“Expecting the unexpected isn’t even close.” Unknown author.
In 1963, I joined the Army. Following basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., I completed Advanced Individual Training at Fort Slocum, N.Y. graduating as a military information specialist. I was then stationed at Fort Lesley J. McNair, the only military installation in Washington, D.C., and for the next two and a half years I wrote articles for the Pentagram, the Military District of Washington (MDW) newspaper. The MDW was also responsible for providing public relations support for the Army.
My job, as an information specialist, was outside the military base, housed in what were called Tempo Buildings. Those “temporary” structures, formed as huge igloo’s, were built during the Second World War. Forged from steel, they were sweltering in the summer and frigid in the winter.
Mostly, my workday ended at 5 p.m., except when my name came up for KP duty. Soon, I realized that I had a load of free time on my hands and very little spending money. Newspaper want-ads beckoned. And there it was… as if by wishful intervention. “Dog trainer needed. Apply in person at Animal TV Trainers.”
I had already tried selling pots, pans and fine china door-to-door, with the only set of china sold being that which I bought for my mom. Since dogs couldn’t slam the door in my face, as did many housewives in D.C., I knew dog training was the part-time job for me, even though I had no idea what it entailed.
I scheduled an interview with the manager of Animal TV Trainers.
The next day, following work, I walked the two-mile stretch from the military base to downtown D.C., found Animal TV Trainers on 14th Street, and entered the captivating world of selling pets for profit.
The store measured about 25-by-45 feet with more animals per square foot than homeless dogs roaming the streets of New York City. There were cages jammed on shelves, stacked in corners, and hanging from the ceiling — all filled with a menagerie of animals — except for the 10 to 15 birds dive-bombing customers who mistakenly thought it was a sales gimmick. A mynah bird slung sunflower seeds at the cat cages, a boa constrictor’s dinner still withered in his stomach, and an employee chased a squirrel monkey who had released the birds from their cages.
The squawking, barking, screeching, and howling was crazy.
The manager, an attractive, blond-haired lady, yelled at me over the intense racket, “Can I help you?”
Feeling foolish, I yelled back, “I’m here for the interview.”
Her smile was devious, and I should have known something was amiss when she yelled, “When can you start?”
Noting my stunned look, she mouthed, “Follow me.”
I cautiously followed, past monkey’s banging their heads on cage doors, de-sacked skunks with raised tails, and a whelping box with 10 pups vying for eight nipples. An iguana the size of a broom closet watched as if he were contemplating his next meal. The office was large enough for a small desk, an upright chair, and for two people to stand nose to nose — personal space be damned. At least we were away from the ruckus. Her perfume was something out of Cosmopolitan. The hook set, she began reeling me in.
“There was a small mistake in the ad,” she smiled.
“Oh,” I said, still captivated by her fragrance.
“They left out a few words. Three to be exact,” she said.
“Oh,” I said again.
“And cleanup boy. It was supposed to read dog trainer and cleanup boy needed,” she said.
Fresh out of college, a thousand miles from home, recently out of Army basic and advanced training schools and standing nose to nose with this beautiful lady in the mini-office of a pet shop of horrors in downtown Washington, D.C. — was trapped.
Fortunately, they didn’t need a dog trainer for a couple of days. So, I spent Saturday and Sunday cleaning every kind of animal poop imaginable and those same nights studying how to train dogs by reading books in the Library of Congress. I read as many books as possible about dogs, training, and their history. When Monday evening rolled around, I planned to be as good a dog trainer as possible. Although, I had no idea what I’d do if the dog on the other end of the leash didn’t see things my way.
The precursor to dog training; however, is to understand some very basic differences between dog and man. Differences that may not shock you, but will surely surprise. Those answers come in my next column.
Thanks for reading, John
John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments can be directed to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds from his writing support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.