Our sweet, elderly Annie, a rescue with extremely poor vision and hearing, was not quite housebroken. This wasn’t a huge problem, because she loves the outdoors. If she had her druthers, she’d stay outside forever. But we prefer she not drown or freeze to death, so we made her some special accommodations.
Unfortunately, while she enjoyed the warmth, food and water, she did not appreciate the solitude of her lower level space. Her counterparts, Kobe and Trixie, got to be upstairs near all the action. So Annie became bored and then she began to bark.
After several sleepless nights, Hubby was ready to throw in the towel. He was the one selflessly getting up when the barking began. He gave her fresh food and water. He took her out for 3 a.m. walks. He did whatever he thought might appease our barking friend. But still she barked.
She wasn’t hungry or thirsty. What she wanted was to be upstairs with her pals. She dreamed of stumbling upon dropped scraps of food. She longed to curl up and fall asleep on a fluffy piece of furniture. She barked incessantly in an effort to make her point with us.
Then one night, the house was quiet. Everyone slept peacefully. When we awoke the next morning, we gasped in fear, "Is Annie inside? Did we leave her out last night?" Hubby and I leapt out of bed and headed toward the kitchen. There sat Trixie, Kobe…AND Annie.
She ventured upstairs on her own. But how? It made no sense to our bleary eyes and pre-coffee minds. Then it hit us—she was little enough to walk through the cat door.
Sometime during the night, she followed our cat, Hal, through the tiny swinging door and freed herself of the basement. Then she left a puddle on the floor, curled up on the couch and slept like a baby. We cleaned up the puddle, let the dogs out for their morning break and began brainstorming.
The next night, Hubby put a baby gate at the bottom of the basement stairs. The next morning, Annie was waiting to greet us at our bedroom door. The night after that, Hubby moved the gate. Annie quietly stayed downstairs for the next few nights. She was doing some brainstorming, as well.
To ensure she did not come through the cat door, but to allow for the cat to pass through, we set it to swing in only one direction. Hal could easily pull the door open with his claws and get through, but Annie would be halted on the basement side of the door.
This turn of events and lack of resources frustrated Annie. And so the nightly barking began again. Hubby was up feeding and walking her in the middle of the night in hopes of tiring her out. While she is old, deaf and blind, she certainly does not lack energy. She continued to bark.
Then, just a few nights ago, it happened again. With the baby gate securely in place and the cat door latched, Annie made her way upstairs during the night. While Hubby enjoyed a good night’s sleep, he was baffled at Annie’s ingenuity. He checked the gate and the cat door, but they were both intact. How could this be?
I helped Hubby search the house for puddles and piles, but we found none. The plot thickened. Had Annie spent the night upstairs without needing a potty break?
As we sipped our coffee, it became clear to us our frail senior dog was not working alone. Somehow, she must have convinced Trixie, Kobe and Hal to combine forces and support her cause.
Kobe loved the idea of helping, but he sleeps in a crate. All he thought he could do was offer moral support. But Trixie and Hal noted that Kobe is quite rambunctious. He gets overexcited and, as a result, could cause a stir that would awaken the humans. His job was to stay calm and be quiet.
It was a massive task, but Kobe agreed to do his best. He must have been amazingly successful, because we never heard a sound.
Trixie took on the responsibility of explaining to Annie that she needed to relieve herself well before bedtime. She also took it upon herself to teach Annie to wait until the humans woke up and took them all outside before relieving herself again.
Whatever Trixie said or did, it had an impact. The floors have been dry ever since.
Hal had the most challenging assignment of them all. As a housecat, he loves a good, mischievous adventure. He had to find a way around the baby gate. Then he had to open the cat door and hold it up long enough for Annie to slip through.
However they pulled it off, they were successful. We’ve decided to give up trying to confine Annie to the lower level. And we learned an important lesson from our dear pets. Apparently, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org