Tag: dogs

Django

Dog.
Natural highlights.

She was not a dog you told your troubles to. Confidences made her uncomfortable. Also tears, hugs, too much petting. We have no stories of, “hey I was crying and you’ll never guess what she did! Cuddled at my feet and looked up at me with gentle understanding! Or nuzzled me and got me to play with a ball to distract me! So cute!” It wasn’t her job to distract you. She was a dog and you were a human and she had her own issues to deal with.

She had the neighborhood to patrol. Skateboarders to hysterically lunge at, no matter how many training techniques we’d tried over the years. Positive reinforcement. Time outs. Being the alpha. “Try putting her on her back and reminding her you are in control.” “Try abandoning her immediately, so she realizes there are consequences.” “Try ignoring her—when they only get responses for good behavior they learn to practice only good behavior.” None of it worked. She went ballistic, even in her last days, when she was  shaky on her feet and the things her old eyes saw as skateboarders were actually bikers riding past. She never had anything against bikes. Only skateboards and scooters.

And certain dogs. Bill. Princess. Misty, until they made up with help from Kerry. She could sniff them out from a block away and her hackles would go up. She’d slow down, scanning the horizon and sniffing for their precise location. Even last week, when we walked up Sunnyside with Summer and Lake and Ever, Django trying to keep up with her newest favorite dog friends, maybe because they sort of looked like her, I saw Bill and his owner walking parallel to us across the street. He too was feeble, walking stiffly. I told Summer, “She used to hate that dog.” And Summer looked surprised that Django could dislike anyone. Dear sweet Django walking along, slowing down Summer’s dogs but they didn’t seem to mind. Then we reached the corner and suddenly a line rose on Django’s back like a Rhodesian ridge of backwards fur. She looked across the street, saw Bill, and let out a furious bark. “Rarrrrfff!”

Poor Bill seemed shocked. He was long over it, and anyway I don’t think he ever hated her as much as she did him. “Okay, Django, let it go,” I said, pulling her around the corner and away from Bill and his owner. Django reluctantly stopped barking and Summer said, “Wow, her hackles are up!”

“Yeah,” I said, a little proud of her fury. As Tashie would say, She still had the fire. It took half a block for the ridge to smooth back down.

There were many more dogs she loved, or at least loved seeing. Izzy and Lulu, Sullie, Tazzy and Toby, Ginger, Jack, Barney, once we weren’t fostering him anymore. Certain dogs she liked better as time went on. Buddy, Solo, Beau. Certain ones she always liked and seemed calm with. Maize, Charlie, Millie, Larry, Ernie, Chloe and Lucy.

There were the dogs from older generations who have passed. Nina, Audrey, Venus, Tiger, Bat, Cane, Riley, Moe, Jinx, Spoof, Poncho, Cinnamon, the rough-coated charcoal dog who looked a little like Mookie. Red used to take care of her and he and her owner were in a relationship for a while. He’d take Django sometimes when we travelled, and told me Django always slept with his mom in her bed. Those were the days of Roscoe, and Wrigley, whose owners moved into Dave’s apartment when he moved out, which reminds me of Windsor, who lived downstairs. And the one German Shepard she wasn’t terrified of, whose owner was Ann and had us over for a Christmas party once. So many dogs. And also Zoe and Teva and Barkley and Bramble and that dog who killed a squirrel, whose owner was a famous photographer. And Chase up at Watervale, and that dog she met last year in the cottage next to ours. So many dogs.

So many people, as Dave just said. People here and gone. Liz. Dan. My dad. My mom, who would throw bits of scrambled egg and toast at her instead of holding them out because she didn’t like dogs. Donna and Mark. Chuck and Kate. Lisa and John, who she only snapped at once, just a little John, because your hand was too close to her face and she didn’t know you were only reaching over her for a drink. Amy and Kristen when we all used to hang out together. Tom, who gave her the best nicknames. Heather who fed her way too much cheese and thus whose boundless affection was tolerated. Patrick who ignored her sufficiently to be trusted. Deanna and Tori, who technically I guess belongs in the dog category. Kelly who meditated in the living room, drawing Django to her with her calmness. Shannon and the other dog-obsessed herding people, and Shannon’s husband Bill, who would took Django out on his postal delivery rounds when she boarded with them. Shannon said Django would run to the barn where Bill was working, ready for action or just to watch while he did barn things. And Steven, who only met her once but said as he was leaving, “Good dog, Django, thank you for letting me live today.”

