just ponderin'

…on Fred

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Ah, Labs. The author Jon Katz, when he posts on his blog (bedlamfarm.com) about his black lab, Lenore, challenges his readers not to smile when they look at his photos of her. I have failed miserably every time (But I continue to try, and I’m pretty sure there is a major prize in my future if I succeed. One must have goals.). This lab is Fred and, as with all good dogs, his entrée into our lives has a story. Fred was found by the side of the road after having been in a fearsome battle with several bears. We had fundraisers for months to cover his psychiatric bills and searched in vain for his owners for over a year….

Okay, not really. But every dog I run across lately seems to have a way better back story than my dogs do, and make the owners look like candidates for sainthood. I was standing in line for a lobster roll in Wiscasset, Maine a while ago and a woman came up behind me with a beautiful, black dog at the end of his leash. The dog was a little shy and slow to greet me (I asked the owner if it was okay to say, ‘hi’) but, once he got his personal requirement of sniffs and processing in, he decided I was not too scary and I got to snuggle a bit. “What a sweetie.” I proclaimed and, sure enough, the soon-to-be-saint shared his story. He was a Katrina dog, found on the roof of a house in Louisiana after having been tracked for days by volunteers focused on saving people’s pets after the storm. The little guy was held for two months as the organization searched for his owners and then, finally, was put up for adoption. The new owner had lost her best pal, a golden retriever rescued from a swamp behind her house when he was a puppy (yes, this was actually her story!) a year before and happened to be online looking at dogs, which she had just started doing, and saw this little man’s face and that was it, she knew she had to take him – that he was the one for her. I told her that her story was amazing and then snuggled her new little man again and turned to place my order for a rather awesome lobster roll from my friend Debbie at Red’s Eats. And after placing my order and standing aside as they created the masterpiece and poured my melted butter into its little container (oh my God are their lobster rolls good. People come from everywhere to get them), I began thinking of that little dog’s story and how this woman was giving him a great home. She seemed so happy and I thought of that bumper sticker I see occasionally that has a paw print and asks, “Who saved who?”, and I thought that clearly in this case these two saved each other and that was very cool and heart warming and wonderful and I think I heard Louis Armstrong singing in my brain.

I would love to say that each of my dogs had a similar story and I, myself, am in line for canonization. Come to think of it, I may be. Seriously, I could be. I mean what do you really need? Really great deeds during your life, lots of virtue and patience, pass a few tests like looking good when you’re exhumed (Ya. Make sure to specify your burial outfit to your family, like..now, because if you are going for sainthood like I might be, they’re gonna dig you up. It’s a process. I know. Ugh. Bureaucracy.). Where was I? Oh, ya, a couple of miracles and you’re in!

I have four dogs. None are Katrina survivors. Fred wasn’t really the victim of a bear bullying event. None was even technically an orphan, I suppose (at least not voluntarily. I mean, technically their parents gave them up, but there was a lot of human interference and I don’t think it would hold up at the Vatican). Fred is my best chance. It was on a clear, sunny, fall day in New England that I first laid eyes on that young, yellow, beautiful and – I’m certain of this now – sedated puppy. He was happily playing with his ball and his owner while we were all awaiting the end of soccer practice. The owner noticed the wistful smile on my face and thought – this I’m certain of too – target.

He meandered over with the ten-month-old puppy in tow and I – sucker – greeted him and knelt down to belly rub the upside down puppy now lying on my feet. The man introduced himself and pointed out his daughter on the field (actually, right now I’m thinking maybe that wasn’t his daughter….maybe even that was a lie!) and I introduced myself and he introduced….Fred. Fred wiggled at my feet and began playing with his ball again and the man dropped tidbits like, “He is such a great little guy” and “He never barks” and “He has never counter surfed” (doggie culture language for trolling tables and counters for food) and “He seems to just know what you want him to do” and then, just at the right time, he dropped, “It’s just so sad” and I bit. “What?” I asked. And this man, this man looked right into my eyes and said, “That we have to give him up.” And I looked down at this perfect, beautiful young dog and asked, incredulously, “Why?” and he gave the only answer that he could possibly give that allowed him to retain his own virtue and yet confirmed he had no choice “My youngest daughter is allergic.”  Fast forward through my talk with my wonderful-but-skeptical husband when I got home, a visit from Fred to meet our other dogs, and kabam! we have a perfect new dog and his name is Fred.

But, uh. Not so fast.

On the first night we had him, Fred was awesome. He fit right into the household. You wouldn’t even know he had just moved to a new house. He played with the other dogs, accepted treats and snuggles with glee and sat and offered his paw on command. He was indeed everything his former owner had said and more.

