Friday, November 2, 2012

Small White Dog With A Red Leash


The Late, Great Hallie McDermott
I used to scoff at people who allowed their dogs to sleep in the same bed with them, until I succumbed to the same habit. Dogs have a way of taking up your usual spaces and adjusting your carefully arranged schedules in ways that mysteriously further endear them to you. If your own flesh and blood children attempted the same things, they'd be given the evil eye, banished to their own rooms, or simply ignored until they went away wailing loudly.

We try to make rules for our dogs, but, eventually, they do get to jump on the newly covered club chair, nibble a scrap or two as a family meal is prepared, and attach themselves just below your knees or curled by your feet in what used to be your very own bed.

After a while, not only do you realize that they can talk to you, but that you find yourself answering them too. You begin to understand the relationship between Wilbur and Mr. Ed in a whole new light.

Later in their lives, unable to make the leap alone, they will stare up at that favorite chair, your chair not the other one, until you notice and you will lift them up. When they are thirsty, they will parade upstairs into the bathroom and stare up at the sink. If you happen to still be downstairs, they will bark at that sink until you come up to turn on the faucet and fill their upstairs water bowl.

It is best not to ask why she did not simply drink from her bowl in the kitchen.

In return for your acts of kindness and obedience, they will ask no questions about how your day went; they already know how your day went and will adjust to your mood, although not necessarily in predictable ways. On our behalf, they subscribe to the Jagger-Richards philosophy of "You can't always get want you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need."

When you want to sleep in, she will nudge your head until you are awake and have to roll over to look at the alarm clock, whose temporal news you’ve been avoiding. When you've just gotten cozy by the fire on a rainy day, she's ready to go out. When you're ready to take her out, she may take off at the sight of the red leash and race around the dining room like a four-legged Hussein Bolt, and she will require no medals for her trouble.

Can a space, a certain spot in a favorite chair or in her small wicker bed, or near the foot of your own bed feel emptier than just plain empty, after she’s gone? 

One September, more than thirteen years ago, we packed our two daughters, then thirteen and seven in the wagon to go "apple picking" up in Connecticut. They were not so amused by this surprise; in fact, they thought it was downright weird, further evidence of early parental dementia. Somewhere around Bethel, as we exited 84 East, it must have sunk in that we were entirely serious. 


We came around a corner in an area with fields and small houses but no orchards and they really began to wonder. “How would you like to get a new puppy, instead of picking apples,” my wife the DG (Darling Girl) said towards the silent back seat. "Really?" 


We all picked her out of the litter almost immediately. Her bigger brothers were jumping all over her, knocking her down, but she held her own, righting herself each time. She had that extra gene that most runts possess, the one that makes them try harder. More importantly, she had that face, the dark eyes and perfect dark nose set against the fluffy whiter than white coat that was only a little curly. A rather straight-haired bijon frise, the biggest-hearted little dog ever.

“What should we name her?” Before we hit the New York line on the way home she became Hallie, one of the Parent Trap twins, the English one I think.

All happy family dogs are happy in the same way, as Tolstoy may have put it. But, the true test of a great family dog is how she manages to exude happiness in the toughest of times. In this, she had no equal. Even as she declined with age, her constant vigilance over us, her persistent and insistent love for us, and her downright refusal to allow us to surrender to our various forms of 21st Century blues and blahs, was extraordinary.

To put it bluntly, she saved us from all sorts of calamity and celebrated with us through all sorts of love and wonder.

Regular readers of my work will be familiar with the way she acted as a muse on early morning walks. TLWDWRL. The-little-white – dog - with -a - red - leash. When I had a great idea and wished to get to the keyboard quickly, she knew how to wander far down the hill, so I had time to refine the idea. When I didn’t have a clue, she’d make quick work of things, turn and get me back to the office and to work fast. Tough love from a great boss.

Certain people will think that such grief over the loss of a small dog is overly sentimental. I’ve got some sentimental news for them.

It turns out that happiness is a warm puppy after all. 

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