Our Phony Service Dog

The fabric of my days is pretty consistent. Since my goal is to learn to write, I spend all day reading about writing, journaling, blogging and meditating.

Recently I also spend a percentage of the day working with Bronson, the wonder dog, on his obedience skills.

We adopted Bronson from the Colorado men’s penitentiary. He came to us wonderfully dutiful.  Then we proceeded to untrain him. That began when Jimmy began walking him off leash.   For more on that experience see this blog post– Introducing Bronson, our dog trained in the Colorado Men’s Penitentiary  

I wouldn’t be fussing about Bdog’s behavior if we didn’t have to pass him off as a service animal. No, he’s not a service animal. He is, however, Houdini. Bronson can and does escape from hotel rooms.

The first time it happened was in Georgia. We arrived at our La Quinta and checked in at the front office. Then we piled into Stella, my beautiful blue mini-van, and drove about half a mile. This La Quinta was a lot like a college campus. There were several “dorms.” Each room had an exterior door.

We fed Bronson, left him in the place and went to dinner. Following the meal, we stopped at the front office to ask a question. I waited in the car. Jim entered and exited through the automatic sliding glass doors. As he left, he looked down to his right side with astonishment. I peered through the glow of headlights and saw that there next to him was our Bronson!

Sure enough, Bdog had left our room, found the office, and wandered about. The employees said he had come and gone several times, roamed about, put his paws on the front desk. He was looking for us.

We drove back to our building. In the parking lot, we encountered an apparently drunk man. He took a glance at Bronson, then asked, “That your dog? Pretty darn smart dog you got there.”

He continued, “I found him wandering around, asked him where his room was. He led me up there.” (pointed) “I put him back in the flat three damn times and he kept right on escaping.”

The second time he absconded in spite of us rolling a desk chair in front of the door as we backed out of the room. We arrived home from dinner, and Bronson was in the reception area, holding court with employees.

The third occasion I went to fill an ice bucket and returned within minutes to find Bronson bounding down the hall, ears flapping, wearing a giant grin as if to say, “Here I am mom! On the way!”

So we can’t leave him in hotel rooms. Nor can he wait in a hot car while we dine. Therefore I went online and ponied up sixty-five dollars to get Houdini a service dog vest.

My daughter, Mo, is horrified we pass the kid off as something he isn’t.  She shouldn’t be so darned honorable.  I have to wonder how I failed as a mother.

Recently I checked how to have him certified as a service animal. It would take two years. Forget that. So I signed him up for obedience classes to brush up his skill set.

There are five dogs in his class. The handlers use little “clickers.” Each time the dog responds well to a command we “click,” then reward with a treat. He’s a rock star student.

I’ve only been asked once why I need a service dog. I responded, “I’m sorry. Will you repeat that? I’m hearing impaired.” By the time we head to Chicago, the kid will be totally believable as a guide dog to the deaf.

ski lift dog.jpg
Here he is on an Aspen ski lift.


Introducing Bronson, our dog trained in the Colorado Men’s Penitentiary

In 2007, after my naughty black Lab Riley died, Jim and I made the decision to adopt another dog. This would be the first pet we chose together. I came to the marriage with Riley and Puck, the adorable but messy Cockatiel.  Jim brought Missy, the gray and white cat into the mix.

My sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Rob, had recently adopted a little black poodle named Marcel. They got him through the Colorado Prison System canine program. Dogs are placed with inmates for obedience training. Marcel was schooled in the women’s penitentiary. Marilyn and Rob didn’t hear that animal bark for nearly a year. Barking is extinguished in the prison by squirting the offender with a mixture of vinegar and water.

The program is amazing.  The animals live in crates with their inmate trainers.  Prison cells are small.  Beds of inmates training large dogs are raised high enough to accommodate crates underneath.  The animals go to class all morning long, in the afternoon they play and socialize with other dogs.

After learning about the program I immediately went to the CCI Colorado Prison Dog  website and began the process of falling in love with every dog on the list. Except for Chihuahuas. My high school friend Nora had a wee teeny evil ankle biting Chihuahua named Cha Cha. Getting past Cha Cha without being nipped was darn near impossible.

I ear-marked all the prison dogs as potential pets.   Jim fell for only one.  A small, sad-looking, slumped over brown lab mix named Bronson. We were told Bronson was rescued from an abusive situation. He was being trained in the men’s penitentiary by inmate Terrance. We coordinated with the program to meet Bronson, and secure my very first well-trained dog.

