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Allie Babcock Series

Woof at the Door

Woof at the Door

Chapter 1

Sometimes I feel slightly tense when I ring a new client's doorbell. This time my mental flags were fluttering wildly. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so why were my instincts screaming at me to run?

The property itself appeared to be standard fare for the newer north-Boulder neighborhoods—small lot size and a large two-story house with earth-tone siding and trim. Two red-and-white "Beware of Dog" signs were posted on either side of the surrounding six-foot cedar privacy fence, and from inside the house, the deep, muffled woofs hinted at a large dog. The barks sounded normal. If persistent.

I shored myself up and rang the doorbell. The door swung open, and my jaw almost dropped. The tall, forty-something man before me sported shoulder-length blond hair. His striped headband featured a large peace symbol, centered on his forehead. He wore pink-tinged octagonal wire-rimmed glasses halfway down his nose, an electric-blue satin shirt, and orange crushed-velvet bell bottoms with brown pockets.

Was this Rip Van Winkle of the Sixties?

He peered down at me, scoffed, and, over the loud rhythmic woofs of the large dog behind him, said, "You'd better not be Allida Babcock."

"Actually, I am," I replied with as much of a smile as I could muster. Due to his disdainful facial expression, I silently formed a personal credo: People who wear bell-bottoms shouldn't criticize others' physical appearances. Including their height. Or lack thereof. "You must be Tyler Bellingham."

"Shut up, Doobie!" he called behind his shoulder at the barking dog, which, of course, ignored him. "Actually, I go by Ty. As in Tie-dye." Making no move to invite me inside, he shook his head, still studying me. "No offense, lady, but you sure you can handle this? My dog coughs up things that are bigger than you."

Stifling a sigh of frustration, I ran a hand through my short sandy-brown hair and focused my attention past him at the constantly barking dog. Doobie was a mixed breed—of very large origins. He probably weighed around one hundred forty pounds. He appeared to be mostly mastiff and Chesapeake Bay retriever, with, judging by his fur's black-and-brown pattern, a few Doberman genes thrown in. As with a standard Doberman, his ears had been clipped. We locked eyes for a moment, and I said with authority, "Doobie, sit."

He stopped barking and followed my command.

"Good dog."

Ty, I noticed, had a bit of a paunch overhanging those hip-hugging bell-bottoms of his. I looked up at him. He was a good foot taller than me, which put his height at six feet.

"There are dog trainers here in Boulder who make house calls, Mr. Bellingham. Odds are, they'll be taller than I am. If you would rather—"

"No, that's okay," he said, stepping aside and holding the door for me. "Your friend, Beverly Wood, recommended you highly. She lives right next door."

Not surprisingly, the dog sprang to his feet and resumed his barking. I stepped inside and was temporarily staggered at the overwhelming sickly sweet fragrance of incense. Though largely drowned out by Doobie's barks, sitar music played from an enormous stereo system on a cinder-block shelving unit that took up one entire wall. A slab of flagstone served as the coffee table. Other than the stereo shelves, none of the furnishing was more than two feet high. This room seemed to have been decorated for trolls. Trolls with a taste for futons, beanbag chairs, and lava lamps.

Ty was staring at me, and I wrenched my attention back into our conversation. "Beverly and I went to high school together."

"That's what she said." He chuckled and, to my extreme annoyance, used his hand and arm as a leveling stick to measure how high the top of my head was compared to his chest. "But when she said you were a dog shrink, I didn't realize she meant you'd be pre-shrunk yourself." He laughed—a loud braying sound.

"I'm going to need background information on Doobie." To my curiosity, Doobie was not barking at me, but rather had rushed over to the living room window, put his paws on the sill, and was now barking out the window.

I called him, and he obeyed, albeit slowly. The dog had numerous scars. If this dog was being abused, "Tie-die" here had just hired himself the wrong "dog shrink" and was soon going to be sorry for what he'd done to his pet.

While assuring Doobie that he was "a very good dog," I stroked his fur, making a mental audit of his extensive injuries. My own hackles were rising. Doobie's ears had almost as much scar tissue as fur. While pretending to be simply stroking his neck, I lifted the dog's chin and checked the soft flesh along his teeth. The edges were jagged, a tell-tale sign that he'd been in a dreadful dog fight. During fights, dogs tend to bite through the skin surrounding their own mouths without realizing it.

Having lost his patience with me, Doobie pulled away and returned to his compulsive-sounding barking out the side window. I straightened and glared at Ty Bellingham. "Your dog's been in at least two serious dog fights. Has he ever been—"

"He was all scarred like that when I got him last December from a Dog Rescue outfit in Nevada. He was a stray. Probably had to fight for every scrap of food he got, till I came along."

