We're five minutes late as we pull into the circular drive lined with happily barking dogs. We're late because Alice agreed to let us come three hours earlier than her suggested time and we didn't want to push our luck. So we stalled to make sure we weren't early. And now we're late and barely containing ourselves. I'm not sure the car has come to a complete stop before I'm out my door and walking toward Alice's door.
The doorbell plays a loud and strange song that makes us take a small step back, unsettled. Then we hear Alice's cheerful voice greeting us as she invites us in through the opaque plastic covering the screen door.
I'm aware of her, try to be polite and look at her, try to register her words about a too small collar and the shiny ribbon she's holding onto it so Toby looks like a Christmas present.
All I really see though is Toby. His sweet peach face lights up and says,"There you are. I've been waiting for you!" His sturdy self is tucked in the crook of Alice's elbow, front legs draped over her arm, back legs hanging loosely, the in between all round softness. His still conical puppy tail beats an enthusiastic greeting that only intensifies as she hands him into my eager arms.
That first day only gets more perfect as it develops. He's mellow, affectionate, playful. He loves his toys. He doesn't have one accident - perhaps because he gets taken outside every time he stands up - but no accident is no accident. Asleep he's a vision of unbearable cuteness and innocence. Awake he's fun and joy romping on four stubby legs.
We're thrilled when he goes in and out of his crate. We ooh and aah whenever he lies down in his crate. We congratulate ourselves that our dog already loves this artificial den that all the books and Alice say is an essential part of his training and happiness. This is the place he'll sleep and travel in. This is the place he'll go to for peace and quiet. This is the place that his canine brain recognizes as safe and secure.
As responsible dog owners we are committed to crate training Toby and we're counting our blessings that we got a dog who seems so happy to be in his crate.
Until we close the door.
The first day, we were so startled - actually frightened - by the sound that came out of him on the other side of that closed door we opened it again right away. Surely this was an anomaly. He just needed more time to adjust to us. Maybe he just wasn't tired enough.
Bedtime is worse, not better. The pitiful crying and whimpering that we've prepared ourselves for never happens. Our sweet boy becomes Linda Blair in The Exorcist. He is the Hounds of Hell - a pack of legions, not just one. He is the terrible screaming of multitudes of tortured souls in hell.
For relentless hours. For every time we "practice" during the days that follow. For night after endless night.
Our gratitude at getting such a compliant dog is replaced with gratitude that we have no close neighbors who might call 911 and report screams of terror. Our open-hearted optimism is replaced with grim determination. Our wide-eyed well-informed wonder is replaced with gritty-eyed sleep-deprived uncertainty.
The books say he'll adjust in a few days, a week at the most. Alice's literature says human babies take months and we should buck up. It could be worse. Toby seems not to have received any of that information.
On the ninth day we call Alice for help. We're reassured that this is a test of wills. We can't give in. We should get earplugs.
We haven't done anything wrong. But all of her suggestions are about doing more of the right things. If I weren't so tired I might ponder the power of that idea and appreciate its beauty.
Instead of pondering, we do. Everything she suggested. As quickly as we can.
We spend the day making Toby's crate a doggy version of Disneyland. Treats are hidden in the folds of the towel. All of his toys are tossed in. We tuck as much of ourselves as we can into the crate with him and are as excited as it's possible to be. Our voices are high and hysterically happy and enticing.
He responds just the way we hoped. He spends long periods of time inside the crate searching for goodies, nuzzling toys, resting. He goes in and out regularly throughout the day. He loves this new game with the enthusiasm that he loves everything. Full tilt, nothing withheld.
Roaring. Shrieking. Howling. The silent spaces may be slightly longer than previous nights. Or maybe it's just the earplugs and wishful thinking.
Day ten. More doggy Disneyland. More determined holding firm. A trip to the store for better ear plugs.
I think that perhaps Toby is not the one being trained here.