Sunday, April 23, 2006

the dogs continue to wander through the list

6. We called her Sephie, but it was short for Persephone. She was an Australian shepherd with attitude and determination who arrived in my life on a very significant morning; the dawn of the day in which my long term partner and I consummated our relationship. Yes, there is a soap opera sort of story behind that, but it doesn't quite belong in the dog list.
Sephie, then unnamed, was waiting on the cabin steps. And then she disappeared, and came back with a puppy. And again, and again, and again, until there were four pups and their mother. We would later find that she had been wandering the hill for some time, and had not been cared for since her pregnancy. She was confident she'd come to the right place, and despite the exasperation of our landpartner, who was wont to chase strays from the land, Sephie stayed a while. A long while.
The new romance, with all its complications, now included five dogs. This was still in the time of Phoebe, and I was still living by the river in my tiny cabin with my son. For a time, when the pups were old enough to leave their mother, they came to live with me. Four puppies. Four enormous puppies. My dearly beloved and I spent all our spare time finding homes for these foundlings (Sephie had made her home happily with him, despite landpartner's exasperation). Two were black, showing some evidence of a laborador father--I called them Aquarius and...I think, per my son's advice, Blackie. One was tricolor, and she was named Diamond. The fourth--oh, forgive me fourth lost pup, I don't recall you at all, only that you were given away, and I hope you led a happy life.
Sephie befriended Tasha, when we moved to the land, and was willing to travel the woods with my son, happily making certain he was safe and returned home after each adventure unhurt.
It puzzles me now that I do not recall Sephie's end; it must have come while I was focused on my daughter's babyhood and distracted from the dog world. Sephie was my son's companion. I do know her grave is near the cabin, where the white rose grows.

7. It was during my pregnancy with my youngest that a friend brought me the ugliest puppy I had ever seen. Sephie and Tasha had gone on to wherever dogs go in the universe when they leave their bodies; we had many cats, but no dogs. It was, I thought, okay that way. Daughter was 3, my hands were full and my days busy. I didn't need a dog, much less a tiny puppy too young to leave her mother who had inexplicably been abandoned, found beneath my friend's house, eyes barely open.
She was white, with spots and speckles and close together squinty blue eyes that were barely open. She squeaked and squealed a lot. She looked like a wombat. She was probably, like the departed Sephie, an Australian shepherd mix.
Yes, I took her, yielding to my children's eager insistance that we needed, really really needed, this dog. They named her Pepper.
Her sister (for there were two pups under the house) went to a friend, and was named Silver. For many years we compared notes.
I undertook the every 2 hour feeding of Pepper, and in time she moved on to baby cereal and then to dog kibble. She was a very ugly, very patient dog. Her eyes looked small and piggish. Her fur was ever slightly rumpled. My children adored her, and she returned the favor.
Pepper adopted cats, and tried to herd the children. She was a Shepherd, after all. She loved to crush any particularly rare flowers I happened to plant. We had a mixed relationship, Pepper and I, but she was a gentle and forgiving soul, and in her last weeks taught me much about life and death. She died of congestive heart failure when she was 9 years old; it would be the same year my father died, and in tending Pepper, sitting with her staring at the stars above the fir trees, I worked through a great deal of grief.
When she died, Gabriel, who had been companioned by her since his birth, took part in the small ceremony. We put forget me nots on her rough fur, and wrapped a blanket around her, and dug a deep hole, and sang songs.
Two weeks later I found my young Down Syndrome child dragging a shovel to Pepper's grave.
"She wants to go for a walk now" he told me. We discussed death. Gabe still doesn't believe in it.

8. Leonard Woof came to us, briefly, during Pepper's time with us. He was an Irish Wolfhound, and the largest dog I've encountered. We never found out where he had come from, just a huge, handsome, intense critter. Leonard and I loved one another from the first moment, and during his time with me he followed me everywhere, sitting at my feet, watching me. He tolerated the others in my household, but seemed insistent that his place was at my side, always.
I wish he had remained at my side, but Leonard's life was changed, and at last ended, by two tragedies. One night he rushed one of our cats outside, and I heard my partner crying out. The cat, a black and white sweet female named Tippy, never the brightest kitty, ran into the woods. We never saw her again; perhaps the hawks took her body. While I took Leonard's part (it was instinct, not malice, I would watch him) my partner never trusted the dog again. And he ran away, down to the neighbor's yard, where a nubile female had just come into heat. The neighbor shot him. There are evenings still in which I feel the presence of the huge shaggy Wolfhound beside me, and tears fill my eyes.

