My friend, Mary, lived in the house behind our neighbor’s house so we shared a corner of the fence. She started getting in the habit of tossing treats over the fence to Preston. I warned her that she would be creating a monster, and so she did. Every evening at about 5:00 when Mary was about to come home, Preston would come up to me with a big smile and wag his tail to go outside. He’d lay on the deck and wait until he heard that magical sound of Mary’s noisy screen door opening. Then he’d run over to the corner and start jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box to make sure that Mary knew he was there. I couldn’t help but think it was cute. Of course, Mary perpetuated this by always giving him a treat.
Mary was actually a great lover of dogs and had her own, Sophie, a barrel-chested sweetheart of a Chesapeake Bay retriever mix. At that point in time, I still had a small community of friends with whom we traded dog-sitting whenever someone needed it (new dogs and moving to new neighborhoods broke that up). So I had taken care of Sophie while Mary was gone and Mary had taken care of Filbert when I was gone.
Filbert had been a gentle dog. Preston was a little more of a handful. He got along with other dogs just great, but he also had his own mind about doing things. One time after I had gone somewhere and Mary took care of Preston, she said that I needed to pay for the screen in her screen door. Preston had walked right through it when he saw the neighbor’s cat on the fence. Well, what could I expect? I had a walk-through screen door for him at home. Perhaps Preston thought that ALL screens were walk- through.
Actually, we put that screen up because Preston HATED FLIES. I don’t know why. Was that horrible buzzing sound even more annoying to the ears of a dog? That noise could even drive me crazy even though they aren’t carrying lethal nematodes like heartworms. I explained to Preston that the insect that had really gotten him down (heartworms) was a mosquito, but Preston never seemed to believe me.
When the fly did get through, Eric and/or I would always attempt to track it down. Then it ended up in lots of fly swatter action. I have thought that the running around and swatting at walls and windows was the real reason that Preston learned to hate flies and leave the room or even the house if he could. Eventually, he trained Ursus to do the same thing. Ursus must have decided that if Preston thought something was wrong with it, he should, too.
Paul actually had more luck killing flies with a rubber band, believe it or not. This did not send the dogs into a frenzy, either.
As much as Preston hated flies, he loved his breakfast and dinner. He did, literally, dance for his meals. When I first got him, he would bound around and jump up and down and, more often than not, smash his head into the bottom of his dish and send kibble flying everywhere. So, I trained him to sit and wait until I told him it was okay to go eat. Well, he didn’t always wait. He often would sit down and then his excitement would take over and he would jump up and down again, and then go back and sit down. Depending on how long it took me to get his food and water ready, he might do this a few times. But, when the time came that I was going to set his food bowl down, he had to be sitting. He would sit there and look at me with such a look of intense excitement you could practically see visible waves of energy coming from his body.
He did this for his entire life. At first, Paul didn’t know about the need for Preston to sit before allowing him near his food bowl and this resulted in much lost kibble, and an occasional slurped-up egg before the bowl ever hit Preston’s own “table.” When Paul “taught” Preston to sit for his supper, he thought he had done a really excellent job at training because Preston learned so quickly. Preston already knew he was supposed to do that, however.
When Paul realized Preston jumped around like he did, he actually ended up teaching Preston to run around the dining room table up to five times before putting the dish down. Paul would just point and say “Go around” a number of times and Preston would do it.
Food. Food was Preston’s best friend. Nothing else really mattered. He was a scavenger. He danced for his breakfasts and dinners, but in between he scavenged. Just like the dead pelts we tried to pull from him, he could find anything edible. At my house I had a raised bed for my garden. I actually made a raised bed because I had a male dog and didn’t want him to pee all over my food. But, the first year that I had Preston, I planted a Sungold cherry tomato plant. That plant grew to be a monster. It flowed over the wall of the raised bed and onto the ground below…and kept going. Also, unlike most of my tomato plants, it had hundreds of tomatoes. Preston loved them. He would go out and munch on them whenever he felt like it. I have planted Sungolds ever since, just for him.
Preston also loved the pear tree that I had in the backyard. It was a large tree that must have been at least 50 years old, as old as the house. It may have been older. I was worried about its health once and asked a friend in Plant Pathology about it. She just said, “Cut it down.” I ignored her suggestion and have always been happy that I did. The tree is the only large tree in the backyard of my old house. It shades the deck and the house. In the autumn, the ripened pears fall off of the tree and onto the deck and wake you up in the middle of the night with a jolt. I don’t actually even like pears because of the crunchy bits within them (sclerids, for any botany-minded individuals), but I always liked that tree.
Preston loved the pears. He would go out and eat them one after another. Once he even found one that wasn’t ripened to his liking (read: wormy) so he took it and hid it behind a planter box so that it could reach the decay to his liking.
After a few years he grew tired of the pears and really didn’t eat them anymore. I have wondered if he might have gotten stung once or twice by the yellow-jackets that were also drawn to the rotting pears.
When out in the woods, Preston ate tree bark like a maniac, especially toward the end. He even got Ursus to follow suit. I have often heard it said that a dog chews/eats wood or bark because it is bored. That was definitely not the case with Preston. He would do it when we were on a run and he had the whole forest to explore. I noticed that he seemed to go for only certain, well-decayed bark. He was quite particular you know. I often wondered what he was going for. Was it the fungi? Was it the insects? I really thought someone should do a study on this particular phenomenon. Once we were looking around for Preston while a man was walking by. “He’s back there eating a tree,” the man informed us.
Preston also ate a lot of grass. And he never did it to throw up, or if he did, it never worked. This he also passed on to Ursus, though I think eating grass isn’t that peculiar in dogs. He did it all the time, but I did notice that he would eat more at times when I thought he was thirsty.
I imagined asking Preston: “Why do you eat grass and wood? We give you good food. What is missing in your diet?”
“Grass and wood,” I imagined Preston answering in the low monotone I always imagined would be his voice.