Sunday, January 24, 2010

About Dogs and Those Who Own Them

I read an article recently about the relationship dogs and their owners have with each other. When asked about how dogs view their owners, the author said most dogs view their owners as "very large, infinitely interesting tennis balls." I, for one, take that as a compliment. You could do a lot worse.

The article got me thinking about the dogs that have owned me. Make no mistake about it. Most dogs own their owners, even if the human does not want to admit it. I know not about you, yours, and your house, but I know who runs the show here on West Taylor St. Not me, not Lynne. Ivy runs it. Period. As Lynne often says, Ivy rules with an iron paw.

Most of us had a pet dog when we were growing up. I had a rat terrier named Kay. As dogs go, she was homely. She was mostly white with small black and brown spots. She was a mutt. But like you learn later in life, beauty is much more than how a person looks on the outside, it is what is on the inside that truly counts in the long run. So it was, I was to learn, about Kay.

I had a downtown paper route when I was about thirteen. Passing papers to the businesses downtown and about a block surrounding the downtown area was where I was on my 20 inch bicycle every morning seven days a week about 5:30 am. Kay would always run along beside me on the route which covered about five miles. Several times I would be riding along and Kay would growl and the hair on her back would stand up. Each time a person would be standing hidden in a doorway or alley. No one ever tried to hurt me, but you have to ask what were they doing there at that time of morning? Kay was looking out for me. She could not have weighed 20 pounds, but she could be fierce if provoked or if someone threatened me.

As time went on, I noticed that Kay was having a hard time keeping up with me on the bike. Simple solution, so I thought, just leave her at home. Kay would have none of that. If I went out the door with my paper bag, she would bark at the door until I let her out to go with me. A barking dog at 5:00 am is not what my parents wanted to hear. What to do?

What I did was to buy another paper bag. I hung the bag with the papers in it on the front of my high rise handlebars from two hooks. I hung the second bag on the inside of the handlebars from the same two hooks. Into the second bag I put Kay, who seemed happy to ride in the bag. Off I would go with Kay peering out over the top of the newspapers. And so it went for many months, through rain, snow, sleet, fog and everything else that comes with living in Indiana.

When I finished my route each morning, I would grab a quick breakfast and head out to school. When school was over, home I would go on my bicycle to be greeted each afternoon by Kay who would be lying on the back steps faithfully awaiting my return.

You cannot imagine the shock that rocked me one afternoon when I came home from school and was informed by my mother that Kay had died of an apparent heart attack while I was at school. I was devastated. I asked if she had suffered and was told she had died peacefully in her sleep. I asked for the body so I could bury her in the back yard. I was told that her body was already gone and could not be retrieved. I was shattered. I moped around for a few weeks, but life went on and I suggested to my parents that I needed another dog. The response was not hopeful. They said they would think about it, but not right now. So I waited.

You cannot imagine my joy when I came home from school shortly thereafter and who do you suppose was waiting, like nothing had happened, on the back steps? You got it. Kay was back.

Now being a parent, I recognize that my parents had a significant problem. They had been caught in a despicable lie to their child about his most treasured possession. I was not around to hear the phone conversation, but I know what Lynne would have done. I would have gotten a call at my office that would have gone something like this: "Mike, we got problems. Kay is back! No I don't know how this has happened! What are we going to tell him?" Good questions all. And not a good answer in sight.

Like I said, I never heard the phone conversation, but I am sure it happened. Dad came home that night and did not say much. We ate dinner and there in the doorway to the dining room lay the damning evidence of their guilt, which is how I see it now, but not then. I was sure there was an explanation, other than that Kay had risen from the dead. There wasn't.

It turned out that Kay, who was elderly, had begun peeing on occasion in the house. One or both of my parents, I was never told who, could not deal with it. So, one of my parents, I do not know who to this day, took Kay to the pound where she would be gassed. Except something happened that neither of my parents counted on. The pound manager took a liking to Kay. She became his dog with the run of the pound, including the yard outside the pound which was surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. According to Dad, the last the manager saw of Kay was her climbing the fence, scrambling over the barbed wire, which accounted for some cuts I noticed on her tummy, and heading for home. It had taken her five weeks to plan and make her break for freedom and home. And some people say dogs are just dumb animals. Not by a long shot. The "Kayshank Redemption", if you will.

How Kay managed to find her way home is something I have always wondered about until I sat down to write this. I think I know how she did it. The pound is about ten or fifteen blocks from downtown Kokomo. By random chance she probably found the downtown area and remembered the way home from the paper route.

From then on Kay lived in our house until she died of congestive heart failure, in my arms one afternoon. I buried her in the backyard.

