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Micah (aka, what is he thinking?)


By Bill Stork, DVM


Many will inject the acronym to justify a tendency toward order and organization. Upon arrival at the clinic, Claire will first ensure that the deposit book is bound by her yellow paper clamp, and the client records on her desk are aligned parallel to the counter. At home, Sheila arranges our canned goods in alphabetical order, labels facing out.

“I’m sorry, it’s just my OCD,” they’ll apologize, when in actuality I find organization admirable and endearing, and a trait I was born without. I once contracted a company cleverly called Ducks in a Row. I was filled with hope when their receptionist assured me they could organize anyone and anything. In fifteen minutes, their best two agents went screaming from the building like Mormon Missionaries from The Moonlight Ranch.

Those possessing obsessive tendencies are often precise and productive; we call them engineers, doctors, and managers. Yet, to watch someone who truly has OCD is to gain an appreciation for the potentially crippling effects. We could not understand how it took Mittsy half the day to count prescriptions. We convinced her that Georgie would get relief from her back pain an hour sooner if the Gabapentin capsules were simply thrown into the prescription bottle, without first arranging them with their serial numbers in order. (Editor’s note: this is somewhat of an exaggeration. –Mittsy)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.

Those with OCD can be obsessed with organization. This is not limited to humans.

Lilly is a miniature Schnauzer with a hundred toys. She will play with every one of them, so long as they start each day in the proper place, in her basket.

We’ve known dairy farmers, and cats, obsessed with hygiene. Bella was a cat who would not use her litter box if there was so much as a drop of urine in the clay.

Artfully avoiding all frat-boy metaphors, there are cats with elevated sexual tendencies. Koal was neutered at five months of age, and yet he was obsessed with a certain stuffed animal, and the need to perform. Whether a monthly meeting of the book club or Thanksgiving dinner, he would find the social center of the gathering, and have his way with his special friend.

Scientists believe OCD is a brain disorder. I’m hoping there is not significant environmental, or learned component.

Days short of her nineteenth birthday, I got the call. Ashley could no longer get up. She was a legendary German Short-haired Pointer who had whelped six pups. Ashley was obsessed with birds, mammals… and right-leaning political news. She’s resting peacefully overlooking a pond on Hwy 89, but no one who hunted over her would bat an eye if she were to come crawling out of her grave at the scent of a pheasant or sound of a shotgun. Her longevity and durability we’ll attribute to genetics and a steady diet of hot, buttered, whole-wheat toast for breakfast. Her drive? I’m thinking a product of attitude and environment. Ash was raised in a heavy equipment fabrication, repair, and towing shop. The crew at Steve’s can rebuild a rotted-out garbage truck from stock steel and welding rod or yank a Cat D-6 bulldozer out of a swamp. They are not quiet, or cordial. Ash spent her days resting in a cedar bed under a shop cart from daylight… until precisely 4:30 PM.

Steve, Jason, or Rick knew to let her out of the shop, into the house, and turn the TV to channel 7. There she’d peacefully watch the Fox Evening News. Leave her with ABC, CBS, or CNN and you’d risk having your couch turned to leather strips and stuffing, topped off with a steaming exclamation point.

Mittsy’s designation as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed, is a hard-earned punctuation. She’s spent her life working to reduce the stress of every animal on earth, and to understand behavior. She can explain body language and expressions, as well as how to enhance human-animal interdependence, while only occasionally borrowing from anthropomorphism.

I asked her about Micah.

In the exam room, Micah was a dream. He’d take Charlie Bears and Freeze-Dried Goodness gentle as a baby’s hand. As I knelt with a 3-cc syringe and cotton ball, he’d offer his paw like he gave blood every day. Micah had a presence that moved you to tuck your shirt, lint-roll your jacket, and skip the weather and Packers banter. I’m sure he could balance the deposit at the end of the day.

I asked the history questions, “Have you noticed any new lumps and bumps, coughs, lameness, itching, and has he been eating normally?”

When I got to number six, they responded, “I guess it depends on what you consider normal.”

I creased my brow, “Is he off-feed, does he vomit, diarrhea, polyphagia, pica, how much does he eat?”

“Well he eats about two cups of food a day, but it takes him all day to do it.”

I explained that it’s not unusual for certain breeds to graze throughout the day.

“Yeah, but why in the hell does he have to make a mess of it first?”

They went on to explain.

At precisely five AM and PM, Micah waits politely for his cup of kibble. He then picks up the bowl and dumps the entire contents on the floor. They’ve tried stainless steel and clay bowls, attempting to curb the behavior. One poured in concrete only resulted in a deep dent in the hardwood floor.

Then, he creates.

One kibble at a time, he’ll make Micah’s daily design. On sunny spring days, he may be whimsical, creating concentric circles or swirls. Dark days are more literal, parallel lines: vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. His spacing is always perfect, and each kibble oriented flat side down. Fascinated visitors have turned over a chunk, earning them a death stare until they apologetically restore his art to its intended form.

Ever since Lassie told Paul, “Timmy’s fallen down the well”, man has asked “I wonder what he’s thinking?”

If I could know what any one dog was thinking, it would be Micah.


Behaviorist's note: dogs can have a condition called Canine Compulsive Disorder, which may be characterized by repetitive behaviors such as intensive tail chasing, constant circling, fixating on lights and shadows, and other activities. These activities often cause harm to the dog and should be addressed early to avoid long-term damage.

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