Love Anyway

Love Anyway

Charlie’s cat died last week.  All systems failed, and Charlie had to make the tough decision in the vet’s office, holding the cat as the end came.  Charlie lives alone, now. He talks about coming home to an empty apartment and feeling as if the light has been sucked from the universe.  It was an elderly cat, frail and disabled, and yet, of course, when the time came, Charlie was undone.

I drove a large and elderly dog from Massachusetts to Alabama.  We stopped only to let him wobble from the car, sniff some grass, do his stuff, and when he looked up expectantly, I picked him up and set him on his favorite blanket in the back seat.  I was determined to get him to our new home; I couldn’t let him die on the road. Hopper was an All American dog, probably German shepherd mixed with border collie, rangy and distinguished by a spattering of spots which made him look like a miniature Holstein with a lolling tongue.  I fell in love with him while courting my wife; they were a bonded pair, but they let me and my son into the pack. Over the years, I came to love all of them more profoundly, even as I knew that Hopper’s time would likely come well before mine.

He lived large, bounding beyond the pathetic boundaries we set, occasionally doing his own courting until we finally had him neutered.  His roaming decreased and he settled into life with his enlarged family. In the last few years he began to have seizures, scary, but not debilitating.  We came to recognize the signs and protected him as best we could, putting his blanket and pillows under his head, holding him. I held him in my arms too at the end, when a kind veterinarian came to our home, allowing Hopper to stay in his own bed.  That was more than twenty-five years ago, and I still remember the feel of the good dog nestled against my chest

We’ve loved other dogs: a goofy German shepherd, an Australian shepherd with a sweet face and a fondness for cake, a border collie who could run like a typhoon but who as a therapy dog happily settled into the embrace of kids with terminal illnesses.  For several years we had a pack of four, matriarch Jinx, oddly humorous Satch, somewhat needy Rogue, and the then newest pup, Banner, all border collies. They started out in California, but moved with us to Southern Oregon, where they quickly found active games in the meadow behind our new home.  

Satch is in Massachusetts, a dorm dog working with our daughter in a boarding school.  He spends the summer here, but loves shambling amid kids away from home, leaning in, allowing them to sink their hands into his deep soft coat.  Rogue and Banner are good company for each other, although Rogue has been hard on her little body, running hard for a lifetime, and is now stiff and often aching. Recently we’ve seen her fall and faint when running hard; we have learned that she is dealing with cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart. 

We almost lost Jinx, deaf and almost blind, who wandered from home on the coldest night of the year, becoming trapped in a frozen pool overnight.  She was in a coma when we found her. We wrapped her in layers of blankets and held her in a small room filled with space heaters. She was entirely immobile and unresponsive.  When my son arrived, he asked if she was going to make it. Hearing his voice, she lifted her head.

She lived for another year.  Once again, I held a dog I loved in my arms as she died.

Time has passed.  I still grieve and miss Jinx every day.  

We can’t replace Jinx, or Hopper, or Maus, or Fax, or Blitz.  I’ll be devastated when we lose Rogue; there will be no replacing her.  And so, you might ask, why is a new puppy chewing on something that looks like my slipper as I write?  

Why, knowing what’s coming, do I love the next dog, and the next? 

The answer is simply because I can’t imagine not loving dogs.  My daughter has correctly identified my dilemma as I walk down the street and encounter a schnauzer, or a Boston terrier, or a dog of no particular pedigree with a large block head and bright eyes.  

“Must pat dog”.  

Which turns out to be a very good thing as my wife is even more devoted to a dog-rich life.  The newest dog, Gem, a four-month-old border collie, black and white, strikingly similar to Jinx as a pup, is adventurous and affectionate, less needy than one of her packmates, a very nice addition to the family.  She spends much of her day with or near us, often lounging in a very large, tall pen in what was once a family room. The house is full of dog fur. We no longer vacuum as fur clogs the machine, but sweep daily, guiding growing balls of fluff into heaps that can be scooped up and tossed out.  Days are ordered around care and feeding, and we don’t take vacations far from home.  

