Saturday, September 25, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Years ago I wrote about our dog, Sasha. She is a lab. And big. And yellow.

Frankly, I don’t have many adult human friends. Not to say that I am friendless, just not many close adult friends. Lots of acquaintances though. I don’t keep in touch with old friends very well. That is a problem. I lose contact or simply don’t keep up my end of the correspondence very well. I am not complaining. Just saying.

But I’ve got this big yellow dog that I have a pretty profound relationship with. Does that sound weird? Pathetic? If you are a dog lover (or a cat lover) you can probably relate.

When I first saw her I was really in no mood for a new dog, especially a puppy. We had a dog a few years earlier and she was perfect for our life style as DINKs (Double Income No Kids). We lived in an apartment and then a condo. Portia was a delightful mix between a schnauzer and a poodle, a schnoodle if you will. She was a bit of a yapper, but she was gentle and affectionate and just the right size for a condo. She could hold it for 10-12 hours and she needed to.

Then we had kids. She was OK with Devin as a baby. Maybe she didn’t feel like her position in the pack was too disrupted, but she put up with his baby shenanigans and was quick enough to get away when he really annoyed her. When Colin came along and was able to crawl toward her - that was that. She snapped at him and one time she sort of bit at his bald baby head. End of story. We managed to find a nice home for her and she lived out her days making a single mom and teenage daughter a congenial companion.

When we moved out to a house in the country, the boys were bigger. Devin was in Kindergarten and Colin two years behind in preschool. We had a real yard and a garage and woods and the lake nearby. Our neighbors had a big black lab named Tina. She was a gentle old jellyroll who would stop by when we got home from work and roll over to let the boys scratch her and beg for food. We loved her. I still wasn’t ready for a dog of our own. Everyone else was.

So one day about 12 years ago I was in the pool store buying chemicals and there was this lab pup hanging out in the store. She was cute – of course – and up to puppy tricks. Exploring, gnawing on things she shouldn’t, and when she began to sniff around like she was going to pee I wanted to scoop her up and get her outside in time. My human-to-dog instincts were kicking in.But she wasn’t my dog and of course she made a mess on the floor.

Travis, the pool store guy, told me that she was his dog. He was a lab breeder and made a good bit of extra money by selling a litter or two every year. This little one was the last of the litter.She sat lopsided and very unladylike. She didn’t have that super alert stance that you expect from labs. That was probably the reason she wasn’t sold yet. She came up to me and licked and sniffed and bit in that friendly puppy way. She invited me to play with her and to pick her up. I called home and Heidi and the kids rushed up to the store to check her out. It was clear from the phone call alone that it was a done deal.

She was a troublesome puppy. Like all labs, and all puppies I suppose, she chewed on everything. She was an outside dog at first. We cut a hole in the garage door and fitted it with a dog flap so she could come and go as she pleased. Hey, we live in the country. She was in dog Heaven. We would come home from work and she would have been down swimming in the lake or over at Tina’s house just hanging out, playing rough and keeping fat old Tina young. Many times she would come home when I whistled smelling horribly. I’d grab her by the collar and hose her off -shampoo her until she was bright and fresh smelling again… until the next day. Or she would come up to me wagging her tail and smiling her big old dog smile with some disgusting, unrecognizable, dead thing in her mouth which I would have to wrestle away and bury deep and cover with rocks in the woods or she would simply dig it up again when I wasn’t around.

From the time she was just a puppy we put a bandana around her neck. She became used to it quickly. Whenever it would fall off she would push it around or drop it near us to put back on.When I give her a bath now and she is without it for a few hours she looks funny to us. When Colin was really little, maybe four or five and he saw Sasha without her bandana, he said, “Hey Sasha, get your clothes back on. You’re naked!”

I made the crucial mistake of parking my very first, and only new car I’ll ever have in her garage when she was about a year and a half old. The next morning when I came out to get into my brand new car I found that the bumper had been chewed from one end to the other, Sasha’s teeth marks deep and fresh all across the front.

When she was young we would run together after work. I was up to five miles about 3 times a week. She was totally game and looked forward to seeing me in my running shoes. For the first part of our run she would pull on her leash with incredible lab-puppy strength. We would come back home both of us winded. She would lap up a full bowl of water and lie down on the cool tile floor to cool. When she was still young we were out running in the early evening and my knee gave out on me. It turned out to be a tear on the edge of my meniscus. My running days were over. I hobbled home from about a half mile away with Sasha pulling mercilessly.

We don’t know exactly when her birthday is – the end of May was the closest Travis could tell us. We never paid for her official American Kennel Club Registration papers. It didn’t matter to us. I always considered my birthday, May 24th, the same as hers. Close enough. I was 42 when we got her. So when I turned 49, she turned 7 in human years. Since dog years are roughly 7 times human years – she was 49, the same as me. We were both feeling our age. My beard was just beginning to turn white. So was her face. We took evening walks together instead of running. She was becoming an indoor dog; outside in the fenced in pool area during the day, inside whenever she scratched on the door. I installed little pull handles on the screen doors so she could let herself in and out when she was on the porch. Now she has a big pillow inside the back door. We keep her water bowl filled and feed her just enough to keep the extra weight off.Her engine doesn’t rev as fast as it used to. Come to think of it, neither does mine. Now that I am 53 and she is about 77 in dog years, she only takes half a walk with us every night. We drop her off at the halfway point and she limps in and lies down on the tile floor panting like crazy to cool herself off. When we get back in 20 minutes or so she is still in the same spot, panting.When she gets up from our walk she limps for a few hours. But she is still always game to go out. When she sees Heidi in her walking clothes she still fusses and jumps and whines until she gets outdoors with us. She just runs out of steam more quickly now. Come to think of it, I do too.