9. You can read about my dear Buddy somewhere in my other blog (outside the windows). He is with me still, slowing down somewhat, barking at shadows, but ever beside me, my silvering golden lab, now 14. He deserved an entire post to himself.

10. Jamaica arrived as a skittish, starving dog eating from my compost pile. She was starving, a small black shepherd-looking dog. We heard she'd been used as a pot patch dog, tied out to deter would be marijuana theft. She was bad at it, and was supposed to be shot and killed, but had run away. She had been horrifically abused. And she was pregnant. She would run if approached. I spent many days trying to coax her to me, and at the end, her belly swollen with pups but her spine still showing, she came to me. She was one of the sweetest natured dogs I've known, grateful for respite from a desperate life. She'd probably become pregnant in her first heat. I fed her all sorts of supplements and food in an attempt to make sure the pups were okay, and on a snowy April morning took her into town, where that night the pups--five of them--were born in a corner of the bookstore. Rory, the first born, looked like a rottweiller and had his mother's sweetness plus a deep trust of people. He went to live with a little boy and his family; the boy had just had his 5th birthday. Skully (named for the x files character by my daughter) was an australian shepherd looking dog, grey of fur, bright of spirit, with blue eyes. My daughter loved her best of the group, but she was chosen very young by a young couple who visited her daily until, at 12 weeks, I released her to her new home. Cosmo was a smaller male, also grey and spotted, with a rakish eye patch and a sense of humor. Cosmo went to live with a young poet, and traveled to Pittsburgh, and then back to the coast. Cosmo, for a time, would come stay with me as his young owner traveled elsewhere. Kuma was a large silver and spotted female with a habit of hiding under things. The friend who took her renamed her Solita, and she still visits me from time to time. My friend says she is the happiest dog he has known. The last born was a small black dog we called Mai. From birth she looked upon this world with terror. And she is Dog 11. Dear Jamaica grew to trust us more and more, and loved Buddy (who tenderly helped with the puppy pile). My last memory of Jamaica is watching her run in the sunlit woods, her coat shining, her eyes bright. We'd had her spayed so she need not go through another pregnancy, and she'd put on weight, and glowed with happiness.
That night she ran from the hill and disappeared. Her body was found on the road. As with Leonard, I sometimes sense Jamaica, and am filled with regrets--but at least she tasted a bit of happiness in her short life.

11. Mai. Jamaica's lastborn was a fearful, trembling little creature from the moment she was born. I'd put Jamaica's fearfulness down to the abuse she'd suffered, but Mai, entering a wholly loving and protected environment, looked on it as though it was full of demons and dangers. Mai feared cloth. Mai feared sounds. Mai feared just about anything you could think of. And she grew to be a big, big pup, and then a big dog. For of course I kept Mai. Dog breeders whose advice I sought told me she had the potential of being a fear biter, and advised all sorts of training procedures. I enlisted the help of friends, who would visit and give her treats. But no, the world, for Mai, was still frightening.
So, while Buddy loves being at the center of store comings and goings, Mai stays home in the woods, in a carefully controlled environment, in which she is calm, and I think happy. She has a Maltese Cross in white emblazoned on her chest, and brown eyebrows, and a glossy black coat. She is fond of the cabin cats, and takes long walks with my partner to the springs. Sometimes, looking at Mai I see Jamaica, for of all the pups Mai most looks like her mother.
When Mai was 6 months old she vanished. It wasn't long after her mother's death, and I thought she was looking for her.
6 weeks later she showed up miles and miles away from our cabin, on the porch of the friend who had taken Solita, her sister, in. She'd been sighted over those weeks, but never allowed anyone to approach her. Solita's owner simply said "hi, Mai, let's go for a ride, shall we?" and put her in his truck and brought her home to me.
She'd never been to Solita's new home, and we wonder--did she track her sister over all those mountains, past the river?
She's a deep one, our Mai.

12. Who would have guessed there were 12. Champ the pitbull is the 12th. And, like Buddy, he has his own story on my other blog.

