Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Eternal Puppy

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

I remember the moment I became a 'dog person' (as opposed to someone who just liked dogs a lot, and as the saying goes "had dogs as a kid") as clearly as if it had just happened. It was not planned--by me. My frequently drunken but kindly building superintendant, unbeknownst to me, had taken in a stray mixed-breed female, heavy with pup. My devil-may-care Irish immigrant roommate, unbeknownst to me, had seen the tiny squirming wormbags of unknown ancestry in the basement, and decided a dog would be just the thing--he asked one be sent up as soon as they were ready to leave their mom. The super's wife, unbeknownst to me, decided their hospitality had its limits, and that four weeks was quite old enough to sever the maternal bond (which reportedly was none too strong to begin with), and gave all the pretty little dickens and their dam away, post haste.

I'm at home, trying to figure out what to do with my life, such as it is, and the doorbell rings. When I open the door, completely out of the loop regarding the arrangement that had been made in my absence, the super's wife is there with her two little children, who screech joyously "WE'VE GOT YOUR PUPPYYYYYY!!!"

And what is that tiny confused frightened ball of fur in their mother's hands? That, dear reader, is Peggy. And I wouldn't be typing these words now if it wasn't for her. I wouldn't be doing any number of things I'm doing now if it wasn't for her. I'd be off in a completely different dimension of existence, different friends, different interests, and maybe blogging about--damn, I have no idea. Literally none. Puppies change everything. This is their purpose in life. To turn yours upside-down.

Too young. Four weeks was much too young, of course. Peggy should have had at least another month, preferably more, with her original family. Not just to nurse from her mother (in truth, her health and general vigor could probably not have been much improved upon by a few more weeks at mommy's teat), but to learn the lessons of canid etiquette, how to behave in the company of her own kind--and how to love and respect them.

Lessons she never did learn, to my lasting regret. She imprinted quickly upon me and my roommate, stumbled frantically after us from room to room, always underfoot, yapping piteously, and only really settling down when one of us picked her up and held her against a warm human chest, so she could feel a heartbeat. And we could feel hers. Imprinting works both ways, you know. You know that type of dog people will tell you doesn't know he or she is a dog? I'm not sure I quite entirely believe that, but if there ever was such a dog....

She seemed listless and weak the first few nights, as puppies very often do when they come to a new home. She wailed miserably when left in another room. Even though though I was still exasperated that my roommate had thrust this responsibility into our already busy lives without so much as a by-your-leave, I told him I was going to let her sleep with me, in my bed--for just a few nights.

(You've heard this story already, haven't you? A few nights turned into about ten years, the odd few interruptions notwithstanding.)

He looked at me quizzically as I told him this, and remarked "You're starting to love this one a lot, aren't you?" Farmer's kid, you know. They don't let themselves get attached so easily. But it was him who named her. And it was me who kept her, when we parted ways. We lost touch with each other completely before long, so I never got to tell him of her passing. For all he knows, she's still alive, though she'd be very old now. I bet he wonders, now and again, though he's got pups of his own to worry about. She wasn't the kind of dog you forget. Actually, I've never met that kind, have you?

And that's enough about Peggy for now. I didn't mean to be writing about her (again), but last Wednesday, we had the privilege of heading over to our neighbor's apartment, to see nine lovely Labrador Retriever puppies, almost exactly four weeks of age--three chocolate, like their mother, three yellow like their father, and three black like--well, the canine genome is a complex subject. More complex than the human genome, in fact.



When you live in a big city, you don't often get to see puppies that age. It brought back memories. As did all the newspapers scattered around on the floor.

Hopefully these puppies will find homes worthy of them. And unlike Peggy, they'll have remained with their mother for the proper period of time, learning invaluable lessons from both her and each other about how to behave, and how NOT to behave--and most importantly of all, how to have fun with other dogs.

They didn't get to learn much from Leo, though. Reportedly, when he was brought around to view his progeny, he mainly just stood there looked baffled about where all these yipping little hairballs surrounding him had come from. But he sniffed them with great interest, and it's possible he had a glimmering of his and Kona's accomplishment (even if Kona did all the real work).

PS: So why the oddly metaphysical post header? Well, on the way over to see Kona's puppies, we ran into our dear friend Dallas, and his dear friend Gloria. Dallas is another of Max's first friends in the neighborhood--when I wasn't sure which dogs were safe to introduce him to in the early weeks, I knew I could always trust Dallas to give him a warm greeting, and reassure him that he was welcome here. As Gloria puts it, he loves everyone and everything, regardless of species, and I greatly doubt there has ever been a living soul with less ill will in him, or more bonhomie--and I include Buddha, Gandhi, and Will Rogers in that assessment (Jesus could get a little tetchy sometimes).

Still, at 12 years of age, Dallas is a Golden Retriever in his golden years, and you wouldn't think there could be any puppy left in him.

But look at the sheer joy radiating from that face.

Dallas doesn't think of himself as old, let alone infirm. He doesn't worry about what's coming next. He's slow and stiff and he can't even make it down the stairs unaided anymore. And he's loving every moment of his life, and everything and everybody in it. Because he knows, as he's always known, that he is loved, forever. And that's what keeps the puppy alive within the grown dog.

And whether you plan your next adoption all out in advance (as you certainly should), or just have a squirming ball of fur thrust into your hands without warning (as you certainly might), the question for you is not so much "Am I ready?" (nobody ever is), but rather whether you can go on seeing and loving the inner puppy, when the outer puppy has lost all his adorable awkwardness and infantile appeal, and become a grown dog--with the needs of a grown dog, and eventually, an old dog. But still, deep down inside, the eternal soul of a puppy. Your puppy. Not a plaything to be outgrown, but a companion, to be reared, lived with, tended to--and all too soon, mourned.

And I can still feel Peggy's heart, beating wildly against my chest. And my five year old puppy (who I met for the first time last December) is lying on the rug beside my desk, patiently waiting for me to finish typing this godawful schmaltz. He thumps his tail now and again, and sighs heavily, just to remind me he's there. I know, Max. I know.

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