You know about found-object art, right? The artist incorporates everyday items likes bits of bark and fabric scraps into a larger piece, often with intriguing results.
Well, NEADS trainer Dave Hessel uses the same technique in his puppy raiser classes. He meets with us in a public location and scopes out the place for novelties to add to the lesson. There's shiny black flooring at the entrance to Victoria's Secret. Some dogs won’t cross it, so if we’re training in a mall, he'll ask us to walk our dogs over the tile and past the pushup bras and lacy lingerie. Dave's always on the lookout for animal statues, too. For a long time, Old Navy had a dog mannequin frozen in a play bow. Its rear-end was sniffed by many a NEADS puppy, some of whose fur would bristle when they realized they were nose to butt with a zombie creature.
At our most recent class, we were picking our way through a parking lot at night when Dave noticed a tractor-trailer idling next to Home Depot. It seemed that the driver was on break and had left the engine running to stay warm in the subfreezing temperature.
Dave barely had to ask. We knew the drill. Bear and I fell into step behind the other puppy raisers and followed them along the side and front of the truck as Dave watched the dogs' reactions and scribbled notes on his clipboard. Each dog-human pair was briefly illuminated by the truck's headlights before disappearing into the shadows on the other side. Bear and I had just passed through the beams when suddenly the cab lurched forward, leaving its trailer behind.
Turns out the driver wasn't on break; he was working. That is, until a pack of humans and dogs emerged out of the darkness and circled his truck. No wonder he left in such a hurry.
He didn't go far, though. He backed his cab to a different trailer by the loading dock and climbed down to attach it. One of our group, Dawn, approached him. When she rejoined us, she lowered her voice, "Hey, this guy looks like Santa Claus, so we're going to introduce our pups to him one at a time." Dawn is a long-time puppy raiser and like Dave, never lets a training opportunity pass.
I walked Bear over to the man, who did look a little like Santa Claus -- if Santa drove a truck instead of a sleigh. "Bear, say hello," I instructed. The man crouched to dog height, "Hello there, big guy. You're a good fella, aren't you?" He scratched and petted Bear, whose mouth was open in an ecstatic smile. Bear leaned so hard into trucker Santa that his body made a U.
I let it go on a little longer than I should have, considering there were other puppies waiting to say hello. But both man and dog seemed so delighted by this unexpected break in their routines, that I didn't want it to end.
After the man said hello to all of the puppies -- and they to him -- he finished hooking up his trailer, hoisted himself back into his cab and drove away. As he passed us, he pulled on his horn, somehow sensing that he could offer our training class one more unusual experience.
This, I guess, is how you turn found encounters into art.