I’ll outlive some dogs, and some will outlive me.  There’s pain and loss and regret, but love as I know it is about signing on without reservation, even when the stakes are high.  I miss the good dogs we’ve lost but can’t imagine missing out on one day with them.

I know how Charlie feels in his empty apartment; he plans to visit the shelter this week to see which cat needs to be his next cat.  He’ll love that cat too, anyway.

The big questions remain unanswered; we can’t know who will be the next to go. In the meantime, there are dogs to be scruffled and cats to be pampered, and that sounds good enough to me.

Petting takes on a new meaning

Petting takes on a new meaning

Look, I’m antediluvian, a fossil, old as dirt.  You can’t expect me to keep up with a culture that stands on its head every twenty-four hours.  My idea of a ripping good yarn is a Dorothy Sayers mystery set in Oxford.  The Wodehouse comic adventures are equally engaging; I’d pit Bunter up against Jeeves, valet to valet, anytime.

The which is to say, I’m several steps behind in almost every area of contemporary social life.  I do watch television, of course, and generally allow most ordinary commercials to wash over me without noting the particular products advertised or the particular methods by which they are touted, fearful that I might again see an animated bear wipe its hindquarters with Charmin, leaving less paper behind (as it were) than rival tissue brand, Cottonelle Ultra.   In the woods.

Every once in a while, however, something pulls me to the screen, my will is thwarted, and I get the message an advertiser intends me to get, as in a recent unguarded moment when I was made aware of groundbreaking investigative reporting on pet dating sites as presented on

I have seen examples of speed dating and know couples have found each other on line.  Rumors of a nether world of exotic “dating” applications have reached me, but, as I have not yet figured out how to answer my new phone, these remain obscure.  A quick scan of less frequently accessed, relatively conventional, sites, however, informs me that bearded men and those who seek bearded men can meet on Bristlr, a social network and dating site which promises, “… beard dating on a global scale.”  My viewing tastes, which include National Geographic Wild and Farm and Ranch TV, have  made me aware of Farmers Only, which, to confuse the viewer, announces that you don’t have to be a farmer to avail the services of Farmers Only, you only have to like farmers, or people who like farmers.  Equestrian Cupid similarly matches “cowboys, cowgirls, and equestrian singles”, whereas Trek Passions helps Trekkies find Trekkies available for “trekking”.  Tall Friends helps vertically advantaged people who apparently can’t assess size at a glance.  Need a partner for a luncheon date?  Salad Match is all over it, but you might be better served in accessing GlutenfreeSingles.

Let’s remember the days gone by when lonely hearts, singles, the shy and the reclusive found each other by posting quaint and plaintive coded messages in the personal columns of daily newspapers.  Some were virtually indecipherable – “I saw you.  Did you see me?”, some all too particular – “Man seeks woman not a cheating skank like Marcy Teddle.”  The digital age has allowed great specificity of search, so it should come as no surprise that dating has now brought dog addled singles together as well.

The pet economy is recession proof, jumping up from the sixty billion dollars spent on pets last year, adding another two billion.  Of course that reflects dollars spent on kibble, treats, and pet meds, but also includes the three hundred and fifty million dollars spent last year on pet costumes.  Dogs know each other by their scent, of course, so it should come as no surprise that aspiring dog matchmakers would spend seventy-five dollars for “Sexy Beast”, an apparently irresistible dog perfume, and so it goes.

Those seeking their “forever person” with whom to share a new leash on life now have a wide range of digital doorways through which to whistle up a partner.  Twindog/Tindog has been called Tinder for dog owners, but actually offers two services.  Registered hounds can seek pals for play dates, and their owners can swap photos of pets and selves in order to find, well, play dates.  The most unfortunate corporate branding is probably, a site not actually promoting cross-species frivolity.  They would rather be known as, “…the leading free online dating website created exclusively for pet lovers. Whether you are looking for a life partner, a buddy for your pet or just someone to hang out with…”.  Whew.

