Shotz: Her First Road Trip

Shotz Road Trip

In June 1995, we started planning our first road trip with Shotz, which would be to New Mexico. Our initial departure date was set for the weekend after the July 4th holiday. On the evening of the 4th, she refused to eat and became lethargic. We took her to the emergency clinic. They informed us she had a virus and gave her a shot.

Around dawn on the following day, she had grown weaker and was gasping for air, vomiting, and unable to go to the bathroom. We immediately contacted our vet, Dr. C., and she showed up at the office two hours before opening. Shotz could no longer walk and had to be carried from the car. The moment Dr. C. lifted Shotz into her arms, with my husband’s help, she vomited green all over our vet.

Badly dehydrated, Shotz would have died if she had not received medical help within the next hour, Dr. C. said. The vet determined that Shotz had a bowel obstruction of some kind and ordered X-rays. And, Dr. C. mentioned the possibility of surgery. Worried, we left Shotz at the clinic and went home to wait.

Later in the day, Dr. C. called to say Shotz had a hickory nut lodged in her lower intestines and thankfully had passed it without undergoing surgery. Mineral oil in her IV drip had done its job. The news of an obstruction came as no real surprise since everything seemed to make its way into her mouth: hickory nuts, rocks, wood, and cardboard. She relished anything but food. Relieved beyond words, we picked her up the next day, and soon our “Devil Dog” returned to normal—wild.

Since our vacation plans for July were a bust, we rescheduled for Labor Day weekend. Like her introduction to the swimming pool, Shotz’s first long car trip went without a hitch . . . more often than not. She loved to travel by car but hated to be left in her SUV, and she made sure we knew just how unhappy she was about being left behind, even for a few minutes. In one twenty-minute period, she chewed through the seat belts in the backseat until they retracted into the door. Next, she snacked on the grab handles and gnawed on the headrests. This came as quite a surprise since she had never destroyed anything in our Texas home except a lone wooden coyote that sat near the fireplace.

During the long drive from Keller to Albuquerque, we stopped frequently to work the kinks from our necks and water Shotz. She loved these stops, with lots of new smells to explore and some of her own to leave as mementos. If she deposited anything solid, we always picked up after her, as good dog owners do.

Her first night in a motel (in Albuquerque), she was a bit squirrelly, especially after her debut drive, a ten-hour one across Texas and into New Mexico. She sat near the door, her nose planted to the threshold, and growled at anyone she heard in the hallway outside but quieted down after we moved her crate into the room.

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we drove north on the I-25 to Bernalillo, where we picked up Highway 44 and motored on to Nageez. There, we headed south on 45 to 57; our destination was Chaco Canyon to see the Anasazi ruins, an ancient village dating back to approximately 900 AD. The Anasazi inhabitants constructed massive stone buildings called great houses. Some stood several stories high and housed hundreds of people. And, despite the desert climate, the pueblo farmers grew corn, squash, and beans by building an elaborate irrigation system to divert rainwater off the cliffs to their fields. If you visit the Four Corners area, Chaco Canyon is a must-see destination.

Initially, we were told dogs were permitted on the dirt trails, but when we reached the trailhead, the park ranger informed us otherwise. So since the temperature was a cool 59 degrees, we put Shotz in the crate, cracked open the windows and sunroof, and hiked to the ruins for a quick photo shoot. She howled the entire time we were gone, prompting us to make our side excursion a quick one.

Back on Highway 44, we sped north to Farmington, a fertile valley fed by the San Juan River, a tributary of the Navajo Dam, which in turn is fed by the runoff from the Colorado Rockies. The lush green terrain was in direct contrast to the stark desert of Taos, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces, areas I knew well and had visited often.

We enjoyed our two-day stay in Farmington, but with no pool to wear down our nine-month-old wild child, we started searching for ways to tire her out. Our quest led us to a park very close to our hotel, the Berg Riverwalk, a network of stone trails, private seating areas, and picnic benches that skirts the Animas River. The waterway flows through the center of town and is a tributary of the San Juan River. In many ways, the Berg Riverwalk reminded me of the San Antonio Riverwalk in south Texas.

Now accustomed to hotel life (giants can be quite adaptable), Shotz slept a solid six hours, so we rose at dawn the next morning for a day trip to Shiprock and the Bisti Badlands. Doing both proved a bit ambitious, but we set out early, with Shiprock first on our agenda.

