Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Essay: My First Dog

I have two dogs. One is Alice, the dog I write about all the time. She's my baby, the doggie that lives with Don and me, walks with me every morning, sits between us on the couch every evening, and regularly gets into the kitchen trash and thoughtfully spreads it around the house. She's our rescue dog, our shelter-puppy, our no-breed-at-all is-she-even-all-dog problem child. Seriously, when Don and I talk about having a baby, Alice comes into the conversation, as in How Will This Affect the Dog? or Will This Be Detrimental To Our Relationship With Alice?

But long before Alice came into my life, I had Max. Max is my family's dog, and when I was nine he was my dream-come-true. Seriously, is there anything more iconic than a Dad walking into the house with a cardboard box full of squirming puppy for his children? I will never forget that first evening, my sister and I racing all over the backyard with this tiny, fluffy baby dog. Max was and is a perfect family dog: he loves people, any and all people. Always a runner, if he got free we could shout to a random stranger-- "Catch that dog!"-- he'd run to them because Hey! New People! A house-full of family is his dream come true, and nothing upsets him more than an empty house. Max is a papered Bichon Frise, a perfect example of the breed and the cutest one I've ever seen. Bichons are frequently mistaken for puppies, even late in life. Many times after Max perfected his Houdini escape act, we'd get calls from neighbors... "We found your puppy in our yard, poor little baby!" Even after he was 5 years old, or 9, or 12. Bichons also don't shed, they don't smell like "dog", and are the best possible breed for dog-allergic folk or asthmatics like my dad. At 12-14 pounds for most of his life, Max is the perfect lap-dog size, and loves nothing more than curling up in someone's lap, against their leg on the couch, or at the foot of the bed.

Max is pure alpha-dog... nothing scares him or intimidates him. I've never seen him look sorry, sheepish or hang-dog--which is Alice's usual expression. He has never tucked his tail between his legs, or turned and ran from anything. The only member of the household he ever listened to occasionally was my mother. In a larger dog this may have been obnoxious, but in an adorable little Bichon it was nothing but charming; so self-confident! He is quite self-serving for a dog, and very self-sufficient. He has always known how to get what he wants-- a biscuit, a scratch behind the ears, up on the couch. When my parents' house burned down, he was the first out of the house, and that was in 2001 when he was already a "senior" doggie. He was found, as usual, in the arms of a neighbor.

Max is turning 17 years old this month. The puppy that we got when I was nine, is still chugging along now that I'm twenty-six. He weighs only 10 pounds now, and he feels fragile when I pick him up. His vision and hearing are both mostly gone, but not his sense of smell or love of a good cuddle. Even so, every time I go home and see him, I fear that it may be the last. It's hard to imagine loosing something that's been part of my life for so long, but I have to face reality; he's an elder doggie now. Having a dog like Max, though, has guaranteed that I will always have a canine member in my family. It made me a "dog-person" for life.


bella said...

I remember when our Xanadu (pure bred Yorkshire Terror, princess extraordanaire) passed away. She was 11, I'd had her since I was 8 and Jordan and I were in the process of moving in with my mom after living in our first apartment together (our roommate and my high school friend was going to college station and we couldn't afford the rent without her). She had been having trouble breathing and getting frail, though she never EVER stopped acting like a playful puppy. It killed me that we had to carry her up the stairs at night to go to bed.

Anyways, I was glad to be moving back home so that I could spend more time with her before she died; which I knew would be soon. Unfortunately, she passed while we were moving. I was waiting for a couple to come pick up some furniture they purchased from us when my mom called me and asked me to say goodbye while I could. I was so upset that I couldn't drive to the vet to be there because these people still hadn't shown up (notice, they called that night to reschedule and I wanted to kill them!) Anyways, long story short, I had to say goodbye to my childhood partner in crime over the phone. I don't think I've cried so much over an animal. We've had them my whole life, but I've always been able to say goodbye.

Of course, not a month later, Jordan and I went to the shelter to donate Xanadu's food and toys and ended up coming home with Trouble. He was on the VIP list (soon to be destroyed) and I know we saved his life. It's a funny cycle...

So...where am I going with this? I hope you get to be there with Max when he goes, but I know living all the way up there, it may not be likely. Just know, if you have to, that they can hear you on the phone, regardless of what anyone else says. (sorry that was so morbid)

Mara said...

Xanadu (great name!) sounds like she was adorable.

See, I know that the phone-hearing thing *would* be true, but Max doesn't have any hearing at all anymore.

We tested this by shaking the box of biscuits when his back was turned... nothing. And it ain't his appetite, so... yeah.