To most dogs, there's little difference between a feral rat, a squirrel and a guinea pig.
A rat is Prey, pure and simple. A squirrel is Prey With Fuzzy Tail. A guinea pig is Prey, No Tail, Extra Plump (mmmmm!).
It doesn't matter much that we think of the same animals a little differently -- as Disgusting Vermin, Cute Little Wild Creature and Fuzzy Pet With Shoebutton Eyes and Twitching Nose. Every fiber of a dog's being tells him that these are all pretty much the same thing -- lunch.
Knowing this, I wasn't really surprised at my younger dog Andy's reaction to the temporary addition of Geepers, a black-and-white guinea pig, to the household menagerie. I put the dog on sit-stay and brought the little creature out so Andy could get a sniff and be admonished that this was to be left alone because I said so, that's why.
He held his stay, I'll give him that. But all his muscles were tense, ready to spring. And then he did something all three of us understood perfectly -- he licked his chops and swallowed hard.
The guinea pig started to squirm. And who could blame him? I put him up into the safety of his new home and started to work on Andy's behavior, for the millionth time.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Of all the dogs I've ever lived with, Andy's the only one who hunts for sport. The others have never seen much point in expending more than a second of energy on catching their own dinner, figuring that it was easier to wait for the food dish and nap on the couch.
But Andy the Brat always does things differently.
The gracious older house we lived in last had a deep yard, the sides and back covered with an established stand of ivy -- a perfect hiding place for the occasional rat. My attitude has always been that if they don't bother me, I don't bother them. The other dogs feel the same. But Andy is not quite as tolerant.
The first rat he killed was a bit of a struggle, made no less so by my screaming and gripping his tail. But he got better at it, finding and taking out about one every other month with a pounce and a quick shake. I kept his vaccinations current and tried not to worry about it.
Our new house, with its tiny, shrub-free yard, has given Andy lit
tle chance to practice his hobby, and made him even more eager to figure out a way to get to Geepers.
He sat for hours under the table, listening to the little animal's activities. He jumped on a chair for a better look, watching and analyzing. He put his paws up on the table for as long as his back legs could hold him, muzzle thrust forward but nose still a good foot away from the edge of Geepers' home.
I sent Andy outside and mined the table with that classic trainer's trick, mousetraps. Then I called him in and settled down in the other room to wait.
Snap! Snap! His paws triggered two of the noise-makers and he came careening down the hall, a look of panic on his face. It lasted about a minute before he headed back to the guinea pig's room.
Snap! Snap! Two more fired. Andy raced in and threw himself on the couch beside me, ears back, eyes riveted down the hallway. The dog had had his fill of the guinea pig with a bigger bite than his own.
An uneasy truce has settled over the house. How long it lasts is anybody's guess, but I know that where Andy's concerned, things are never quiet for very long.
Q: Where can I get a list of hotels and motels that will accept small dogs? I love my SPCA dog and want to have him travel with me whenever possible.
A: Your best bet is "Touring With Towser," an annual publication of Gaines/Cycle Dog Food. The company has been publishing the directory since 1948; the 1992 edition lists the names, addresses and telephone numbers of more than 2,200 independent hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns that accept pets, as well as eight national chains with more than 5,000 properties.
To obtain a copy, send a check for $3 to Quaker Professional Services, TWT, 585 Hawthorne Court, Galesburg, Ill. 61401.
American Automobile Association guides also note in their listings whether pets are accepted.
One more thing: Keep your pet quiet, allow no destruction of the property and don't forget to pick up the poop. A few years ago "Touring With Towser" listed a couple thousand more places than it does today. It takes only one bad experience to prompt a change of policy. Making sure you and your pet are model guests will go a long way toward preserving the privileges we've got.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.