Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Old Man and the Dog at Sea

As I was leaving the dog park last week, hurrying to get the kids from school, an older gentleman was walking slowly through the parking lot. He approached Our Best Friend, smiled at him, and said, "Sit." Our Best Friend promptly sat. The man extended his hand, OBF lifted a paw, and the two shook hands.

I was quite amazed. OBF doesn't listen to strangers, and is usually aloof with people who try to make friends. Yet he seemed to trust this man on sight. "He likes you," I told the man. "He's not usually friendly with strangers."

"He's a good boy," the man told me. "Let me tell you a story."

Uh oh, I think. I'm already going to be late for the girls. But somehow, I didn't have the heart to say, "Another time, perhaps." There was something about this man that spoke of another time and place. I couldn't just walk off -- and besides, he'd already launched into his story.

"In World War Two, I was in the navy-- the American navy. I was stationed in Honolulu, you know. One day, I was walking down the street, and saw this starved, emaciated dog. He was half-dead, his ribs were showing, so I picked him up and carried him back to the ship.

"Well, as you can imagine, the other men on the boat laughed at me for bringing in this dog. They told me, 'He's your dog, you take of him, you find food, clean up his mess.' Of course I did. They all thought I was crazy.

Maybe this kind of boat? Who knows...
"Now, I was a mechanic. We had a four engines on the ship, and it was my job to clean out the oil that gathered underneath. And I did it at night. At three in the morning, the only people awake on board was me and the guy steering the ship, way up top in the pilot's room.

"So one night I was carrying up buckets of oil from the engine room, which is at the bottom of the boat. I took it on deck, and..." Here he paused, looking sheepish and apologetic. "It's what we did in those days, I tossed the oil overboard. But I must have spilled some on the deck. I came back up with two more pails, and I slipped on the deck. My legs shot out from under me, and I went flying under the railing of the ship. My shirt caught on the hook we used for the landing bumpers. So there I was, hanging on the side of the ship, the waves were hitting me up to here," he said, holding his hand mid-way up his chest. "I yelled and yelled, but no one could hear me over the engines and waves and it was the middle of the night."

I knew what was coming.

"But the dog heard me," he said. "He came running, saw me hanging there, and ran off. I had taught him how to climb the ladders on the ship, so he ran up to the helmsman, barking and tugging on his pant leg. The helmsman followed him down, found me, and pulled me back on board. That dog saved my life."

"Wow," I told him, as I pondered the plausibility. "That's some story."

"I came here after the war," he continued, "and I was afraid to try and bring the dog across the border-- I didn't have shots for him or nothing, I couldn't afford it. So I gave him to a buddy of mine in Boston. Then, a while later, I went to visit my friend. I got in the car, and didn't see the dog in the back seat. Well, the dog recognized my voice, and he jumped over the seat and straight into my lap. He went crazy licking my face. He was a great dog." He took Our Best Friend's paw again. "He's a good dog too. You take good care of him."

"We try to," I answered.

By now I was at least five minutes late picking up the kids from school. I shoved OBF into the back of the van, and as I drove off, I wondered how much, if any, of that story was true. And why he chose to tell it to me. And why I didn't just interrupt him and walk off, so I wouldn't be late for the kids. And what the heck I would do with this bizarre event. I kind of felt like the Wedding Guest in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner... except this guy didn't have an albatross around his neck.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fight! Fight!

This story comes from two sources: a witness and a participant. I didn't witness it first-hand.

I love hanging out at the dog park because it's usually such a laid-back place. The atmosphere ranges from tranquil to boisterous good fun, and so far, thank goodness, I haven't had a bad experience. I haven't even witnessed one. But they do happen.

I first heard this from Dee, who has the sweetest lab/Bernese cross named Shy (and she's anything but.) I had left Dee and a group of people, including Ronnie, a few days earlier, and on my way to the car heard a horrible ruckus explode. I was late to get the kids from school, and too far to turn back, but when I saw Dee again a few days later, I asked her what had happened.

She thought, frowning. "Oh, that must have been the fight Ronnie got into!"

It had sounded like a dog fight to me, and I couldn't imagine who had come along ten seconds after my departure to make such scene, but I said, "Ronnie got into a fight? Why?"

"Some guy was throwing a ball for his dog," she explained, "and Holly was chasing it too... he told Ronnie to control Holly... and Ronnie tried, but you know how obedient Holly is... so Ronnie suggested he put his ball away in the park... and then the guy told Ronnie to put Holly on a leash so he could play ball with his dog, and Ronnie told him he doesn't bring the dog to keep her on a leash... Then the guy walked away, but Holly was following him, I guess hoping he'd throw the ball again, so the guy turned to Ronnie and asked, 'Why is your dog still following me?' and Ronnie..." Dee started laughing. "Ronnie said, 'I guess she likes the smell of s***!'" Then she noticed the Middle Child standing there, and apologized profusely for the language. The Middle Child, quite accustomed to inappropriate language from her parents, just rolled her eyes.

