Sunday, May 7, 2017

Puppy Love

Ko-Hii-Ko and me
I am a dog person. I absolutely love them. They haven't come...or gone easy, though.

When my siblings and I were young, it took a lot of nagging to get a dog. Mom had three, then four children, with absolutely no need for more to do.

She bought us goldfish instead. 

After she got tired of netting up dead goldfish, she thought a lizard would be a more practical pet. She converted the aquarium into a terrarium and it was our responsibility to capture live flies for the beastie. This is not as easy as it might sound. Plus, apparently a lizard needs more buzzy things than we were able (or inspired) to catch, because before too long the lizard was dead, too.

Then came the guinea pigs. First Scooter, then Scamper, then hordes of babies in a pen in the back corner of the yard squeaking away. We kids didn't want (or particularly like) the guinea pigs. We wanted a dog. 

This is all chronicled (in a barely fictionalized setting) in my first book, How I Survived Being a Girl, where narrator Carolyn relates how her older brother Jack finally has a little fit about the pet thing.

From Chapter 9 "Rodents and Reptiles": So just when I was thinking we'd never get a dog, Jack got real mad and told Mom he didn't want fish or lizards or guinea pigs--or rabbits or snakes or goats for that matter. He wanted a dog. A dog's what a boy's supposed to have, and no other animal would make up for not having a dog. Except maybe a monkey, if she wanted to give him that.

Me and Tushka
And that's pretty much how, in the real world, we got Ko-Hii-Ko. (If you know anything about my mom, you'll know right off she's the one who did the naming.) Mom insisted that Ko-Hii-Ko be an "outside dog," and we kids didn't argue, or ask for any other kind of pet, ever again. 

When we moved to a new town and Ko-Hii-Ko was hit by a car and died, we were all heartbroken. My mom was the one who said we should adopt a German shepherd puppy from neighbors who had a litter of them. We picked out a cute little shy girl from the back of the pack, mom named her Atushka, and she immediately allowed her into the house.  

Atushka (or Tushka, or Tuki) was a wonderful pet. She adopted our pack, slept on our beds, and wanted to be with us wherever we went. Her favorite activity was wrestling with a running hose. She would bite it, shake it, pounce on it like it was an enormous writhing snake that she was determined to take down. She was also my running buddy. I would take her on long runs up the grade or along the trails on the outskirts of our neighborhood. She was an awesome friend and companion to all of us and lived a long life. So even though she was old and far beyond enjoying life any more, it was still absolutely heartbreaking to have to put her down.

Mark's family had always had dogs, too, and usually in pairs. So when we were ready to get a dog of our own, I said I wanted to get a Siberian husky. I'd seen the most beautiful female husky at a dog show, and that was the dog for me!

Kai-tu and Lassen
To make a long story short, we did not wind up with one cute little female. We got a two-for-one, last-of-the-litter special, and they were males. Males who became big dogs, with lots and lots and lots of shedding fur. 

Protective and sweet, they were so funny when they'd start up a howl. They'd eye each other - one revving up, looking to the other to join in - and soon they'd have enough harmonics going to be mistaken for an entire pack.

Kai-tu and Lassen became my running buddies...or really more my extreme-sport coaches. They had to be on leash or they'd instinctively take off after cats, and since they're bred to pull sleds, my runs became as much an upper body workout as one for my legs.

Endless tufts of fur and all, they were inside dogs...until we had a baby and caught them drooling beside our "mewing" infant in the bassinet. We immediately pulled a classic Lady and the Tramp. "Out!"

Running is how I stay tethered to sanity, so the way I continued to incorporate that into my life as a new mom was by pushing a baby jogger while running with Kai-tu and Lassen. We were a wild entourage, full-steam ahead, and yes, people wisely made way. Especially when the second child was in the jogger and the first one was peddling alongside on his (training-wheeled) bicycle. 

Both dogs lived to "old age" where we, again, had to make the heartbreaking decision to put them down when it was cruel to continue to nurse them through each day.

After that, I was done. I swore I never wanted to go through that again. Besides, I had kids now. And too much to do. I did not need dogs!

But then our kids started asking for puppies. Begging for puppies. 

We got them goldfish.

That bought me a few months.

Then came the Summer of Lizards. They caught wild ones and somehow trained them to perch on their shoulders. Great fun. And it bought me a few more months. 

But lizards are not dogs. (See Chapter 9.) And I knew better than to bother with guinea pigs or rabbits or snakes.

But if I was going to agree to this, I had criteria!

Off the bed? You're kidding, right?
#1: NO FUR. Or, at least, not pillow-sized volumes of it. I'd done my time with the huskies.

#2: SMALLER. Mark and I had different days off, and I needed to be able to pick the dog up and take it to the vet. But it also had to be large enough so there was...

#3: NO YIPPING. It had to have a good bark.

And... #4: It had to be big enough to be a running companion.

And, oh yeah, #5: it had to be good with children.