That was plausible, but Ty had a long way to go yet to gain some credibility. Acquiring background information on the dog could wait. If Doobie cowered or shied away whenever Ty approached, I would have my answer.

"Mr. Bellingham, could—"

"Call me Ty," he corrected.

"Could you please call your dog?" I asked, unwilling to be on a first-name basis until I felt relatively certain he wasn't an animal abuser.

"Call him?" he asked as if utterly perplexed. He gestured in Doobie's direction. "He's right there." The man was either extraordinarily dense or deliberately evasive.

"I'd like to see how quickly he responds to you."

Ty sighed and slid his hands into his velvet pockets. "Doobie! Come!"

The dog ignored his owner and continued to bark. In the meantime, Ty showed no frustration with his dog's insubordination, just raised his own voice and repeated the command. After four ever-louder commands, Doobie finally deserted his post and trotted over to us, with an occasional bark over his shoulder, as if he greatly resented this interruption.

Ty pointed at the floor. "Doobie, sit. Sit!"

The dog's haunches barely touched down, then, without awaiting further command, he rushed back to his noisy post at the window. I rapidly reevaluated. Doobie was not behaving as if he were an abused pet, but rather a woefully untrained one. Moments earlier, he'd responded to my commands. That meant the problem was due to his not viewing his master as the alpha dog. I still felt uneasy, but was willing to give Ty the benefit of the doubt. Although this "benefit" might only last until I could contact the dog rescuer to verify Doobie's condition at time of adoption.

Ty fidgeted with his blond tresses and gave me a sheepish smile. "He's a spirited animal."

"Does he always bark this persistently?"

"Not usually." He glanced at Doobie. "Don't know what's gotten into him today. Ty gestured at the expanse of oversized pillows on the floor. "Why don't we have a seat?" He immediately sat down Indian style on the hardwood floor. "These furnishings are all from my store, 'Way Cool Collectibles.' We have a 'Far-Out Furniture' division."

Perhaps the dog-and-owner authority problem was related to Ty's devotion for the sixties. Ty might have a hey-like-do-your-own-thing attitude regarding his dog. I sat down on a chartreuse beanbag, which tried to swallow me alive, sweeping me over backwards in the process. Perhaps Way Cool Collectibles used marble-shaped beans. With a struggle, I bobbed back up and regained my equilibrium, glad that I was wearing pants and not a skirt.

Mostly to cover my embarrassment, I snatched up a four-inch high ceramic gold-painted Buddha that had been having an easier time at sitting on the floor than I was. "This is one of your collectibles?"

"Yes. Be careful. That piece is forty years old. I could sell it for well over a hundred dollars."

A hundred dollars for a palm-sized gold-painted Buddha? His store should be renamed 'Really Rad Rip-offs.' I set down the ceramic piece. "When we set this appointment, didn't you say that your wife was going to be here, too?"

He shrugged. "Something came up."

Uh-oh. Lackadaisical dog owners don't make for good partners toward the successful treatment of their dogs. But, I reminded myself, I had chosen to come here today because I wanted to help Beverly; Doobie's barking was driving her nuts. For her sake, I'd give this my best effort.

I delved into my standard questionnaire designed to gather insight into the dog's problem behavior. Ty answered the standard opening questions: no kids; he and his wife were joint owners of the dog; the dog obeyed both of them equally, which, in this case, meant he disobeyed them equally.

Just as I was getting into the more revealing questions about the dog's daily routine, diet, and reward system, Ty rose and asked, "Would you like some tea? I'm getting myself some."

I hesitated, having seen reruns of the Smothers' Brothers' "Tea With Goldie" segments, in which "tea" was a euphemism. "To drink?"

He headed toward a doorway that was delineated with strings of brightly colored plastic beads. With a parting-of-the-seas gesture, he went through the beaded doorway. I intentionally lingered to observe the dog's behavior. Also to give myself time to get out of this ridiculous beanbag. As soon as his master left the room, Doobie perked up and galloped through the doorway, the bead strings clacking and swinging to and fro in his wake. I followed and was not at all surprised to find myself in an avocado-colored kitchen. Despite the old-fashioned color scheme, it featured a modern island, complete with a grill. Above this structure was a massive oven hood that looked as though it might be able to suck up anything airborne, regardless of size.

Doobie had immediately rushed to the back door and tried to push through a dog door. Finally accepting that it was locked, he whined at his owner, who ignored him and continued to rummage through a cabinet. "I had to lock him inside. The neighbors have put up quite a stink about his barking."

