Thursday, November 01, 2007

33 Years Ago Today

My first dog was born. I was 13 years old and in the 8th grade. Only my little brother (then 11) and I were still home full-time, although all 3 of my sisters were home for college holidays. He came home 6-1/2 weeks later, what I now believe to be too young an age. He was the only dog of my parents' 51-year marriage. My older brother had allergies, and neither of my parents were particularly interested in dogs. I worked hard at breaking them down. I suspect they did because the thought of their daughter running around the neighborhood playing with the neighbors' dogs didn't gel with their idea of how a teenage girl should behave. At least this way I was running around with my own dog and probably less likely to be invited into someone's home for nefarious purposes.

He almost was named Trooper because he ran amok (and a-muck) through the house as a baby and ended up being nicknamed Pooper Trooper before I came up with his final name. The morning after he came home was the last time my father plugged in the coffee until I left for college. Poor man went down to plug in the coffee without turning on the lights. The puppy had gotten out of his box and left a few landmines on the kitchen floor. Did I mention my father was barefoot? He found at least one of the deposits the hard way and came upstairs to let me know I needed to take my goddamned puppy out and I might as well plug in the coffee on the way.

He was an odd little dog, not particularly affectionate in a breed that was usually thought of as affectionate. He also was indifferent to food although he loved, loved, loved his tennis ball. We almost killed him with that thing, not realizing that, no, all dogs are NOT smart enough to stop playing when they start to overheat. He always flipped the frisbee over so it wouldn't trip him while he brought it back. He had the best natural retrieve to hand of any dog I've ever seen, at least of his ball and frisbee. Many other things (e.g., sticks) were not worthy of retrieving. If I knew then what I know now, he might have been a darn good sport dog. I trained him to jump by turning picnic table benches on their side (he was only 14" tall at the shoulder, so a couple of picnic table benches worked well) and trained him to Novice Obedience standards by myself. No classes, nobody I knew that I could ask about competition, just some Blanche Saunders books. Agility didn't exist yet. Really, obedience and the conformation ring were our only options for competition.

Ah, competition and parents who really don't get it. With an allowance of $1 per week and entry fees that ran about $10 per class, I was dependent on my parents for shows. They were needed for getting to shows anyway. My dog was a sheltie, so hair and grooming were important and hard to learn from magazines and books. I remember my father telling me numerous times, "if you spent half the time on your own hair as you do on that goddamned dogs, you could be attractive." Thanks so much for that boost to the adolescent ego. I bought special shears to trim the dog's ear hair and around his feet. One time I came home from college to find my father had swiped those scissors. He said they were the best scissors he'd ever had for trimming his own nose hair. Uh, dad, I hope you cleaned those suckers well. They sometimes got used for cleaning up the nether portions of the dog's body after intestinal distress.

We never competed all that well. I knew we were in trouble when someone complimented my "pretty little puppy bitch" when I was standing there with a 3-year-old male. He was rather light-boned, and I wasn't good at starching the front leg hair to make his legs look thicker. He also did not grow a full, thick coat until after I left for college, so he always looked immature during his showing years. In obedience, I eventually found out that I have ring nerves. We failed at several trials, then I went to a match (practice show). We won High Score in Match with 195 out of 200 points. Entered a "real" trial, and failed again. Yep. My voice and body language changed under pressure, and he didn't know what I was asking him to do.

We did a lot of walking together, all around our (fairly large) subdivision, and sometimes beyond. We went up to the elementary school playground sometimes. He would go berserk in the sand, digging madly in one spot, then springing over to a new spot and digging there. He would herd his playground-type ball all over the backyard and was a ferocious 4-square player, although he wouldn't stay in his own square. He had to be put in the house for us to play basketball or soccer because those balls could really hurt a 15-lb dog when he went in for the block. He also had to be inside for badminton because he believed in destroying the birdie.

I feel kind of bad that I left him with my parents even after I finished college. He was only 8, but I didn't want to try to find an apartment where his barking wouldn't be a problem. I told my parents that they should let me know if he needed to be put down and they didn't feel they could stay with him to the end. I felt I owed him a debt for what he added to my adolescent life. A few days before my 29th birthday, my mother called. She said to the answering machine, "Happy birthday. I have to go into the hospital for some cancer tests. Oh, and you need to come home to do something about the dog." My then boyfriend added to the occasion by suggesting that I could go home that weekend to put the dog to sleep. Yeah, dirtbag, nothing like putting the dog down on my birthday. Wouldn't that be festive? Instead I went down the next weekend. My father had already dug the grave earlier in the week. He and my mother had been living in terror of the dog, now sight- and hearing-impaired, among other frailties, falling in the grave and hurting himself before I could get there to have him killed. My brother and I took him to the vet, and he tried to get us to play as we walked to the door. I almost lost it at that. The vet was very kind to the two of us as we held our little dog and sobbed. Even the vet ended up in tears listening to us cry. He fought the sedative shot, trying to stay awake. Some part of me so wanted him to stay awake, to stop his death. Another part said, no, this was for the best. He was largely incontinent in addition to the vision and hearing loss, and I still lived in an apartment in a busy city. We finished the deed and took him home for burial. He was 14 and a half years old. We buried him ourselves and then went inside to tell my parents he was gone. My father asked why we hadn't let them know we were home before burying him. I felt like asking if he'd wanted to see it because he wasn't sure we'd actually go through with the euthanasia or because he wanted to celebrate while we shoveled dirt onto my good dog. Instead I retreated to the time-honored, "I don't know. Guess we didn't know you were interested" in a mumbled, eyes-down way.

He was the smallest dog I've ever owned. He was the only male dog, and the only intact dog, I've owned. He was my first blue merle, my first show dog. He was the only dog I've owned where I met his parents (his face was nearly a mirror image, markings-wise, of his father's), although I've seen videos of Sleek's father. He was my first AKC-registered dog and the only dog whose AKC number I memorized (still know it to this day). Interestingly, my best girl Fluff has eyes that are colored almost exactly like his. Left eye is dark brown, right eye is dark brown with some gray flecks in it.

Thank you, Flint. You were a good dog.


Mrs. G. said...

This is such a sweet story. I'm hoping you ditched that boyfriend...what a prince. There really is nothing like finding a puppy surprise while barefoot. Your comment cracked me up...

kabbage said...

I told him we were through about a month or so after that episode. Gotta say that relationship gave me more interesting moments to share than any other I've had. Look for more as November progresses, probably!