Dogs have been a big part of my life. This is what will likely be the first of many posts on dogs from time to time.
“My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.” ~ Elayne Boosler.
It was a few months after our Gordon Setter, Rainey was put to sleep that my former co-worker, Craig called me from Chicago. We talked business for a while and then the conversation turned to dogs. “Are you going to get another dog?
“I don’t know Craig. Part of me doesn’t want to go through the pain again in 10 years. Part of me says maybe, just maybe, I have one more dog left in me.”
“You should. Dogs add so much to our lives.”
Rainey was gone and the house often seemed as hollow as a rotted out log, particularly in winter when she would curl up on her dog bed in front of a fire. There were no fires that winter after Rainey left us. I just couldn’t. Why build a fire when most of its warmth is no longer there?
Still, Craig’s words kept coming back to me, “Dogs add so much to our lives.”
It was early February, nearly a year and a half since we’d lost Rainey, that I talked Cora into going to the dog show at the Cow Palace, south of San Francisco. We strolled around and looked at the dogs. By now I was leaning towards that last dog that I had in me. Cora, not so much. Author Bruce Cameron summed it up, “When you adopt a dog, you have a lot of very good days and one very bad day.” The wound that Cora suffered on that one very bad day, Rainey’s last, still ached.
“Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way.” ~ Carolyn Knapp
We’d had two Gordon Setters. A Gordon is a hell of a lot of dog. They’re up there on the exuberance meter, maybe too up there at our age I thought. I got some contact information about English Setters; a little smaller than Gordons and a little less spirited. An English Setter would be hard to come by. If we wanted one we would have to decide to find one soon.
By now I was actively lobbying for a dog but Cora remained noncommittal. It was about this time that I got a call from my friend Laurie who we’d gotten Rainey from. “We’re going to have puppies. Are you interested?” These would be Gordons. I balked and told her that I was thinking in terms of an English. I heard from her again on a Facebook post. Did I want a puppy from the litter? “No pressure.”
Okay now I started to lobby Cora hard. I was the kid badgering the parents. “Can we get a dog? I promise I’ll take care of it. Oh please?” Little did Cora know that I was already making a list of names for the puppy she hadn’t yet agreed to.
I guess it was around April that we’d agreed to get a puppy from Laurie. I contacted her and told her that we wanted a female if available but we couldn’t take ownership until we got back from our vacation in the South. That would be fine, the puppies wouldn’t be ready to go to their new home until June when they would be 12 weeks old. It was late May when Cora and I were on vacation and visiting the Jack Daniels’ distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee that we consummated the deal on a long distance call. I promise, I was sober when I did it. Now all that was left was to decide on a name from the list that I’d put together months before.
Laurie took the long drive from Ukiah, California with our new puppy on Saturday, June 17th, 2017. I remember that date because it was the day before Father’s Day. I brought her in the house, sat on the floor with the squirmy 12 week old and let her bathe me in puppy kisses. Cora said, let’s call her Lexi. Lexi it was.
Lexi is my dog. No, not Lexi is my dog, Lexi is MY dog. That’s not to say that I’m being selfish or possessive. It’s just the way things worked out. I try to make Lexi my everywhere companion. Of course there are walks and trips to the dog park but even if I’m just running an errand she gets to go along for the ride as long as I can either take her in the store with me or its safe to leave her in the backseat of my truck.
As I drive she pokes her nose between the front seats and looks up at me, occasionally bumping me with her nose or she looks out the little rear window hatch at the world, entertaining people in the car behind us. A nice morning might find us at the outdoor tables at one of the local coffee joints where I’ll write or read and she’ll entertain the passersby. One morning I was having having coffee at an outdoor table with Lexi at my feet. A woman nearby seemed to be staring at us and finally said to me, “Your dog is always looking up at you. She must adore you.” I smiled and thanked her and found myself tearing up a bit.
For Cora it’s fine that Lexi is my dog. Our previous dog, Rainey was in many respects Cora’s dog. She took Rainey to work nearly every day. I was the one that got up at 4:30 in the AM to take Rainey for a walk or a run but most of Rainey’s waking hours were spent curled up under Cora’s desk at Clif Bar, one of those great companies that encourages bringing dogs to work. Maybe Cora is fighting to keep from getting too attached trying, in vain, to build up an immunity for that one very bad day.
Here’s the thing with dogs. We write somebody a check, sign some papers and promise to be good owners and we walk away holding a squirmy pup and the ridiculous notion that we own the dog. We actually have it all wrong you know, because a short time later we find that somewhere along the line they’ve taken possession of our hearts. They own us – heart and soul. That day before Father’s Day, it was the puppy kisses that transferred the ownership.