"He chose the wrong dude to pick a fight with," I said. "This is Ronnie's park."

A day later I ran into Ronnie. "I heard you're getting into fights these days. Do we have to ban you from the park?"

Ronnie looked puzzled. "What did you hear?"

"Dee told me-- Shy's owner," I explained, because even though Ronnie knows more human names than anyone else, even he doesn't know them all. "The other day, after I left, I heard a lot of yelling. She said Holly was chasing someone's ball..."

"Oh yeah, that's right!" Ronnie started to laugh. "What an a******! I really lost it with that guy." His version of events matched Dee's almost exactly, maybe a few more details and a few more cuss words. "Some attitude, eh? Like the park belongs to him."

"Yeah," I agreed. "I told Dee he picked the wrong guy to mess with. We all know it's your park. Still, I thought I heard a dog fight. It sounded like you were yelling at a dog."

Ronnie frowned. "What day was that again?"

"Last Wednesday," I said. "You know, there was me, you, Dee and Shy, that woman and her two dogs..."

"Oh that's right!" He laughed. "You did hear a dog fight. That woman's dog, Kumon, all of a sudden she attacked Shy. I had to pull her off. That dog has issues."

That bothered me more than Ronnie's fight; Kumon is a human-friendly dog, and other than a constant need to jump up and lick my face, I hadn't noticed any "issues." I glanced at Our Best Friend, who has plenty of issues, and prayed that Ronnie would never have to pull him off another dog.

"Well, you watch yourself," I warned Ronnie, "and don't let me catch you fighting again!"

Ronnie got indignant. "I don't fight! I'm an easy-going guy! But I'm not going to put up with attitude from anyone!"

I refrained from pointing out that the comment about personal odour was probably unnecessary, and agreed that, of course, no one should have to put up with attitude from anyone at the dog park.

As I walked back to my car, I considered how interesting it was that, when asked what I had heard, Dee remembered a fight from a day I wasn't there, and failed to remember the attack on her own dog. Dog fights we expect; human fights at the park are a little more memorable. And it emphasizes my belief that, though you first come to the park for the dog, we return because of the people.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's Not Just About Dogs and Cats

Short post today to remind everyone it's Adopt the Internet Day on Petfinder. Petfinder is 15 years old, and has helped thousands of animals find their forever homes. Sometimes it takes a while; no one wanted Our Best Friend after several months on Petfinder, so he just stayed with us. And so many of the amazing dogs at our dog park are rescues. But not every animal on Petfinder is so lucky. Some are in high-kill shelters waiting for someone to adopt or foster them before their time runs out.

African Grey Parrot - Fairfax, VA
So get familiar with the rescues in your city. Do a search on Petfinder, see what animals they have listed. Maybe you can't make the total commitment that ownership requires, but maybe you can foster a pet and buy a little time. Puppies, kittens, ferrets, rabbits, even parrots-- lots of pets needs homes, and a home without a pet is a home missing the most unconditional love in the world. Give an animal a home, and give yourself the gift of love and devotion only a pet can bring.

Petfinder Adopt-the-Internet Day

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award?!

Tail Waggin gave me-- wait for it-- a Stylish Blogger Award. Clearly this person has never met me; I wear clothing so old it's gone in and out of fashion several times. I guess she means my blog is stylish. There too, not sure I see it, but I'll take what I can get!

So the rules of this award are 1) to share seven things about myself and/or Our Best Friend and 2) to pass this award on to 15 other bloggers. Now, I regret to say I used up everybody I know in the Memetastic Award (yes, I know that's only five people, and yes, I know that makes me pathetic). So I'm afraid the Stylish Blogger Award buck stops here. Besides, every single blog I visit has the logo on its widget bar, I think everyone's gotten it at least twice, and so I don't feel particularly guilty not passing it along AGAIN. I hope I will be forgiven.

Here are six things you may or may not care to know about Our Best Friend, and one about me:

  1. When I drop kids off at their homes during carpool, he stands perfectly still in the back of the van, whimpering as he watches them go into the house. I think he can't stand seeing kids on the other side of the glass where he can't protect them.
  2. When we first got OBF, he wouldn't come on the beds no matter how much the kids coaxed him. Now he leaps up every night for a ten-to-twenty-minute cuddle, then goes off to sleep on the floor. He still will not come on my bed without express permission.
  3. In contradistinction to # 2, he appropriated the Middle Child's bed as his own during the day, yet will not sleep with the children at night. He still sneaks onto the couch in the middle of the night when everyone's asleep, even though he knows he's not allowed.
  4. I bought him diet food a few months ago, as he's getting a little chunky. He refused to eat it. When we tried mixing it with his regular kibble, he spit the pieces he didn't like onto the floor. We could tell he was only spitting out the diet stuff because of the size and shape.
  5. When he goes nose-to-nose with little dogs, his tail wags gently, and he has the most tender, goofy look you've ever seen on a dog's face.
  6. He can turn in a circle, beg, and play dead (although "play dead" looks more like "beg lying on your side" than "dead").
  7. My next dog will be small, female, and non-shedding.
That's about as interesting as it gets. Except for the time OBF almost ate the Morkie....

