Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Retrospective Look at Dogs

My sister reports that her new dog has knocked over the Christmas tree and sent broken glass, water, and pine needles all over the floor, breaking a cherished favourite ornament in the process. The dog has jumped fences, broken into the chicken coop, and otherwise caused mayhem in the six weeks she's been with them.

As I read my sister's account, I reached down and scrubbed the ears of my own furry terror, Brio, and reflected on how much he has changed in the two years we've had him. He is finally starting to mature into a calm, obedient, and ---well, at least less frantic dog than he used to be. When we first got him I despaired of ever surviving the experience. He can ---and does--- leap over the couch in a single bound without touching it. He can stand for five solid minutes on his hind feet, watching me cook, his nose just at the level of the counter, like a fuzzy inquisitive toddler. I still don't sleep much---he has this set-in-concrete habit of wanting to go out at 4:00 every morning---but in so many ways, we've finally adapted to each other and figured this relationship out. He is by far the most loving, gentle dog I've ever owned (and I've owned a lot of dogs). All he has to do is lay his head on my knee and give his little contented smile, and all is forgiven.

I have only vague memories of Sugar, who died when I was probably two or three. I remember her as black and curly and that's about it. Nutmeg was a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix who barked at everything and put up with the rough play of three little kids pretty amiably. I remember driving in the car, coming home from Idaho, with Nutmeg in a box on the floor of the back seat and thinking there was nothing so darling as this curled-up brown ball of fur. After Nutmeg died, I swore I didn't want another dog, until I got Caspian, a black lab who escaped or was stolen not long after I got him. And then I swore I never wanted another dog until I got Myrff (whose full name was Honeybunnyduckydowneysweetiechickenpiel'ileverlovinjellybean). Myrff was a pug mix who was so tiny I had to smash up the dry kibble with a hammer so he could eat it. Myrff was also an amiable little guy, and lasted to the age of 18, when he had so many health problems he had to be put down to be kind. He might have gone on forever otherwise.

Our first dog as a married couple was Barclay, a shepherd-lab mix who ate my record collection. I would put our newborn son on a blanket on the lawn, and Barclay would stand over him like a sentinel, alert, daring anyone to go near the baby without permission. I never needed a baby monitor or intercom. All I had to do was watch Barclay's ears, and if they went up, I knew the baby was awake upstairs. We had to give him away when we moved to Canada, though, which was a tough decision. (The dog, not the baby. Though there were probably times I wanted to give away the baby too.)

While we lived in the log cabin, we briefly had a German Shepherd puppy named Hobbes (yes, after Calvin and Hobbes) who turned out to be just too much of a handful while I was pregnant and unwell. He refused to be trained and had a vicious streak in him, so we gave him back to the people we got him from. We moved from the cabin to a townhouse, and when Son Number Two was born, we got Barney, a cockapoo who would not stop barking unless you locked him in a dark bathroom (like covering a parakeet's cage). He was sweet with the boys, though, but when we moved into an apartment, there was no way noisy Barney could accompany us, so he went to a neighbour who had five loving and energetic kids. After Barney there was a beagle named Heidi (let's just say a beagle was a mistake for an apartment--what were we thinking?! I blame the post-partum for that decision), and then Kiai, another shepherd-lab cross. Kiai was wonderful, patient and calm and beautiful and perfectly trained, but he died on Thanksgiving Day at age eleven of a ruptured tumour. That was a difficult Thanksgiving, having to come home and tell my children their friend had died.

After Kiai we took a year's break and then got Maple, the Shih Tzu. Maple is still with us, as playful and spunky as a puppy but nearing age ten and starting to show his age a little. He's just a little bit hesitant to jump high, to run after toys, and he gets tired after a walk to the park and back. Like me, he prefers to curl up on the couch and watch Brio play.

Ah yes, full circle back to Brio. As I type this, he is splayed across my feet like a throw rug, and every so often he opens one eye to make sure I'm still working, gives a long, bored sigh, and goes back to sleep. One paw over his nose, the other protectively placed over his favourite chew toy so Maple doesn't sneak it while he isn't looking.

I have loved all of my pets---and there's been many more besides the dogs---but for some weird reason Brio has a special place in my heart. Maybe it's because of the fight and challenge, trying to live with this bundle of pure energy. Maybe it's because of his keen intelligence and the laser-beam way he has of staring straight into your eyes like no dog I've ever had before. Maybe it's because he came to me when I was at a low point physically and emotionally and we needed each other. He has soothed my spirit and warmed my heart. Someday he too will grow old and I will lose him. It's a cruel thing that people live so much longer than dogs do. But I don't let myself think too far ahead, because there's no point in feeling loss in advance. That just ruins the present. For now, it's enough to be here with him, warm on my feet, watching his paws twitch as he chases balls in park dreams.

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