Being the agreeable guy he is, Mark had only one real requirement, but it was a big one: We had to get two dogs so they'd have each other as company during the day when everyone was at work or at school.

The kids also had a requirement: They had to be puppies.

After much research and talking to lots of people, we wound up with whippets - a breed I would never have imagined for myself. But it didn't take long for them to invade my heart. Look at those faces! I didn't want to love them but I couldn't help it. What incredibly sweet animals. 

Our boys and their boys
So for the past fifteen years they have been part of our family. They were definitely inside dogs, sharing the bedrooms with our sons, doing "the changing of the guard" each night at around 2:00 am when they would switch rooms and look after "the other boy." They lived a good, long, spoiled life.

And telling myself all that should balance out the heartache of recently having to say goodbye, but it doesn't. They went within weeks of each other, and I keep looking for them, keep expecting them to be waiting for us when we come home.  

A librarian friend of mine knew I was sad and missing Bongo and Jazz, so she gave me Gary Paulsen's My Life in Dog Years, which I read cover to cover. It's a collection of short stories about each of his most special dogs, and how they saved him (both literally and figuratively). It was actually very comforting to read. Dog people understand that losing your pet is like losing a friend who was, without reservation, always happy to see you.

Real dog people understand that dogs are not accessories.

They're family.

Bongo and Jazz
I know cat people feel the same way about their feline friends and go through the same end-of-life trauma. I've never had a cat, and I'm not planning to start, so keep your adorable kittens away from me, okay?

Our friends assume that we'll be getting new dogs, but I don't know if I can go through this again. For now we'll just enjoy other people's dogs. 

Or maybe we'll get some goldfish. 

You think?


Unknown said...

Lovely writing, as always, and great pics of great dogs. You're always welcome to borrow The Big Galoot until you get your own dogs again. And you will. Life is too quiet without them. Live you Sis, and glad you and Mark made sure there was a dog in the house before I was born 😄

Jan Brent said...

Beautiful article Wendelin. Loved seeing all the pictures. I relate to everything you said as I have always been a major dog lover who always has a dog. Life is just more special when you share it with a dog. But oh how I'm devastated when it's their time to go. My dogs are my children and losing them always feels like losing a huge part of me. I miss all my dogs that have gone before me, but look forward to one day finding them all waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge.

Kathleen said...

I'm sorry to hear that you guys are "furless"-- at least for now. Even today, 20 years later, there's a space--though no longer perhaps a black abyss--in my heart where Lucy once lived. And nothing, and no one, has been there since. We were also dog people growing up, and in my adult years I've also enjoyed the humbling experience of having cats, but it was my single years and the friendship of the dog of all dogs that I don't honestly think I will ever experience again. When, two years into my marriage, it became clear that Lucy was no longer enjoying life, I remember with aching clarity, the "decision", the trip to Burger King for the last hamburger, Lucy greating her friend, the vet, with a trusting, wagging tail (much of her life was spent accompanying me to work everyday at the vet hospital, so she never feared it, or him), and her relaxing in my arms as we said our goodbye. I still have her leash. Haven't had a dog since then, but I can't get rid of that leash. It might have been better to have had another dog--they are each so special in their own ways. Maybe your healing will be to invite another couple of wagging tails into your lives. For now, though, my love and thoughts are with you.

Shaina said...

Hugs to you! I was a pet-lover my whole life (cats, dogs, horses, anything but reptiles), until about 6 years ago when we moved to a town with the largest population of irresponsible dog owners I've ever known. 75% of my running was punctuated with moments of sheer heartstopping terror at the latest escaped canine intent on chomping me down for dinner. I shifted and started avoiding dogs, even the nice ones. Annoying, barking, slobbering, shedding creatures! But every single time I let my guard down and actually pet a friend's dog, my heart melts again and I remember that deep down I'm a gooey dog-lover. I hope your heart heals up and you figure out how to fill the void. <3

Shannon said...

What a lovely story. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. They give us so much with no expectation of anything in return. I wish they would live forever. I ended up with my current dog without even looking for or even wanting a pet. Funny how that happens.

Teri Bayus said...

I'm sorry for your loss. I love your writing so much.

I too swore I'd never get another one after my last best friend Tripper passed after 17 wonderful years. Yet here I sit on my front porch with a slimy ball dropped in my lap from my newest and best love Osos.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Nanine: Thank you, dear sister, for sharing your Big (and happy-making) Galoot. It's been great spending time with you and your sweet "pup".

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Thank you for all these comforting comments!

Teri, I'm looking forward to meeting Osos!

Shaina, yes, that's the other end of having a dog - being a responsible owner. Sadly, it's true - a lot of people aren't. Or don't understand that the adorable puppy they took home would grow into a full-sized 15-year responsibility.

Kathleen: you're killin' me! Burger King, relaxing in your arms, the leash. Aaagh! Lucy was a lucky lass :-)

Lilly: Rainbow Bridge is a very nice image, thank you.

Shannon: Yes, funny how that happens :-)

Thank you all!