Sporty And Shorty4/26/15
Ah, youth, fleeting and feckless. When I was young, footloose and slightly insane, I married me a wild and crazy blues mama and we set out to see the world. That story has been told, interminably and well. But in the midst of that epic dissolution, we managed to stay grounded long enough to acquire a cat, which then accompanied us on the next two or was it three? rounds of road-warriorhood across the width and breadth of the land. She birthed two adorable kittens at a motel gig in Spokane and we were insane enough to keep them as well. Three cats, two humans, one van, one trailer, and a considerable amount of snuggle.
The process of pet collection seems straightforward enough, but the politics are slightly more subterranean. I was never the one who initiated the acquisition of furblobs of dependency, nor did I take primary care of them. I didn't feel competent to take on the responsibility. I was, however, more than happy to assist in whatever ways I could, from cleaning litter boxes to climbing a 7 story Alaska cedar in rescue mode. And in return I got, well, cats. Loving, vicious little travel mates and lapmats. And I was content.
The fun came to an abrupt end in the early 90's when the mother cat had the temerity to take indefinite leave in the redwood country above Santa Cruz. Soon after, an infestation of fleas forced us to farm out the offspring. We were left two, bereft underfoot, devastated and, secretly, slightly relieved.
We moved into my present lodgings (the compound formerly know as Chickadee Glen, now Chickadee Gulch, for reasons best left as another story) in the glorious year of our Clinton 1997, a confident time when Internet startups still had tinges of integrity and banks extended credit to feckless ne'er-do-wells like me. Our sojourn here was a time of incessant reconstruction and reimagination, but in all the years I lived here with my sweet late wifie, we never extended our hospitality to include pets beyond tropical fish and the birds we lured to the feeder. No cats, no dogs. Any discussion of the topic immediately led back to the inescapable fact that, no matter whose pets they were, my wife's infirmities guaranteed that I'd be the one in charge of them. And I still didn't think I had the skills. It was responsibility enough caring for my wheelchair-bound beloved without throwing unpredictable housecritters into the mix.
My resistance to pets only increased after her passing, despite my knowing the dangers of widowerhood and the value of commensal companions. But I didn't want to just hide out either. Consequently, I took drastic steps to change at least some of my habits, which led to my meeting, greeting, courting and marrying my present wife Ada.
And wouldn't you know it, she came with a dog.
Ada, I would joke, was so quintessential a catch that I must have forgotten putting an ad in the cosmic craigslist: "Older, secure, generous man seeks hot younger yoga instructor with red convertible. Please send picture of red convertible." Somehow I also forgot the part that said "Pets welcome." I was skeptical about her greyhound, Baby, at first, but once again, she was willing to walk point on the matter, and I reasoned that as long as I wasn't especially put out, why the heck not?
Of course, it worked out fine. Ada's world had turned upside down at around the same time as mine, and having her canine bosom buddy around was a comfort. Also, as a certified mommy and bubbe, her pronounced nurturing proclivity needed an extra outlet. Plus, Dog helped ease the inevitable post-honeymoon adjustment period and gave us a common focal point not centered on either bed or breakfast. With practice, I became quite fond of the skinny, funny-looking, innately-loveable animal with the World's Softest Ears, coathanger-wire tail and a penchant for squeaky toys and madly dashing about any space large enough to encompass her speed. Besides, she was a great subject for Yule cards.
Dragons live forever but not so skinny greyhounds. Over several years, Baby went from blithe and lively to increasingly creaky and sedentary, losing her sight and full control over her bladder. Her daily walks grew shorter even as her meds regimen increased, her toys languished unchewed, but she remained as sweet and gentle as ever, and we did our best to maintain her quality of life while awaiting the inevitable outcome.
From the onset of Baby's lamentable decline, Ada had suggested adding a younger dog to the pack, as a companion for both of them. My inevitable response was as the low-thermostat spouse, pointing out pet expenses we'd already incurred that threatened our balance of exchequer and questioning the wisdom of potentially invoking even more. At one point we even went to the greyhound rescue ranch to look at potential stable mates. Baby, skittish under the best conditions around many dogs, made it assuredly clear that she wasn't interested.
And then, Ada had a dream, a dream of riding a bicycle with a basket, and in the basket a little dog. A dream so compelling that the next morning she went on the Humane Society website, only to find her dream dog prominently displayed among the adoptables. Can't argue with that. In no time at all, it seemed, we were possessed of a small 8-year-old mophead Lhasa mix with a winning underbite and a propensity (we discovered too late) for nipping. Ada named her Dorothy, just for grins.
At first, Dorothy was ostensibly Ada's dog. They went riding in the bike-and-basket manner, just a girl and her buddy out cruising Alki, delighting all and sundry. Dorothy also got along agreeably with Baby, the two of them sharing the greyhound-sized bed until Baby's passing.
But almost immediately, something weird happened: Dorothy became possessed of the notion that I was to be her special person.
Laugh if you will. I'd never in my life experienced the unabashed, pedal-to-the-metal adoration that is Dog Love. I would lie on the bean chair and she would come running, running over and jump on my lap. She didn't do that for Ada. Ada was briefly jealous before becoming highly amused at my seeming transformation from gruff old dog tolerator to mommy-talking kitchy-koo artist. This warm, furry, crotchety old creature who loved to play tag and so trustingly presented her belly to me had found a soft spot in my emotional armor and rammed a lance through and through. How helpless we are in the face of flattery.
Having thus weakened my resolve, Ada then managed, after a respectful period of mourning, to talk me into another greyhound. We scored a fawn ex-runner (150 races! even won a few!) who introduced herself by leaping into Ada's lap and giving her a nose-kiss. After some discussion, she was dubbed Little Miss Sunshine (Sunny to her friends, her friends consisting of the entire known world of humans and dogs). And she was definitely Mommy's Girl.
So here we are, double-dogged, Tall Dog and Small Dog, Sporty and Shorty. Lotsa walks and play and snuggling and scritches. From what I hear, pet ownership lengthens your lifespan. At the very least, as my pal Gary Kanter put it in song, Life Goes Better With A Dog. Or two.