Summer and Shayna. Nina P. and John Byrne and Gayle and Other-Donna and Neighbor Dave and Ruth and Elaine and the Betty’s and their men. Amy and Tracy and the fun of being at their house in Madison. Michelle, the one groomer Django was truly happy to see. Bob the woodcarver. Aaron who she only bit a little that one time, because she was already stressed out by the party. A tall blond skateboarder at the park who used to slow down when she ran after him so he could give her treats. Once she got used to this, she stopped barking at him and trotted casually over instead. This had absolutely no effect on her behavior with other skateboarders, who remained objects of outrage.

There are a hundred people I’m forgetting and a million ways in which she was spoiled, treated, appreciated, laughed at, and wondered at. “She’s so beautiful,” people would say. One woman standing on a street corner smoking asked, “Did you have her highlighted or is it natural?”

Did she know what a good life she had? Or is that something for us to know? She knew joy. She knew fun. She and Nina wrestling on Liz’s deck when they were 2 or 3. Long before she began to be frail and I worried about her back. They would shove and gnash and twist each other onto their backs, and back up and jump at each other again, so happy and ferocious, but only if they could knock into me and Liz, intertwined right under our feet. Send them down to the yard where it was safer, with grass to land on and more room, and they’d stare blankly at each other and sniff around. Then they’d wander back upstairs and into our space, and Nina would nose Django, or Django would shoulder into Nina, and one would bat a paw at the other, and they’d start again.

There were random things she loved, like Abbie’s too-small dachshund bed, that she crammed into instead of the proper-sized beds we bought her. And walking slowly under plants to let them stroke her face and back. And her perch at the front window. And getting her butt scratched firmly and briefly. And sleeping by herself for the first few hours at night and then standing quietly over Dave at three in the morning, staring at him, until I woke up and nudged him and said, “She wants to come under.” Then he’d lift the covers and she’d crawl all the way in, a doughnut of fur with the tip of her nose poking out only when I couldn’t stand it, positive she would suffocate, and pulled the covers back a little. She didn’t like to be petted but she did like to curl up next to me with her rump pushing into my thigh or my shin. As long as I didn’t touch her too much or make much eye contact she was a great companion on the couch.

Django was a pretty good travel dog. I think she relished stopping at random gas stations along the highway. We’d trot over to unfamiliar ground while Dave filled the gas tank, and she’d do her business efficiently, and then come back and hop into the car. When we rode the ferry long ago, on the first trip Dave and I took together, Django jumped up onto the bench next to us and sat quiet and alert, looking at the water as we travelled from Washington Island to Rock Island, where no cars were allowed. She hiked with us around the seven-mile perimeter, staying close but reveling in the rocky shore and the smells and wading in the shallow water. It was all very idyllic until we walked back toward the dock to wait for the last ferry and Django suddenly saw a herd of deer and took off. Just disappeared over a hill. We ran after her but she was gone. We panicked. We wandered and called. We blamed ourselves for letting her off leash in unfamiliar territory. Dave hadn’t had a dog in 15 years and I knew he thought I was too lax with her. We waited and wondered if we could stay there overnight. We had no water or food. We wondered if the deer would kill her if she caught up with them.

About a half hour later she trotted back, ecstatic, bristling with energy. A happy dog.

Her passing frees me to remember all the years before she was unable to do so many of the things of vigor and action. Leaping into the car or up onto walls that seemed too high for a dog her size. Chasing a ball like fury, or circling other dogs who were trying to play and barking, shouldering, nipping, doing whatever she could to break them up. Because that was fun for her? Because that was her job as a herding dog? Because she simply disapproved of their chaotic silliness? We’ll never know. Or chasing Zoe to the garbage cans across the field in the parking lot. To bring her back? To join her? To simply be a follower in the pack?

