Going To The Dogs

Jinx, our eldest dog, is at my elbow, panting as she has for several months. She’s fourteen and her breathing is labored. She has trouble now getting up the few steps into the house and sleeps soundly in the morning as the younger dogs bound into the day. She has the run of the house, gets extra meals, and is generally cherished round the clock. She may fool us all and live for years, or, as we fear, may not respond as we try to rouse her one morning.

The next generations of dogs, son, Satch, daughter Rogue, and grandson, Banner, all border collies, seem in no hurry to change the routines established over time. They are happy to romp on their own, but when Jinx is in the mix, they still line-up by age, responding to the games Jinx initiates. Jinx may be a matriarch in decline, but she remains playful and eager to herd us, nudging us when we slow to a walk. Satch, a blue merle with the face of a panda, is generally sedentary and always hungry. He is transformed when Jinx begins to bounce in place, nipping at her tail, frequently trotting away in triumph with a spume of white fur at the corner of his mouth. Rogue, fox faced and busy, accomplishes two tasks at once, joining the pack’s pursuit of Jinx while carrying a frisbee, should an empty moment present itself. Banner, gawky adolescent, misses cues, invades personal canine space, bounds away barking, distracted by a goose flying overhead.

I met my wife and her dog simultaneously; she met my son at the same time. We knew from the start that our life together would include kids and dogs. Fortunately, her dog, a large Shepard mix with exceedingly discriminating taste in humans, came to love us, and we loved him with the giddy love that dog-deprived dog lovers feel when they meet a perfect dog. I held that dog in my arms as he died, and told my wife it would take some time before I could love a dog so completely again. The heart wants what the heart wants, however, and soon she came home with a rescue that needed to be loved and cared for.

I contributed my own questionable judgment when visiting friends with German Shepherd puppies bred from a line of schutzhund champions. One of the pups followed me, falling asleep on my feet as we talked about the litter. I was sunk, and, having misplaced confidence in my ability to read German, thought a schutzhund, meant “obedience dog”, exactly right for my wife’s work with therapy dogs and with dog obedience; it turns out that a schutzhund is actually a canine rocket, the sort of dog used by police canine units or in the military. Our rocket turned out to be a sweetheart with floppy bat ears. We named him Fledermaus, Maus for short, and loved him too.

Our first true therapy dog , later our first agility dog, a tri-colored Australian Shepherd, came to us from a breeder in Wisconsin, an adventure in cross country conversation that involved papers faxxed back and forth so that when the puppy arrived, my wife named him Fax. He was irresistibly affectionate, and I joined our children in slipping him treats, probably undoing all the training my wife had begun. He achieved some local fame when, sensing the opportunities available at a reception for a visiting poet, was discovered on a table top, his muzzle a tell-tale lemon bar yellow. He was soon joined by Blitz, a speedy border collie we thought a prospective agility champion. Instead, gentle Blitz turned out to be a champion therapy dog; the picture of him extended to his full length on a hospital bed, nuzzling a child fighting cancer, is still prominently placed on the clinic’s wall.

About twenty years into our marriage, about the time we went from two dogs to three, about the time that I came to expect that every article of clothing I owned would be caked with dog fur, about the time that our youngest dog ate the laundry room wall, I wondered if we had lost some balance in our life as a family.

At that time, it happened that I had an obligation away from home, so packed and headed for the airport, being sure to scruffle all three beasts before leaving the house. As I waited to check in for my flight, I noticed a passenger travelling with a wire-haired terrier and had to walk over to see if the owner would mind a short visit with her dog. Walking through the streets of an unfamiliar city, I again found myself approaching every dog that crossed my path. Before two days away from home had passed, I realized that just as I loved my wife, loved my children, I loved having dogs within easy reach, essentially at that point, the more, the merrier.

So, now we live with four, which is great, but a Facebook friend has been posting pictures of her Australian Shepherd puppy, and it has been years since we had an Australian Shepherd, and they are fluffy with a tiny bobbed tail that vibrates with joy when greeting its owners, and not all that large, and easy to train, and ….

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