The next morning he was investigating something in the tall grass in the back yard and I called him away with a ‘leave it!”. His body language indicated he was not going to leave it. As a matter of fact he began deliberately woofing down whatever it was. By the time I got to him, I couldn’t tell what he had eaten but I know it wasn’t good. He seemed happy and I chalked it up to needing to teach him ‘leave it’. No biggie. And no residual effect from whatever he ate that day.  Let’s do a wicked quick fast forward through the things Fred has eaten since then:  A remote control, multiple entire pans of chocolate brownies in one sitting, dead chipmunks/mice/baby rabbits that Bono-The-Feline-Ripper has left at the back door as either gifts or threats (we haven’t quite figured that out yet), mud, poop, sticks, Easter baskets full of candy, Chobani containers, dismembered limbs of stuffed dog toys, entire baguettes, a block of cheddar cheese, and 100+ pieces of Double Bubble Bubble Gum from a container that my (very disappointed) son got for his birthday.

He has never, ever thrown any of this up. He is the tiger shark of dogs. We anticipate his pooping out a license plate from a southern state any day now.

Before you condemn us as bad owners who can’t bother to put things out of Fred’s reach, allow me to allay your fears. We do. He’s magical.

No, he really is. Once we came home and walked into the kitchen and surprised Fred, who was on the kitchen island. On. Seriously. All four feet, just standing on the kitchen island. You’ve got to understand that Fred is pretty darned far from svelte and in great condition. We sometimes wonder if he is a harbor seal with legs. And he was probably six or seven years old at the time. The damn dog can levitate. It is the only logical explanation for the what we have observed over the years. Had we never walked in that day, we never would have known.

Other things that are the opposite of what we were told. Fred was supposed to be “The most chill puppy we’ve ever had”. Ya. Fred had energy. Lots of it. Every year, someone would tell us that he would settle down by the next year. “Oh, Labs? They settle down at about three years old.” Mmmhmm. He was three, like, seven years ago. The dog still vibrates with anticipation of … well …. anything! He was also supposed to be quiet. He is a walking alarmist (probably post traumatic stress disorder brought on by the lie of the bear attack). And because he is also super near-sighted, you could be a psychopathic killer or the shadow cast by a tree frog on the window and the alarm is going to be the same – loud.  Also, he is just smart enough to lull you into a false sense of security that he will stay with you when you head outside without a leash. 99 times out of 100 he will listen and stay with you and not wander off. He will come right away when you call him and he will hang out and be a very good boy. Then, suddenly, a fleeting bout of deafness will overtake him and he will just….trot away. And when you call him, the damn dog doesn’t even flinch. There is absolutely no indication that he hears even one thing you are saying (screaming) as he heads toward the road for a Jack Kerouac type adventure, you be damned.  Sure enough, you end up getting in the car and driving around the corner with your head out the window, calling him and – as soon as he sees you – he brightens and immediately trots toward you and you turn the car around and he runs after the car all the way back up to the house where, no matter how astonished you appear, he acts as if it is awesome to be him and can’t wait to reunite with his gang and isn’t it great to be alive.

Damn. I think sainthood just tiptoed out of my reach. This frappin’ yellow dog has been the bane of my existence more times than I can count over the last ten years. He eats awful things (and some very good and very much-anticipated human food), is a bundle of kinetic energy who doesn’t require much sleep (and will tippy tap dance beside your bed at 4 am  in anticipation of the coming day), wanders away on weird doggy whims, alerts the world of possible fun or danger all the time, and has a really hard time not bathing you with his tongue if you pet his head (and we have no idea where that tongue has been, or what it has eaten, at any given time so this is not a welcome trait!).

But.

I love him (this probably means that I am not really martre myself by owning him…. definitely ensuring that I blew the saint thing). We love him. He is my 84 year-old Dad-In-Law’s buddy. He walks beside him and seems to know when to lean against him to offer needed support (my Dad-In-Law is very unsteady on his feet and walks with a cane now). He “participates” in the training sessions with my German Shepherds and, I swear, he is the best healer of the group (it is really too funny what he can do if food is involved). And he gives unencumbered, unconditional and highly exhuberant acceptance of any and all positive attention – from spoken kudos to belly rubs – any of us give him. Does he love us? Maybe. Is he loyal? Nope. This dog would leave us tomorrow for anyone sporting beef jerky (or a dead chipmunk). At the end of the book and movie, ‘Marley and Me’, John Grogan leans over his crazy dog, who is at the end of his life, and whispers “Don’t you listen to anyone. You were a good dog.” And I thought of Fred (who was probably snout deep in someone’s left over halloween candy at the time) and thought, that is exactly what I’m going to say to him at the end. Damn. He is a good dog (Don’t tell him I said so, though. I’ve got to keep him on his toes).

Thanks for readin’.

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