I'm humbled by how these beings have walked into (and out of ) my life. Each brought me a good deal more than I gave them, these four legged teachers of mine.

Dog Five

Dog Five wasn't my dog at all.

5. Tasha was three quarters wolf, the rest Alaskan malamute. When I first met her I was wheeling my firstborn son in a stroller up a very bumpy hill enroute to the town that loomed above our little river cabin. Tasha stirred all my primitive wolf fears; I am certain my Finn ancestors had encounters with her species; I grew up hearing of carriages in snowy landscapes that overturned--and then, the wolves came.
So seeing Tasha, my first words to her were a sincere "Please do not eat my child" as I warily moved carefully around her.
Tasha merely blinked her gold eyes.
As the months went on I realized that all was not well in Tasha's home, where she lived with a woman to whom she seemed strongly bonded, the woman's husband, and a new baby. There were also a few cats.
Tasha's house was close enough that I could hear the angry voices, and the sounds of glass breaking, the terrified screams, and the silences that were scarier than the screaming. Another neighbor called the police. There were a few nights like that.
One night, baby in her arms, my neighbor came to me and told me she was running for it. She feared for the child's life. Her face bore evidence of a recent beating. "Please--I can't take the animals--do what you can for them, watch them". What was I to say but "yes, of course". I never saw or heard from her again; I trust she and the child made it to safety.
These were the days of Phoebe the basset, and my cabin was tiny, barely large enough for my son, myself, Phoebe and Gwendolyn the large tabby who liked to sit in the bird feeder, charming birds into her mouth.
And, as I say, Tasha wasn't mine.
But she came, day after day, to sit on my porch. And she brought me an injured cat, a pregnant injured cat, gently in her mouth. When I asked the man whose wife had left him about the cat he admitted he'd kicked it, breaking the spine. But that's another story.
And in time Phoebe met her end, and Tasha still came, and circumstances dictated that I move to the forest cabin.
My landlady said "and you'd better take that wolf with you, or I'll shoot her".
I spent several days sitting with Tasha, talking with her. She'd never worn a leash. I didn't know if she'd been in a car since puppyhood. I showed her the leash. I told her I would make certain she was safe, but she needed to go with me when the time came.
Dear, beautiful Tasha. I don't think she ever stopped missing her person. Our relationship was one of grave respect and tolerance. She moved to the forest with us, and so did the spine damaged cat and her surviving daughter. For many years she was part of our family, sitting during nice days staring into the woods, thinking wolfish thoughts. One day I was out tending the roses when she walked down past the garden and suddenly cried out, one short cry of pain, and was dead. We buried her near the place she fell, beside a lightning struck oak tree.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

a list of dogs, first part

An old friend, now dead a year and a half, used to make lists all the time. Sometimes I still find her lists tucked into books she gave me. I think of this now, because these random collections of moments, books, events...and now dogs. Dogs? seem to be a way of holding things in place. A collection, like the bits of rocks and minerals I used to keep, carefully labeled and placed on bits of cotton from inside pill bottles, in egg cartons: calcite, fluorite, obsidian, speckled granite, rose quartz...

I always thought of myself as a cat person, really, though these days my dogs follow me, and sit at my feet, and the cats come along as well. But I was guarded and somewhat raised by a dog, and learned to walk, as I mentioned in some other list of oddities, holding to his fur. He is the first dog.

1. Butch. Butch was a black, wide dog with a grin and a bushy tail, ever patient, ever protective. He had been, I think, my father's dog, but like my mother and me, came to stay near my grandmother as my father went off in the military. Some babies have security blankets. I had Butch.