Saturday, March 5, 2011

How To Traumatise Small Children Without Really Trying

First, to conclude the last post, here are the falsities, in reverse order:

  • I wish number 5 was true. My kids are impossible to feed, and I could use an entire crew of culinary experts devoted to fixing the problem.
  • My idea of "working out" is writing my blog from a cafe instead of at home.
  • Anyone who has seen me in person knows # 2 is a lie. In our youth-obsessed culture, no one dyes her hair white, unless the performing arts are involved.
  • The first claim was a trick question. I did take arts in university, but it was no dramatic reversal. I failed third-term math in grade 12, and flunked out of physics completely in grade 11. I got 90s in biology though-- would have been an excellent biologist, but a lousy scientist. So I got a double honours B.A. in English and Creative Writing, a Master's in English Lit, and then went back for a Master's in educational psychology. In spite of all this, I am still unemployed, probably because I never took a degree in job-finding. So, to preserve my sanity, I take the dog to the park and write a blog about it.
Yes, Number 4 was the correct answer. Some of you may now pat yourselves on the back. The rest of you go sulk somewhere and mumble, "No fair!"

Now on to other things....

Thanks to the ed. psych. degree, I actually know a thing or two about how people learn. Often, small children learn from the examples set for them by friends and family members; when mommy is terrified of the dog, it's not surprising that little Sophie is terrified too. Yet I have friends who absolutely love Our Best Friend, but their children recoil in horror. I would love to know, where does this fear come from?

Part of the fear, of course, comes from the lack of dogs in our community, but that's not the whole story. Last week, coming home from the park with Our Best Friend, I walked past Ben's house. His six-year-old was out front playing with the upstairs neighbour. Now, the boy from upstairs barely knows me, though I know his mother quite well, while Ben's little Howie has known me all his life. Ben and his wife love animals, including OBF, and the kids know it; little Johnny-from-upstairs's mother... not so much. She's not scared; she's just not a dog lover. So which of the two boys would you guess showed more interest in OBF?

The conversation went like this:


ME: Of course you can! (To dog): OBF, sit.

Dog sits. Little boy comes down the hill and cautiously pats the dog.

ME: Take off your mitten and feel how soft his ears are! (Little boy removes mitten and REALLY pats the dog.)

JFU (to Howie): Come pat the dog!

HOWIE: No! I’m scared! He's going to bite me!

JFU (puzzled): No he’s not! Come pat him!

HOWIE: No!! He’s going to bite me!

JFU: But he’s a nice dog! He doesn’t bite! (Puts his mitten back on and moves back.)

ME (to JFU): Did the dog bite you?

JFU: No…

ME: Are you sure? Maybe you should count your fingers!

JFU (counting his fingers): One, two, three, four, five!

ME: Got them all?

JFU: Yes!

ME: Then I guess he didn’t bite you!

JFU and I laughed, but Howie is not convinced. I tell young Johnny to visit us any time he likes.

I promise you Howie's parents love animals. Howie's older brothers have played with OBF in our back yard a number of times. Where does Howie's fear come from? And why is Johnny, who has had almost zero positive exposure to animals, so fascinated and fearless?

Two weeks ago, we had lunch guests who came with four girls, ages one, three, five, and eight. The baby was indifferent to the dog; ages three and eight were initially nervous, but the eight-year-old was all over Our Best Friend by the end of the afternoon. The five-year-old screamed in terror every time she heard the tags on his collar rattle. Like little Howie, she was thoroughly convinced OBF would bite her. It was a very trying afternoon for her. Nothing her parents said, nothing she saw, could convince her that the dog wouldn't bite her. By the end of the day, the mother wondered if she should consult a psychologist.

I wouldn't bother. My Middle Child's best friend, Yvonne, was equally terrified of dogs at that age. She and her family came to visit us up north one summer, where we were babysitting a friend's cottage, along with the cats and her dog Blackie. Now, Blackie is the gentlest, sweetest dog in creation. She doesn't even bark. If you step on her, she licks your hand. (Honest.) And Yvonne spent the entire day screaming in terror at the sight of her, which confused Blackie and made her very sad.

It took Yvonne a few years. By the time she was seven or eight, she could push past the dog and pretend she wasn't there. Now, at age 12, she is a raging dog lover. I take her home from school every day, and if I don't have the dog in the car, she lets me know how unhappy she is. Her mother got so sick of the nagging refrain, "Can we get our own dog? Please, please please?" she fined her five cents every time the word "dog" came past her lips. (I almost got fined for encouraging her.)

So I have reason to hope that, with enough positive exposure, Howie, my friend's five-year-old, and other assorted frightened children will come around in time. (Not so sure about the frightened parents, though.) We just have to bring more doggie ambassadors-- ones a little less intimidating than Our Best Friend-- into the neighbourhood.

(This post was part of the Saturday Blog Hop-- click here to join in!)