The very well received guide to finding the right dog-enhanced match, Leashes and Lovers: Where Dog Owners Meet, has broadened its base, now maintaining FetchaDate (“Find a date or even Love with Dog Lovers Like You”).  The FetchaDate website does not mess around; whereas others present portraits of singles or a stationary happy couple, Fetch jumps to a video, up-close-to and slightly-ahead-of a laughing couple, each partner holding a squirming Parson Russell terrier while riding on a motorcycle. Neither human nor any of the dogs is wearing a helmet; the countryside rushes past the bike, the happy pair chortles, the dogs squirm, and the viewer’s stomach lurches at the thought of terriers flying as the bike takes a tight turn.

The book’s website is more restrained, well, slightly more restrained.  We see a woman of middle age lounging against a sporty white convertible.  There are dogs in the picture; she has one arm over the chunky head of a large dog of indeterminate breed while a sharp snouted collie -mix of some sort watches with vigilant nervousness from the back seat.  Perhaps the word “slinking” or “draping” would be more evocative than lounging.  She’s wearing a Leashes and Lovers t-shirt, low-slung jeans, and offers a smile that is simultaneously panicked and predatory.

The book itself does encourage the establishment of healthy relationships through a series of articles by dog loving writers of some celebrity.  Cesar Milan takes a turn as one might expect, but contributors also include Rachel Ray, Monica Seles, and Howard Stern.  The idea is that dogs can teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, thereby freeing us to become the person we are meant to be, and thus, suitably attractive to other completely self-actualised dog fanciers.

I’m not completely self-actualised yet, but a dog fan myself, married to an even more actively committed dog person, and we have both learned important lessons from our dogs.  I’ve seen dogs actually correct unfortunate behavior, as was the case with a friend whose first impulse was to shout and toss his arms about when facing disagreement.  His dog, a retired Dog for the Deaf, in those moments shrank sadly, refused to be patted, and moaned softly.   My friend couldn’t take it; he learned to soften his voice and gestures, and the dog relaxed.

We did too.

I so believe in the ability of dogs to makes us better people that I am dismayed that this reasonably helpful book is marketed like a late-night infomercial.  The cover is alluring.  A woman’s long and perfectly shaped legs, crossed at the ankle, encased in delicate fishnet stocking, fall from the side of an overstuffed red chair.  She’s lying sideways in this chair; we assume she’s reading the book, although, since we see only her legs, she might be experiencing any number of moments of pleasurable relaxation.  There’s a dog, of course, a French Bulldog, peeking alertly from the depths of the chair, but there’s no doubt the book is marketed to women in search of ravishing romance and for a few men who find legs, fishnet, and stuffed furniture irresistible.

I find all bulldogs pretty irresistible, even though I know Darwinians take issue with breeds that are likely to develop hip dysplasia, cherry eye (don’t ask), deafness, brachycephalic respiratory syndrome, Stenotic nares ( narrow nostrils), and patellar luxation.  Also, they pant, and the larger ones slobber.  And yet …

It seems likely that folks who like dogs a lot probably do better in relationship with folks who share or have a high degree of tolerance for the dog-centered life.  There may have been pet dating organizations back in the 20th Century, but I happily stumbled into a dog-centered life without really knowing that I love dogs as much as I do.  I’ve loved all of our own dogs, but it’s significant, I think, that I’m more than eager to meet dogs of any size shape, or breed.

No slinking against convertibles for me, no wallowing in the embrace of armchairs, but I may send away for a t-shirt that simply asks:  “Can I pet your dog?”






Going To The Dogs

Going To The Dogs

Jinx, our eldest dog, is at my elbow, panting as she has for several months.  She’s fourteen and her breathing is labored.  She has trouble now getting up the few steps into the house and sleeps soundly in the morning as the younger dogs bound into the day.  She has the run of the house, gets extra meals, and is generally cherished round the clock.  She may fool us all and live for years, or, as we fear, may not respond as we try to rouse her one morning.

