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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

First Dogs

Today, a friend of mine was sharing  heartbreak of the apparent imminent demise of a beloved dog.
When people know you are a “dog-person”, they frequently share their concerns, joys, and frustrations with you. Which is fine.  You are somewhat of a canine oriented  Obi Wan Kenobi.

Our conversation got me to thinking about all the dogs who have padded their way through Lovely Bride’s and my lives. This in turn got me thinking about that unique creature; “the first dog.”

During the course of a lifetime, you will probably own a dog.  It is safe to assume if you had more than one dog, you have therefore possessed your “first dog”.

Within the realm of logic, higher math, and marriage statistics, this would be correct. Within the realm of dog ownership, such an assumption is utterly and patently false. In the mysterious dog universe, the laws of logic and reason cease to exist.

As we shall see, there are many “firsts”….

Recall your childhood and that lumbering, slobbering four-legged terror that cohabitated your parent’s home with you?  You may be tempted to refer to the beast as “your first dog”.  HA!  Nothing can be further from the truth! This creature, (selected by your parents with the intention of being “your dog”) was no more “yours” than are Prince Charles’s polo ponies. Unless you happen to be Prince Charles in which case the polo ponies are yours.

But I digress.

The dog viewed you with a rather aloof, “don’t-bother-me-kid” attitude. From the
canine’s point of view, Mom and Dad were the true pack-leaders. The dog was next on the
organization chart. You, dear reader, were a lower ranking, smelly, obnoxious, noisy pack mate. As a result of this philosophy, the arrogant, stuck-up animal pretty much completely ignored you.

As time passes, you find yourself gazing out the window, beholding the beauty of Creation.
You muse:  “Gee, I’d like to get a hunting dog.”, or “a sled dog”, or “a conformation dog”
or “ a semi-intelligent dog”. You carefully consider all the options. Do you rescue a dog?
Do you contact breeders?  Make a visit to the local shelter? 

Finally you make your choice. You take the plunge. You get a dog. Sometimes, in a weak moment, you may decide to get a hunting, sled-pulling, breed ring, agility dog… all in the same dog!  The difficult part is finding a really good bird dog that can also run in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Since you picked her out, brought her home, convinced your spouse you would care for her, this is your “first dog”. Congratulations!  You now get to feed, groom, walk, drive to the vet, pay the vet, and clean up after her.

Why do you do this? Is it to fulfill the deep-seated need to nurture? Is it the innate human desire to bond with another creature? The answer is quite simple:   Mom and Dad are not around to do this all for you!

This dog must certainly be “Dog Number 2”, correct?  Wrong! 

This is your first, pure-bred-with-a lineage-going-back-to-Moses- kennel-club-registered-sire-and-dam with-an-alphabet-before-and-behind-their-names-CH-CD-UDX-LlD-PhD-dog.  The cost of this dog is roughly the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a really good Ivy League university. And you co-own the critter!

This is the puppy you cradle in your arms, feeling that indescribably soft fur against your chin and cheeks. You deeply inhale that sweet, primal puppy aroma. This is the dog who nuzzles under your earlobe communicating with that little puppy “murf-murf” sound which captivates your heart.

This is a little life, totally dependent upon you to care for. You are only beginning to realize the treasures you are about to reap in return.

This is the dog that truly tests the fabric of your marriage. The dog who blissfully shreds your wife’s carefully, lovingly, expensively preserved wedding gown. The gown she envisioned seeing a grand-daughter walking  down the aisle in one day.

 This is the dog who gleefully transforms the geranium bed into its private latrine. This is the dog whom you  permit to sleep in bed with you. Under the covers, in fact.

Regardless of the day you have had, the mess you may have made of your life, this is the dog who enthusiastically welcomes you home, tail thumping and eyes agleam with delight at your return. This is the same dog who is content to lie by your side for hours as you simply sit, asking only a gentle caress of the head or ear.

This dog will introduce you to the exciting, rewarding, and eminently just world of dog shows and trials. As this topic is far too broad (and painful) the writer will address it later. Much much later;  probably never.

This first dog will drive you to second-mortgage the farm. Everything you use is specialized, made to exacting standards for your dog’s particular needs. Is it bath time? Forget the family shampoo. This dog’s coat only responds to shampoo that costs more per ounce than crude oil.

Dinner time?  Leave the tried and true kibble at the pet supply store. This dog’s delicate system must have free-range chicken, sautéed with organically grown parsley, lightly savored with basil. Remember all this when the canine drags home some four day old road-kill, rolls in it and finally devouring it under the  back deck.  This takes place just before depositing the partially digested mess on the living room floor.

This is the same dog that dashed into traffic to protect your wayward toddler, risking his own life to protect your little one. On a cold, wintry morning, this dog will awaken you to a frigid house, the furnace having malfunctioned, while potentially deadly gas seeped into the home.

When you are not feeling well, this dog will gingerly lie down beside you, resting her chin gently upon your arm. Deep in those eyes you see all the trust, the love, and the limitless bond that exists between humans and our four-legged sidekicks.

Over time, there will be other, all noteworthy first dogs.

There will be that first dog you go a-field with. There will be that first obviously abandoned dog; frightened emaciated, and dehydrated, you take in.
At some time may come the first dog you responsibly breed.  You stay by her side throughout the night, slurping coffee, as her little bundles of fur and love enter the world. The wonder of those little lives is forever captivating, forever engraved upon your memory.

You experience the heart-leaping joy of earning “Champion” on your first dog. Although the scent of dried liver treats never leaves your clothing, it is all worth it when the judge indicates that final “First” to your dog. This thrill is only surpassed by the memory of that very first blue ribbon earned in a long ago Puppy class.

There will be that first, and hopefully last, dog someone else chooses for you. The human/canine bond is such a complex relationship; the adjustment period to a “surprise” dog is not unlike a blind date. Eventually, it all works out.

Inevitably, there comes  that first dog you must mercifully put down. The heaviness of your heart; the searing tears upon your cheeks; the warmth of the soft coat you have nuzzled so many times as you linger over a final caress;  the soul-wrenching  sense of ultimate betrayal as you look into those beautiful, loving eyes for the last time…thankfully, this never becomes easy. If it ever does, we are to be most pitied.

Eventually comes that “first last dog”, the puppy you obtain in your dotage. This is a vain attempt of re-claiming long gone youth, being in the presence of new life. This dog will watch by your side as you grow slow of step, dim of sight, and dull of hearing. This dog will be the one your children or grandchildren take into their home when you enter Golden Acres Care Center.

As you can see, we never have a second, third, or subsequent dog. Only a long, wonderful line of “firsts”

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