It’s a trait not normally associated with dogs. There are no movies, to my knowledge, about cowardly dogs. Instead, these animals, touted as man’s best friend, are supposed to go to the ends of the earth for you. They are our guardians, barking ferociously at intruders no matter how diminutive they may be or how likely they are to smother them with doggy kisses when they actually meet. They are supposed to take on a cougar or a bear to defend us. Lassie went to the end of the earth for Timmy. Toto, small though he was, never let Dorothy down. And then there’s Old Yeller, who paid the ultimate price for his devotion. These brave and loyal companions are the epitome of what we love in a dog.
My dog doesn’t have these traits.
She is no spring pup. She’s well into her third year on earth and has been with us since we rescued her from her bouncy, hyper litter of thirteen. We are no strangers to each other. There’s no doubt she loves me, and not merely as the provider of food. She gets excited when she sees me, jumping and dropping sticks, balls, and frisbees at my feet. She comes when called and is eager to please.
It’s just that she expects me to protect her.
If she happens to be inside when someone knocks, she runs behind my legs, then stays in the other room while I go to check it out. When the other dogs bark, she will turn tail and run to the back door at breakneck speed. Most recently, when the fireworks were going off on the Fourth of July, we were walking through the semi-dark to get another log for the fire pit. The neighbors lit off a mortar, and she took off running, leaving me to face the danger alone.
At least she was safe.
My daughter recently made a list of the things this dog is afraid of. It includes a hula-hoop and pillows. Yes, you read that right – pillows. We have Christmas pillows that come out once a year. They are feather pillows, red and white, and whenever we even pick these pillows up, she runs to the other end of the house and hides. I don’t know where the fear of the hula-hoop came from, but unless she can conquer it, I fear she will never become a circus dog. The most recent addition to the list is the lid to the new fire pit. Whenever we pick it up to add a log (and admittedly play along with her fear by staring at her through the mesh), she looks on in terror and takes off across the yard. She has barked at me from upwind, only to sheepishly realize her mistake and beg forgiveness by grovelling at my feet. Whoever equated spinelessness with cowardice had my writhing mass of submission in mind. Does anyone have the number of a good doggie therapist?
Roxie was born outside in the rainy spring of 2014. Her young mom was a purebred black lab who, in true dog fashion, got knocked up right before she was scheduled to be spayed. Roxie and her twelve litter-mates shared a fenced enclosure under a carport. She’s used to being outside. But it warms my heart to have her near.
The day we went to pick a puppy, the rain was driving sideways. The family laughed when we showed up, saying they thought for sure we would cancel. We picked up the two remaining females. I turned each one over in my arms in turn. Roxie immediately went limp and sunk her head back as if she would snake out of my arms. What a weird dog.
“We’ll take this one.”
When we returned the next time, she ate up the attention, that is until Sunshine placed the small, red collar on her neck. She flopped. She rolled. She jumped at Sunshine’s face. Her body language said, in true toddler tantrum terms, get this thing off me! We placed her back in the pen, where she found a spot in the mass of jumping, writhing black and white furballs, lay down, head on paws, and glared at us as we walked away.
When we got her home, Sunshine took over parenting duties. She cuddled the pup. She coddled the pup. She now asks me if we blame her that Roxie is so strange. I’m sure she didn’t help the situation.
Roxie spent her first few months cozy in a warm bedroom with an adoring companion.
My husband always says he doesn’t want an inside dog. He hates pet hair, and who can blame him, but we traded our carpet for laminate a few years ago, so that’s much easier to keep clean. He says the dog stinks, and she probably does, but she’s not inside all the time. She actually prefers to be outside in the company of the other two, not-house-trained dogs. (When I tried the inside trick with one of them, he promptly peed on my couch. Not going to happen.)
She’s a good house dog. She curls up on her bed, just happy to be around her people. She is very attuned to us and easily trained, but she has her willful side. When she wants in and nobody is paying attention, she paws the back door. Repeatedly. If one paw doesn’t work, she knocks with both, or scratches the screen. (She knows that will get someone’s attention.)
We used to keep her crate set up for those rainy days when she would come in wet. One such day, Mr. A was leading her out with the requisite command. She sulkily followed him, but darted into her crate at the last minute. There was no way she was going out in that weather, warm dog house or no. Many times she has made these decisions. She has her favorite place on the floor in the corner of the sectional, right underfoot. She can be sound asleep, but when she knows Mr. A is coming to sit on the couch, she will wake up and slink over to her dog bed. She knows if she lays low he won’t command her outside.
We conspire against him, Roxie and I. She lays low. I keep the broom and Febreeze handy. In our conspiracy, we are able to eke out a little more time together.
Yesterday my Facebook feed was awash in pictures of dogs. My friend’s Scottie peering up at the camera with puppy dog eyes. My daughter hugging our old Pyrenees-Blue Heeler mix. A friend of a friend’s lab lounging in the shade of a tree, tongue hanging happily.
Now, I don’t pay much attention to national anything days, except to find the humor in the obscure, but I love my dogs, so I took notice.
