Friday, February 16, 2007

Woof - The Dog

It is strange how humans form bonds with lower lifeforms.
I am not speaking of Democrats here.
Rather, I refer to animals who, though capable in unique ways, are less intelligent than most of we humans.

I have had several dogs (and one cat) in my lifetime.
Each of which had special attributes which made them endearing.

When I was about ten, there was Dinah, sister to Dixie, a beagle that had a rather unhappy life because of the small space in which she had to roam – roughly 20 feet by 20 feet – and the emotional neglect from a kid too busy with other bipedal activities.
She was given away after several months to someone who could give her better care and attention.

Next was Duffy, a tan mixed breed (if you can call a mixture a “breed”) with Cocker and Beagle in her.
She spent most of her time in the small backyard of our suburban home.
But occasionally, she was allowed to come into the kitchen, where she liked to sit in a chair, like the people.
She liked to eat a raw carrot, holding it between her paws and chomping off bite-sized pieces until it was all gone.
Ice cubes were a special treat, also.
When I went off into the Army, she was sharing the yard with a desert tortoise and a black and white bunny.

Then, after I married, we acquired a puppy who grew into a medium-sized (mixed) German Shepherd.
His name came from the school kids in Mitchi’s class who suggested we name the dog Sherman Gepherd.
The name stuck.

Living in the country, Sherman had free reign to roam wherever he liked, and did so.
He was joined after a year or two by a small black and white dog we named Little Bitty.
I do not recall where Bitty came from.
The two became best friends and roamed and played and napped together for several years.

Sadly, both came to premature ends.
Sherman acquired the taste for fresh chicken from the neighbors yard, and had to be “put away”.
The way they do that in the rural south is with a bullet.

Bitty got into the habit of chasing the school bus as it went by each afternoon.
One day he miscalculated his trajectory and fell under the rear wheel.
Dog pie.

Then, came Sugar.
Sugar was a solid black mixed Cocker.
Cathi named her.
She was a compliant, mostly quiet dog.
She did not do a lot of barking or jumping on you.

She liked to tag along with me as I puttered around the yard but seemed content just to lay around and observe.
The kids played with her occasionally.
But we were all busy and Sugar was neglected much of the time.
I always talk to my animals and I did so with Sugar.
As with most dogs, she seemed to enjoy the attention and the occasional body scratch that never lasted long enough.

She lived the quiet life for many years.
In her last few seasons, she was hobbled by arthritis and a few small tumors.
And one winter day a realized I had not seen my black dog in several days.
And I smelled something bad.
A brief search found the source and I dragged the body of my dear, departed pooch out into the field behind our house and buried her.
She was a good dog and had lived a reasonably comfortable life.

About mid-way through Sugar’s reign, a gray puppy wandered into our yard one Saturday morning.
He was lost and confused.
He was probably dropped off on the side of the road by his former owner.
That happened often in our neighborhood.

But I already had a dog, I did not want another one.
Mainly because I knew that I did not have the time to devote to giving the proper care and attention I felt another yard animal deserved.
We tried to give him away for several weeks but got no takers.
It seemed that the new dog was going to stay.
And if an animal stays at my house he has to have a proper name.

James Dobson’s daughter wrote a series of books about a dog named Woof several years ago and the name intrigued me.
So I borrowed it.
The new little dog was to be called Woof.
He had a habit of jumping on you to indicate that he was happy to see you.
One whack on the nose and a “no!” and he never jumped on me again.
He was smart.

Woof grew and grew and grew.
And as he grew his short, ratty gray fur changed.
The base color on his face legs tummy and tail became tan.
But he added a black saddle on his back and sides with a streak of silver down the center of his back.
And all of this fur was three inches long or so.
He was a handsome dog.
Woof looked like a wolf.

And in the winter he developed another layer of dense, tan fur under all his other colors.
Thus equipped, he happily slept outside in twenty degree weather with the wind blowing.
Even in the snow.
He would find a pile of leaves, curl up on them and lay his long fluffy tail over his nose and sleep through the night.
One cold winter morning I came out early and quietly and found him still asleep, covered with snow – just like the rest of the yard.
It was only when it rained or the temperature dropped into the teens that he disappeared to I-don’t-know-where to stay warm.