Shiprock (“winged rock”) is over seven thousand feet in elevation. The monadnock is on the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, New Mexico. After an hour to photograph this formation, stare in wonderment at it, and contemplate all it symbolizes in Navajo religion and tradition, we drove back to Farmington.

Next, we cruised south along 371 to the Bisti Badlands, a maze of volcanic rock formations that project from the desert floor like alien figures from Mars. I had a firm grip on Shotz’s leash as we wound our way through the stone labyrinth, but she spotted something up ahead and yanked free. I raced after her, but she managed to widen the gap between us. When I couldn’t catch up to her, we ran back to our SUV, which was parked on a ridge, and climbed onto the front tires to survey the desert floor, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

However, even from this vantage point, there was no way to see into the dense maze of passageways. As dusk approached, fear set in. The park closed before nightfall, and even if we defied the rules and stayed, searching for a black dog in the dark was near impossible unless she came when called. Knowing her track record for obeying the “come” command, we didn’t hold out much hope.


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Shotz: The Adventures Continue

Shotz and Cats


Even at three months of age, Shotz was willing and eager to respond to most commands except for two, “come” and “stay,” which she never obeyed. But I blame myself, not her. If I had practiced my own motto of the three Ps— patience, persistence, and practice—I know I would have been more successful.

The first two times I fed her, she knocked her feed bowl out of my hand, scattering food in all directions. This is when I taught her to sit and to wait until I gave her the command to eat. She looked so adorable sitting patiently, her rump moving back and forth as she eagerly awaited my release command. When she obeyed, I was so happy that I kissed her between the eyes and said, “Good, girl.” Years later, while I was traveling and my husband was watching her, he complained that she wouldn’t eat. I asked if he’d kissed her between the eyes before he gave her the okay command. He said, “No, you never mentioned that.” From then on, she would wait patiently for her kiss before eating.

At four months old, on a cool and rainy April weekend, Shotz accidentally discovered our swimming pool while playing ball. I rolled her ball toward her. She missed it, and the ball landed in the pool. Without hesitation she jumped in to retrieve it. We stood there, stunned at how readily she took to the water, dog paddling as if she’d been born to swim. Concerned, we tried to coax her to the edge of the pool or to the steps, but she ignored us. She continued to paddle in a circle around the deep end of the pool, content to swim at a slow and methodical pace until she showed signs of tiring. She found the steps on her own, climbed out, and shook off, dousing us in cold water. In the months to follow, especially in the dead heat of a Texas summer, we learned that our California girl was a true water baby, or as a friend called her, “the Esther Williams of giants.”

When she was five months old, I enrolled her in puppy obedience classes, more for fun and to burn off her energy than anything else. As it turned out, she was more interested in playing with the other dogs than listening to commands. I wished I’d had a dime for every time the teacher shouted, “Pat, get your dog under control.” But Shotz and I didn’t care. We were together, and not much else mattered.

And so life with our giant continued. I mopped floors and toweled off her beard, which soaked up water like a sponge and dripped puddles everywhere. I vacuumed black dust bunnies from the corners of the rooms and along the baseboards. I swept up dirt and sand and picked up the occasional gift she brought indoors. I’m not squeamish, so I didn’t mind disposing of her half-dead mice and rats. But most of all, I learned to be patient with her persistent demands for attention and her high energy level. At first, I thought: One of us will not last. But as time passed, I fell even more in love with her, and the time we spent together was priceless.

One morning before dawn, I let Shotz out to do her business, and I went back inside to get my coffee mug. I had my hand on the doorknob when I heard a muffled cry. I ran into the backyard, calling and searching in the murky light for her but didn’t see her anywhere, and she didn’t respond to my calls. After a few minutes, she came toward me with her ears down and her muzzle lowered. I threw my arms around her and hugged her, puzzled by the sticky smears she left on my arms. In the rising light of day, I noticed my white bathrobe was streaked with blood. Fighting panic, I checked her over and noticed two long claw marks on her black nose. She broke from my grasp and returned to her attacker, barking and snarling at the angry opossum trapped under a wooden pallet. But nothing would convince my fearless girl to give up the fight. I leashed her and practically dragged her into the house.