Dog day was started in 2004 by Colleen Paige in the hopes of bringing to the forefront the plight of unwanted dogs serving time in shelters. (People, spay and neuter your pets!) We are the happy owners of a shelter dog and two other mixed breed dogs. Please let me introduce you.
Grandpa Dog – Ranger
Ranger was adopted over 15 years ago. We were on our way to some friends’ house and had stopped at Wal-Mart for some items. My husband and son ran in and I waited in the car with the rest of the kids. We noticed a crowd gathered around a box in front of the store, which was a common sight back then. People often took their kittens and puppies to Wal-Mart to give away. We wanted to see the baby animals, so we walked over there while we were waiting.
What we saw were the cutest little bundles of fur. I held one, and couldn’t put him down. He was adorable. He was a mixed breed, of course, with a little Blue Heeler, Great Pyrenees, and some Lab. I was still holding him when my husband came out of the store. I just turned toward him with my own puppy dog eyes and asked if this little furball could be my Christmas gift. And my husband, being the kind soul that he is, agreed to take on a puppy.
Ranger is now a doddering, partly senile, mostly deaf old guy. He has had a long, good life. He lives outside on a fenced acre and absolutely owns this place. He sleeps in the piles of cut grass, the heat probably helping his old bones. He’s a seasoned professional at his guard dog duty, probably due to his Pyreneen heritage. When he was younger, he would nip at the kids elbows as they ran around the yard. We chalked that up to the Heeler. They are prone to act on their instincts, after all. He’s been such a good dog, and a faithful companion. He has the most uncanny ability to know when someone is sad and will come stand next to them, gently put his head on their lap or arm, and look knowingly into their eyes. He’s getting old, and some days has a hard time getting around. We know his time is coming, and we are going to miss this old guy.
Buddy is our shelter dog that we renamed when we brought him home. He is a big lug, an energetic puppy in an 80 pound body. He doesn’t have any concept of personal space, and would prefer to be in our laps if at all possible, and he tries to make it possible. Right after we got him, we thought about returning him to the shelter. He was just so overwhelming and annoying! But my youngest son said, “You don’t get rid of someone because they are annoying.”
So he stayed.
And I’m glad we kept him. We figured out that he has issues, and in true Cesar Milan fashion, when we put him in with Ranger, who is very stable, he calmed down a bit. The shelter tried to give us his crate when we took him in, so I know he was crated part of the time, maybe too much of the time. We figure the previous owners just found that he was too much dog for a small place. Here he has the run of the yard, and although I know he would love to be an inside dog, our inside space is tiny compared to the outside space. With his boundless energy and whip of a tail, he would be knocking things over left and right.
We can thank the previous owners for putting him through obedience classes. He can behave himself when he needs to. He has been a great running partner. He heels like he was born to, and no cat or dog can sway him from his path when he is heeling, but once the heeling is over, he’s back to his Buddy self. I made the mistake one time of stopping to take a picture with him, and he bowled me over right next to the road.
I recently contacted the previous owners. I was deep cleaning and came across Buddy’s paperwork. As I read through it, I was taken by how they seemed to care about this dog, but when I got to the end, I saw that there was a place the owners could check off if they wouldn’t mind being contacted. Beside that was written, please do! I quickly sent off an email with a couple of pictures and telling how happy their dog was along with the kinds of things he was enjoying around the property. I immediately got a happy email back, and she followed that with some pictures of him as a pup.
Buddy has a great bark, and I’ve had people get back into their cars when he stands at the fence and barks at them. Living in the country, it’s nice to have a dog that will be a deterrent to the crazies.
The baby of the pack is Roxie.
We weren’t quite ready for another dog, but had talked about looking for a replacement for Ranger, who wasn’t doing very well at the time. Then a friend told me about how someone she knows had a purebred lab that had gotten pregnant and had a litter of thirteen puppies! We talked it over, and decided that it would be a good time to take on a puppy. I would be off work, the boys out of school, and our daughter would be home from college, so the pup would get plenty of attention. Buddy could get used to having her around and losing Ranger wouldn’t be such a loss.
Well, Ranger really seemed to love this puppy, and gained a whole new lease on life.
My daughter took this on as her personal project, so this puppy has claimed her as her human. The problem with that is that when she leaves for college, the dog is mopey, and Skype conversations can put her into a state of depression. Sometimes when my daughter is gone, I look outside to find Roxie sitting on the bench where my daughter sits to play her guitar.
Neediness aside, she’s a fun dog. She lives for the Frisbee, and has recently discovered that she likes to swim. (We just have to watch for those pesky campground hosts who want to enforce the leash laws.) She loves dogs and kids and smells and treats… The list goes on and on. She is the only dog in the past 18 years that has been allowed by my husband, albeit grudgingly, to come in the house. (I won’t tell him about her climbing onto the window sill!)
In light of these three amazing creatures, I will have to think about celebrating National Dog Day. I’ll celebrate with treats, with Frisbee sessions, walks, and rides in the car. I’ll take endless photos and scratch behind their ears. I’ll take this day to remember how incredibly loyal they are to us, and how much they love just being around us.
If you’re still with me, you must love dogs as much as I do. Who is your four-pawed, tail-wagging best friend?