Years later after my Dad died unexpectedly, I was having some trouble dealing with it. I went to see a psychologist who dealt in grief therapy. I do not know how this event in my life came up, but it did and I told him the story as I have told you. After hearing it, he sat there for a while and then said, "It is a wonder you are not more screwed up than you are. Has it occurred to you that this incident is the cause for your inability to trust anyone close to you?" That shrink hit the nail on the head and was worth every penny I paid him.

Years later, when Lynne and I moved into the house we now live in with Allyson and Zach, we decided we needed a dog. I went to the library and got a book about the various breeds. A lively debate took place nightly for weeks over which dog would be best. Ultimately, like every yuppie couple with kids, we decided on a golden retriever. I was assigned the task of getting the dog. I quickly located a six-week-old litter about fifty miles away. I made an appointment.

Before I went to look at the pups, I knew I knew nothing about picking a good pup. So, I called on my good friend, Lee Moore, who knew a lot about dogs. He gave me wonderful, if not comical, advice. He told me to quietly enter the room where the puppies were and sit down for fifteen minutes and do nothing but watch them. He said that there would be one pup who would walk around and occasionally fall over, while running into the other pups and knocking them over. He said it would be like the dog was saying: Yup, yup, yup. I am the dog. Yup, yup, yup. In other words pick out the "bozo" (my word, not Lee's). And Lee was exactly right. It was obvious which pup was the bozo. I bought him and took him home. Like a true bozo, he crapped, peed, and puked in my car on the way home. The kids named him Buster. And a magnificent dog he was.

Let me tell you two stories about Buster.

Golden retrievers are bred to fetch. Period. It is all they can do. It is all they want to do. As my sister, a fellow dog-lover said, "The only chip in that dog's brain is the fetch chip." Buster lived to fetch anything that was throw able. He could not help himself. He was as addicted to fetching as the worst druggie is addicted to crystal meth. Buster would fetch sticks, no matter how small or large. As he fetched them, they would begin to get smaller from his teeth. I saw him fetch a twig less that an inch long. I saw him fetch firewood chunks. Tree limbs. Rocks, bricks, concrete blocks, old tires that would roll, baseballs, footballs ( if deflated a little), soccer balls, golf balls, tennis balls, paint brushes, and once, a tire iron. He also went for Coke cans, beer cans and anything else that was handy to throw.

With that background, we would occasionally have a Buster day. We would go to a park and throw a ball to Buster till he wore out. Except he never wore out. I did. It got to be a challenge.

I knew that the park had a hill in the center. So Lynne and I would go to the top of the hill with one on those flyswatter-like throwers with a place to put the tennis ball in the end and throw the ball downhill. Off Buster would go, tearing after the tennis ball, only to have to run back to us up hill. We kept throwing the ball and that crazy dog just wouldn't quit. I was about ready to give up, when I threw it one last time. Off Buster went. He snatched it up and took off back up the hill. Halfway up, he stopped and fell over. He dropped the ball from his mouth and his tongue was hanging out. I thought I had killed him. We ran to where he was and he just laid there, totally exhausted. Then he got up, picked up the ball and dropped it at my feet ready to fetch again. What a dog! We never did the hill trick with him again. I think that dog would have run himself to death, just to please me.

Spring break rolled around and I planned a spring camping trip to Big South Fork National Park in southern Tennessee. To this day, if you ask my children or wife about this trip, they will hoot with laughter and say it was a total disaster. It was. It was even worse. A complete fiasco. It started to snow and sleet at our campsite, so we packed up and headed for a motel.

Buster, a member of the family, was with us. I checked ahead of arrival to make sure the motel was pet-friendly, but I did not tell the kids that such was the case. When we arrived, just before I went in to get the keys, I told the kids to keep Buster down, so the manager would not see him. If we got caught with the dog, they would throw us out of the motel I warned.

When I returned with the two keys, I drove to a parking space. I pointed out the number of the room the kids would share with Buster. I handed the key to Allyson and told her to go to the room and let herself in. When she was ready, she was to flash the lights twice. I would respond by flashing the headlights twice. Zach would quietly let leashed Buster out the side door and quickly go up the stairs to the room so no one would see him. James Bond and family and dog. It worked like a charm. Lynne and I retired to our room next door to the kids.

Several times that night someone walked down the hall past the kid's room. Each time I would hear a low growl from Buster, who was letting the passerby know that he was on guard and anybody wanting to harm his two charges would have to get through him first.

After the growl, I would hear Allyson's hushed voice say, "SHHHHHHHHH Buster. If they hear you, they'll throw us out."

