Sunday, December 4, 2011

Being Barked At

I live with two cats, but I'm as much a dog person as a cat person. I have always loved dogs, lived with many of them growing up, and enjoyed the company of most of the dogs who shared my parents' home when I came back to visit as a grown-up. Right now, for almost the first time in my life, neither of my parents has a dog at home. My Dad & Stepmom's 14-year-old miniature schnauzer went to his reward this past summer, and my mother finally (mercifully) parted company with her yippy little Chihuahua rat-dog only a couple weeks ago.

I am proud of many of the dogs we owned when I was a kid. We had a toy poodle once, best remembered for eating my Dad's shoes. Later, there was a golden retriever mix who whelped ten puppies on my brother's bed, bless her. Their father was an itinerant black lab whose liaisons with our Honey taught my brother and me the facts of life in a really down-to-earth way.

Sometime between the poodle and Honey, when we lived in a house in the country with lots of yard to run in, we had a gentle, friendly Afghan hound with a rare coat of cream-colored, shaggy fur. Pete, as we called him, had learned a certain stillness (the hard way, from his nasty previous owners), so that visitors often mistook him for a lawn ornament until they pulled up, whereupon he would saunter interestedly over to see who had called. Besides these nasty surprises, there was no harm in Pete, who lived a wild and free outdoor life, sprinting swiftly along the side of the highway and keeping up with passing cars for as much as a quarter-mile. Pete didn't live long after we moved away from that place. A neighboring farmer, who had promised to take him in, waited until our tail-lights faded in the distance, then shot him to save himself any further trouble.

One of our best pets was VP, short for "Vision Puppy," which in turn is but one of many jokes that circulated among our family and friends at the time we adopted the miniature longhair dachshund puppy. Dad told someone that Stepmom was a "vision of loveliness," and a multitude of gags was born. The vision meme blew over soon enough, except that for all eleven years of her adorable existence, VP's name perpetuated its memory. She was a remarkable little dog: daft as a bag of hair, but frisky and vocal and sociable and unusually patient with small children, who in return could not get enough of holding her, rubbing her, fiddling with her tail, and pulling her floppy ears. VP had so many quirky little ways that I could bore you endlessly about them, and that's probably because she was in my life for such a long time and at just the right range of years for me to remember nearly all of them. (Her end came when I was in college.) She lived to have three proteges: a neurotic mini dachs named Dixie, a psychotic mini schnauzer named Katie, and the late Martin, whose recent demise closed 25 years of unbroken dog ownership by my Dad & Stepmom.

Martin was the most lovable of the family dogs that I only knew from visiting home, rather than sharing a home with him. He became my parents' baby after I had left the nest, but he was always thrilled to see me when I came to visit (as Katie had been, in spite of her embarrassing viciousness towards selected people). I loved seeing his bobtailed butt wiggling with excitement, and I was one of the best at stroking him and talking to him until he calmed down. Other dogs that I visited and loved, but never cohabitated with, included my maternal grandparents' beagle Deanna (whom I named after a Sesame Street character the day they adopted her), my stepmom's dad's gormless yellow lab Conor (who was always adorably cowed by first VP and then Katie), my mom's woebegone Basset hound Lottie, and the mini dachshund Max whose owners (friends of mine) let me dog-sit him. Max adored me ever afterward, because I was a pushover for walkies and let him take all the time he wanted to claim ownership of the neighborhood and to read pee-mail left by other canines.

Nowadays, I enjoy my fellowship with dogs in minute doses. I've been getting to know the dogs who guard a series of fenced backyards along the street where I often take walks. Our relationship is fairly one-sided. They run toward the fence and bark at me, while I walk by as innocently as possible. Sometimes, if I'm in the mood, I'll make remarks at them -- observations about their character, their looks, the timbre of their voices, etc. Sometimes I'll just stare at them as I walk by, because I can and that's the type of S.O.B. I am. I enjoy the company. It's what I've got in that line, anyway.

Furthest out of the three dog-yards in my neighborhood is one where three miniature pinschers dwell, unless my breed-spotting is out. They represent the full range of coloring and vocal quality of that breed, and they hop up and down and yap non-stop the whole time I am within sight of their fence. One of them has a small-dog yipping quality to his (her?) bark; the other two have a more gruff voice type. I like their looks, but I doubt they would let me reach over the fence and scratch their scruff without charging a finger or two.

Next in on my homeward route is the rottweiler that could probably easily jump over the fence and take me down like a gimpy wildebeest. But it contents itself with bouncing up and down on its hind legs and woofing at me. Last time I approached it, it let me tell it what a good-looking dog it was before it started barking in my face. The first couple of times I walked by its yard, I didn't even know it was there until I had just passed the last of its fence, when it rushed up out of a sunken stairwell and came at me barking from behind. I'm sure my jump of surprise gratified him, but I called him a coward then and I still wonder at his cowardice. I could probably drop-kick any of those mini pinschers halfway down the block, but they meet me with snarls of defiance as I approach their yard, fearlessly protective. Meanwhile the big, jowly rottweiler, who could probably crush my hyoid bone between his jaws before I saw him coming, skulks out of sight until I've passed and THEN darts forward and shout's BOO! at my back.

And finally, my favorite, closest to home: the elderly beagle, somewhat portly, with eyes whitened by glaucoma, who leans his forepaws against the chain-link fence, cranes his neck backward, and barks straight up in the air. The mini pinschers are just doing their job, mind; and the rottweiler is doing what he can to keep up appearances. But this beast, already with one paw in the grave, barks at me with such gusto, such passion, that I know he means it right down to the ends of his whiskers. His is a joy in being a dog that even blindness and a touch of gout cannot take away: an attitude that says, "Hey! Who are you? This is my block! Don't forget it!"

1 comment:

Cuda said...

Nice to read your memories of my dogs.