Or running at a skunk and then running from a skunk down at Kenyon during a mime school barbecue, sprayed and confused but also seeming cheerful and curious about this new scent, trailing it into the open door of the dorm where we were staying. It only took one race up the stairs and then back down to stink up the whole building so bad that Kenyon decreed, next year at mime school, No Dogs.

During the years when Dave and I drove up to Wisconsin every Wednesday, so she could go herding at Shannon’s, she’d lie quietly in the back seat for the first 87 minutes. Then, as soon as we got to Genoa City and turned left at the pizza place she’d sit up. She’d sniff the window desperately and when we opened it she’d stick her nose out, pulling in the Wisconsin air. The road turned into country and farmland and she’d pace furiously between the open windows, seeming like she couldn’t get enough of the smells and the open vistas. Then we’d pull into Shannon’s farm and she’d jump out, vibrating with excitement to get at the dumb sheep and the more challenging goat mafia. Shannon could make her behave just with a look, and we’d tell ourselves again that we were bad owners, we must learn to do the things Shannon did to make her behave. Then one day she got side-butted by a goat and wasn’t so into herding, but we kept going because she loved to walk the field after herding lessons, running with Frodo and all of Shannon’s border collies and Snowball who didn’t really run and the beautiful, perfect herder owned by the woman who was a nurse in Milwaukee.

So many great memories, it makes my heart find places I forgot were there. The last few days, we’ve been overwhelmed with messages and flowers and cookies and chocolates and cards and poems and stories and healing stones and love and kindness from people who knew her, people who know the pain of losing an animal, or who maybe haven’t lost one yet and wonder a little bit how it is that other peoples’ dogs die when theirs surely won’t. Django, I miss you so much and love you so much. You were a good dog.

Elegy for Zoe

Random pic from a walk last week.
Zoe on a walk last week.

Zoe was discovered at Charlie Trotter’s. She was two and a half, and on display out front at a PAWS adoption event. “She was just watching everyone walk by,” Ruth says tonight, at the emergency vet. Ruth imitates Zoe’s confident tilt of the head. “She was so much furrier than I’d imagined.”

The emergency vet asks if Zoe has ever been here before. “Just once,” Ruth says, “twelve or thirteen years ago.” It’s hard to explain, because the vet is worried about Zoe now, suddenly weak and listless, unable to walk. Can she know how unusual that is for this particular fifteen year-old? Just yesterday she was bounding up the stairs, so inexplicably excited about every next thing she was about to do—get a treat, eat a tennis ball, walk through a doorway.

That first trip here was after one of Elaine’s first walks to the park with Zoe. She was still getting used to this bundle of energy whose name they’d changed from Daisy. The newly named Zoe bounded into the street and a car hit her. The car kept going. Zoe kept going too. Elaine walked her home, in fact, but then the sisters put her in the car and took her to the vet. “She had a little tear on one ear,” Ruth recalled. “Other than that she was fine.”

That would have been around the time Django and I met Elaine, the Katherine Hepburn of Horner Park, with her unruly dog who was so silky and beautiful and always running across the park to eat garbage. Zoe is still silky smooth, and we stroke her head as she lays on the gurney. She has a tumor on her spleen, the vet explains, and it has ruptured. “I think it’s time for you to let her go,” she says.

After the decision is made, the doctor leaves to prepare the injections. Ruth is quiet. Her family and friends try to make sense of this. We try to get Ruth to sit down, to drink some water, but she continues to stand, slight and strong in the middle of the small examination room.

A tech comes in and gently asks if Ruth would like to use the cremation service that the hospital usually works with. “Can you speak louder,” Ruth asks, “I’m hard of hearing.”

“Would you like Zoe to be cremated?” I can’t believe they’re already asking this.

“Yes,” Ruth says.

