Sunday, April 19, 2009

Basic Dogness

Left to right, Nala, Parks, and Charlie on our front porch. So happy together.

When we married, Jennifer came complete with two indoor cats. In fact, I shacked up with the cats in our first home a couple of weeks before we entered wedded bliss. It was a kind of get acquainted time for the cats and myself. That was about 21 years ago.

I hate cats. Always have. So, love conquered all where my betrothed and felines were concerned. Some years later, shortly after my daughter was born, both cats passed on - as we say in respectful company. It wasn't really a relief for me though. By that time I had repressed my hatred and actually came around to almost liking them. I'm far more adaptable than my OCD, routine-infested life might otherwise suggest.

At any rate, growing up I always had a dog or two at my parent's home. I enjoyed taking long walks through woods and open fields with them. We had no neighbor children so dogs were my playmates. We would run and rough-house together. Dogs are way cool and I read them well. If I get to spend any time at all with one it will usually bond with me.

When my daughter turned three we thought it would be nice to give her a collie mutt puppy as part of her birthday. Bad idea. She played with the puppy but she couldn't feed the puppy. Puppies tend to really appreciate whoever feeds them and gives them water and can play with them a bit more intensely than a 3-year-old. That would be me.


So, Nala (we named her after Simba's girlfriend from The Lion King) became attached to me. My daughter - being still pretty much three - didn't even notice.

Years passed. Nala - who, like all my dogs, is an outdoor only dog - went through her digging-holes-everywhere phase and her grabbing-everything-that-wasn't-nailed- down-and-chewing-it phase. We made it to maturity and there was peace. I can recall many sunny afternoons on my land just laying on the good, grassy earth with my dog and watching the sky as I had done so often as a child with other dogs other places long passed.

One weekend when my daughter was old enough to start playing tennis, she and Jennifer returned from the recreation park with a spitz mutt that had been abandoned down at the park. It was a middle aged dog. Very sweet. My wife had never been a dog person at all. She was all cat. Our relationship is dynamic that way. Be that as it may, my daughter was having a fit to keep the dog and my wife thought he was "just the cutest thing." That was that.


Suddenly, magically, Jennifer was transformed, attached to this mutt who we appropriately dubbed Parks. Parks was a spirited and vociferous being but not overly so. He was a joy to be around. He was also exceptional at training humans.

To begin with, since I had never allowed a dog to be in the house, he was an outside dog. But, after a couple of mornings of finding him asleep at the foot of our carport door (causing my daughter to go "awww" and my wife to discover yet another level to his seemingly bottomless depth of cuteness), we decided to let him in the house during the day.

Next, we decided he could stay inside but only on the lower floor and never on the sofa. Next, it was ok to sleep on the sofa (as long as it was covered with a sheet) but not go upstairs. Then, he taught us that sheets were completely unnecessary and upstairs was fine too, in fact we put a doggie bed up there for him (but just for afternoon naps). Finally, he taught us that he could sleep just fine in the house, when to feed him, when to let him out, and exactly how long to wait before checking to see if it was time to let him back in.

Parks trained us well. Nala didn't seem to mind. He had his domain, she had her's and all was right with the world.

Parks' prissy cat-like coat.

Then Parks aged and late last year we learned that he was suffering from a terminal cancer. He seemed fine. His behavior involved a bit more sleeping but otherwise you'd never know anything was wrong with him. Jennifer decided to give him a course of chemo, which damn near killed him after the second treatment.

But, once again, Parks trained us well. We cancelled all further treatments, put him on a steroid to perk him up and decided to await the inevitable. Jennifer was shattered. She spent several days crying over the impending death of Parks. At one point she thought we would have to put him to sleep any day now. She dropped all restrictions on feeding him treats.

The dog thought he was already dead and had gone to heaven. He was being fed practically anything he wanted. We didn't even bother to make him sit or anything anymore. We were COMPLETELY trained now.

Partly to compensate for the impending death of our beloved Parks, Jennifer suggested we get "our daughter" an indoor dog. And she had found a perfect one. He was an english setter mutt five months old and looking for a good home. His name was Charlie. My daughter checked him out and declared "he's my dog."

Charlie (a.k.a Chuck, Cha Cha, Charliemane).

