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.


At April 22, 2006 9:22 PM , Blogger Em said...


Making a list is always good...I like the sense of acomplishment when on my list was done...

I use to have a cat aeons ago but since it died I refuse to another least I luv it as much as I had luved Tom Tom!

At April 23, 2006 8:07 AM , Blogger DogTrainer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At April 23, 2006 2:55 PM , Blogger marlyat2 said...

Just back from the Carolinas and the house is oddly empty without animals... So I visited yours.

At April 29, 2006 1:22 AM , Blogger a dracul said...

how do they do that. how do they by-pass the word verification, it's the same format must be some kinda bot, now do they have feelings, the Japs think they might and that when they get acquire self-consciousness they might even be friendly. I'll have to think about what you wrote s'more got carried away there by that canny dogtrainer bot, those guys are good, he has to scan the word verification unless blogspot sold them a backdoor key coz there is always a backdoor key a safeguard for the programmers who make the programme. anyway must think s'more on people dogs and real stuff


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