“And would you like a plaster cast of her paw?”

“A what?”

“We can do a plaster paw print.” I want to explain it in louder terms for Ruth but I can’t quite figure out what he means. Like one of those clay things we used to make of our hands in kindergarten? Would he do it while Zoe is still alive, and would that feel weird to her, sticking her paw in some clay? Or would they do it after, and what would that mean, emotionally?

“No, no,” says Ruth, shaking her head. “How ghoulish.”

We all laugh uncontrollably for too long.

The vet comes back, with two injections. She explains how the first one will relax Zoe, and then the second one will be very quick. “Yes, I know,” says Ruth. “I’ve done this before.” With Jenny, I remember, the dog they had before I met them, the perfect dog whom Zoe can thank for having landed her in their wonderful home.

Jenny probably set them up to think their next dog would also be perfect in time, would stop galloping through life with the energy and curiosity of a puppy, would become a proper adult dog suitable for two elderly ladies, and then for one of them after Katherine Hepburn passed. But if Zoe had aged appropriately, we would not all be there. Dave and I never would have met Ruth, who has become one of our finest friends. Django would not pull to go into Ruth’s gangway on our way to the park. I would not have learned how to throw the ball for Django, throw one treat into Zoe’s mouth, and then have two more treats ready when Django returned, one for her and the other for Zoe, who had completely forgotten she’d just had one a second ago.

Sometimes we’d let Zoe chase the ball too, which never resulted in fights over the ball because Zoe had learned that all she had to do was run in its general direction, dip her head slightly, and then run back and sit, and the treat would appear.

The vet does the first injection, and then the second. Zoe’s eyes close, and she goes quiet. “She’s passed,” says the vet, and then leans over to Ruth. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” says Ruth. She gathers her purse and the folder of paperwork. It’s less than two hours since she called, “I’m sorry to bother you, dear, but Zoe is on the back porch and she can’t seem to move.” Fifteen years and eight months is the age on the paperwork. From Charlie Trotters to a beautiful home to a ride in a Lexus to the emergency vet to a couple of shots and many tears. So sudden. So long. Good dog.

Awkward

solo dog
She plays better solo.

When I first saw her, she was talking to Dave and our host. I walked over and said, “You look so familiar.”

“You look familiar, too,” said she. I love that moment when two people recognize each other without knowing quite how. It could be past lives or high school or almost anything. It’s so full of possibility. She cocked her head, “Did I used to buy drugs from you?”

Dave and our host laughed, like maybe they’d been talking about drug legislation or something before I walked up. “Oh, that’s right!” I said, “You were a great customer.”

“You were an excellent dealer.” It’s so much fun to improvise with a complete stranger, especially when it’s not in a theatrical setting.  It’s a leap of faith in adult playfulness potential.

We continued a few more rounds of banter, and I was really starting to be pleased with my comebacks when she cocked her head the other way and said , “Oh, now I know you. You’re the person whose dog bit my dog.”

“Of course,” I said, feeling mortified but also not wanting to look mortified. Bite is such a strong word. Was it really a bite? Wasn’t it more of a, you know, more of a something you wouldn’t go right out and call a bite?

“What?” said Dave.

“Yes, two little cuts on his face,” she added. “And it was strange because we’d already passed by and then your dog just turned around and bit my dog.”

Our host, still smiling, said something like, “This actually happened?”

“Yep,” I said. “Is he okay?”

“Oh, yes,”‘ she said. But she didn’t change the subject. And clearly I couldn’t change the subject. Actually I became fixated, mentioning all sorts of details from the event. “It was on Sunnyside. He was so cute. Did you get your luggage back? Did I give you my number and stuff, just in case?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You gave me your card.”

There was some silence, and I wondered if I should have done more, like offered money right off the bat. Was that what she meant? Did she think I was just some irresponsible dog owner, whose dog goes around biting people?  Was I just some irresponsible dog owner? “She’s never bitten another dog before,” I said.

“Oh, really?” she said.

“She’s actually good with most dogs,” said Dave.

