Angus loves my friend Ellen. He looovvves her. Which is a relief. Because this wasn’t always the case.
Angus and Ellen first met when Angus was about 7 months old. He had recently started reacting to visitors, barking at them fiercely, and I was trying to figure out how best to introduce him to our guests. (Note: I am still trying to figure this out.)
When Ellen and her husband, Steve, arrived, Angus and I met them outside, on the front sidewalk. This didn’t always work with every guest, but for some reason it worked with them. Angus wagged his tail. Once we were all in the house, he tried to crawl into Steve’s lap.
Yay! I thought. That was easy.
But you know easy. It doesn’t last. You have to work for what you really want, and Angus made us work for this.
Ellen lives in a different state, and it was many months before she visited again. By the time she showed up a second time, Angus had forgotten her.
She stopped by fairly late, after dinner, and perhaps because it was out of the ordinary for us to have a visitor arrive at 10:30 p.m., Angus barked ferociously, more ferociously than I had ever heard him bark at anyone. It was alarming.
I calmed him down, Ellen gave him a treat, and then, a few minutes later, he barked at her again, just as ferociously. I calmed him down, and a few minutes later he barked at her a third time.
This was not good.
Making him lie down and stay did the trick. He was fine the rest of the evening. But in the morning, when Ellen came out of the guest room, he barked at her as if he’d never seen her before.
What the ... ? She truly is not a forgettable person.
Ellen came back a month later, and it was déjà vu all over again. Angus barked when she arrived, he barked when she came back from dinner with a friend, he barked at her the next morning.
This is not his normal behavior, and neither of us could understand it. Ellen has two dogs of her own and she was not the least bit intimidated by Angus, but we were both flummoxed; with other visitors, he calms down after a few minutes, but with her it was like he was meeting her for the first time over and over.
So after Ellen went home, I wrote to her. “Sleep in a T-shirt,” I said. “And then mail it to me. I’ll put it in Angus’ crate.”
She did. He slept with that shirt. He hauled it out of his crate and whipped it around. He dragged it across the rug. I kept finding the shirt in the front hallway, or on the living room couch, and I kept putting it back into his crate. He seemed to love playing with it.
“Here’s hoping,” I said to my husband, Doug, “that he is playing with it because he likes its scent and not because he wants to break its neck.”
When Ellen returned in August, she arrived right at dinnertime. I put both dogs in their crates. (Poor Rosie, she suffers so much for Angus’ behavior.) I asked Ellen to prepare the dogs’ food. While she was scooping out the kibble, I released the dogs and crossed my fingers.
Angus sat and watched her. He did not bark. She set down Rosie’s food, and she made Angus sit, and she set down his food.
He ate. He did not bark.
And he loved her for the rest of the visit.
Was it the food? The shirt? Or did he just finally remember who she was?
I have no idea, but we are going to do this again the next time she visits. She plans to housesit for us someday. It would be terribly inconvenient if Angus didn’t know who she was. So much better for everyone if he loves her.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor. • 612-673-7302 @StribBooks
Follow all of Angus’ adventures at startribune.com/puppy