Still on my guard after the opossum attack, I kept a watchful eye on her the rest of the day. Late in the afternoon, I put her in the backyard and hurried into the house to retrieve my cell phone. I pocketed it and noticed her sitting contently at the backdoor. Normally, she would beat up the door if I didn’t immediately let her in. My cell phone rang. I was checking caller ID when I opened the door. She came charging into the house, obviously excited, and behind her, to my surprise, trailed three mini schnauzers. I said, “Sit,” the command intended for her, but all four responded. I stifled a laugh, then checked the visitors’ dog tags. The band of three belonged to our new neighbors. Shotz wasn’t happy about losing her new friends so soon after they dropped in for a visit.

In her first year, I also learned about her high prey instinct. If it came into her yard, it was fair game: squirrels, mice, rats, cats, opossums, and skunks. She discovered how to corral an animal in the corner of the back porch, then pounce on it, the result always fatal. Fortunately, she learned to avoid skunks after being sprayed twice, and cats were too quick for her. And as a feline lover myself, I certainly did not condone attacking cats. However, as she grew older, her obsession with cats grew as well; once she even attacked wooden bookends carved into the shape of cats.


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Shotz: Our New Giant Puppy

giant puppy

I could say I knew exactly what I was in for when we brought Shotz home, but that would be a lie. I had no idea that seventeen pounds of puppy could get into so much mischief in such a short period of time. Not only was I not prepared for her energy, but I had no concept of how smart and persistent she would be when she wanted something.

Day One with my puppy: I leashed her for a short walk, but nothing too ambitious. After all, she was only three months old. Less than a block from the house, she sat down and refused to budge one more step, so I had to carry her home. Back at the house, I opened our side gate and placed her in the backyard in case she had business to do before I brought her indoors. Before I could close the gate, she bolted into the front yard and ran down the steps toward the street. This was the first of many prison breaks to come. It’s remarkable how fast a puppy can run.

At last she quit dodging me and I scooped her up. I set her on the floor in the kitchen, toweled off the last drop of water from her beard, and turned to fill her food dish. She tore around the corner, headed for the utility room. I followed. Just as I entered, she came racing into the hallway dragging a laundry basket full of clean clothes along for the ride. She dumped the folded clothes on the floor and took off with the basket, stopping occasionally to attack it as if it were prey.

No sooner had I gathered up the laundry strewn across the family room than I heard a bang and then a second bang. I hurried into the kitchen in time to see her yank the trash can from under the sink. She overturned it, then ran off with it. She soon tired of assaulting the plastic container and left it on the white carpet in the dining room for me to retrieve, along with a nice pile of trash.

While I was cleaning up the mess in the dining room, I heard a crack, like wood splintering. The sound came from the guest room. I raced into the bedroom but didn’t see her until another cracking noise sounded. From the edge of the bathroom door protruded her back legs and her rump. I leaned into the room to see what she could possibly be up to now. She had her mouth wrapped around the metal doorstop. When she couldn’t pull it out of the baseboard, she rotated it until the baseboard cracked and the doorstop broke free. After three similar episodes, I unscrewed all of the doorstops and put them away. At age one, she lost interest in them, so we reinstalled the stops and repaired the baseboard.

After a tiring first day of keeping up with her, I decided on Day Two to grab a good book and sit outdoors while she played. Maybe she would do less damage in her own backyard.

Two paragraphs into Chapter One, I was stopped by the sound of gagging. I jumped off the patio chair and ran in the direction of the noise. I found Shotz sitting on the walkway with her eyes wide and her mouth agape, coughing and pawing at her muzzle. On the sidewalk lay the bloated carcass of a squirrel that had surfaced in the downspout of a gutter after a night of heavy rain. I pried open her mouth and immediately saw the jagged edges of a bone. I tried repeatedly to remove it but only succeeded in forcing it deeper into her throat. Panicking, I wrapped my arms around her lower abdomen and spun her in a circle while pulling up on her lower rib cage. The Heimlich appeared to work because out shot the bone. The maneuver took far less time to perform than it took for my heartbeat to return to normal.

Chapters Two and Three of the book passed without incident; Shotz was content to roam her yard and chase squirrels. Before I began the next chapter, I set my book aside to go in for some iced tea. I replaced the jug and was about to open the backdoor when a scratching noise drew my attention. I walked into my home office to see the screen lying on the front lawn and Shotz curled into a ball under my desk, her loud snores filling the room. The little devil must have dug out of the backyard. I stooped to pet her but left her alone to sleep. She looked so angelic. Now, I needed a nap to gear up for Day Three with my new giant puppy.


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