By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
It was 3.a.m. when I awoke to a gnawing and scratching sound. My first thought made my blood run cold. Loose in my house was a wily English setter pup, and the sound was coming directly from the area where I’d recently installed a new leather couch.
Not just any new leather couch, but one that could be called the grand piano of leather couches. A piece of furniture that, in the minds of those who cherish a well-made nest, is sought after and found with a sense of accomplishment that brings tears to the eyes. It wasn’t just a beautiful whiskey-colored, soft-leather, high-backed, pin-tucked couch that brought to mind parlors full of sophisticated conversation.
It was also a great deal.
I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room. The little setter was sitting on the couch with an expression of disturbed activity. Sure enough, she’d been licking the couch. She hadn’t chewed it yet, but she was going to. Since I’m not a dog, I don’t know what goes on prior to the act of chewing.
When I arrive on the scene, an object of my affection is usually already destroyed. I don’t know how long it took or what preparation was involved.
There isn’t a lot of literature on precursory chewing activities in dogs. Officers of the human law are known to say, “We have to catch them in the act.”
They are helpless to do something until it’s too late. But here I was at 3:05 a.m. with what was possibly a couch-chewing commission.
There was no hotline that I could call with my question: “Do dogs lick before they chew or was licking the act in itself?” Would she be content to lick the couch or was licking the gateway activity to chewing? Did I even really want her to be licking the couch?
“Parker,” I said. “Mom does not want you licking the couch.”
She cocked her bronze-speckled head as if to say, “But I like to lick the couch.”
I don’t want to be unreasonable. But, if there was a 2 percent chance that licking led to chewing, I wanted it to stop right then and there. In fact, in the interest of me getting a good night’s sleep, I considered wrapping up the couch entirely in plastic. Since I’m not one for kenneling my dog, I must kennel all my valuables.
We reached a compromise. I scooped her up and carried her away from the couch and gave her an appropriate chew toy. “See?” I said, “Chewing on appropriate chew toys is fun.”
The appropriate chew toy — a pink bunny rabbit — hung from her mouth as she bore a look that seemed to say, “This appropriate chew toy is boring.”
“We don’t lick couches in this family,” I said.
It was getting late and I wasn’t at my sharpest. Expecting my dog to understand my disingenuous — and entirely made up — new family creed was a little off-base. And setters are known to dislike a condescending tone. Something in the tilt of her head and the way the bunny chew toy dropped from her mouth from lack of interest made me think that we were getting nowhere.
If I just went back to sleep, she’d probably get right back to what she was doing —whatever that was. In the light of day, it may have occurred to me that the word “No” has more impact than complex sentence structures.
And, I may not have given as much thought to whether my command was justified. For the sake of the couch, I should have, “Just said no.” Don’t chew it. Don’t lick it. Don’t even look at it.
I didn’t buy the couch so that it could be employed for any dog-related purpose. It was just there to adorn a room in the house that I don’t use. It was, by no means, a giant setter salt lick.
“We don’t sit on couches in this family,” I thought.
We just put the couch where it’s supposed to be because society wants us to have respectable couches. It’s my retirement couch. When I cannot spend all day at work or in the field or in front of a computer screen, I will go and sit on my couch.
Parker hadn’t eaten the old couch I just pitched in the yard — the couch that I would have gladly given her as a chew toy. So maybe she wouldn’t eat this one. It was 5 a.m. in the morning by the time I finally finished this column and a pot of coffee.
Parker sat at my feet — the way setters have done for centuries when not in the field pointing upland birds. I looked down at her, prepared to admire her good setter looks. She was licking the floor.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She is writing a book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” scheduled to be printed by Northern Publishing in January 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.