Swimming Instructions Inside a Box... Turtle

Renae Brabham

It's cliché—everyone knows the line you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Not so, proven to me by our dog, Snowy. She adopted us 12 years ago. She had me at hello. I was sprawled out in a lawn chair tanning in the yard when I heard a barreling noise and panting coming through the field headed directly for me. Snowy leapt into the chair and proceeded to lick me all over my face. The neighbors started calling her back, and I was sad to see the sweet bundle of yellow fur leave with her tail and head drooping down. She belonged to the neighbors. 


My quiet time of the day is early morning when the dew has evaporated from the wings of the birds and the bees and they begin their chorus of chirping and buzzing. Coffee mug in hand, I would head to the back steps under the shady elm tree, my favorite place for morning meditations. This just happened to be the same time of morning that the neighbors would let Snowy out. Searching for the prime spot (outside of her own yard) to do her business, one day she wandered up to me. Snowy sauntered up the steps and sat flat on her butt right there by me for more than half an hour. She seemed to enjoy the peace, as well. The neighbors opened their door and called her back. She left me obediently but reluctantly, looking back until I was out of sight. The next morning I heard their screen door squeak to let Snowy out. She stampeded across the field, stopping cold at the bottom of the steps to see if I was sitting there. She gleefully climbed the steps and perched by me quietly. We would sit like this every single morning. One day I got up to go back into the house and she hadn't been called home yet. I opened the door and she sat there looking at me like, "Aren't you going to invite me in?" 


I opened the door and introduced her to Don as he was pouring his coffee. He rubbed on her and we talked about how sweet and pretty she was. I let her out of the door before the neighbors would start calling. Sometimes if I were outside, she would ignore her owners and take off for me. I was always scared for her to do this; they always hollered at her or popped her when she went back. I walked her back across the field one day to tell them that she wasn't bothering me and could visit me anytime. I hoped this would keep them from being so mean to her. It didn't. I have never understood why anyone would get a dog just to be mean to them. Anyhow, on one of my ventures to walk Snowy back home, the young man said they were moving to a new town in a few months and asked me if I wanted her. Snowy walked back across the field with me and didn't go outside alone again until they moved. I was so scared they would take her back. We were elated. Snowy laid down at the foot of our bed that night and has been there for 12 years now. She knows peace. She has something to compare it to and she chooses it. 


We accepted her the way she came to us. We didn't expect more. She doesn't play ball. Fetch is an unnecessary workout. Her preferred cardio workout is squirrel treeing. She likes two squares and two milk bones a day. She thrives on routine. She hates baths and deems them as punishment for some crime that she would never commit again if she knew what it was. She hates water of any kind for that matter. And so be it. We have tried many times over the years to show her how much fun water can be; she is a lab mix after all. Her face peels back and a tense, crazy look comes to her eyes at the sight of water, so we never push the matter. She shakes her paws if the slightest water gets on them. 


One summer we purchased a pontoon boat. We envisioned summers with Snowy as mate at the helm of the boat with her skipper. That vision was squashed quickly, like the first time we took her out on the boat. I had ordered a large dog life jacket and we put it on her. Don jumped into the water to show her how wonderful it was. I eased Snowy down into the water from the side. When she left the side of the boat she frantically pawed at Don, ripping his stomach open with her nails to climb out. We sold the life jacket on eBay and on any boating morning afterwards, Snowy barely acknowledged that we were leaving her. 


High and dry is where she has been since. And so be it. We moved back to South Carolina a few years ago. We now have a pond and fountain behind us. I love the sound of the water as the fountain sprays and I sit on my back patio. Snowy, not so impressed. For more than a year she has skirted past the pond and treated it with indifference. Until she saw the turtles. They came out in droves on the banks of the pond this year. Snowy loves to sneak up on them before they topple into the water. Some she victoriously helps nudge back into the water with her nose. The turtles are now the focal point of her morning. The once invisible pond has became her Utopia.


And then it happened. Don took Snowy for her evening walk and she met a friend along the way. The box turtle appeared at the bank of the pond, teasing Snowy as it popped its head up out of the water and then disappeared. Snowy immersed both paws looking for the turtle to reappear. Up popped the turtle, pulling back a little into the pond as it continued the tease. Snowy soon had all four in. The turtle weaved around her, coming up near her side. Snowy began to put her paw out to touch it, splashing some. Snowy had a wet belly! Don told me the story with the same exuberance he had when he took the training wheels off of Abby's bike and she took off. 


Snowy circled that pond for a week in search of her pundit, each turtle that popped up could be it. But no, they all avoided her. And then, on a hot July 4th evening, Snowy was sitting on the bank of the pond when her friend came to join her. Snowy forgot that she doesn't like to swim and dog paddled out to meet her friend. 


Now when Snowy lays asleep at our feet with her legs twitching as she sleep barks, we know her dreams have changed. She just needed the right inspiration.