was the hands-down alpha dog. You could see it just in the way he walked with confidence. Lupi only had to look at another dog and the other dog would immediately respect him and back off.


But, after Lupi died, there was a missing piece. Preston didn’t care. He did not want to follow or lead…he just wanted to get out of the way. Ursus took it upon himself to become the alpha dog. Ursus wasn’t really an alpha dog, though. Paul and I agreed that if only Preston had knocked Ursus down right away, much in the future would probably not have happened. Preston was a slightly larger, much older dog and he could have done it. But, Preston didn’t step up, so Ursus was the unlikely alpha.


It started during my favorite time, and Preston’s. One evening, I was feeding the two of them as I always do. Preston was bouncing and jumping up and down in the kitchen, as he always does. Then, either it was the last straw or Preston had accidentally invaded Ursus’ Personal Space, but Ursus launched a full-out attack. It was awful. I had seen dog fights at the park, but never in my own house. I immediately started kicking Ursus back away from Preston and screaming at Ursus.


Paul came in. “Stay out of it, Kelly. Let them work it out for themselves.”


“I can’t! It looks awful.”


“Ursus wasn’t going to hurt Preston. He was just teaching him the rules of the house. Well, his own version of the rules of the house.”


“But it sounds awful!”


“Stay out of it.”


Easier said than done. It was very hard for me to “stay out of it.” I guess I was like the soccer mom who goes out and kicks the boy that kicked my boy. I did ask the advice of a trainer and she said that I should keep them separated, especially while being fed. So, we invented the phrase for Preston “Go to your carpet.” It was really a small door rug that we trained Preston to go to. It was on the opposite side of the kitchen from where Ursus’ food bowls were. Preston would lie there for a little while, but his excitement would soon take over and he’d be back up and bouncing. So we had to repeat: “Go to your carpet!” many times. But it did seem to work.


Of course, I didn’t help matters any since I would often give them bits of food as I was preparing dinner in the kitchen…usually cheese. Preston loved carrots, though. Ursus would just spit them out. So, a few times, I was preparing dinner with the two dogs lovingly begging at my feet when Preston would do, I didn’t always even know what it was he had done…that set Ursus off and he would be back on Preston: “arff…arff..arff.” It really looked vicious, but Preston never did get hurt. Just as Paul had said.


Then one day, the doorbell rang and Paul answered it to see our neighbor, John. The dogs were pushing and barking toward John, so Paul grabbed them both by the collar with one hand. Not a good move. The next thing we all knew, Ursus was biting and barking at Preston for getting into his Personal Space.


“Whoa!” John exclaimed.


John said what he had come to say and left. Meanwhile, I looked at Preston and realized that a flap of skin had been ripped from the bottom of his eye. It was a triangle about a half an inch on the longest side. It started right at the tear duct of the right eye. It was amazing that Ursus missed his eye by about a nanometer.


Still, it was a wound that a veterinarian needed to treat. We took Preston to our nearest emergency vet and, $300 later he had three stitches and a round of antibiotics for the trouble.


When we came back home, Ursus answered the door in the usual fashion whenever Preston went somewhere without him.


“Sniff. Sniff. Where have you been? Did you get treats? Were they better than the ones we get here?”


After Preston finally healed, the fur in that triangle was always whiter than the surrounding fur.


Another time, we were all getting ready to go for our morning run. Preston was excited and bouncing around, turning circles, just like he always does. Ursus disappeared around the corner and came back with his big, red squid in his mouth. He dropped it in front of Preston. As Preston went to grab it, Ursus took it away. I got into the game by taking the squid from Ursus and throwing it closer to Preston. Preston grabbed the toy and took it up onto “his” couch. When Ursus came up to get the toy squid, Preston dropped the squid and barked and growled until Ursus turned away. Once Ursus turned away, Preston lay down and, in doing so, nonchalantly kicked the toy off the couch. Ursus immediately ran in and scooped it up to start the game all over again.


This had become part of the morning ritual. Everybody was happy and playing. But on one morning, as we approached the door, Ursus suddenly went after Preston. Again, it seemed for no reason. When the two were separated, Preston came over to where I was sitting on the loveseat putting my shoes on.


Ohhwah! Ohhwah!" he cried in two short bursts. Both Paul and I could hear what it meant (at least anthropomorphically, which is the only way we can). And it truly did sound like a person with hurt feelings. “Why did he do that?”


Paul actually yelled at Ursus for this one. Obviously even Preston didn’t understand what the punishment had been for.


Whenever Ursus got this angry feeling, I learned to recognize that his eyes went black. It could actually come on quite quickly, but more often than not, it was his general mood at the time and could be sensed before anything horrible happened.


Unfortunately, I think that Ursus beat a lot of Preston’s exuberance right out. Those were usually the times when Ursus would go after him: when Preston got over-excited about something that Ursus didn’t think he should.


Yet, they had their games. Ursus’ job in the evening was to “go get Preston.” Paul would say this when he wanted to take the dogs out for their final pee before bedtime. Paul and Ursus would be in the family room, but Preston was usually on his couch in the living room. At first, Ursus just went to Preston, barked at him, and immediately ran back to Paul. Paul would repeat “go get Preston.” Ursus would do it again, this time Preston would bark back. Finally, at some point, Ursus thought Preston might come if he brought him a toy and made it look like a game. From then on, whenever Ursus was supposed to “go get Preston” he would grab the nearest toy and try to entice Preston. Preston never came right away, that was part of the game. Preston would just bark. Finally, after about five rounds of this, you could hear the “thump” of Preston finally jumping off his couch and coming to the family room. Then they would go outside together for their last time of the day.

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