Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I traded three fishing reels, a dip net and an old tackle box belonging to my great uncle Dick for this dog. She is from a large litter of Amish blue heeler/border collie mix. She knew her name before I took her home. The Amish family said this runty dog was different than the rest of the litter. Walking ducks-in-a-line following a daughter, the puppies were very obedient. Then, there's my dog. She turns and walks in another direction. She was named after her mother and recognized the name when called before I traded the dusty fishing gear sitting in a girl's bathroom in the basement.

I work at home. She's with me all the time, not only because I'm her "pork chop"-the person who feeds her-but also because I take her everywhere. See those pointy ears. Mention"ride" to her and they perk up even more than usual. To show she's excited with the prospect of a car ride and head lolling out the back windows, she'll make a mad dash at a bird, a butterfly or pace a car on the highway along the north fence line.

My wife and I talk to her as if she were human. Sometimes I don't talk. I just stare. I think she can read my mind. She tries the same trick on me. Most of the time it's while I'm eating breakfast. Routines are prescribed. I hate routines, however, they are very comforting for my two animals-the blue heeler and a gray, raccoon tail cat. In the morning we go outside. The cat is watchful. The dog sniffs the morning air carefully. I marvel at the natural world. We live in a valley surrounded by small hills. Fog is frequent in our coulee. The dog stares at a bird on the gravel driveway. Since the bird is more than a hundred yards away, I tell the dog,"You're wasting your time." She looks at me, turns and walks back toward the open garage. Mosquitoes are thick this damp morning. I swat the first of many. "I'm going in the house," I tell the "kids". "Is anybody coming?" The dog follows and stops abruptly at the storm door. At first it appears she is sniffing the door edge. "Come on," I say. She won't budge. She's waiting for the cat. Routine dictates that the raccoon tail cat must enter first. He trots past the dog. She whiffs his butt and follows him inside. While I heat up a cup of leftover strong coffee, the cat waits for his raw chicken liver breakfast. Brushing back and forth on my bare legs, the cat lets me know, "I'm hungry." He's a man of action. His speech is confined to an assortment of mews , grunts, errps and meows. I hear a thank you meow as I place the clear glass saucer on the floor for him.
The dog waits for a morsel of buttered bread as I read while eating my omelet. I give her a few pieces. When it appears that there are no more morsels to be eaten, she retreats to the couch. She places her head on the armrest and watches me.

I'd heated up some leftover turkey from a carcass I boiled yesterday for broth. I place it on the floor next to me. I glance over at the dog. "You're not getting any more buttered bread. Eat your turkey." She jumps off the couch and walks over to the bowl. She finishes all but a mouthful. While I'm working on breakfast, she carries her stuffed rabbit around by the ears. I pretend to chase her. I crouch down and lurch. She runs away wildly. We chase around the kitchen . To signal the game is over, I call to her. "Come here." I repeat the command several times. She knows the tone of my voice. Instead of playing keep away as she does with all her toys, she sides over to me. I rub her flanks,"Good girl." I stroke her ears and pet her on the head.

She disappears. I hear her upstairs and wait for the sound of her paws on the bare wooden steps. She carefully walks down the steps with her blue fleece "blankie" in her mouth. Time for some calm meditation with blankie.

And thus the day continues. I marvel at how well she understands me, anthropomorphizing every action of the dog. Some actions are learned by observation. When we get to a certain stretch of gravel road on the ridge, she moves to the side of the car closest to the road. She knows she is near the "barking dog" at Burdette's house. Some behaviors are learned by careful observation of my facial and body movements. Some are responses to sounds. I laugh when she barks at a certain sound I make, a sort of hiss. It annoys her and she lets me know immediately. Kisses are wet slurps to my ear. I pat my knee and she jumps in my lap. She's no longer a puppy. It's like holding a squirming piglet, while she gnaws my hand. The hand gnawing is a leftover from puppy days when I'd hold a piece of rawhide. She'd curl in my lap and contentedly gnaw for 30 minutes while we watch television.

No comments: