Friday, February 10, 2023

Meditations on Dogs

 I have come to the conclusion that neither my own temperament or the universe will allow me to be without a dog, and given the last nearly two decades, probably two. 

I've realized about myself that when I suffer a sudden, unexpected loss, I want to get a dog. If I already have a couple I can generally control myself. This kicked me in the ass in 2019, when FarmDog crossed the rainbow bridge. 

She was ancient of days, and the bestest of girls, but her seizures had become untenable, and I had to let her go. I knew it was coming in a general sense, she was 16 years old, but the specific timing was... entirely unplanned.

Fuzzy Pup was entirely lost... he had never been an only dog. He didn't know how to be without the leadership FarmDog had provided. I had to sit with him to get him to eat, because he had always eaten second... and he was fourteen himself, he couldn't afford to miss too many meals. 

So I had resigned myself to intensive care of the geriatric Fuzzy Pup for a while. Then one day as I was doom scrolling on Facebook at work, I saw a picture of a puppy, and thought "I should get a puppy."

And all of a sudden it felt like someone had drop kicked me right in the chest. I struggled with it for a couple of months, but Fuzzy Pup wasn't coming around to being the only dog and I was legitimately worried he would pine himself to death. I couldn't have handled that. 

So I looked, and found a young pup at a municipal pound about an hour from me. I set up an appointment and loaded up the Fuzz Bucket to go meet him. 

It was love at first sight. He came barreling out of the kennel and bouncing up to sniff at my hands, and gamboled around Fuzzy Pup like he had known him forever. Five minutes in the yard, half of which was Fuzzy Pup making sure the puppy knew he was older and in charge in a very gentle way, and the other half of which was the pup trying to climb into my lap, and I knew he was coming home with us. 


He was lively, and bouncy, and full of puppiness... which was exactly what I thought Fuzzy Pup needed to pull him out of his funk and bring him back to the land of the living. Then on the way home, we stopped at the Old Homestead because Farmmom demanded to meet her new Granddog... and I discovered that while he may be very emphatically My Dog, the puppy was not a Farm Dog by any means. He was terrified of Farmmom and Farmdad, and I would eventually figure out, of everyone who was not me. Eventually we found a couple of people that he was ok with, sort of and we discovered that the car is a better introduction place than anywhere else. But that was later. 



For the moment I was working with him and trying to belatedly socialize a three month old pup that had been in the pound since he was a month old. I eventually gave up on any idea of him being a friendly dog... I would settle for him not injuring himself trying to run away from situations and hitting the end of the leash full speed. He got better at trusting me, and I got better at figuring out what was likely to trigger him, and we made progress. Teeny tiny baby steps of progress, but we made progress. 




Then in early 2021, Farmdad died. Another sudden, unexpected loss. Compounded by the fact that even at 36 years old I didn't know how to function in a world that didn't contain my dad. I guess it doesn't matter how old you are when it happens, you never know how to do it until you have to. 

I thought I had dodged the new dog thing, having identified the coping mechanism (not necessarily an unhealthy one, so to speak but uh... not really tenable, long term, if you have more than a couple losses in a decade... and the 2020's have served up entirely too many already) and figured I could satisfy both the urge to get a dog, which hadn't gone away for a few months, and the knowledge that I did not need another dog, by saying "let me know if they don't all find homes" to a litter of pitbull puppies from a dumped momma dog. They were freakin adorable, there was no way they wouldn't all find homes. In the mean time, Scaredy Dog had continued to adjust to the world by dint of not having a choice... he wouldn't accept food from anyone but me, so if I went places, he had to go too.

Then I got a call, "Come get your dog."

The universe, or Farmdad's disembodied spirit, or something, was looking out for me. If I had tried to choose the perfect dog for me out of that litter, I could not have done as well. I did not know how much I needed that last, unclaimed puppy, with the brown spots on his shoulder and tail, and the crooked tail from being born breech and having to be pulled. I did not know how much Scaredy Dog needed him. And I did not know how much I would appreciate the fact that he would have the benefit of Fuzzy Pup's example. 

Even at eight weeks old, that pup was nearly fearless, and he knew already that Scaredy Pup wasn't. He was about three months old when he started meat shielding for Scaredy Pup. Wubba (one of his actual nicknames) would put himself forward when rude people wanted to pet strange dogs, and let Scaredy Pup hang out in "place" between my feet, where he felt safe and I could explain that the brown one is Not Friendly. 

Between Wubba's assistance with interposing himself between Scaredy Pup and the world, and his example of approaching the world with a curious mind instead of a frightened one, we made more progress with Scaredy Pup. More slow, slow progress. 



Let me tell you, I have learned more in the last three years about training dogs than I ever knew before. I had never had a collie type dog before, or a dog that was just fearful of the world. I had had people tell me that they wanted me to train their next dog, before, when they had met FarmDog or Fuzzy Pup... and when Scaredy Pup came into my life I thought I was pretty knowledgeable, in a general sense. I knew I couldn't train a perfect bird dog on the first try, and I didn't even want to try to tackle a herding dog, but I felt like I knew what I was doing with household pet dogs. Early on I thought I might have just forgotten what puppies were like... it had been over a decade, after all. Then I figured out that he was just unique in my experience. I learned to use new tools for his own safety, I researched, I put hours of work into just getting him to Chill. Out.


I couldn't do it. Not to the level that I wasn't still concerned that he was going to have a heart attack in four years. So I asked my vet for medication. And that has helped... the medication with more work, and nothing awful happening, has helped more. 

 After three and a half years, last year Farmmom finally got to see Scaredy Pup play. She finally got him to take food from her hand. She has gone on the majority of trips with us, and in the car he would take treats, and limited affection when I was driving, but if she was facing him, he noped out. 

Last October I nearly cried when Wubba and Scaredy Pup were wrestling on a visit to the Old Homestead with some of the Blogorado attendees there.


Wubba showed me that I wasn't as big of a failure as I sometimes felt, when Scaredy Pup would have a meltdown in a place that I couldn't stop and work him through it... when I had to just choke up on the leash and march him out of the area, or stick him in a corner and finish what I was doing at arm's length. Wubba reminded me why I love pibbles. Wubba and Scaredy Pup together helped patch my heart when Fuzzy Pup left me too.

Wubba and Scaredy Pup have come on every trip I've gone on since I got them. They are quite familiar with riding in the car, and hotels. As a matter of fact, they have their own suitcase, a nifty little travel bag that came with food bags and wheels, and lots of pockets. However, given that they are now 70+ and 80+ pounds I'm considering upgrading their bag to a carry on size and investing in one of the larger dog food transport bags intended for week long camping trips.... The current bag is limited when it comes to trips any longer than three days. 

They also have a cooling solution for the car, when I have to take them but can't kennel them in a hotel room on warm days. That one was spendy, but well worth it.

Wubba has had some solo adventures too, to keep him from picking up Scaredy Pup's attitudes. He had a grand time playing with children at little league baseball, even if he was sad that I wouldn't let him chase the ball. (Unlike FarmDog, Wubba has zero interest in fetch. Chasing the thrown thing is fun. Knocking the thrown thing around is fun. Picking it up and bringing it back? Not so much. Scaredy Pup is my fetch dog, and he's not nearly as fanatic about it as FarmDog was.)

 I don't think I can live without a dog. I'm pretty sure the universe won't let me, not for long, but hopefully I have a long, long time before I have to face the prospect again.  Before I have to live without these faces in my life.