Beverly, the friend from my old days, was one of the neighbor's who'd complained. Ironic that even though I was close to two decades younger than Ty, my "old days" were the nineties, which made them considerably more recent than Ty's current days. Doobie's barking, Beverly had told me, got her Beagle barking, and set off a chain reaction throughout the neighborhood that had resulted in more than one "disturbing the peace" claim against Doobie.

"How long have you lived here?" I asked.

"Ten years." Ty filled a cup with water, dunked a tea bag in it, and slid the cup into a modern convenience: a microwave. Mr. Tie-Dye was a hypocrite.

"Do you know how old Doobie is?"

"The rescue folks didn't know exactly. Like I said, he was a stray. By now, he's about four and a half. And, like I told you over the phone, my wife and I didn't used to have any trouble at all with barking or anything else till about three months ago."

"A sudden change in a dog's temperament often indicates a health problem. You told me you took him to a vet last month. Did they find anything?"

"Nope."

"Anything significant happen three months ago?"

He shrugged. "Nothing. Not a thing."

"You didn't change jobs or change daily schedules?" I prompted.

He shook his head. The action seemed to shift his hair slightly off-center. "Not at all. I run my own store at the mall, and my wife and me take turns there. When business is good, we're both there, but generally, we only need one person to run it. You ever shop there?"

"'Fraid not."

He smirked at me. "Figures. You're too young to appreciate it. You probably missed the sixties entirely."

Being thirty-two, that was obviously true, but I didn't want to go off on a tangent. "So you've been compensating for the barking by keeping Doobie inside. Is that correct?"

He sighed and nodded. "We've had to lock up the doggie door and everything. Makes poor Doobie nuts, but we've got to keep him away from the maniac who lives next door."

Since the house on the west was Beverly's and Doobie was barking at the window to the east, it was easy to guess which house he meant. "You told me that your neighbor has a dog, as well. Right?"

"Yeah. Big white fluffy thing with pointy ears. Looks like an albino huskie."

"A Samoyed."

"Whatever. That's the dog that started all this trouble."

"Is this Samoyed new to the neighborhood?" Such as acquired three months ago? I silently added. Samoyeds were not nervous dogs in general, and if this one was a "problem barker," it would be a first for me.

He shook his head, which re-centered his hair part. "No, but his owner seems to think just 'cause his dog's white, she's as pure as the driven snow in all of this. Let me show you something."

Ty unlocked the dog door, which looked comically small for the size of his dog, but Doobie slithered through in a heartbeat. For a moment, I wondered if Ty intended for us all to squeeze through this opening as well, but he opened a half-dozen deadbolts on the back door and finally had the people-sized door open. Apparently, Ty was very security conscious, which seemed unnecessary, given the furnishings. Then again, he did have that lovely Buddha collectible.

Doobie had rushed to the cedar privacy fence that separated Ty's property from that of the Samoyed's owner. Doobie sniffed along the length of the fence along the ground, where there was only the smallest of gaps.

"Watch this," Ty said, folding his arms across his satin-clad chest and pointing with his chin in the direction of the fence.

After a few more trips up and back along the fence, Doobie jumped up against the fence, managing to get his paws on two of the three supporting beams. He ladder-stepped his way up to get his muzzle over the top of the six-foot fence.

A deep male voice boomed, "Bad dog! Put your paws down and back away from the fence!"

"What the—" I muttered in amazement. I located a loudspeaker attached by a stand such that it was clearly inside this neighbor's fence, but aimed directly at Ty's yard.

"That's Hank Atkinson's doing," Ty said through clenched teeth. "My illustrious neighbor."

Hank Atkinson, I repeated to myself. The name rang a bell, but I couldn't quite place it.

"He works in security. Installs home-security systems, that is. He's got this motion detector set up so that anytime anyone so much as reaches an inch over the fence, that thing goes off."

Doobie whined, got down, then tried it again. Once again, the stern-voiced recording admonished him.

"I'm surprised your neighbor doesn't find that loud recording more offensive than the barking itself."

"Oh, I know. The guy's a crackpot."

This from such a fine source of mental stability. I'd glanced at Mr. Atkinson's house while checking addresses on my way to the Bellinghams'. It had seemed normal—gray siding with white trim—but then, so had Ty's house. "Is Mr. Atkinson's dog home now?"

"Beats me. Might be inside of the house. But, believe me, it's unusual that only my Doobie is barking. His dog is usually barking back every bit as loud. Tends to be the two of 'em going at it, and she's the female. She's the one that starts everything."

This was probably a sexist conclusion, but I was too busy pondering the situation to care. Excessive barking is often a sign of boredom or separation anxiety. Judging by what I'd seen so far, in Doobie's case it was likely caused by lack of training.