Buster died of kidney failure when he was 10 years old. I knew he was dying, so I called my friend, Dr. Bob Mason, who made a house call and put Buster to sleep in my arms. I went into the bedroom and cried over my dog. At the time I was ashamed of my behavior. I thought I was being unmanly. Later on I realized Buster was as much a member of the family as were my children and wife and my reaction to this terrible loss was normal. Buster's portrait hangs in the hallway in my house in Winona Lake.

The family lasted two weeks without a dog. The house just seemed empty. I was ordered by the kids to get another golden. Off I went and, using the tried and true Lee Moore Technique of dog selection, I came home with another bozo. We named the pup, Beaumont, and a magnificent dog he was.

Like Buster, the only chip in Beau's brain was the fetch chip. About this time, we had bought our lake house on Winona Lake. The house came with a pier that stretched from the shore about 50 feet into the lake.

Using that fly-swatter like thrower to fling tennis balls into the lake for Beau was great sport. I would make the dog sit in front of me on the shore. His eyes would never leave the tennis ball. If I did not throw it soon enough, he would start to whine. When I finally let it fly, Beau would streak to the end of the pier and dive in after the tennis ball. It was great entertainment for the neighborhood. After a while I started using two tennis balls, so I wouldn't have to thrown them so often.

You see, that was the problem. He wouldn't let you quit. You could not sit on the pier and read, because there would stand this dripping dog with the tennis ball in his mouth. If you tried to lie on the pier in the sun, Beau would stand over you dripping cold water on you. If you still did not throw the ball, he would drop the slimy, slobber-coated ball on your chest. It was maddening.

One day I told Lynne that I was going to see how many times I had to fling the ball with the flyswatter to wear Beau out. About two or three hours and 336 throws later, I was worn out and the dog was going strong.

Beaumont got sick one afternoon. I knew he was bad, so I took him to Dr. Bob, who told me he was terminal with a form of leukemia. Bob put him to sleep while I patted him one last time. Beaumont had a heart that was bigger than he was. I still miss him.

Toward the end of Beaumont's days, my daughter and her husband got a golden they named Bob. Bob was cool.

Bob, we used to say was "just glad to be here." He was a true party animal. When Lynne and I would get ready to go to the lake, we had to be careful and not say the word L-A-K-E in front of Beau and Bob. At the mention of the L-word they would become frantic and would run to the truck and wait impatiently for me to lower the tailgate. As soon as I did, they would jump in and off we would go to the lake.

Except we never went straight to the lake. The dogs knew I was going to stop at Wendy's on the way. The lady at the drive-through window would hand Lynne and me our food. I would then pull up so that the truck bed was even with the window. The lady would then throw two hamburgers and two large fries into the bed for Bob and Beau. Both dogs often told me that was truly living large and that they were the envy of the other dogs in the neighborhood.

After Beau passed, I had to put Bob down. He was only four years old, but he tore a ligament in his left rear paw. It was not fixable and was causing him severe pain. Bob-dog, as he was known, was a good dog. As Dean Koontz has said, there is nothing better that can be said about a dog than that he or she was a good dog.

Sometime before Beaumont and Bob died, Ivy came to live with us. I am not sure how we ended up with three dogs in the house, but we did. Eventually it was just Ivy, known also as "the Ive" and "Iverson."

When Ivy first arrived, she would have nothing to do with me. When I walked into a room she occupied, she would hide in the corner and tremble. She would not allow me to touch her at all. Once I picked up a broom to sweep the floor and she cowered under the table and whimpered.

I asked my daughter how Ivy came to live with them. It turns out that Allyson asked Jeremy to go to the pound and pick out a dog no one would ever adopt. Jeremy picked Ivy.

We noticed that Ivy has a permanent limp on her back left side. The vet said it was an untreated broken bone from when she was small. Someone probably beat her which accounts for how she acted with the broom. Also, she would hide from all males.

About six months after she moved in, she let me pet her. We are now the best of buddies. She goes almost every where with me. She is a regular at Lowe's and Menard's. She is on a first name basis with everyone at Moody's bike shop. She is known by all of our neighbors, most of which feed her every morning.

Her most important task is to keep me company. She sleeps with Lynne and me. Anytime I go somewhere in the truck, she goes. She knows that dog treats are given at Burger King and Menard's.

When I am working in my shop, she sits on the floor mat just inside or outside the door, depending on the temperature.

When I came home from the hospital in April, she lay beside me with her head on my chest most of the day. She knew I was sick. She wanted me to get well.

That is about all I have to say about Ivy. She is a good dog. She loves me without condition which is how it should be. As a final gesture, check out the picture below. Is she not the finest of dogs?

Mike out.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has never had the joy of being owned by a dog, I found your narrative deeply moving. Thanks for giving your readers an insight into the glorious and mysterious bonding between a dog and the family the dog owns.