Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From 2 to 5; from 2 to 10

When we returned to Philadelphia, Diva Dog and I were a household of two. By the end of her life, we were part of a family of five.

The first addition was Hunter Dog, whose arrival was inevitable from the time of Smartest Dog's death, which instantly converted me to the principle of the emergency back-up dog (a phrase I stole from Dave Barry). This is an idea that I intend to extend at least to emergency back-up offspring and possibly, if A. ever becomes amenable to the idea, to emergency back-up siblings for offspring. (I have personally found it helpful to have more than one sibling.)

This plan had to be delayed a bit because I was unable to have two dogs in either of my downtown apartments, but I was unwilling to go through the misery of a dogless front door again, and I also worried about Diva Dog's adjustment from me being around a lot as a nominally dissertating grad student, to me being around much less as a fully employed high-school teacher. With this in mind, as soon as I had a closing date for my house with a yard in "the neighborhoods" (as everywhere outside of Center City is called in this town), I made arrangements to get pick of the litter that produced Hunter Dog. She joined us shortly after the move.

Diva Dog initially thought Hunter Dog was a good thing, kind of an amusing toy. Then she realized that Hunter Dog should have gone home by now and she got into a huff for a few weeks, but she came out of it. She did make a couple of key mistakes early on: she let puppy Hunter Dog make a game of pouncing on her, and she let her bring the tennis balls back to me. As an adult Hunter Dog was several pounds larger than Diva Dog, and would still jump on Diva Dog's head in moments of excitement, like right before dinner time.

And Hunter Dog became so obsessed with tennis balls that Diva Dog eventually would only get a shot at the ball if she insisted on her turn, stood four feet from you while Hunter Dog eagerly anticipated a long one, and you then pitched one gently and directly at her muzzle. She would snatch it quickly in her mouth and toss it back at your feet, backing up two tiny, impatient half-steps to show how much more attention she deserved and why was Hunter Dog getting it all?

The next expansion to our household came when A. moved in. A. is allergic to dogs, but I was so gone for her that even though I usually go years without touching a vacuum cleaner, I went to the car wash and rendered my car hypoallergenic, and I vacuumed every corner and every piece of upholstery of every room that A. would be in each time I expected her to come over. The dogs were barred from anywhere that A. was. Obligingly, A. acclimated to the dogs over the course of a few months and our halls are once again lightly furred in the corners, though not nearly as much now that Diva Dog is gone. That beautiful, soft coat also shed like the dickens (I fear further description might make some readers begin to sneeze.)

Having a yard, especially a large one, is an invitation to dog-owning laziness, and Hunter Dog has never really been well socialized to other dogs the way Diva Dog had been in the dog park. Hunter Dog much preferred the company of tennis balls. When we were in Madison our yard was devoted to parking spaces and clotheslines, so we would walk them on the sidewalks or drive them to a wonderful dog park on a wetlands off of one of the lakes. Hunter Dog would go anywhere for a ball, including water far beyond her depth, while Diva Dog would wade in exactly to her chest and then stop.

In Madison, she came to disdain tennis balls in favor of smooth, rubber skybounce balls, which were slightly smaller and easier to grip between one's jaws. I found the ultimate Diva Dog toy at my favorite Madison pet store--possibly my favorite anywhere pet store--it was the mouseyball, a tiny soft rubber squeak toy, designed for a cat and perhaps an inch and a half across, allowing for a completely dainty grip between the incisors. It was molded and painted with mouse features and in the brief windows when it wasn't lost under furniture, Diva Dog would buzz with possessive love of the mouseyball. She would take it up and toss it back down on the floor so that she could race after it again. Hunter Dog was savvy enough to understand that this game was not to be interrupted or interfered with.

The final addition to the household was Z., and Z.'s arrival very sadly revealed the dogs to be only dogs. Diva Dog adored my mother and adored Uncle Donor long before either he or I dreamed he might come to have that role in our family. She would present herself in grand, belly-baring obsequy when either of these great humans came to visit, and if they weren't fast enough with their affections she would thump her nose up under their hands just to make sure they got the point.

The birth of the baby meant that both of these greatly adored human satellites would come to the house and completely ignore her. We didn't do a whole lot better ourselves. I wish that I could say that before her death we reached a happy dog-and-child equilibrium, but I think that stage is still a few years off, and will only come after Z. has gained enough authority in the canine world to be able to say "sit" with some oomph in her voice.

But as Z. started walking, she became more interesting, and in Diva Dog's last summe, she would let Z. lie on her and hug her, and she certainly had come to appreciate the spilled food around the kinderzeat, and I think she felt kind of protective about this little mammal with no teeth or claws who roamed around our house.

But just like a firstborn child, a dog you adopt as a single person has to adjust to a lot of splits in your attention. Diva didn't like it. But she was also slowing and slowing down, and especially in her last year, it often suited her to be left to herself on her dog bed. She didn't always want to come to the door when it was time to go out. I thought it was old age, and it was, but old age turns out to be a brutal dilapidation of the body.

Next: Missing my dog


niobe said...

I didn't realize you were a natural (or perhaps whatever the opposite of natural would be -- unnatural?) storyteller.

It's particularly impressive to me because I totally lack the stamina to start at the beginning, go on till I come to the end; then stop.

S. said...

Oh, I haven't stopped yet.