Sunday, November 16, 2008

Half a Lifetime of Dogs


Three decades of dogs on one bed: Pepper, Noodle, Cayenne, Tuffy and Jenny.

If you read last night's entry, the picture above probably looks a little familiar to you. I did a version of it last night for the Round Robin Photo Challenge, compositing Tuffy into a photo of Pepper and Cayenne on the bed. For that one I tried to comply with the Challenge's concept, which was to match up parts of two photos into something that almost, but not quite, looks like one picture. Even at that I fudged things a bit. Tonight I thought I'd make another pass at the composite image, this time using the tools in my cheap photo editing program to really make it look like the dogs are sharing the bed. And while I'm at it, I'd like to tell you about each of these wonderful dogs. But first, an introduction:

My dad was very allergic to dogs, and I was somewhat allergic myself, but that didn't stop me from being absolutely dog-crazy. I had a poster of AKC breeds on my bedroom wall, and my favorite nonfiction book was called Dogs Dogs Dogs Dogs Dogs. My childhood dream was to be a dog breeder, and breed Pomeranians back up to sled dog size. When my mom took us on a tour of Europe when I was 15, my brother Steve teased me that I went all the way to Europe to pet dogs. For many years I used to look at the price of AKC collie puppies in the classifieds ($75 to $80).

But I couldn't have a dog, all those years growing up in DeWitt and then Manlius, NY. When I started college at Syracuse University in 1975, I lived off campus for a semester, and after that I was in University housing, where no pets were allowed, through my junior year. I did sneak my tropical fish in for a semester before turning them over to someone else (my brother, I think), and later I had a gerbil named Eowyn, who escaped from her case on a regular basis and ate my prom dress. But these lesser pets did little to assuage my need for a dog.

Princess Guinevere of Westcott Street, a.k.a. Jenny Dog (front row, left) was my first dog ever. It was 1978. I had just started my senior year at Syracuse, and moved into a rooming house on Westcott Street, which belonged to my ex-boyfriend Bob (long story). Bob's live-in girlfriend Cathy had a rather spectacularly unattractive black, curly-haired mutt, which had given birth to four puppies that August. I first saw the puppies at Bob's house. Two of them were black like their mother, and two were black and brown and beautiful. Bob called the two-tone puppies Gillie (as in Doby Gillis) and Princess. A week or two later, Bob arrived at my door with Princess hidden under his jacket, and gave her to me. I promptly renamed her.

Jenny went to class with me sometimes as a puppy. She would follow for a while on the leash, and then get tired and sit, and then I would carry her until she squirmed to get down. It was something like a twenty minute walk to my classes. I had a part time job reading textbooks to a blind grad student named Liz, who loved Jenny and said she resembled a lion with her mane of long hair. Several times that winter I let her outside without a leash, but Jenny soon started taking off and going to see Liz a mile away.

But she was smart and loving, and usually obedient. In 1979 I married John and moved to Columbus, Ohio, where we owned a rock and roll store for a couple of years. Jenny stayed in the store with me, never trying to get out as people came and went. She learned to respond to whistles based on the cadence and pitch of spoken commands, such as Jenny Up! The whistled version of Jenny Dog! is still used by John and myself sometimes to find each other in public places. She loved to play with balloons, which we put in her stocking at Christmas, and she liked to fetch sticks. In 1986 she traveled the country with us on a mattress in the back of the van. But she became ill about a year later, with Cushing's disease. Even with medicine, it got harder and harder to get her to eat. One day she stopped drinking water, and could barely stand. I knew it was the end for her. The vet said she had metastacized cancer. John was out of town at the time, and I had to make the decision alone. I hired a handyman to dig her grave in the desert behind our back yard. I wrote on her stone, "Best Dog in the World." And she was.

I briefly had a second puppy in the spring of 1979, Wafer, short for Wayfarer. She turned up at my door on her own, a cute, unhousebroken black Labrador retriever puppy. One Sunday morning Wafer and Jenny both started barking, alerting me that the building was on fire! We got out, and the fire never reached my apartment. But two puppies in a one room apartment was one too many. I sorrowfully turned Wafer over to the local Humane Association, where (so they told me) she was promptly adopted.

