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  • Joan Schweighardt

Five Directions Press Authors Dish: Pets 2 (Dogs)

Oh, we love our pets at Five Directions Press. We love them so much that we wrote our hearts outs describing them, and now have to share the resulting “dish” in two parts! The cats, rabbits, and more appeared a couple of months ago. Here’s part 2: Dogs.

Adriadne Apostolou: Remi, before I finish saying “out,” you’re taking the stairs in twos, skidding at the bottom, dashing to the door. I arrive two minutes later. Your eager eyes focus on my hands. Will I pick up your leash? Sure, you intend to poop out there, but first, more important, you, gun dog, intend to sniff, to raise your paw at the capture of a salient scent. You strain the leash snuffling leaves along the curb, your nose urging us toward the stand of trees. There, your frantic mood ends. You become the diligent detective inhaling tips of a low cedar, patient at the roots of grass. Your style is precise, repeating, methodical, probing by quarter inches the materials of interest. Up to the branch, down to the ground your nose insists, up again to be certain you’ve unlocked the mystery and made its knowledge yours.

Remi, what’s the curiosity about? Your own Satine parfum by Lalique? Your own entrée dramatically un-domed in a Michelin-starred restaurant? Your own reflective sip of a buttery chardonnay, 2016? Is it pure sensory pleasure, the sheer joy of aroma you’re after? Or just instinctive rituals of dogdom driving you?

Suddenly, you’re done. Your trot turns into dashing ahead, abrupt turns, racing back to where you began, your nose bobbing the ground. You retrace back and forth, the distance shortening, urgency quickening. Still not the right spot. You grow frantic. You turn several figure eights, each tightening till you spin in circles. Like the Sama-practicing dervish, whirling to find God, you’ve left me, an Earthling, and there, you squat. Your eyes glaze, sighting the other world. When you’re done, you rediscover me. I still hold the leash that tethers you to reality.

Gabrielle Mathieu: I was once a magnet for canine aggression. A paranoid Shepherd hurled his bulk against a cyclone fence as I walked past on my way to school; a grumpy Dachshund nipped me; and even our family dog, a purebred King Charles Spaniel that sulked under chairs, growled whenever I drew near. A peaceable chocolate Lab had her first nip of human flesh when I accidentally got in the way of a canine dispute over a treat.

Needless to say, I had no use for dogs.

Things changed as I turned forty and found myself still childless and in possession of a huge fenced yard and an affectionate but intemperate spouse. I decided I needed a life form that would offer me full-time loyalty without the capacity to argue. I told friends and neighbors that I was ready to adopt the next homeless dog they encountered.

That turned out to be a pit bull! As she splayed on the cool tile those first days, her head sunk onto the floor and her gaze lowered in abnegation, I told myself my neighbors must be wrong. This wretched mute creature sporting one funky floppy ear and one upright one couldn’t be one of those scary fighting dogs.

But she indisputably is.

Fourteen years later our BFF Ellie has hiked with us all over the Alps, overcoming the prejudices of the Swiss, who associate pit bulls with drug dealers. She’s a friendly and placid old girl. She’s even been cowed by a prowling neighborhood tom who swatted her across the nose.

Nurture trumps nature, it seems.

Joan Schweighardt: We weren’t looking for a puppy; we’d had our share over the years and we didn’t want to go through the destruction stage yet again. But we had rescued our eight-year-old Shepherd mix, Emma, the year before, and for reasons not evident to us, Emma did not like grown dogs. We had tried bringing in a yellow lab who had spent some years in a puppy mill, but despite his size and apparent age, he was emotionally stymied—from lack of love, no doubt—and was terrified of Emma. Emma would not allow him the run of the house. His crate, which we left open, was in a corner of the living room, and as soon as he stepped away from it, Emma, who was half his size, charged him and he ran back in. On the few occasions when Emma was asleep in another room, the poor thing acted out by eating through my husband Michael’s kaleidoscope collection—all three of them, stands and glass and all—which resulted in some gastrointestinal dilemmas that resolved themselves, over the course of a few days, all over several area rugs.