The next generations of dogs, son, Satch, daughter Rogue, and grandson, Banner, all border collies, seem in no hurry to change the routines established over time.  They are happy to romp on their own, but when Jinx is in the mix, they still line-up by age, responding to the games Jinx initiates.  Jinx may be a matriarch in decline, but she remains playful and eager to herd us, nudging us when we slow to a walk.  Satch, a blue merle with the face of a panda, is generally sedentary and always hungry.  He is transformed when Jinx begins to bounce in place, nipping at her tail, frequently trotting away in triumph with a spume of white fur at the corner of his mouth.  Rogue, fox faced and busy, accomplishes two tasks at once, joining the pack’s pursuit of Jinx while carrying a frisbee, should an empty moment present itself.  Banner, gawky adolescent, misses cues, invades personal canine space, bounds away barking, distracted by a goose flying overhead.

I met my wife and her dog simultaneously; she met my son at the same time.  We knew from the start that our life together would include kids and dogs.  Fortunately, her dog, a large Shepard mix with exceedingly discriminating taste in humans, came to love us, and we loved him with the giddy love that dog-deprived dog lovers feel when they meet a perfect dog.  I held that dog in my arms as he died, and told my wife it would take some time before I could love a dog so completely again.  The heart wants what the heart wants, however, and soon she came home with a rescue that needed to be loved and cared for.

I contributed my own questionable judgment when visiting friends with German Shepherd puppies bred from a line of schutzhund champions.  One of the pups followed me, falling asleep on my feet as we talked about the litter.  I was sunk, and, having misplaced confidence in my ability to read German, thought a schutzhund, meant “obedience dog”,  exactly right for my wife’s work with therapy dogs and with dog obedience; it turns out that a schutzhund is actually a canine rocket, the sort of dog used by police canine units or in the military.  Our rocket turned out to be a sweetheart with floppy bat ears.  We named him Fledermaus, Maus for short, and loved him too.

Our first true therapy dog , later our first agility dog, a tri-colored Australian Shepherd, came to us from a breeder in Wisconsin, an adventure in cross country conversation that involved papers faxxed back and forth so that when the puppy arrived, my wife named him Fax.  He was irresistibly affectionate, and I joined our children in slipping him treats, probably undoing all the training my wife had begun.  He achieved some local fame when, sensing the opportunities available at a reception for a visiting poet, was discovered on a table top, his muzzle a tell-tale lemon bar yellow.  He was soon joined by Blitz, a speedy border collie we thought a prospective agility champion.  Instead, gentle Blitz turned out to be a champion therapy dog; the picture of him extended to his full length on a hospital bed, nuzzling a child fighting cancer, is still prominently placed on the clinic’s wall.

About twenty years into our marriage, about the time we went from two dogs to three, about the time that I came to expect that every article of clothing I owned would be caked with dog fur, about the time that our youngest dog ate the laundry room wall, I wondered if we had lost some balance in our life as a family.

At that time, it happened that I had an obligation away from home, so packed and headed for the airport, being sure to scruffle all three beasts before leaving the house.  As I waited to check in for my flight, I noticed a passenger travelling with a wire-haired terrier and had to walk over to see if the owner would mind a short visit with her dog.  Walking through the streets of an unfamiliar city, I again found myself approaching every dog that crossed my path.  Before two days away from home had passed, I realized that just as I loved my wife, loved my children, I loved having dogs within easy reach, essentially at that point, the more, the merrier.

So, now we live with four, which is great, but a Facebook friend has been posting pictures of her Australian Shepherd puppy, and it has been years since we had an Australian Shepherd, and they are fluffy with a tiny bobbed tail that vibrates with joy when greeting its owners, and not all that large, and easy to train, and ….