“Is she really?”

“She tends to snap her jaws,” said Dave, “but she doesn’t usually make contact.”

“She has gotten bits of fur from time to time,” I added, for full disclosure. Eventually we moved on to other topics, and I tried to adjust to my new role as that person whose dog bit her dog.

For full disclosure, I should have added that she also snapped at a friend of ours on New Years Eve. But in her defense, we’d told our guests repeatedly not to pet her.  She looks, like most dogs in the world, like she would like to be petted, but she doesn’t. Or rather she does, but only under certain very specific circumstances which are impossible to predict or quantify. She would make a terrible scene partner.

Herding cats

Pandora interface
On the other hand, now I’m thinking I should give The Sopranos another try.

Sometimes I look at people who listen to vinyl and I’m jealous. I roll my eyes when they brag about the preciousness of the pops and the balancing of the needle and quality of the sound, but I’m jealous. They have a machine that does just one thing, plays records.

Meanwhile, a friend is worried about her dog, who has become very clingy and affectionate after ten years of mellow reserve. He’s eating blinds while she’s gone. He’s sleeping on her socks.

Django is also clingier, though not any more affectionate.
She won’t willingly walk unless both Dave and I go. If it’s only one of us, she keeps trying to turn back.
When we leave the house, she won’t go first. “But isn’t that what they taught us at obedience school, humans go first?” I ask Dave. “Maybe those classes finally paid off.”
“No,” says Dave. “she just wants to make sure we’re all going.”
She follows us around the house wearily, like, “We just got comfy in the office, why the hell are we going down the basement?”

What I can’t figure out is why, with music so much more easily accessible–
on my computer
on my phone,
through the stereo if AppleTV or my Remote app is currently letting me access my iTunes library, which is about 50 percent of the time, averaging out the times it lets me in at first try,
lets me in after I turn on sharing AGAIN,
lets me in after I go up and open iTunes or just remind iTunes that it is indeed open,
and the times it works for a while, then cuts out in the middle of a song like it suddenly remembers it had a roast in the oven,

–I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. These days, if I want to listen to music that sounds good, I generally just turn on Pandora through Roku, because:
it will play through the house speakers.
I can listen to the sort of music I’m in the mood for
(Americana Radio, Rain Dogs Radio, Blossom Dearie Radio)

…though not a specific song or album. If I want a specific musical experience, and the song or album happens to be
in the subset of my iTunes library that’s currently on my phone
or
findable with a Web search that usually turns up at least a YouTube version
I’ll generally just play it there,
turning up the volume and reminding myself that it sounds not that bad for a phone speaker.

Maybe I could solve this with Spotify, which I would then connect to on the Roku, and thereby have infinite choice of artist or album or genre, which would be great, but it would also mean:
the screen of the TV has to be on so I can choose things
(and everyone knows the TV screen sends out hypnotic watch-me rays that fundamentally conflict with the auditory omnipresence of good audio)
and
the sheer abundance of choice at any given moment would result in buffet blindness
–which happens when I go out for brunch and end up with ketchup on my cantaloupe because I put too much stuff on my plate because it was all free, free! for the cost of brunch, so I don’t even know what I’m eating and the omelet is cold–
and
I’d be paying for a service instead of buying albums, so any fantastic music I discovered would become inaccessible as soon as I stopped paying for it.
(What was that band singer song called again? Oh, never mind.)

I thought I was alone in my vague sense of musical dissatisfaction until yesterday, when Dave said, “I miss music.” Then in the car with friends we were group-grocery shopping with because of the coming snow, Sam piped up from the backseat, “Me too! I used to listen to music all the time. And now…”

So now we’re looking at the way media is configured in our home and trying to figure out how to change it without:

  • sacrificing all the things that are great about remote access to music
  • buying another component
  • spending $2000 at Room and Board

Django doesn’t care about music, or cuddling, or laundry. She doesn’t nestle with my dirty socks. She just stands at the top of the basement stairs, waiting for me to finish folding clothes so she can get back to a room with a dog bed in it.