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Team Building
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Dusty took longer than the other dogs to reach this milestone because he disdained all material inducements. He sat by the two weave poles and looked, not at me, but at everyone else around him in a dither of distress. My job was to reward him the moment he made the slightest gesture toward the entry pole, but his eyes were darting too fast for me to follow, and besides, I had no means of rewarding him beyond praise, and he wasn’t listening to me. We stood there, twitching and flailing as Dee made the rounds, checking on everybody’s progress, so that I was in something of a lather myself by the time she reached us.

“How’s Dusty doin’?” she asked—just as Dusty nearly toppled over from leaning away at her approach.
“We seem to be having trouble,” I said.
“What kind of trouble?”
“Well, basically, existing on the same planet.”

She gave me a come-on-now smirk and rolled up her sleeves. Then she took us through the whole process in baby steps, and by the end of the hour, had Dusty making a solid weave-pole entry two times out of three.

“He’s a good boy,” Dee said. “Bless his heart.”

A southern friend once told me that “bless his heart” is Dixie code for “he’s so stupid.” Since Dee is a Chicago gal, I figured she might mean something different. Anyway, I was too grateful to argue. Somehow the scattered pieces of our enterprise had been gathered together and we had been forged into a team—exhausted and gasping and streaming with sweat, sure, but still a team.

And Dee, it was now blindingly apparent to me, was a woman who had found her true calling.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 54: May/Jun 2009
Robert Rodi is the author of seven novels and has also written short stories, literary criticism and works for the stage. He lives in Chicago with his partner Jeffrey Smith and a shifting number of dogs. robertrodi.com

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