Her face sags now. Her muzzle is turning very white. She is a little snarly with some other dogs in the neighborhood. It’s OK. I walk her on the leash now. She gets up slower now after she has been sleeping and drags her nails on the street when she is hot and tired. She sheds a lot. But I don’t mind. We vacuum regularly. Well, Heidi does. She smells like a dog and when she gets wet it is annoying. I don’t mind. I kind of like giving her a bath now and she doesn’t fight it like she did when she was a pup. It’s hard to get someone to watch her when we go out of town and expensive to board her when we go on vacation. I don’t mind. She snores a little now when she is really out. She has scratched up the hardwood floor. I mind that a little. But all too soon she’ll be gone and I can sand the floors and seal them up again. No big deal.

Because when I wake up early and no one else is awake in our house, she is. And she is happy to see me. On school days I set my clock with about five or ten minutes to spare so I can pet her all over and rub her down the way she likes. She rolls over and grunts and sneezes and her big old pink tongue lolls out and she lets me know that she likes spending that early morning time with me. When I come home from work she is always glad to see me. She meets me at the door wagging her tail and smiling that unmistakable dog smile. There is no pretense. No hidden agendas. Never any bad blood or hard feelings. We have no secrets. What you see with her is what you get.

Here is a song I wrote about Sasha when she was still a young dog. Sometime soon I’ll figure out how to get the recording up. And when her time to go has passed and she’s buried at the bottom of the hill, I’ll think of her and that pretty yellow face and I know I’ll love her still.

Big Yellow Dog

I've got me a big yellow dog, and my dog she's got me too

There are some days when I work so hard

And I come home feeling restless and blue

But my big yellow dog she's sittin' there

With that dog grin on her face

Her tails a waggin', she's comin' up to greet me

And I know I'm in the right place.

Now the time I spend with my big yellow dog

Might be considered wasteful to some

Sittin' on the porch, scratching her belly

Getting licked by her big old tongue

She's sniffin' all around trying to catch some smell

To try to make sense out of my day

And I'm sittin' here with a dozen things to do

And all she wants to do is play


I don't know if she'd rescue me from a burning building or not

But when I think of that pretty yellow dog

I know my love will never stop

I know my love will never stop

Now my big yellow dog, she doesn't need much

Just some bowls with some water and some food

And a dusty rug at the bottom of the steps

Where she guards us when she's in the mood

And a bath sometimes when she's been a bad girl

And she's rolled in some stinky old thing

But the love she gives back in return

Is worth more than anything


The time I spend with my big yellow dog

I don't grow any older it seems

I don't watch the news or answer emails

Or read any magazines

I don't pay the bills, I don't talk shop

I can't get much of nothin' done

But I can mow the grass and water the flowers

We like to hang out in the sun



Now I can't say I haven't smacked that girl

When she's done some bad girl things

But I feel bad when she feels bad

And it comes back to haunt me it seems

And when her time to go has passed

And she's buried at the bottom of the hill

I'll think of her and that big yellow face

And I know I'll love her still



Brenna said...

I totally get what you are saying! I think you have to be a dog person to understand, and I understand those lab puppy ways too! They can get into everything! We don't like boarding Haley, either, manly because she doesn't get enough human interaction! Call us if you ever need someone to watch Sasha, she can come stay and have a grand time with Haley and the kids! Thanks for sharing :)

Chris Hass said...

What a wonderful piece. You made ME love Sasha too! Labs are so wonderfully laid back and friendly. Odd coincidence, I started a story about our Lab, Lexy, just last Thursday during writing workshop.

We've had a couple of dogs, each from the time they were puppies, and at this point, if we were to start all over with another one, I think we'd look for a middle-aged dog. As funny as those puppy hi-jinks are to look back upon, there's something to be said for a nice mellow dog who likes to lie around, chase the occasional ball, take a dip in the lake, and enjoy slow walks around the neighborhood.

The kids talk every once in a while about wanting a cat. We've had one of those too. I don't know that I'm such a big cat person though. Ours was a black male named Miles (after Miles Davis - who by the way was also black but not a cat). He used to walk along the window ledges in our sunroom, carefully lifting each let up with delicate precision as to avoid touching anything. Subsequently, I took to referring to him as "princess." Tricia found this to be neither funny nor charming.

Brent and Kristen said...

Sweet, sweet...: ) I didn't realize she was such a rascal as a puppy. She's a special girl.


Mamafamilias said...

If only people could be more like dogs sometimes!

When my girls were little, Kelly would never have DREAMED of drinking out of the same glass Heather had been drinking out of. However, it wouldn't bother her for a second to kiss the dog....(she has outgrown that though)

Love your dog - thanks!