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Except for Spook, Homer has never been faced with competition. Cinders, a Black Lab puppy, has recently been foisted upon our canine hero, and old Homer isn't absolutely sure how to handle the situation. Sound familiar?


Just a few days ago (Christmas Eve, to be exact), fate brought a tiny black puppy, Cinders, to the Inn, and the likelihood of his ever leaving is highly questionable. Isabel has fallen in love with the little mutt, and, I guess, the handwriting is on the wall.

I am just now beginning to realize why puppies' daddies don't hang around after they 'seal the deal.' Puppies just don't make any sense. They don't have a viable attention span, they don't behave or observe any behavioral bounds, they are reckless, selfish, and self-serving. Cinders is all of that and more. In addition to these problems, Cinders doesn't have a mother to ingrain and reinforce the instinctive behavior patterns that should serve him for the rest of his life.

Isabel and Louella are playing nursemaid to this tiny black 'food processor.' I can't really remember my days as a puppy, but you can be sure that I never got away with the things that Cinders is allowed to perpetrate! This dog is barely a month old, and he already has "food eyes" down pat. Three little yowls and Isabel comes a'runnin -- spare me!

Maybe it's the feedings that 'get to me.' When Isabel gets out the milk, warms it, and fills Cinders' bottle, I keep expecting to see a halo appear above his shiny black head. Maybe its just watching Isabel play a mothering role to another animal that disturbs me. She certainly never warmed up milk for me. Both Spook and I are suffering from a deficit in the 'attention department.' Spook just doesn't have the brains to recognize it. Just listen to me: there's nothing like a little change to bring out our rampant insecurities!

Come to think of it, I wasn't overly thrilled when old Spook arrived at the Inn a few years back, but he has gradually wormed his way into the animal hierarchy at the Inn. I am actually getting so I care about the little miscreant.

As a dog i realize that with dogs, and several other members of the domesticated animal kingdom, unconditional love IS just that; black and white, with no shades of gray. When we are faced with competition for human affections or attention, the 'black or white' survival decision comes down to "him or me," whereas a shade-of-gray socially acceptable solution might include "him and me." The more animals in play, the more important it becomes to have a capable alpha leader at the helm in order to maintain control.

Cinders is an "innocent." He's smart, impulsive, cute, and totally clueless as to the realities of life as they apply to the 'real world.' Without a living Mom, Cinders will not learn the basic instincts, survival tactics and life-sustaining skills that he will need to forge his way through the "dog-eat-dog" world of which he has become a member. Now there's a hackneyed expression. Although we are born with a 'survival of the fittest' mindset, I guess I could "think gray," pitch in, and mentor this little guy in the decadent and ever-expanding world of Faded Glory Farm.

Having an obnoxious month-old puppy nipping at your heels and tail can be a little aggravating for a settled eleven year old dog, but I have managed to suck it up briefly and go along with Cinder's frequent playful incursions. I guess I must be growing old and mellow, but after tolerating Cinder's foolishness for three days, I soon found myself romping and frolicking with the little fellow on the oriental carpet between the vestibule and the common area. For an eleven year old dog like me, playing and frolicking with puppies can have lingering physical consequences.

Later, after a short nap, I led the way into Louella's kitchen with Cinders in tow, and we got lucky and came away with a shared aluminum-foil dish of custard left over from one of Louella's pie recipes. Believe it or not, Cinders really has his "food eyes" technique down pat for a puppy of his age. Louella is a real sucker for "food eyes." Damn, I wish I'd had a mentor like me eleven years ago!

Immediately after feeding Cinders, Isabel has gotten into the habit of turning him loose on me with the natural expectation that I will assume the position of his mentor and educate him in the ways of good-dog behavior. In order to secure his complete attention and obedience, I often find it necessary to assume the role of the alpha dog and 'nip' at him occasionally to keep him on track. Because his teeth are beginning to develop, Cinders chews on virtually everything in sight including shoes, slippers, and the mahogany legs of Isabel's huge Duncan Phyfe dinner table. Yesterday, he managed to grab hold of my ear twice, and I retaliated swiftly and decisively so that he, too, could experioence the meaning of pain. Cinders' legs are still somewhat short, and he has problems keeping up with me when I'm on the prowl: but I'm always the one who ends up exhausted and looking for a nap. Go figure! I hear you humans say it all the time; "Kids are for the young!"

At this point I'm not sure if I am a mentor, a step-brother, a Nanny, or a drill sergeant; but I do know one thing -- this job is way above my paygrade and Isabel's going to owe me -- big-time!

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