2. The second dog came into my life sometime when I was around 2 and a half, or perhaps just before my third birthday (I can date things before I was three years and a couple months old by the presence or absence of my brother; Toby was pre brother). Mr. Tobias was a blonde, silky earred, feathery legged cocker spaniel pup. I do not remember the day he came into my life, but the story my mother told all and sundry, for years, was of how one day she took me to a dog breeder's farm, where they bred black Scottie dogs, a most popular breed of the time, so that I could choose one of the cute little black pups as my own. Possibly she was thinking the companionship of a puppy would compensate for whatever problems I'd have as the displaced eldest child once the baby she was carrying arrived. At any rate, she said there was, amongst the cages of perky Scottie dogs, one forlorn little cocker spaniel pup.
Yes, of course, that was the dog I wanted. It was probably the dog that caught my mother's fancy too, though she said it was my tearful pleading that made her take that one. Toby was a loving guy, lavish with kisses, always willing to sit next to me during meals (just under the table) to eat the bits of things I myself hated (even as a little girl I didn't like to eat meat, and my mother worried that I would not be healthy. It was the "clean your plate" days. Toby was happy to help me out.). I recall with shame, however, one afternoon's game with Toby, in which I locked him in the garden shed, and let him out (and delighted in his joyful bounding and barking and happiness at being out)...and locked him in once again. Well, of course he came inside with me when the game was over, but it was an early glimpse of imperious controlling tendencies in my soul.
The Air Force sent transfer papers soon after that. I didn't know that. What I knew was that one day a tall, dark haired woman who smelled of dusty roses and wore a green suit and a pretty little hat, and talked with an accent--my mother later told me she was French--came to the house, and Toby went away in her car, looking out the back windshield as I stood and cried and my mother tried to explain he couldn't come where we were going, he would be happy.

We didn't have a dog again, not after that heartbreak. I grew to think of myself as a cat person.

And then there was Belle.
3. She wasn't my dog, but the dog, one of them, of my list making friend. She was a golden bassett hound, and lived with two others of her breed--a sea of barking bassets. In my first summer, and the next complicated year of my time here in the lost coast region, Belle used to follow me into the garden, and sit and simply be with me. We took walks. When I read, sitting in a kitchen in her house, or over in my own cabin, Belle often came to lean against my legs. She didn't care that I was a cat person. Her dog companions, Maud and Suzy, were friendly enough, but Belle and I had some inexplicable connection. When, after a serious of melodramatic events that included lost loves, death, and temporarily broken friendships, I left my place at the river for a small house in a nearby town, I missed Belle deeply--her brown eyes, her sighs, her love of poetry. She was a very Elizabeth Barrett Browning dog, was Belle.
The story of dogs is inevitably also the story of deaths, and so it was with the devoted Belle. After I left she stopped eating. My then estranged and grief stricken friend didn't tell me. Belle died being rushed to the veterinary hospital in a collapse no one was ever able to explain. I still have a photo of her on one of my shelves.

4. Belle having opened my heart to the dog world once again, and broken it, I was ready for a pup of my own. I didn't know that, of course. But the sturdy woman who worked with me at the local motel (we were maids; I was good at cleaning, though anyone looking at my home would not know that) thought that I, obviously grieving something, living a mysteriously solitary life, so young, and bearing such sorrow, needed a dog. Her dog was a prize basset hound, a stud whose services were much in demand. And lo, Alexander had sired a litter due to be born that fall. They were born on William Blake's birthday, 13 of them. Three were female. My maid friend had pick of litter, and wanted to give that pup to me--whichever I chose. So I went over the far eastern hills to a little house in which an entire room was carpeted in newpaper and met thirteen 3 week old puppies, who swarmed and bounded and fell over their ears and dashed into corners. One of them came and sat on my boot. I picked her up. She'd claimed me.
When I actually took her home 5 weeks later (Belle's owner's daughter had purchased her sister), Phoebe Jane Wakerobin was oddly wobbly, and prone to strange moments of collapse. I took her to the vet, who told me I'd better choose another dog; Phoebe probably had a heart condition, or problems from being malnourished. Better start with a sturdier puppy.
Of course I ignored his advice, and fed her well, and took her for walks. Her sister, Dogma, was a frequent visitor. The two of them now and then would escape and wander...
Phoebe prepared me a little for taking care of my son, who was born the year after she came to me. She was a most helpful dog mother, trying to feed the baby by kindly vomiting dogfood near him. Tricolor, black and white and tan, Phoebe was a gallant and larky sort of dog who loved to bask in the sunlight and tried to chase deer, despite her short legs. When my son was 5 she was runover by a local electrician's truck. We dug her grave near a bigleaf maple at the turn of the river.
Now even the maple is gone.

Not a mere list, it seems, and taking long to type. There will be more. They walk into my life on their four paws and steal my heart, again and again.