What I Think about Dogs–Now.
Only once has our family had a dog. For years I had to stay away from them because of allergies. Not that dogs were special: I was also allergic to cats, grass, dust, nuts, horses, buckwheat, work. Most of these I could do without, if necessary, but dogs?
One time when the children were young, their parents decided that it was unfair to let my allergic reactions deprive them of a pet. So we brought a little puppy home (Friday, by name), to the delight of us all. That jubilation was followed within days by a deep sadness. The dog had to go. Two of us (one father, one daughter) were reacting. Negatively and vociferously.
Since then ours has been a dogfree household, even after it became childfree.
But time changes things. It even changes allergies. At least, in my case, to dogs (but not to cats, let the record show!). And not all dogs, mind you,
but I seem to have developed a tolerance for some very special ones, like Ellie and Timber and Dexter and Agape and a growing list of others.
I talk a lot about Ellie,
an exceptionally bright, vivacious Schnoodle (half Schnauzer, half Poodle).
She’s my favorite example of my late-developing fondness for these creatures. Ellie lives with Jeff and Joan Terrill, Velcro family for years now. Like them, she’s no longer young, although she’s retained some of the coquettishness of her youth, flirting shamelessly with the men of the household (Jeff, the Lord and Master, and Roy, the elderly occasional visitor). Ellie’s a house dog, with curly white non-allergenic hair, small enough to curl up on your lap (facing away, rear end in the near position, not the best view of her) or snuggled beside you on the couch, cocking her head to be certain you’re still paying attention. She has a way of making an old man feel very special.
Not that she’s perfect. Perfection would be dull, anyway. We all need some idiosyncrasy to make us interesting. Hers, and it can be a scary one, is her nosiness. This intelligent, curious near-person is downright snoopy. That’s what has precipitated this tale. Joy and I were staying a couple of days with Jeff and Joan in the early days of our Next Phase. We do this so often when we’re in Oregon that we have squatter’s rights to the upstairs bedroom. The Terrills thoughtfully put up a little gate at the foot of the staircase to encourage Ellie to stay downstairs. They’ve had experience. In addition to that precaution, they always ask us keep our door closed, just in case.
Well—you know where this story is going—we were all out one afternoon. We had left Ellie to guard the place in our absence. She’s nothing if not thorough. While we were away she cased the joint, including in her rounds our bedroom, where she found the door ajar and our suitcases on the floor. Open. These careless people could use a good lesson, she must have thought.
Imagine our surprise when we returned. Among other discoveries Ellie had found Joy’s pills (she had them in little plastic sacks, a good way for medications to travel, but not, unfortunately, dog-proof). So there they were, brightly colored capsules scattered all over the floor. We could tell she had bit into at least one of them; we didn’t know how many more. We immediately called downstairs to Jeff and Joan and began picking up the pills. Ellie look on from a safe distance. I thought she looked guilty. Joan vacuumed the floor. We examined Ellie. No great damage done, we thought. Eyes were clear, nothing strange about her demeanor or mobility. Satisfied (well, almost satisfied), Joy and I left for a scheduled visit to Portland’s Pearl District to check up on some galleries. Jeff and Joan were also scheduled to attend granddaughter Madi’s high school baccalaureate program.
We had looked forward to the evening, because we were experimenting with the Orange Max line, metropolitan Portland’s lite rail from the suburb of Milwaukee to downtown. We didn’t plan to drive in our Next Phase. We would rely instead on public transportation, about which we know almost nothing. This was our maiden voyage. The trial run was a total success. We enjoyed the train ride and not having to find a place to park in the crowded city. We talked about Ellie from time to time, trying to persuade ourselves there was nothing to worry about. But you never know.
When we returned we discovered Jeff had not gone to baccalaureate. Instead he had taken Ellie to a veterinarian’s emergency room. He watched her closely after we left. When he detected a change in her eyes, he called his friend the vet, who ordered them to the hospital for observation. She’s a small dog, he said. It wouldn’t take much medicine to do her in.
Joy and I felt terrible, of course. It was our fault. We left the door open. But then Jeff and Joan eased our bad consciences when they told us this is the third such crisis they’ve had with Ellie. As I said, she’s nosy. Once she got into a batch of chocolates and had to be rushed to the emergency room to have her stomach pumped. Chocolates and dogs don’t mix, I’m told. The other time was when she helped herself to a batch of slug bait. Not a such a good choice, either.
The next morning the vet reported she had never been in any real danger. Talk about relief! She could come home. Crisis averted.
Ellie didn’t assume any responsibility for the crisis, by the way.
The Terrills did. (“We should have put up the stairway gate”) and the Lawsons did (“We knew better than to leave our door open”). But Ellie exhibited no serious remorse. Well, as the picture shows, maybe a little.
Here’s the point of this story. For many years I’ve thought some of our friends were over the top in their affection for their pets. Some even talk baby talk to them. Some sleep with them. Some have been seen kissing them (and who knows where that snout has been?) I didn’t understand how they could feel, as they apparently did, such—well, there’s no other word for it—such love for their dogs.
But when we thought Ellie was in serious trouble, we got it. She’s not even our dog. But she is our grand-dog.
And we love her.