Doris Ober, Lakeland terrier

This blog is tailor-made for Doris Ober, a brilliant editor and writer of the book The Dogtown Chronicles, Our Life and Times with Sheep, Goats, Llamas, and Other Creatures, from which this lovely piece is excerpted with her permission.



Richard and I found Woody through a dog rescue group that specialized in terriers. Woody was a tan-and-brown Lakeland terrier, a perfect-sized dog, I thought, who wouldn’t shed, but who we would have to take to the doggy beauty salon every few months, unless we wanted something that looked more like a dust bunny than a dog.

Woody was four months old and had been living for the past two months with a recent widower. The dog was too energetic for an old man, he said, and he felt bad when he went out and had to leave the little guy alone. After his wife died last year, his children thought it would be a good idea for him to have a dog. “They should have gotten a dog, if it was such a good idea,” he said.

Richard and I went home and talked about it. Woody looked just like the dog who played the role of Asta in The Thin Man movies. This was a popular series in the 1930s and 1940s starring Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nora and Nick Charles, a terribly suave yet adventurous and madcap couple who solved crimes. I think part of our adopting Woody had to do with an image of ourselves as a potentially madcap couple who would drink martinis, have adventures, engage in witty dialog, and drive a dashing little sports car with a perfect little dog (who would occasionally cover his eyes with his paws over our shenanigans) in the back seat.

And so several days later Woody came home with us, with his toys and his pillow and a box of his favorite kibble.

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Woody didn’t like to play ball or fetch sticks. He didn’t chase cats, but he did like to chase tires and birds. He liked to bury things. He liked to run as hard as he could. He was wound up, over-wound, and could never run himself down. In the beginning we took him everywhere with us, but he developed a strange obsessive-compulsive behavior in the car. He’d lick the windows. He’d lick all the windows, all over, madly. He was in constant motion, he wouldn’t sit still. He’d run over passengers to get to their windows, the driver would have to fight him to keep him off the windshield. Soon we caged-in the back of Richard’s Trooper, and that’s where Woody rode from then on, licking the back window as though it was ice cream.

Woody’s tire-chasing meant that sometimes, if we couldn’t take him with us and had to leave him at home, we would have to try to sneak away. We had fences, but they were not fine fences, so they didn’t cause Woody a minute’s delay in breaking out, chasing our car’s tires down the driveway, running as fast as he could, and then galloping after us on Route One, still running as fast as he could, as he loved to do. We’d be watching our rear-view mirror and we were rarely disappointed. Or rather, we were almost always disappointed. We’d pull over, Woody would leap into the car, panting wildly, and go to work on the windows.

If one of us was home, however, and the other had to leave, you would think the one should be able to hang on to the dog long enough for the other to get successfully away. And so when I left the house one day at 8:30 a.m. for an appointment in the city, and left Woody and Richard together with the newspaper, one having coffee and the other chewing a pig’s ear, I didn’t expect to see Woody flying down the road behind me nearly three miles later. I was furious and crying when I shoved Woody into Richard’s arms, made some absurd flailing effort to pummel him, and ran away just knowing I was going to be late. Why did we have to have a dog!

That evening when I came home, Richard was wary but solicitous. He led me down to his workshop, where Woody stood expectantly behind the sliding-glass door. Richard pointed out a long narrow tube, about five inches in diameter, attached vertically to the side of the deck above us. This vessel was filled with water and there was a spigot at the bottom. Directly under this water canister was a red plastic bowl, suspended by wire like a hot-air balloon basket and by more rigging and a pulley to the shop’s sliding-door handle.

Richard turned the spigot a quarter turn. Water dripped out of the tube. The bowl received the water. After five minutes the bowl was a quarter full and had begun to lower itself, pulling against the heavy glass door of Richard’s shop, which began to slide open. The bowl settled down on the ground after 20 minutes when the water source was exhausted. This opened the door wide enough for Woody to get out and would provide water for him while we were away. That 20-minute head start was enough. Woody somehow knew it wasn’t worth the chase at that point. Or maybe he had already forgotten us.