Noodle was a pound dog, listed as seven months old and a "mixed Spitz." I always thought she was a Samoyed / Golden Retriever cross. She was a bit of a dumb dog, nowhere near as smart as Jenny but every bit as affectionate. Her one talent was for getting at any food that wasn't secured behind an impenetrable door. More than once she ate an entire loaf of bread off the counter, when the bread seemed well out of reach. We had to add a lock to the folding doors enclosing the trash. She never learned to fetch, didn't like balloons, and suffered from arthritis and dementia toward the end of her long life. But she was a good dog.

Tuffy Toro was next. As far as we could figure out, she went from her mother's side to someone's home, on to a shelter, into someone else's home, into yet another home and then into our home, all by the time she was six or seven weeks old. She was part chow, timid and skittish, but considerably smarter than Noodle. Her first few days with us, she chewed up two couches and a strip of wallpaper. John was furious, but did the right thing: we paid for a dog trainer, Karyn Garvin, to help us teach her.

Tuffy never got over barking and running away when anyone came over, but she eventually did reasonably well outside the house, such as at church for the Feast of St. Francis. She didn't have much contact with other dogs except for Noodle early on, and Pepper at the very end. She was not the most affectionate dog in the world, but would greet us when we came home, and liked to check up on us. She was very good about posing for my camera.

In September 2007, Tuffy was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, basically cancer of the tongue. We spent thousands of dollars on surgery and palliative radiation treatments, but that bought her less than a year before the cancer spread and she started to suffer. She died on August 1, 2008.

Pepper was my birthday present in March of this year. Like Tuffy, she's part chow. I'm guessing she's also part border collie. I found her on Petfinder.com. She had been on the verge of euthanasia at Pima County Animal Control along with her litter of puppies, because nobody wants to adopt a whole litter. A group called SAFE (Saving Animals From Euthanasia) rescued her, and fostered her and her puppies until the latter were weaned.

In her initial vet appointment, Dr. L. estimated that Pepper was three or four years old, which is considerably older than SAFE listed her as being. John thinks she's older still. She's a little skittish and standoffish, much like Tuffy, and doesn't like to look us in the eye; but she's getting better. She's stubborn and not very obedient - but again, she's getting better. When she's not hanging out a few feet away from me, she's in the back yard waiting to bark at cats. In the dog park she likes to chase and bark at some of the larger dogs, including a St. Bernard!

Cayenne, affectionately known as Cay-Cay (rhymes with "bye bye"), is our newest dog. I figure she's an Irish Setter/Greyhound cross, or something along those lines. We adopted her on August 2nd, the day after we lost Tuffy to cancer. She was at the Humane Society, with a similar story to Pepper's - she had recently had puppies, and a volunteer had fostered her and the puppies. She has a scar next to one eye. I suspect abuse. She was way too thin when we got her. The fact sheet on her said that she "almost ate a guinea pig."

She is a bouncy, affectionate show-off, eager to please and rather needy. Like Pepper she loves the dog park, and loves chasing other dogs. When she gets excited at home, she tries to get Pepper to play with her. Sometimes it even works! And I love her to pieces.

Karen

4 comments:

Astaryth said...

The Furbabies always seem to take a piece of our heat that always will belong to them. AND, each is special and a Good Dog in their own way!

just me said...

What a beautiful tribute to each of your dogs.
I can understand you saying you needed to get a dog. Thats how I felt too, now I have Sidney.
Barbara

Jama said...

You forgot to make room for yourself on the bed! LOL

Florinda said...

This was a great tribute to all of your canine companions. Noodle sounds a lot like my dog Gypsy personality-wise, although Pepper and Cayenne's stories are more like hers.

I think the only way you could possibly get five good-sized dogs to share a bed peacefully is in a composite photo :-)!