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Ammi Midstokke: Exploring adolescence across species

My children are not teenagers yet, but I feel that my adolescent dog is fully preparing me for the task.

Not only is she awkward with her long, lean body that she seems to not quite understand, but she makes wholly irrational choices without an understanding of the consequences. Or even remorse when suffering them.

I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of adolescence.

The mountain home is an oasis for humans and pets alike, despite the potential for being coyote or cougar bait. My land borders state land, the public playground of hunters, skiers, hikers, snowmobilers and dogs.

Brown Dog enjoys the freedom of a mountain life. We are free of leashes, pens, electric shock collars and rules in general. Honestly, if I had them, she’d break them anyway. That’s not to say she is untrained. She’s just a free spirit.

Her impulsive teenage behavior means the only way she will not eat all the cabbage is if I put a giant fence around it. Like all cruciferous vegetables, it calls to her with its siren song.

Like most children, she’s a good kid. Barring the rooftop reenactment of Chim Chim Cher-ee sans Dick Van Dyke, she causes little alarm.

Until now. She’s been sneaking out at night. For hours at a time. She’ll do the dance like she needs some fresh air and a squat, then bolt. Into the woods, in the darkness, far beyond my feeble whistle (mind you, I whistle like a drunk with a tracheotomy and a lisp).

When she returns, she is excited and baffled by my concern or the fact that I did not sleep all night. She wags in her full-body celebration of home, humans, water, attention, or really anything at all.

She is oblivious to the pungent, sweet smell of rot wafting off every single brown hair she has. She smells like a butcher’s apron if he’d rolled on wet logs.

“Where have you been?” I ask.

She licks my face before I can dodge it. That’s dog language for who-knows or who-cares or wuddyamean?

For three nights in a row she ran away, despite having been fed a rather overpriced meal of grainless, organic, wild, seasoned-for-pampered-paleo-dogs dish.

Like any parent trying to discipline a teenager, I stopped opening the door at 2 a.m. to let her in. Then I stopped leaving the porch door open. If she could read, I would have left her angry notes.

By the third day, she could barely waddle through the door, hungover on deer carcass and backwoods debauchery, she drug herself on all fours to the toasty bed by the fire and passed out hard. By then, her droppings could pass for furry stuffed animals if one had some beady eyes, a glue gun and a sense of humor.

I wanted to be mad at her and I conducted much discourse on the matter, lecturing regularly on the dangers of being a young woman out alone at night, of overeating, and of hanging out with dodgy crowds. I half feared she’d confess she was in love with a wolf, maybe pregnant with its illegitimate puppies. She seemed unperturbed.

I started going outside with her, like some kind of potty chaperone. On the last day she ran off, she came back so bloated, an attempt to leap on my bed resulted in a back-flip-flop-scramble in which she succumbed to her balloon gut and just rolled over it onto the floor. But still wagged her tail at me like everything was just grand. Like I wouldn’t notice she was drunk on deer.

She desperately panted a fever out of herself all night long. Her stomach grumbled and groaned and she growled in swollen misery and half-sleep. Now she’ll have learned her lesson, I told myself.

But like all teenagers, her memory is as short as her patience. At sunup she launched out that back door like a fur rocket and disappeared up the mountain again. That must be some fine venison those hunters left for her. Eventually, I suppose she’ll eat it all and be bored with the bones. I just hope it’s not a gateway drug to the neighbor’s ponies.

In the mean time, I’ll be in the market for some doggie Tums and beady eyes.


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