So, Charlie came into our once dogless and cat-filled home to reside there as Parks passed slowly into oblivion.

Only that didn’t happen.

Parks hasn't died yet. The vet told us he had "about 2-3 months" to live. As of now that was four months ago and Parks doesn't show any signs of keeling over. In fact, those steroids and the constant diet of treats "just for doing nothin'", as Jennifer says, perked him right up. Sure, he has his slow days, but overall he's enjoying a fine spring.

So now, we have another puppy - this time inside with all our stuff - who loves to dig and chew and has more energy than my 10 acres can possibly subdue. He sleeps in my daughter's room, Parks sleeps in our bedroom, and Nala continues to enjoy the freedom of being an outside dog.

Parks hates Charlie. Who's idea was it to bring this goofy shit into the house?! What were y’all thinking??? But, there's no way to train us to get rid of Charlie. It's a tough time for Parks. He acts out. Completely house broken (as is Charlie by the way), Parks proceeded through the late winter to cast judgment upon the lot of us by peeing on every piece of carpet in the house. And when he had trained Jennifer to store all the rugs away until his eventual passing he started peeing on our wood floor.

Charlie "sharing" Parks' cushion. Parks has become a rather sloppy napper of late, often sleeping with his head spilling onto the floor, his robust belly shamelessly awash in the sun.

Charlie doesn't mind. He bounces around licking everything, oftimes squirming on his back, legs flailing in every direction, tongue hanging out, emitting a shameful squeak for a bark and trying to get me to play with him and one of his seemingly endless supply of chew toys that litter our house like a debris from some grotesque doggie explosion.

Nala doesn't care much for Charlie's rambunctiousness either. Charlie has learned to stay away from Nala's bowl - a sincere growl is enough to educate even the most curious pup.

The three of them really don't do anything together at all. Charlie doesn't understand. He just wants to be friends. Parks, the Perpetual, doesn't want friends. He just wants to continue his new found life of treats for doing nothing. Nala's always been a loner herself and just wants me to rub on her thick coat slowly but vigorously while telling her what a sweet dog she is for about 10 minutes each evening before I feed her.

They will all three go for walks in our woods with me. Also, Nala and Parks will sit around and watch Jennifer teach Charlie how to fetch a tennis ball - which he is becoming very good at. For treats, of course. Charlie runs for his treat while Parks gets one for “just doing nothing.”

More importantly, Charlie being a very bright puppy, he knows what “Come, Charlie” means when we’re outside. So no leash is required and he behaves…mostly. Well, there’s a jumping issue but we’re working on that.

For awhile there Parks wanted Charlie's food and Nala wanted Parks' food and Charlie wanted every one's food. Jennifer insanely tried to keep the three different kinds of foods separate. That was way too much work for me. My solution? Let them all eat whatever they want. They'll be tired of it in a week anyway and all curiosity and jealousy will vanish.

For now things seem to have settled into an unsteady doggie routine. Domains are defined. Nala is the alpha dog outside, Parks inside, Charlie would be the bitch if the other two cared to exert themselves to that degree. But they don't because they are both rather old and one of them is already supposed to be dead.

But he isn't. So we go on. My daughter sort of having “her” dog whenever the mood strikes her. Charlie playing more with Jennifer and myself. Training us a bit. How? Well let's just say when I'm in my chair reading, listening to some classical greatness and Charlie suddenly appears, tail wagging, two growing front paws in my lap, eyes dark but happy, and a rather large, stuffed, squeaking orange toy that’s a cross between a duck and platypus with huge bug-like eyes and a rope for a tail in his eager mouth - well - I know what to do.


The girl with far away eyes said...

Well as you know, we have cats and they are our babies but I love dogs too. I love all animals and so I really liked looking at your pics and reading about your little friends. They're really pretty. And what do doctors know anyway? Vets or otherwise? It's all just educated guessing. In the end, what will be will be. Just let Parks keep living it up and being loved. Just like people, sometimes they just need to "be" and they'll be okay.

Anonymous said...

Funny and sweet piece. I know of quite a few dogs that, like Parks, won't give up. Some friends took to calling theirs "Dead Dog."

I wanna meet precious Charlie. Will he be coming to summer camp on the mountain top? Jean