Friday, December 29, 2006

My Dogs and Me

For Christmas, I received the best-selling book, "Marley and Me," by John Grogan. The book reminded me of all my dogs, past and present -- and probably future. It is a must-read for any dog lover, the true story of a lovable, but unruly Labrador retreiver named Marley that touched the life of the author, a columnist for the Philadelphia Enquirer, and his family.

KingWe had three family dogs during my childhood: Tag, King, and Bo. Tag was a playful German Shepherd-Collie mix. He was hit by a car at a relatively young age, when I wasn't very old either.

We picked King out at the pound. He was a purebred German Shepherd. He was a wonderful family pet, gentle, yet protective of three growing children. King was the dog we grew up with, and we couldn't have asked for a better one. It broke the heart of a family when we had him put to sleep when he could no longer walk (hip displacia). But, he had lived a good long life.

BoBo was a Cocker Spaniel mix. I always thought her head looked too small for her body. She had a heart of gold. Bo loved playing with my brother's Border Collie pup, Luke. They'd roll down the hill together in a ball. She was spayed, but didn't mind Luke's amorous advances. She was quite fond of our cat, Kitty. They would like down in front of the fire place side-by-side. Bo was more my mom's dog than anyone else's, as I left for college soon after we got her. It broke my mom's heart when she had to put Bo down prematurely because of a debilitating disease.

My first dog was Jack, a purebred Border Collie that I bought for $75 at a sheep show. I was sixteen years old and lacked the committment necessary to train a herding dog.

Jack was pure poetry in motion, the Michael Jordan of dogs. Jack didn't herd our sheep -- though he certainly had the desire and the "eye" -- but he was a world class frisbee catcher. His spectacular catches were only limited by my ability to throw a frisbee. He would jump our fences with the grace of an olympic hurdler. He had the speed of a sprinter. When I played basketball, Jack would tackle the ball after it fell from the basket -- every time!

JackOne of my fondest memories of Jack was during the big snow storm of 1980; I think we were off school all week. We had about 2 feet of snow on the ground. His dog house had been buried in the snow. It was such fun to watch the athletic Jack romp through the deep snow.

Jack died way too young, hit by a car in front of our house. My dad brought his battered, unconscience body to the vet hospital where I worked. I put Jack in cage #23. There wasn't much that could be done for him. He died on my watch. After he died, I made a short Super-8 movie of him. I called it "Born to Run," which he was.

Jake was a purebred Australian Shepherd, a beautiful tri-colored animal with a stub for a tail. In hindsight, he wasn't the best choice for a graduate student living in an apartment, a half hour from campus.

While I excelled in graduate school, Jake and I flunked out of obedience school. Every time we passed another dog, Jake wanted to pick a fight. He wasn't a mean dog, it's just that other dogs seemed to bring out his aggressive nature. Neutering didn't help. Nor did the dog obedience experts, who recommended a pinch collar, which made Jake angry.

JakeJake loved children. Several times, he got loose and ran across the street to the school yard to play with the children during their recess. I took Jake with me when I went to play basketball at the middle school. He watched as numerous people challenged his master to a game of "horse" -- and usually lost to the girl who got labeled a "hot dog" by her high school coach. Jake and I used to take long walks and gaze at the stars in Montana's big sky. Sometimes, we watched the planes land and take off at Belgrade airport.

Before I moved back East, I found Jake a home on a sheep ranch. Jake had a lot of energy and deserved a life that could give him a way to expend it.

When I bought my first house in 1989, the first thing I did was go to the local animal shelter and pick out a puppy. Sam was a German Shepherd-Spitz-Terrier mix. Her two littermates looked nothing like her. She had light colored, wiry fur and erect ears and looked like a small German Shepherd. She was an excellent watch dog and faithful companion. I had no doubt she would protect me from harm. She demonstrated it several times, when she thought I was in danger. I used to take her with me when I went places at night. I always felt safe.

SamLike Marley, Sam was petrified of thunder. One day when I had left her alone in the house, she attacked the vertical blinds in the dining room, ate a bra, chewed up a sweatshirt, and dumped over a large bin of dog food. Whenever it thundered or she sensed it was going to, she would go beserk. She had to be touching me, in fact, practically be on top of me to feel safe, maybe not even then.

Sam didn't like being left alone. If I got out of the car to pump gas, she would go nuts in the car. One time, I had left my keys in the ignition and she locked me out. Camping didn't work real well, because she would start making a big commotion if I left the campsite for any reason. Sam preferred hotels to tents. Sam did okay when I left her at the kennel, but I knew it was very stressful for her.

I lost Sam in 1998. She was hit by a car. She was not quite 9 years old. The summer before Sam died, she and I took a mammoth vacation. I drove over 7,000 miles, going as far west as Lake Louise, Canada. I took Sam with me wherever I could. She was a wonderful travel companion, my friend and my protector.

I got Sly shortly after Sam died. Sly was most like Marley. She was half Labrador retreiver and half German Shepherd, solid black with a few white toes. But forget the German Shepherd, she was all Lab, save for a few physical features. Slow to grow up. A bull in a china closet. A tail that could have been registered as a deadly weapon. 87 lbs. of pure unbound energy. Always grasping for all the gusto life had to offer. But, not a mean bone in her body.

