by Stumblin' Jimmy Watermelon
don’t know about anyone else, but this is just about the time of year when all of my winter frustrations have welled up into one big ‘gumball bubble,” March has come to be the month when my wife, Ghee, begins to keep me in particularly close study. There are times in that spell when I’ll have to admit that she may have, if only occasionally, good reason.
You know for me it’s a perspective sort of thing. After three and a half months of greater darkness and static-electricity, my focus and humor can be like a bug hatched too early. It’s life is lit on a particularly arched warp in the fabric of thought and reason. I seldom seem to see it, Ghee says, until it’s too late. My reply, “Creativity has its price.” March madness.
A few years back there was this particular television commercial running that caught my fancy. It was the one where a guy was riding in his truck, letting his dog drive. Do you remember it? There’s the dog, paws on the steering wheel, appearing to, and mindfully mind you, control the direction of this truck. As over-riding genetic whispers incline this K-9, it winds up chasing a duck and runs the vehicle, with “master” (a questionable title at this point) frozen in the passenger seat, window deep into a pond. I lost track of what the ad was selling.
Somewhere amid the weekly multiple running of this little vignette, the silliness of it became mired in what Ghee has often described of me as, “My winter fascination.” First, I took note of the advertising company’s error wherein it had used what was obviously a hound dog, in what we would all know to be a retriever’s bred inclination, follow the duck. Secondly, there was no way that dog’s hind feet could reach the gas pedal, much less the brake. How could they miss that? Do you see where I’m going here? Ghee, for whatever reason, could not fathom it.
From deep in my mind, somewhere way back in there, was the almost audible, possibly visible, trigger snap of a synaptic event. As my face flushed with color in the excitement of a fresh adventure afoot, my wife’s noticeably drained a bit with her anticipation. An idea fed by winter boredom and sprung with the promise of spring, had floated forward and I could not let the opportunity pass. Now you see where I’m going.
I’d seen it achieved to one degree or another in circus ring performances. Surely with all my lowcountry wildlife/dog handling experience and natural inclinations, I could do the same, perhaps better even. I had to overlook Ghee’s lack of faith. Monkeys and electric toy cars be damned. I would teach a dog to drive.
At the time of this epiphany I had the perfect vehicle for the project, an old station-wagon on its last legs that I was still using. I’d named it “The Grand Pariah,” but that’s beside the point. It had an automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and absolutely no resale value. Living in the country, the lowcountry no less, there were a number of available fields and sparsely traveled dirt roads for training application. I knew that the choice of K-9 breed would be imperative. Finding that individually special dog and building a program to teach it would take time, patience and insight. For my part, I possessed plenty of the first two requirements. There was some question as to the depth of the third but I was confident that too would change as things progressed.
As I began to put my plan together, a realization hit me. It was the same problem I had noted in the advertiser’s script. There was no way any dog could handle the steering wheel and have its hind feet reach the foot pedals. Sure it could also manage the turn signals and column mounted shifter, but the brakes and accelerator, no way. The answer was so simple. I just needed two dogs; they could work together. The one in the seat of course could see what was happening to respond. I figured I would just have to ride as passenger to give helpful commands to the dog on the driver’s side floor. No big deal, just a little more required of relative points from the previous paragraph. Are you still with me?
Agreement with a land owner for the use of several fields that lay fallow and their adjacent dirt lanes took repeated explanation and perseverance. Finally my father shook his head and gave in. He walked away mumbling something about hoping I’d at least keep it all close to home. It took a few hours of researching dog books to pick what I deemed to be the appropriate breeds for the task. That advertiser had no idea. I chose the border collie to handle the top side of things, the steering wheel and such, and the short haired dachshund to work the pedals. The first real hurdle was in finding two individual animals with each the right propensity and, as important, an ability to work as a team. At this point I would interject that I had to go what one might call “covert”. My wife, still at a loss as to the brilliance of it all, began to refer to my brainchild hobby as “a growing problem”. Some things they never can appreciate until the opening night’s performance.
You can just imagine how long it took to find just the right dogs. Their temperament and learning curve had to be remarkable. The two I finally stuck with fit the bill and they reminded me so much of myself it was uncanny. I named the young border collie, Stanley, and the short-haired dachshund, Stella. Their monikers were taken from a grand old movie whose title came to me in he midst of all this, A Streetcar Named Desire. The word that came to focus was ‘desire” and for this project’s vision, I had more than I needed.
A brilliant industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, once stated, “ There is nothing capricious in nature. If one can conceive it, then it is achievable. The only questioning factor is their desire.” The possibilities for success were there. I was if nothing else, dedicated. The dogs were waiting. My wife was out of the loop and Carnegie’s truth was about to be put to the test. This was then, my March madness. Yours is in the fact that I will continue on to chapter two next month. Patience please . . .