Wilson is a dog with more heart than brains, an affliction not entirely unknown to a great number of his species – or our own, for that matter. Right now his heart is all aflutter and so is mine because Sam is engaging in the dreaded nail-clipping ritual. Shrieks of pure terror will burst from our cabin at any second now, convincing any neighbours that we are subjecting our dogs to terrible abuse.
Luckily we don’t have neighbours. Unluckily, bush life rules out a trip to the groomer, too. We’re stuck with trimming those overgrown talons ourselves.
Wilson shivers wide-eyed as Sam cuts Milan’s nails, who takes it all in stride as usual. As does Nooka, but this means nothing to our clipper-phobic dog. He twitches in sync with every clip, his pupils two huge suction cups about to pop out of his head. I grab a handful of dog food in a last ditch attempt to play Pavlov: “Nice clipper! Mhm, yummy!” and let him sniff the feared instrument, his nose jerking back as if touching a live wire, while I dole out kibble.
The other dogs watch warily, braving themselves for the show to come. “Hey, what’s this, you silly boy?” Sam teases and pulls Wilson’s fur, trying to exorcise the Ghost of Clippings Past with a one-armed wrestling match while reaching for the clipper with the other hand. Dog paws fly all over, the tail rotates helicopter fashion and Wilson is approaching take-off when Sam secures one paw and, with a deft snip, cuts one long nail.
Ambulances have no sirens like the wail that rises from Wilson’s throat. He spasms into the air, across the room and into the far corner where he remains, shaking and whining at mosquito pitch. Nooka is up immediately and tries to find out what’s wrong, sniffing and bumping him with her nose. Did an entire toe come off, are there streaks of blood on the floor? She can’t figure out how or why we hurt her buddy, but obviously we did. Distressed glances all around. Poor Sam keeps a pseudo-relaxed grin tacked to his face: “Got one claw done, at least the very tip.”
“Oh God,” I groan, wishing there were a hermit groomer somewhere out in the woods where we could bring the crazy dog. The clipper phobia has its roots in Wilson’s brittle nails, I’m sure. He cracks them on a regular basis, spectacularly bisecting them into something like a bird’s beak until some stick or rock knocks off the top section. “Do you want me to hold him?”
We’ve tried it all - the two of us holding down the dog while he squirms like an eel and wails in earsplitting and heartrending tones that spell out, “Help, I’m being maimed alive” as clearly as if he’s shouting it in English. Doling out gobs of peanut butter and marvelling at the contortions a dog can perform while eating and keeping his paws out of reach. Being stern. Making a grab for a paw while he’s eating his dinner. Invariably, we all end up with shredded nerves and Wilson with one nail done, seven to go Ã if we’re lucky.
“There’s got to be a better way,” mutters Sam and shoos the dogs out the door.
“Sedation,” I say and sink on the sofa. “Or we nail down sandpaper on the floor.” It’s one of those moments when you wonder why you have dogs, and this one dog in particular.
Hours later, the dogs are back inside. Sam is trying hard to make up with Wilson for the mental anguish, rubbing his belly and talking baby talk to him. The poor pup’s suspicions wane and he cuddles closer, tongue lolling out, his face soft with love and forgiveness. Sam is stroking Wilson’s legs, fingering his paws, cooing sweetly and reaching for the clippers. I hold my breath.
– clip - , “a really good boy.” Wilson lifts his head, looking slightly stunned. I unplug my ears. What was that? No howls? Unbelievable. Sam keeps up the talk and belly rub: “See, it can all be so easy. If we take it easy.”
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.