Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Dog's Life, Revisited

The author and his dog*

One of the small joys I have experienced over the years came in the form of a small mixed breed dog. His name will be revealed in the telling...

He was a stray who showed up at my Mom's house. My older brother had a golden Labrador retriever, named Al, acquired while he was stationed in Spain. Al was gentle as could be, except with cats and other male dogs. So here comes this little white, poodle-terrier mix up onto the front porch and just sits there, while my brother's dog snarls and growls madly on the other side of the screen door, wanting to tear this intruder limb from limb. Little white dog refuses to run away. (Nobody ever claimed he was too bright!)

I was visiting my Mom, that evening and we noticed that the dog had a turquoise blue leather, rhinestone studded collar, but no license. His curly hair was not matted at all, as it would be had he been neglected for any time at all, so we figured he belonged to somebody. He came along home until his owner could be found. Surely his owner would be looking for him. And if he had an owner, then he also had a name, which we didn't know, so we didn't call him anything.
Days passed and no one claimed the pooch. And nearly every night, because he wasn't well housebroken, the dog would defecate in the house. And nearly every morning, I would step in a pile of dog poop on my way to the bathroom or kitchen in the dark. (To this day, I can't tell you which is worse...stepping barefoot in cold dog poop or warm dog poop.) And I would tell the animal, "You're just a pooper dog, that's all you're good for!"

The longer he stayed and the longer I called him Pooper, the name stuck. So, now I have a ridiculous dog with a ridiculous name. And of course, having a ridiculous name, how ridiculous would I look calling for him to come home when he'd wandered? So I taught him to come when I whistled, to save us both the embarrassment.

He was a character. He would play with an old, vinyl covered metal clothesline balled up in a twisted lump. He would stick his muzzle into the twisted wire and shake it back and forth as if it were a small animal. David Livingston spoke of how a lion would take a man in its mouth and shake him “as a terrier would a rat”. Or as a Pooper dog would shake a clothesline! He would roll on his back and pretend he was fighting some fierce beast. One day, when I saw him playing this little game, he didn't know I was nearby. When I spoke his name, he dropped the wire... and gave me the most sheepish look of embarrassment that I've ever seen on an animal.

An oscillating sprinkler was all it took to amuse him in the summer. He would leap up and try to bite the water as it sprayed up into the air. And he was always up for a good game of Catch the Tongue. He would stick out his tongue, I would gently catch it between my fingers. He would pull his tongue back. Rinse and repeat.

Oddly enough, he never uttered a sound the first few weeks we had him. But as soon as he felt at home, his territorial urges must have kicked in. Now he had to bark all the time, especially at the mailman! This interloper came around six days a week, right up to his very own front door! The effrontery! So Pooper would bark and bark and bark and jump up and down at the front door as if to say, "Let me at him! If this door wasn't here, I'd rip his legs off!"

Over time, a hole got ripped in the screen door and Pooper could let himself in and out through the hole. Then, when the front door was open and nothing but a hole in the screen separated the dog and his prey, the postman approached. The dog barked and barked and jumped up and down as if to say, "Let me at him! If this door wasn't here, I'd rip his legs off!" same as before, but, it was all bluff! After the postman left, Pooper slipped out through the screen to make sure the postman was gone and then he’d come sedately back in. A poseur in today's vernacular!

He used to climb a stack of firewood up to the top of the redwood fence around the side of our house and walk around the top of the fence on the two by four stringer. It was funny to see this small dog stick his head over the top of a six foot high fence and peer over at you.

When fire trucks would pass nearby, sirens blaring, all the local dogs would bark or howl. Except Pooper, who would stand on the stringer on top of the rear fence and throw his head back, looking like a little, white timberwolf silhouetted against the fenceline, as if he was howling, only no sound would come out. It was a silent howl, which, I suppose, made him feel a part of the canine brotherhood, as if he was contributing to the alarm, in solidarity with his noisy brethren. In his spirit, he was howling.

He was a funny little companion. I loved him and he loved us. When my ex and I had our first child, we were afraid that Pooper might be jealous. We'd read of such things and feared he might even hurt the baby. Our fears were groundless. From the beginning, Pooper seemed to understand that these crawling, mewling rugrats were part of his home and needed to be defended from all intruders, even when they crawled on the floor and raided his kibble dish. I can't tell you how many times I picked up a baby with brown gravy running down its chin!

One day, dog and children were in the front yard and a Doberman Pinscher three times Pooper's size came walking down the sidewalk. That little dog ran full tilt, fiercely growling and barking and chased it out of the yard. I'm sure the Doberman was taken aback at the ferocity of the unprovoked attack, but that little dog would have died before it let anything or anyone past him to get to those children.

He loved to run. When we moved out to the country, he would race around the fields, bounding through the tall grass like a small gazelle. He was a joy to watch. He was a joy. How does one explain or understand such love and loyalty? What strange attractor brought him to my Mom's front porch the day I would be there to take him home?

When he died, I buried him at the edge of a large field under a simple piece of granite, where the deer graze and small dogs run like gazelles without being tired.

Sometimes, joy finds you. And even considering all the “poop” I put up with, literally, and figuratively, I could not put a price on this small miracle. Nor would I trade that small life for clean floors and clean feet and the void I did not know he filled.

A simple tale to share the love and loyalty that cannot be bought and cannot be sold. I guess if men are dogs, this is the one I want to be when I grow up.

-Originally published 10/8/2008

*Not a recent picture!

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