It didn't take me long to figure out that Sly was more dog that I thought I could handle. At four months of age, she was already proving to be a handful. After having such a well-behaved dog in Sam, I decided to find another home for Sly. I put ads in the local newspaper: Lab-Shepherd Mix. Free to a good home. Needs room to run. But when I started getting calls, I couldn't bear to part with her. How could I? She was so sweet. She just didn't know her strengh. She'd grow up. In time.

SlySly graduated from dog obedience school. At graduation, the dogs received dog bones as rewards. Marley ate her diploma -- I hung Sly's on the refridgerator -- Sly ate the other dogs' bones. Every once in a while, I had to remind Sly who the alpha dog was. They told me to sit on her, which I ocassionally did.

Sly was a world class chewer, digger, and jumper. She got more than a few knees to her chest, to discourage her jumping. It didn't take her long to eat Sam's dish and dog house. I had to put her kennel on my paved driveway after she tried to dig her way to China. Sly ate many things and I would find them in her poop in the yard. Whenever I boarded her, I told them not to put any thing in her kennel, because she would eat it. She could devour bones with incredible speed. I used to time her. It took her only 15 seconds to devour a lamb bone. She ate anything. Her food never sat for long. She always attacked it as if it were her last meal on earth.

Like Marley, Sly loved the water. After all, she was a Lab! I had never had a dog that liked, let alone loved water. My parents had a pond on their farm. I would take Sly for swims. She loved playing fetch. Once or twice she swam in circles with the pond's resident beaver. I loved watching Sly frolic in the water. She attacked the water with the same vigor she approached everything else in life.

I lost Sly in 2005, the third of my dogs to be hit by a car. She was 6 1/2 years old, just hitting her prime. So tragic.

The latest dog resident of my house is Zak, half Tibetan Mastiff, half Border Collie. Yes, it was an accidental breeding. Zak is tri-colored, but mostly black, with floppy ears and the soulful eyes of his sire, a Mastiff named Mongus. Zak's fur is soft and sleek. He pretties up really nice after a bath. He just had his first bath before Christmas.

Zak's just the right size dog, about 55 pounds. He'll be 2 in February. I got him in April 2005 from a friend, not long after Sly was killed. Zak was the runt of the litter, so small (2 1/2 lbs.) that I called him a puppling. My parents thought he looked like a baby skunk. He was full of worms and needed dewormed three times to get rid of his pot belly. He was a very docile puppy, which is what I thought I needed after Sly.

ZakIn Zak's case, the Mastiff genes seem to be dominant over the Border Collie ones. Zak neither protects sheep like his sire or herds sheep like his mother. But he's my best buddy and seems to suit my personality and lifestyle well. Zak's not lazy, he's just conserving his energy for when he truly needs it.

For the most part, Zak is a good boy. But of all my dogs, Zak gets the prize for being the biggest chewer. He knawed on all the legs of my dining room table chairs. He ate the remote control for the DVD player, bit into one of my flash drives, ate his leash and several collars and all the other pet's collars, and has chewed various pot holders, dusters, gloves, and other household items. You can never give him a soft toy because he will pluck the stuffing out of it.

I haven't had Zak all that long, but I already have a favorite Zak story. I had lanced abscesses on two of my sheep. I wanted to find out what kind of bacteria caused their abscesses. I collected the copious pus in paper towels and double-bagged the paper towels and put them in a trash bag in the basement. Zak snuck into the basement and chewed through all the bags to get to the pus. He licked the paper towels clean. I was a worried about his health, but the vet assured me he'd be fine -- and he was.

This year, Zak was especially skillful at removing baby lamb carcasses or body parts and afterbirth from the compost pile. Once I found his front feet and legs completely covered in blood. I guess his antics shouldn't have surprised me. He's a dog! All my dogs have enjoyed cleaning litter boxes, eating manure, drinking water out of the toilet, and chewing on afterbirth. If these things are bothersome to you, you probably shouldn't get a dog.

Zak is equally adept as Sly was at almost pulling my arm out of its socket (while on the flex lead) when he sees a rabbit; in Sly's case, it was birds. I bruised by sternum once when I was leaning to the side and Sly spotted a bird. She got the bird, but I landed hard on my side and was very sore for months. The only reason I didn't go to the doctor is because I figured they couldn't do anything for me anyhow.

McComb McComb
The only similiarity between Marley and my guardian dog McComb, a purebred Great Pyrenees, is size. McComb is well over 100 lbs. But I call him my gentle giant. With the exception of chasing the sheep ocassionally (they probably deserve it!), McComb is extremely low key and well behaved. He is obedient and sensitive. He takes it personal if you scold him. He was a gift from Katahdin Hair Sheep International and takes his name from McComb, Mississippi, where I got him as an 8 week old ball of white fluff. He's quite possibly an "angel" as dogs go.

As I read the last few chapters of Marley and Me, I filled a small waste basket with tissues. Unfortunately, dogs are only with us a short time. I was touched by the author's struggle with Marley's last few years of life and his difficult decision to let her go. I was sad for his loss and sad for my losses. I hope Zak and McComb don't leave me for a long time. The memories of King, Bo, Jack, Jake, Sam, and Sly are always with me.

Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really.
~ Agnes Sligh Turnbull


Justin said...

Oh God! Mc Comb is so cuteeeeee.

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog