Monday, September 6, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Shoes are on the menu these days. Particularly if they come with shoelaces as a garnish. And socks, the smellier the better. Newspaper too, the better to shred, like lettuce. Or a caribou carcass somewhere on the Arctic tundra.

I make sure I wake up early, even on the days I don’t have to put on makeup and go to work. And I take extraordinary pains to be very, very quiet after I’ve turned the lights out and said “good night.” If I need an Advil in the middle of the night because I’ve developed a splitting headache, I’m SOL unless I’ve planned ahead and banked one on my bedside table with a glass of water. I am constantly dogged by the quick pitter patter of little feet…all four of them. Thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.

There’s a puppy underfoot in my kitchen. His name is “Lucky,” and I’ve had him for a week and a half. I am currently a captive in the kitchen which has been gated off to forestall disaster. I am working awkwardly on my laptop on the middle counter beside the microwave because he howls so pitifully if I disappear around the corner to my home office area, out of the line of sight. Well, that’s what he did at first. After he settled in, he learned how to jump the shortest of the kitchen gates from the cat who happened to be escaping, and considers the rest of the house game for exploration. Or worse.

And yet, if I’m in the same room, he is the model of good behavior, napping frequently or politely gnawing on his new rubber chicken. You should see just how much fun he has with a seedless grape, chasing, pouncing, tasting, joyfully batting it around like a field mouse.

And so I have adjusted (some would say “been trained”) in a matter of days. Purchased a wireless router so that I can access the internet from the laptop in the kitchen and keep him away from the desktop computer that’s plugged into the wall. The kitchen is puppy-proofed, while the rest of the house is not. Yet. While I was typing the other day, Lucky sat behind me and quietly destroyed the cable that imports pictures from my digital camera to the computer where I can edit and tweak and adjust and crop and rotate them and make them finally approximate pristine images in Smithsonian magazine. And then he stealthily started in on the electric cord for my faux-leather massage desk chair. Outrageous!!! This cannot stand!!

And still, I am awash in estrogen surges and “new puppy love.” Good sense had absolutely nothing to do with it. Thank goodness our memories of previous puppies and sleepless nights mercifully fade away like memories of childbirth, given enough time, and let us go rushing right back in to where angels fear to tread.

The cat is not amused.

It’s been eleven months since there was a dog in the house of any size, after Bandit died. Bandit, who I called “the Lazarus dog” for the last two years of his life, had been the last in a nearly unbroken string of canine companions throughout my life. He’s buried out behind the garage, his final resting place marked with a stick and a tennis ball until I can get a suitable lilac bush to mark the spot. He’s in good company out there—my first dog Muttsie (who acquired me when I was still a teenager on the farm), then Shadow, then Rocket, now Bandit. After the initial heartbreak at a dog’s passing had subsided, and fueled by my children’s entreaties, I would start researching and/or shopping for a new dog almost immediately.

Not this time. There were too many other family emergencies and dramas involving elderly relatives falling ill and dying, and the ability to drop everything and quickly fly out of the house like my pants were on fire in response with just a toothbrush and some clean underwear suddenly got traction.

But those storms finally passed, and the demands on my time became gentler, and less frequent, and when I again looked around my large yard, it seemed empty again without a four-footed companion begging me to throw a tennis ball or take a long walk. The cat did his best imitation of a dog, I’ll give him credit for that. Without Bandit running him over on the stairs with regularity, Smokey started to meet me at the front door when I came home from work, and greeted me at my bedroom door with cheerful meows every morning. Still, he's not learned how to bark. Or maybe he's just not trying. Let’s face it, it’s an essential part of the job description.

And then the cosmic forces aligned. I’d long ago fallen in love with a mixed breed dog at the stable where my horses wintered for two decades. He was a border collie-australian shepherd mix, tall, leggy, with a silky black and white coat and the most optimistic, well-balanced and friendly disposition I’d ever encountered in a canine. He didn’t wag his tale, he swung it non-stop like a helicopter rotor. Three years after the last of my horses passed to the great pasture beyond, I ran into his owner in the supermarket and we caught up. She promised to keep her eyes open for puppy ads that might suit me, and left a voicemail message three days later. The very same type of puppies as her dog were now up for sale!! I called the number she left, and took a long drive into the country a couple of days later.

When I saw both parents and their six pups, I figured that the lineage was possibly suspect. Either there was a tall black lab somewhere in the family tree, or Mom had been fooling around behind the barn with a dark, handsome stranger. At any rate, they were all as cute as a bug’s ear.

Two days of vacillation followed. The last time I'd had a puppy in the house was thirteen years ago, and I swore then that doing it again would kill me. That was Rocket, who we took from his mother’s side at eight weeks and grew to be a doppelganger for “Marley” of movie fame…and who would die of exactly the same problem only a year later. I didn’t know that of course when we first brought him home to a household that had four kids, the youngest in kindergarten. All I knew was that Rocket howled so pathetically in loneliness while he was parked in his crate in the kitchen that I spent the first two or three nights sleeping on a mat on the floor beside him to keep him company. I remember admiring some breathtaking sunrises and breaking dawn skies as I stood on the front lawn at four thirty or five in the morning to make sure housebreaking continued as a string of successes. From east to west, the sky can turn from silver to smoke to a luminous collection of rose and purple that stops you right in your tracks.

Still, there were a few things that mitigated in favor of a puppy anyway. For one thing, I was determined to get a dog young enough that I could “crate train” it for housebreaking and traveling. Bandit, the “Lazarus Dog,” had been a six-month old shelter dog when we fell for him, and he never outgrew his anxiety at being cooped up. A dog crate was out of the question, as was leaving him alone anywhere but at home without a guaranteed disaster to return to. My gentleman friend and I learned that when we left him in the kitchen for a couple of minutes to look at something in the garage. When we turned back to the house, there stood Bandit at the window, on top of the kitchen table…next to a lighted candle. Lesson learned.

The other thing was that Smokey the sixteen pound tuxedo cat had a presumptive claim on the house as first-animal-in-residence, and whoever moved in was going to have to make nice with the kitty.

I threw caution to the winds. Enthusiasm is infectious, and when I finally drove back to the farm to pick him up, I was accompanied by three teenagers to assist in transport and soothing and picking puppy names. By the time we got home, the list included “Bailey,” “Maximus,” “Oreo,” “Russell,” and “Reilly.” As top dog in the bunch, I went with “Lucky.” It was exactly how I felt.

While I could write pages more about the little guy…he’s at my feet right now chewing on a three-quarter round at the base of the kitchen counter next to my right foot. It’s time to go out and see if I can channel some of that energy into another avenue. Looking ahead, if I can just teach him to read the collection of children’s books in the basement instead of eating them, we may both make it through the winter.


Peggy Gardner said...

Best of luck with Lucky! We've had many a pup running through our house (we have raised puppies as guide dogs). It's just like having another child, isn't it!

Mary said...

Oh, absolutely! Not just a new child, but a brand-new baby. I know there's a nice calm grown-up dog in there somewhere, it's just going to take some time to find him.

Rebecca said...

Just stumbled upon your blog and love your post on Lucky.

Such a handsome fellow he is!

It has been 12years and more since my Sperry died. She was an unusual black spitz, with pointy ears, long black silky fur, with just a tinnie wennie patch of white on her chest and a few hints on her front paws - so like Lucky .... memories.

Puppies are pure joy. Boundless energy and curiousity. It seems, through their eyes, everything is a miracle and for play.