It was with great guilt that I brought him back to the shelter. Fortunately they were happy to see him because they had a family with young children that had seen him before me but made the decision to adopt him after I’d already taken him home. They made the call, and the family still wanted him.

We had just about given up on the idea of being a two-dog family when we encountered the Boxer Rescue volunteers outside the pet shop where we went to buy Emma’s treats. They were there with five irresistible boxer/lab puppies (boxadors). We explained our dilemma—another dog at home who hated fellow canines—and they suggested they come by with some of the puppies, their thinking being that Emma, who had never had interactions with pups, might relent when she saw them.

Two volunteers and three puppies stopped by a few evenings later, and it was Emma’s turn to be terrified. With all of them crawling all over one another—on her bed!—she must have thought they were several parts of the same animal body. She stayed in the corner, observing. As for us, we loved them all immediately, and we could not decide. Finally Michael sat on the floor, and the one who eventually freed himself from the sibling knot to investigate is the one we adopted. Roy.

We had Roy only nine years, and while I have many, many stories I could tell about him—he tore both his ACLs (a year apart) running the world’s fastest figure eights in the backyard; he punctured water bottles on the sofa to punish us when we were out; he slept for a month straight when Emma passed; he had the vocabulary of a three-year-old and he listened to every word we said, waiting for the one (mailbox, car, walk, company coming) that would alert him to what would happen next—I will only say that we adored him, and his passing left us utterly bereft. That was two years ago. We have been dog-less since. We have tried visiting the shelters—we visit them all the time—but it hasn’t happened yet. We are hoping the right dog will find us.

Denise Allan Steele: The first time I saw Buster, he was sixteen and a half years old. This flea- and worm-ridden, completely blind, and seriously smelly old Boston terrier hobbled along the hallway on nails that were too long to allow him to walk properly. He may have been the least attractive dog I had ever seen. (See picture—true story!)

Then I picked him up, and I never really put him back down again.

It was love at first sight for both of us, and he was mine.

I’ve always had big dogs, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Greyhounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks … really big powerful dogs, and like a lot of owners of big dogs, I kind of looked down on little dogs, not really seeing the point of them—the barking, the yapping, the nervous energy. And seriously, what were they going to do when you really needed a dog?

Then I brought Buster home. My Pit-Boxer mix Betty made a huge point of ignoring him. She would literally turn her head in a Tom & Jerry-like exaggerated fashion when passing Buster and made huge ridiculous detours to avoid him. Every day for fifteen months.

Jack the rescue Greyhound (who had no prey drive whatsoever, which explained why his running career on the track had been so short-lived and unspectacular … You mean I’m supposed to chase that fake rabbit?) tolerated Buster kindly but was wary and didn’t really seem to know what Buster was.

But George Michael the Rhodesian Ridgeback, well, this was Love Story, Endless Love, Love Actually, Brideshead Revisited. George and Buster fell completely in love and were literally inseparable for the rest of Buster’s life.

I could see what Buster was getting out of that unlikely relationship; George Michael was his eyes and his protection, but I really never saw how George was benefiting. But like we all did, he just loved Buster, following him around and curling his beautiful strong red dog body around this tiny, misshapen little gremlin.

As Buster grew healthy and confident, he became the most unlikely Alpha Dog ever. Seriously. He took what treats he wanted, commandeered the softest bed and the part of the sofa next to me, lay on the sunniest spot on the floor, took the toys from the other dogs. It was ridiculous—this little blind, lame, ancient bully using his gang connections to push his way to the top.

Buster passed peacefully at seventeen and a half years old, and anyone who’s ever loved an animal knows how that is. I just loved him. And despite the heartache and the eyes stuck closed with crying when it was his time, I will do it again. Adopting a senior dog has been one of the best things I have ever done in my life. Knowing that Buster experienced love, luxury, protection, care, and comfort in his last days, his reign of terror made me heart happy, and I am already half-looking on senior adoption sites.

Images © the individual authors of Five Directions Press.

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