"Have you tried talking with your neighbor about your dogs?"

"Hell, if I could talk to the guy, I wouldn't have had to call you. He and I have a personal history."

"Does this 'personal history' have anything to do with your dogs?"

He let out a guffaw. "Not of the four-legged variety."

That could only be a misogynistic crack—unless "dogs" referred to his feet, which I doubted. Ty ignored my withering glare and continued, "Hank's a Nazi conservative, and he thinks I'm a hippie degenerate." He peered over the frames of his glasses and wiggled his eyebrows at me. "I'm hoping he'll like you. The guy thinks he's God's gift to women."

Regardless of Mr. Atkinson's personal appraisal of me, getting his perspective on the barking situation would be helpful. Doobie took another leap at the fence, and nearly managed to climb over the fence, which finally got a rise out of Ty. Joining the recorded voice, he cried, "No, Doobie! Down, boy!" Ty pulled the dog's massive back paws off the fence support beam, which caused Doobie to yelp as he fell onto our side of the fence. "Bad dog!" Ty shouted, yet, for the first time in my presence, he patted his dog. He glanced at me. "Let's go back inside the house."

I said nothing, watching with interest as Ty tried to coax his dog away from the fence. "Come on, boy." Doobie jumped up on the fence again. Ty grabbed his collar and needed every ounce of strength to drag Doobie back to the house. Ty's smile while doing so hinted that he was proud of the dog's disobedience.

Once inside, I leaned against the kitchen counter and watched the difficult procedure as Ty strained to lock the dog door despite his dog's noisy and furious attempts to bull his way through it. Afterwards, Ty bolted the series of locks on the door, then turned toward me, laughing. "See what I mean? He's really something to handle. You sure you're up for this?"

I stared at the gray eyes above those silly rose-colored glasses. "Do you want your dog to be trained?"

His smile faded. "Of course. I hired you, didn't I?"

"Out of duress. You're afraid the authorities will take your dog unless you get his barking under control."

He scowled. "All right, yes. You got me. I believe in letting everybody do their own thing. I'm a free spirit—" he indicated his clothes—"as if you couldn't figure that out for yourself. That's why I chose Doobie in the first place. He's got a lot of energy, and he can handle himself real well. I don't want to break his spirit."

"Do you consider training a dog 'breaking his spirit'?" I asked pointedly.

He hesitated, but finally frowned and muttered, "Obviously I've got no choice in the matter. I need to be able to control Doobie, or those whiney neighbors of mine are going to see to it that he's declared a nuisance. Can you get him to quiet down enough to suit the neighbors, without turning him into some kind of a Hush Puppy?"

I resisted a smile. "The only way I can do that is if you're willing to assert yourself as his master."

"Fine, fine. We'll buy into the whole dog-obedience scene, if that's what it'll take." He sighed as he stared at the ever-barking Doobie. "I sure wish you could tell me what's going on today, though. He's never barked quite this bad before. It's gotta be Atkinson's dog. Maybe she's in heat, or something."

That was the first sensible thing Ty had said—an assessment which reinforced my core issue: Without the dog owner's full cooperation and approval, there was little chance my program would succeed. I did my best to explain this to Ty, who assured me he understood and that, even if he disagreed "on principle" about my wanting to train dogs, he would still comply fully with my instructions.

During the rest of our hour, I discussed the standard ways that Ty would need to assert himself over Doobie. Ty also needed to tone down his dog's aggressiveness, which meant giving Doobie a lower-protein diet, more exercise, and staying away from rough-housing and tug-of-war games. Ty nodded throughout, but I could tell that, underneath that silly wig of his, my words were falling on deaf ears. Secretly I was putting my hopes on his wife's assistance, but she never arrived. Not a good sign.

After our hour was up, I headed next door to Hank Atkinson's house to find out if Ty's hunch about the Samoyed being in heat was correct. Preoccupied, I almost bumped into an elderly man on the sidewalk, who had bent down to tie his shoe and was partially hidden in the shadows. The man let out a howl of protest at our near collision.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't see you there."

He merely glared at me, cleared his throat noisily, and shuffled off down the street. Apparently this was not the friendliest of neighborhoods.

Hank Atkinson's front door was wide open, except for the thin screen door. A dog was whining.

I peered through the screen. No dogs were within view, though the whines sounded like a dog was just on the other side of the doorway. A pair of male voices were coming from the next room, which, if the general layout was the same as Ty's house, would be the kitchen. I rang the doorbell.

A gray wolf charged through the house, straight toward me.

© Leslie O'Kane


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