Very early one cold March morning we flew to Colorado. Marilyn, Rob, and Marcel met us at the airport and drove us to the parking lot outside the nearby women’s penitentiary.  Animals trained in the men’s penitentiary were brought there because the men’s prison is far from the airport.

We arrived to find scads of dogs and oceans of prospective owners.  Again, I fell for each and every animal.  Jim still had eyes only for Bronson.  However, another family was circling Bronson as their prospective pet.  My marvelous cunning sister sidled up to the mother and stated, “Oh my goodness!  It looks like your little boy is afraid of that dog.”  The mother, “What?  Really?  I didn’t notice….”  Marilyn, “Well you know your child better than I do.  But I’m pretty sure he is frightened by that animal.”

The family moved on to another dog, Serena.  Serena had the legs of a corgi, snout of a shepherd, body of a dachshund.  She sprouted long white stiff whiskers all over her chin.   Jim said she looked like a science experiment gone wrong.

We happily adopted Bronson.  After an animal was chosen the new owners were directed into the penitentiary.  We were ushered past concertina-wired fences, relinquished our belongings, and were led to an enormous chamber.  Seated in folding chairs we watched the dogs perform perfect obedience skills.

Before we left Bronson was bathed.  We then took him to a local veterinarian to certify his health.  Finally, after a long day, we were back to the airport.  Bronson, in a crate formerly used by M and R’s Aussie, was housed under the plane

Late that night we arrived at O’Hare.  We stumbled around baggage claim unable to find our sad little prison puppy.  When we finally located him, far from the area we were told to look, he was trembling and frothing at the mouth.  Poor puppy.  Ever since that experience Bronson loathes being cooped up.  Anywhere. At all.  Up to and including hotel rooms.  More on that in a future post.

Bronson is the light of our lives.  He and I play football daily.  I am quarterback and commentator. Bronson is the wide receiver.  Jim is the fan.  I whisper the play into Bronson’s floppy ear and toss the ball into our kitchen.  Bronson snatches the ball, races to the dining room, around the dining table.  If he zooms past the small green living room bench it’s a TOUCHDOWN!  Another run past the leopard upholstered dining chair and he gets the two point conversion.

Yes, that’s me in the huge mirror.  No, I haven’t combed my hair.  No, I don’t have make-up on. Yes, I’m letting myself go.  So just shut up.


One spin past that leopard chair, following a run around the green bench, and the kid scores two extra points.  He really is Super Bowl awesome.

He’s an old boy now.  He goes to bed early and sleeps late.  His breakfast is a concoction of bran cereal, kibble and psyllium husk powder.  Plus a bowl of ice water.  At five thirty each evening Jim takes him around the block while I fix his dinner–a repeat of breakfast.

About five doors down the street Jim calls me to let me know Bronson is on the way.  He then sends wonder dog to sprint home.  I open the front door and wait for him to rush by me straight to his dinner bowl and ice water.

This is our last dog.  I know we would forever compare others to Bronson.  We tell him he’s only four years old in hopes he believes and lives for decades.

It’s 9:15 in the morning. Bronson woke up long enough to do his morning business.  Then he toddled back to the bedroom where he and Jim are still deep in the feathers.

They are both good at retirement.





The many naughty dogs I’ve trained, and the good one who came from Prison.

I’ve had lots of dogs.  The bad dogs were trained by me.  The good dog wasn’t.

Our first and last Jay family dog, Taffy, was a cocker spaniel.  She was trained by no one.   In those days people opened the back door and simply let the dog out.  No fenced yards,  no scooping of poop.  Once Taffy came home, clearly in distress.  Some cruel person had wrapped a rubber band around her teeth from one side of her jaw to the other.

Taffy was a submissive urinator.  Mostly she did that at the vet’s office, but once and again it happened at home.  Poor thing had some sort of skin fungus, smelled noxious so rarely got patted.  You get the picture, all-in-all Taffy was a less than an ideal pet.  Possibly we were less than ideal pet owners.

She often traveled into the woods, picking up ticks.  Daddy would occasionally do tick checks.  He’d pull off plump blood filled monsters, put them in an ashtray, strike a match and light them on fire.  They’d hiss for a moment then pop dramatically.  I liked that.