The following winter I once again built a fire in the fireplace. Lexi didn’t know quite what to make of it then. I guess I was a little disappointed that she didn’t take to it like Rainey. Give it time. Last week I sat out on the patio on a cool October evening and built a fire in the fire pit. My friend Scott and I sat in the wicker couches talking in the dim light of the fire and at some point I looked to my right and there was Lexi, snug and comfy on the couch enjoying the fire.
Over the months we rediscovered that yes a Gordon can be a hell of a lot of dog. To say that Lexi is excitable is as much understatement as calling Everest a hill. It was during that first summer that Cora gave up trying to grow vegetables. Lexi had dug up all the plants – and had fun doing it. Later we found that socks are to be treated like hundred dollar bills. You don’t leave them sitting around. Lexi has so far thrown up two, meaning we’ve dodged two massive vet bills. Oh and there was the birthday cake that my daughter Jessica was baking. From the kitchen we heard a scream, “Lexi!!!”, followed by a crash. We ended up with 2 thirds of what should have been a 3 layer cake. And how can we forget that Lexi’s chewed up two of Cora’s rosaries which might mean she’s doomed to a future of fire and brimstone but I personally think that God grants dogs a special pass through the pearly gates.
There was a time about a year ago when it looked like Lexi was going to play and romp and chew and dig herself right out of our household. I made a call to Laurie and explained that Lexi might be more than we bargained for. She’s our third Gordon but she was out Gordoning both Phantom and Rainey in the high energy department.
Laurie urged me to wait it out for a few more months and Lexi should calm down a bit. In truth I don’t think that I ever would have given Lexi up. I guess I just needed Laurie to talk me off the ledge which she did and sure enough there was some calming, just as Laurie predicted. That’s not to say that her motor isn’t still high octane. She does seem to have the vet bamboozled though. Both vet and tech always remark how “dainty” and “gentle” she is. I guess she’s learned that you don’t piss off the people who wield the needles.
At times it seems that someone has kidnapped our dog and replaced her with a maniac in a dog suit. Jessica once deemed her to be psychotic and the trainer at the Oakland Dog Training Club said that Lexi “has the attention span of a gnat.” In fact there was the one day when we were kicked out class for being disruptive. She had to go out to the parking lot for special ed. (She’s since become almost a model student but when something distracts her she can sometimes be a mess for the rest of the session.). I’ve learned that with dogs patience, perseverance and training are all required virtues. If you don’t have any of those then maybe a goldfish would be a better choice.
The magic date when the amperage is supposed to come down closer to “normal dog” is in theory about 2 years. That’s 4 months away. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. Right now she’s a challenge and she fills the the home with maniacal fun and whackiness and sometimes exasperation. I know that it would be nice to feel confident that I can go upstairs and not come back to find her feasting on a roast that was left on the kitchen counter or not find a trail of garbage leading from the wastebasket under the sink to Lexi lounging like a princess on a couch in the living room grazing on a grapefruit peel. I’m waiting for the day when I’ll see her gorging herself on 30 pounds of dog food in the laundry room (she’s learned how to open the bin with her nose and it’s just a matter of time before she learns to tip the bin over). But I also know that each stage of maturity marks a little less time. I still know that there is one very bad day in our future.
It was on a recent warm autumn afternoon when Lexi and I went to a shoreline park in nearby Pinole. There’s a lone bench on a little spit that juts out into the San Pablo Bay. I read for awhile and Lexi watched the waves and the shorebirds. It brought me back to an essay written by author and professor Patricia B. McConnell titled Love is Never Having to Say Anything at All. At the end of her essay she writes,
“I do know that some of my happiest times are when Luke (her dog) and I sit silently together, overlooking the green rolling hills of Southern Wisconsin. Our lack of language doesn’t get in they way, but creates an opening for something else, something deep and pure and good. We dog lovers share a kind of Zen-like communion with our dogs, uncluttered by nouns and verbs and dangling participles. This connection speaks to a part of us that needs to be nurtured and listened to, but that is so often drowned out in the cacophony of speech. Dogs remind us that we are being heard, without the additional weight of words. What a gift. No wonder we love them so much.” (Love is Never Having to Say Anything at All, copyright 2003 by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD.)
Lexi brings a smile when she’s at either end of her emotional spectrum. I envy that seemingly boundless, unapologetic joy when she’s romping in the dog park and wonder what it must be like to have so much energy and I feel a spiritual peace when we sit as we did by the bay on that autumn afternoon with only the sounds of shore birds and the lapping of the water.
“Dogs add so much to our lives.” Lexi brings these words to life every day.