This month the Crossroads Campus crew taught teenagers how to clicker train dogs, but with one twist: WE were the dogs.

Reward for a job well done--playtime with a pit puppy, Evie

Reward for a job well done–playtime with a pit puppy, Evie

In small groups, each of us took turns being in the vulnerable position of entering the room without any idea what the others wanted us to do. (And no guys, “Shave your head!” is not an option.)

These young men always light up when the dogs come to play, but this dogless exercise brought out the little kid in everyone as we became miniature chihuahua / yorkie / pit bull mixes (these guys are creative) who had to use the TV remote, or hounds who had to scratch their long floppy ears.

Evie loving all the attention

Evie loving all the attention

What a way to get into a dog’s mind of how it must feel to hear cues and not know what humans want. We crawled around, sniffed, rolled over, and hopped on furniture. Any movement toward what the others wanted “the dog” to do would get a click and then a treat. One click, guys…not four or five :). They quickly got the hang of both clicker training and how patient and smart animals are as they learn our language.

Kudos to Julie Farris for her guidance and wonderful ideas, and many thanks to these young men for their trust as they go along with whatever ideas we adults bring to them on our Dog Day visits. This time, we all came away with a better understanding of how our four-legged friends must feel when we speak human gibberish and expect them to understand.

(Photos courtesy of Crossroads Campus)

Written on April 23rd, 2013 , Uncategorized Tags: , ,

As a kid, I dug grass away from our water meter to see what might be hidden underneath the rusty metal lid. Last week it was our plumber’s turn. He cut off the water to fix a leak in the kitchen and a minute later came in the front door and said in his serious thick Ukrainian accent, “You have a black widow spider.”

Instantly I was 8-years-old and followed him and his flashlight outside to the dark cavern of the water meter to scoop the spider out with a stick before it got away (and perhaps closer to the house). Its legs curled up as it tried to play dead on the grass, revealing two red markings on its belly including a perfect red hourglass—like artwork made with a tiny paintbrush.

As the plumber and I knelt there like two elementary school kids, the teenager next door pulled up in front of the house. An invitation to come see the spider got a quick, “Um, no thanks.” Maybe at some point we gravitate back to the wonders of our childhood. During the teen years…apparently not.

I found a glass bottle and cut a slice in the metal lid before wondering just how narrow a slit that spider could crawl through. I slid our 8-legged guest into the container and shut it while the spider was still playing possum. It could hang out in the front yard until I knew what to do with the cool but seriously creepy creature.

A web search (the electronic kind) of black widows said we had a female, poisonous to children and the elderly (not that she was all that great for adults) yet non-aggressive. But if you accidentally brush against one…well, you’ll know it later.

I read my Animal Medicine book and saw a spider’s message is: CREATE. Whoa. Tomorrow we would do just that at a 3-day writing workshop on revision.Flyer

One of the many mantras of revising is: “Kill your darlings.” Who does that more than a female black widow who devours her companions at the end of a date? With about 25 writers at the retreat, there would be lots of creating (and carnage of our manuscripts).

When my husband got home, I led him to the glass bottle. I’ll leave out his response since I write for middle-graders. He is a gentle soul so I asked his advice on what to do and got an immediate, “she’s not staying here” like the spider is some obnoxious old friend breezing through town.

Next I thought about emailing a friend visiting Bhutan that week. Those enlightened souls are the epitome of “do not harm.” Then I decided she might have better things to do there than interrogate monks about arthropods.

An hour later, I drove down the road with a spider in the cup holder. A dead end about a half a mile away from any houses would be her new home. Once there, I opened the lid and swung my arm out toward the field to set her free. This would have been an inspirational moment had I not leapt around as if on fire, wondering if the breeze had blown her onto my clothes. Maybe wearing a black shirt and sweatpants to fling a poisonous spider into the wind isn’t a good idea.

Back home, I asked my husband to see if I had anything on me. “You mean, like a spider!” he asked. I shrugged. “I’m sure she’s in the field…it’s just for my peace of mind.” (And the fact that I’d used his car.)

Ready to "kill our darlings"

Ready to “kill our darlings”

As I got ready for the writing workshop, I decided the spider’s message for the retreat may not just be the mantra, “kill your darlings” but also to devour that which no longer serves us so we can give birth to new life. I’m referring to your manuscripts here, not your dates. We’ll leave that to the black widow.

P.S. Oh, and let me know if you need a good plumber 🙂

(Photos courtesy of Courtney Stevens Potter and the SCBWI Midsouth website).

Debbie Emory

Writing humorous fiction infused with death, dysfunction, and dads.