Let me start by saying I’m afraid of dogs. As you read last week, I have had several close brushes with death and felt no fear. I don’t ever remember being scared of anything, except dogs.
When I was three-years-old my father went to a junk yard to get a part to repair his car. He took me with him. He drove a 1930’s Dodge coupe that we called “Ragamuffin.”
We got to the junk yard late in the afternoon. It seemed deserted. Papa decided to walk through the yard to the office. I followed.
From out of nowhere two enormous beasts came flying at me. Remember, I was three years old. I had to look up to see their heads. I’m sure they substantially outweighed me.
I froze. This sight of the drool dripping from their fangs terrified me. I screamed. Papa turned around in time to see the first dog grab me by the leg and run off with me, the second dog close behind.
Papa chased after the dogs, but they were too quick for him. I don’t know how long the dogs had me or what they did. My memory stops when they grabbed me. The next thing I remember, I was in the junkyard office and a cantankerous old man was pouring iodine over my cuts. I think the pain of the antiseptic is what brought me back to my senses.
Since that day, I have been terrified of dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, old dogs, young dogs, it doesn’t matter.
After seventeen years or working at me, somehow, she finally won. We were returning to Seattle from a trip to visit our closes friends in Spokane. They had a giant, friendly Australian Sheppard mix named Katie.
“Didn’t you just love Katie,” Connie asked.
I looked at her from the driver’s seat and shrugged my shoulders. “I guess she was alright.” I made no effort to win Katie’s affections and I think that drove her crazy. She constantly rubbed against my legs, sat at my feet, tried to climb into my lap. I politely put her off each time.
“Wouldn’t you just LOVE a dog like Katie?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want a dog.”
“But if you had a dog, wouldn’t you want it to be like Katie?”
“I suppose. If I had to have a dog, I’d want a big, gentle dog.”
The next day we had a Chocolate Labrador puppy.
I lived with Phoebe for fifteen years. We came to an agreement that she wouldn’t bother me and I wouldn’t bother her. I learned to live with my fears. When I see a dog coming, I can choke down my fear and handle it. If the dog creeps up behind me, I need to change my underwear.
Connie would ask me, “Don’t you just love Phoebe?"
I’d reply, “No.”
“Oh, come on. You love her.”
“I tolerate her.”
In December of 1999 Connie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We fought that battle together for ten years. I am grateful that Phoebe was there for Connie, to offer her unconditional love, cuddle with her and generally make her life tolerable.
I started walking Phoebe when Connie was unable to take her anymore. We lived on a hill. I took Phoebe up the hill, then over a street and back down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, Phoebe sat down and refused to take another step. I finally had to carry the eighty-pound dog three blocks up the hill to get her home.
At about this time, she was unable to climb the stairs any longer. Connie took a canvas shopping bag and cut out the sides to make a sling. I used the sling to carry her up and down the stairs three times a day.
Connie and Phoebe made a pact. They agreed that they had to stay alive for one and other. Phoebe couldn’t die before Connie because Connie needed her. Connie couldn’t die before Phoebe because she was the center of Phoebe’s universe.
Connie broke the pact. When she died in April of 2010, I was left with an old dog who couldn’t get herself up and down the stairs. My youngest daughter, Libby, still lived with me.
I thought seriously about putting Phoebe down, but Libby refused. I couldn’t break her heart any more than it already was.
Phoebe lived with me for three more years before I sold my house and sailed off to Mexico. Libby took her when I left Seattle and she lasted another year and a half.
That’s as close as I’ve ever been to a dog.
I told Dawn I was afraid of dogs and was this a deal breaker. She was confident that I’d rapidly fall in love with her dogs, so we made a date.
On our first date, I went to Dawn’s house to pick her up. I knocked on the door and heard the barking of two large, vicious animals. I pictured the saliva dripping down their fangs.
Dawn opened the door and two monstrous beasts tried to break through to me. “Down! Go!” Dawn said and the dogs retreated. Somehow, I managed to get up the courage to go inside. I don’t think Dawn’s long blonde hair, sky blue eyes and little black dress (with just the right amount of cleavage) had anything to do with it.
Somehow, I managed to make my peace with Odin and Sizzle and Dawn and I went on to become an item.
When we sailed down the coast, she lost Sizzle in San Francisco. Siz had mouth cancer and was in so much pain that we put her down.
Odin lived on with us for four more years. He was legendary in La Paz. Everyone in the city knew who the Great Dane Lady was. Unfortunately, when we came back to San Diego, Odin expired. He was eleven years old, an unheard-of life-span for a Great Dane. (If you want to hear more about living with Odin on a 56-foot boat, read my “Dane on Board” series at http://pennwallace.com/great-dane-on-board.html .)
Now Dawn keeps talking about getting another Dane and I keep reminding her that we don’t have a good home for it on the boat. (You think I’m going to want to move ashore soon?)
Hmm… spending three weeks on a tropical jungle island. That’s a hard decision to make. After she purchased her ticket, it occurred to Dawn that she had made an obligation to dog sit.
You know where this is going. I am now sitting at the dining table in Karen’s house with two special-needs dogs prowling around my feet.
So, how has the week gone? Not bad really. Mia and Cookie were badly abused and Karen rescued them. They don’t like people, they bark and won’t come near. Somehow or other, we have worked out a relationship.
I feed them and live with them, so they’ve come to tolerate me. They even come up to me and beg for attention. Of course, being the gentleman that I am, I oblige them. Just keep in mind that I’m only fulfilling an obligation. I don’t actually like these dogs.
Mia is rather strong-willed. At first, she acquiesced to my commands. As her mom instructed, I make Mia do tricks before I feed her. On Monday, she decided that she wasn’t going to play that game anymore. She wouldn’t come for me and refused to do her pre-dinner routine. After a few minutes of futilely coaching her, I gave in and put her bowl on the floor.
This behavior continued on Tuesday morning. In the evening, I refused to let her win. When she wouldn’t do her tricks, I set her bowl on the table and walked off. A few seconds later, she came running after me. I led her back to her feeding place and asked her to do her tricks. She refused. I put the bowl down again and started to walk off, but she complied and did her tricks. I fed her and gave her positive feedback.
This morning she again refused to do her tricks. When I started to walk away, she sat, which is the last trick in her routine and stared at me with puppy-dog eyes. I weakened, decided that one trick was better than none and fed her. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see her mom tonight.
Cookie is a beautiful boxer that was badly abused. She was rescued from a dog-fighting ring. She was used for practice for the fighting dogs and her wonderful fawn-colored coat is marred by numerous scars and tears. After all of that, somehow she is still a sweet dog.
She hates men. Karen was hesitant to let me stay with them the first-time Connie dog sat for her because she thought I’d scare Cookie off. As it turned out, Cookie bonded with me while Mia kept her distance.
This time, Cookie acts like an old friend. She seems genuinely happy to see me when I walk in the door and cuddles up next to me on the couch. Karen is amazed by her reaction to me.
Today is my last day here. I’m doing laundry and cleaning the house, then I’ll take off and leave the dogs to Karen when she gets home this afternoon. Miraculously, neither of the dogs died or attacked me. The house didn’t burn down and I didn’t break anything (yet). From my point of view, this has been a successful venture.
We’ll see how Karen feels this evening.