In the spring, this heavy winter coat would fall out in big globs.
Woof required weekly brushing to get rid of the dense piles of down he produced.
He loved these half-hour sessions and I would fill a large trash bag half full of long light-brown hair each time I did it.
Sometimes he would walk around looking like a small, tan Yak.

He did not like to be inside.
I recall him being in the house only once for a few minutes and he was edgy and uncomfortable until he was able to go outside again.
The only time he wanted to come inside was when it thundered.
He did not like thunder.
And in such times, we opened the door to our small airlock back porch and he would lay down next to the freezer and wait out the rumbles.

Woof was my buddy.
Once he had finished his morning constitutional just after sunrise, he was mine.
Once greeted, he was happy to follow me around the yard as I did whatever needed to be done.
I would talk to him constantly.
He patently listened and responded the best he could.

If I was working on my car, he would lay down about six feet away and be available for random acts of petting, scratching and conversation.
If I piddled too quietly for too long, he would rise and nuzzle me to be sure everything was okay between us.
After a few words of endearment and a scratch, he would return to his station of defense and observation.
If I ran the lawnmower or power saw, he would give me more room - forty or fifty feet more.
He did not like loud noises.
Once I picked up on this tendency, I would warn him that I was about to start the saw, and he would rise and trot off.
As with many dogs, he adopted the personality of the family, which was generally loving and quiet, tolerant and low keyed.

Woof had an interesting attribute.
He would never lick you.
He would scoot his nose under your hand to indicate his interest in being petted but he never licked your hand or face.
Unless, of course, you had something yummy on it.

He did not bark a lot.
When he did, he had a big, deep bark.
Occasionally, he would bark at night.
If he did this during the summer, I would get out of bed and go out to where he was and sit with him.
I would ask him what was going on and tell him it was probably okay.
After a minute or two with him, he would settle down and we all went back to sleep.

Woof was a big, sweet dog.
And he was a bit lazy.
When the neighbors would walk by on the road and I was in the house, Woof would lay in the yard and silently watch them go by.
But if I was in the yard and the neighbors walked by, Woof would rise up and bark, as if performing his dogly duty for my protection and approval.
What a big fur muffin.

When I started running, Woof would trot along with me.
It bugged me that I would be huffing and puffing so deeply and he would be trotting along almost bored, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.
But he always seemed eager to go with me.
I clocked him in the car one day at twenty miles-per-hour, so pacing my six and a half mile-per-hour rate was only one quarter of his capacity.

When I left Morgan City, I wanted to take him with me.
I was the only person in the family that ever showed him much attention or fed or watered him.
But I knew that I was going to live in an apartment complex and there was no place for him.
He was an outside dog, he could never stand to be cooped up in a small city yard or apartment.
So I left him in the country where he could roam and be happy.

When I came back to visit him the first time, he looked at me so strangely, as if to say, “Where have you been?”
I will never forget that look.

And now, February 16, 2007, Woof is gone.
The good thing is, dogs (or animals in general) do not anticipate very much.
And certainly not very far into the future.
He did not know about death.
There was no dread on his part.
He just had to deal with the present discomfort of his body shutting down.
Fortunately, it seems he did not suffer very long.
I am thankful for that.

For him, death was just a thing that happened to other creatures.
They stopped moving and it made them smell different for a while.
Then they were gone.
It was just a part of life.

And so it is with Woof.
He is gone after giving many years of affection, pleasure and protection to his adopted family.
And he had some fun along the way, too.
He was my friend.
I will miss him greatly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am assuming that picture was Woof. He was a pretty dog. There is something about country dogs, that don't exist in city dogs. I guess its the idea that they could leave if they wanted to, since much of the time (or maybe all of the time) they are loose. They stay because they want to stay. If you are nice to them, they think, "hey these people are pretty nice, I think I'll hang around." They are your friend because of who you are, and not because of being tied in your back yard.


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