Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Why I love Dogs

Dogs listen, but the don't talk back. Dogs pay close attention and learn quickly to attune themselves to you. Any kindness shown a dog will be returned a thousand fold. Dogs take pleasure in the simplest things and express their joy in every gesture. Dogs love unconditionally. I've never had a dog whose love I lost or forgot. My days and nights with dogs have been peaceful and a comfort, fun and a joy. Dogs may not talk but they sure can express themselves.

I live with three dogs. Roscoe is Ms M's dog, but I'm the person he spends most days with. I'm his babysitter, nanna, the bossy old woman who lets him in at 7 AM when Ms. M goes to work. He takes his place across the foot of the bed (he is careful not to bother my feet) and we all go back to sleep. I sleep best when Roscoe is at the foot of the bed. He's a weighty, muscular presence. He snores gently.

When Ms M first got Roscoe he was a puppy. In the first two years of his life she had to move five times. Always because of Roscoe. He chewed up and spat out every single thing she owned including her mattress and DVD remote control. He never stopped barking when left alone, greatly annoying anyone within a block of his loud and pained voice. He was an escape artist. When he started chewing on her round oak table she came to see me again. I said yes again, and she and Roscoe moved in. The only reason it worked was that Roscoe was not alone anymore. Roscoe had finally become a member of a pack. And then there's the big fenced yard. Roscoe had never had a big fenced yard. Here with us, Roscoe had Geeky, wise old dog, attuned to my habits, the limits of my temper, the precise amount of foolishness I would tolerate. Geeky knew the ropes. I've always known that cats and dogs are amazingly psychic little mind readers, attune to subtle shifts and waverings. Geeky was a very good judge of character and I trusted his hunches about strangers. So I turned Roscoe over to Geeky to train in the world of this little universe, this roomy forest. They patrolled the fences. They shit in the vinca, not on the lawn and far from either house or the gazebo. They didn't bark at women pushing strollers, but they did bark at the mailman, the UPS truck, the dog walker, walking a dog luckier than they. I can tell that bark. It is like no other. Envy is in it's tone.

When Geeky died, Roscoe was five years old. He took over all Geeky's old odd jobs. And every other animal who's been introduced to the friends and family of pets here since Geeky's death has been protected and warned, gently bullied into good sense, taught the ropes by the newly promoted leader of the pack.

Roscoe's bigger than Geeky was and his power, when giving a warning to a strange man, is hard to ignore. So, even though I know Roscoe will not attack a man who listens to me (and follows my instructions to ignore Roscoe, look at me, not Roscoe, don't reach out your hand or try to pet him) it isn't always possible for a man to know that I really mean what I'm saying and know what I'm talking about, and so they look back at the barking overlarge male yellow lab giving the strange man the skunk eye while barking now and then as we cross the backyard to the little house. And as long as the man doesn't recognize that I am the real leader of the pack, Roscoe will always give him shit. But if a man is willing to follow my instructions, Roscoe settles down pretty quickly. I feel safe with Roscoe and he feels safe with me.

Cyrus the Elder joined our pack almost two years ago. We're giving him the best hospice care love can buy. He's now exceeding lifespan. And the past seems to be leaving him. He grows more glossy and confident by the day. His is a sweet old soul. And all the dogs respect him. And anyone who comes to my door unexpected by me is alerted by first the sound of his loud authoritative bark and then the sight of him rising up and leaning forward. He weighs roughly 170 pounds. It is my voice he responds to; he takes his cues from me. He has the hip dysplasia and arthritis an old Rottie is prone to, but his presence as he rises is impressive. I watch the intensity of his discomfort and adjust his pain medication. Half the time I forget to lock the door at night. If the "Beware of Dogs" sign and the locked gate hasn't stopped an intruder Cyrus will. And if anyone's ever cased this joint they've seen Roscoe on the job.

I feel secure with dogs. I feel loved and appreciated by the dogs I live with. There gentle presence is a comfort to me even on the very worst of days.

Now we have little Marley who is the comedian in this group. She is going through the adolescent phase of checking the boundaries of ranking in this pack. This is her first experience of a pack, taken from her family young and kept for almost a year in a kennel, taught nothing, kept for future breeding. Now she has been spayed, and now she is learning what all our expectations are. First off we won't be dominated by a charming little clown. We will play, we will indulge up to a point. We all have our own set of expectations. But Marley's smart. She's learning English and body language very fast.