Other than Daddy’s tick search, Mother was her caretaker.  She fed her Red Heart canned food, except on Taffy’s birthday.  That day Mother splurged for Alpo.

I sobbed when Taffy died.   Although I’d spent very little time with our dog, she had been a smelly fixture in our home for years.

My next dog was a Bulldog.  Molly, found as a stray, wandering around Washington Crossing, Pa.  The kids were little–about six and three.  My husband maintained he didn’t want a dog.  I took one look at that roly-poly funny looking animal and I said to my children,   “Let’s surprise Daddy!” They were thrilled.  We brought Molly home, bathed her and waited excitedly (the kids), nervously (me) for Dad to arrive from work.  He gaped at her sloppy smashed face, fell to his knees laughing, and was instantly smitten.

Like every single dog I’ve ever trained, Molly was incorrigible.  My style of correcting a naughty dog is to say, “Please don’t chew that, honey.” When she first came to live at our house she pee’d and pooped everywhere.  I devised a housebreaking method.  I slid the end of a short leash onto a belt, strapped the belt around my waist, hooked it to her collar and spent days with Molly attached to me as if by an umbilical cord.  Every time she’d begin to squat I’d yank her to the door and drag her outside.  When she did her business on the grass I’d reward her with praise and cookies.  Eventually, she got the idea.

Bulldogs are enormously food driven.  And not the brightest crayons in the box.  Molly snuffled up anything she found on the floor.  Picking up her poops was always an adventure.  Legos, crayons, and random GI Joe parts stuck out like thorns.  I always fancied a small Army guys trapped inside her meadow muffins, screaming, “Help me!  I’m trapped in a mound of crap.”

Molly was an expensive animal, always off to the vet.  She had cherry eye requiring surgery, allergies, tail problems.  Her face wrinkles needed regular cleaning otherwise they got infected.

And her farts were a thing of wonder.  She slept under our bed and emitted the most repulsive fumes all night long.  In my mind I pictured great putrid green gas clouding out from beneath the dust ruffle.

We adored farting, snorting, drooling Molly.  Like all Bulldogs, Molly was prone to being overweight.  At the time we were unaware Bulldogs require specialty vets who truly understand the unique health issues they are disposed to.  The vet we used suggested a diet, stating otherwise she would develop other illness problems.

Wanting our beloved Molly in our world for as long as possible,  I followed his orders.  We skinnied her down until she actually had a waist.  Then her personality changed.  She became growly and began nipping. I should have put two and two together and realized the poor child was hungry.  But before I had a chance to evaluate why she’d changed she bit not one but two people.

The veterinarian suggested we put our darling dog to sleep.  It still breaks my heart remembering the day we held her in our arms and said goodbye to her.  And I will forever feel sadly responsible for her death…Why didn’t I have the presence of mind to simply begin feeding her more?

We missed Molly terribly.   So we found a breeder and plunked down $1500 on another Bulldog puppy.  Hannah was only eight weeks old when we brought her home.


For Hannah, we ferreted out a Bulldog specialist.  She too had a zillion expensive health issues.  She too was spoiled rotten.  She looked surprisingly fierce when she matured. Once while walking her near the golf course Walter Peyton was crossing the street from the sixteenth green to the seventeenth fairway.  He was terrified of Hannah.  Pretty funny, a man who didn’t fear being smashed by behemoth fierce football players, cowered away from our fat sweet Hannah.

Ultimately Hannah succumbed to cancer.  An operation failed.  We were all broken hearted.  The sad thing about pets is the built in obsolescence…Unless you get a parrot.  Plan to will those feathered friends to your kids.

Hannah was followed by Bogie, a shelter Shepard mix who bit two people and had to be put down.  Then there was Riley the black lab.  Trained by me, so of course, he badly behaved.  Riley would walk for miles with me, but when Jim, my new husband clipped on the leash Riley stubbornly sat his fanny on the sidewalk and refused to budge.

Riley too got cancer.  I spent enormous amounts money trying to save his life.  Ultimately he needed to be let go.  Again, my heart was broken.  Jim’s, not so much.

Which leads us to Bronson, the wonder dog.   Trained in the Colorado Men’s Penitentiary, he came to us absolutely perfect.

This post has gotten long.  Bronson’s story deserves a whole page. To be continued tomorrow.  Please tune in for part two.