Now Who Gets My Last Corn Flake?

There goes the daily squirrel, passing under the window beyond my desk. He was always at such risk, and knew it: tentative, uncertain, hesitant. Gandy was always watching.

But this morning, as if he knew he no longer had to fear the eyes tracking him from the house, he is casual. He stops on the walkway below the bell post to preen; twitches his tail defiantly; and without fear, covers the distance to the walnut tree for another meal. He will grow older and fatter, after all.

And I have to wonder if the word has spread among the moles—at even greatest risk of discovery that the squirrels–in that uncanny way G-dog always employed to determine where and when to dig.

It had something to do with the ears, but not entirely. A cock of the head, the weight shift onto the trembling hind quarters, and then the pounce. How did she know, running at full clip; sudden change of direction, then another thirty yards, and prepare to pounce and spike the landing on front paws alone.

I will miss that. The moles will not. I will miss—am missing so many very small details of interaction now missing. Ann and I have both remarked the countless subtle ways we accommodated the dog’s movements, her needs, her noises, her habits. Her be-ing not different from our be-ing.

And so, as with other just-past pawed friends, I will discipline myself to remember before I forget all those subtleties. I have a list of prompts, with others surely to come, that I can flesh out—sometimes in paragraphs, other times in single words or phrases that only Ann and I would understand.

Time heals all wounds. And I don’t know quite how I feel about the balm of forgetting. I want to forget the loss but remember the lost.

*****
Memories of Gandy
• On the loveseat
• In the woods
• With food and treats
• With other dogs
• With other people
• Through the years
• With other creatures
• Through the seasons
• Her intelligence
• Her appearance
• Her personality
• Her places
• Our names for her
• The things she knew

Gandy, Going, Gone

Gandy is gone as of an hour ago, after seven years and four months. That’s a lot of dog years, and they were good ones. She had an enchanted life on Goose Creek after being a rescue puppy that could have ended up anywhere, and in not such expansive wilderness with two creeks! Think trailer park tied to a tree.

Three days ago she was chasing squirrels on the ridge. Then she went into a rapid decline, and was having difficulty standing, breathing, moving. The end was near. We found a vet from FloydCo who makes house calls. She came right away. Gandy did not suffer.

She is buried out the kitchen window where we could never get a pear tree to grow. And that was one of the most difficult things we have done together in 47 years of marriage—in sickness and in health. We never buried a dog together before.

It will take some while before we stop expecting her to greet us in the morning and run ahead of us on the pasture loop. I just glanced up to see a copper colored flash go past the window and thought “there she is” but it was one of the red chickens.

It is a good exercise just now to think of our friends and family and those that knew us, and knew us with Gandy, through all the ups and downs; through the Feather years. Feather left the story a year ago January 23rd and Gandy never stopped missing her, I feel sure. Maybe there are dogs in heaven after all.

We never had a smarter companion, or more faithful or more helpful–bringing in wood, doing anything in the truck, she was involved in all family activities. And so her absence, all the more the loss.

And life goes on.

There are a lot of reasons why Gandy should be our LAST dog. But the “heart has reasons that reason does not know” Pascal said. And I expect he is on to something.

Two to Tango

Got that nice motion blur as I walk briskly along behind and snap the shutter on the iPhone.

They have their moments, even though mostly on our round-abouts we’re either keeping Dingo at some distance from Gandy or, when they are at a distance, watching Gandy dominate the confrontations by soundly boxing his ears or sending him tumbling. He finally gets the message.

And when they have come to terms, it’s gratifying to see them walking happily side by side–a token of what might lie ahead for these two dogs. Gandy turns 7 in mid-October, so can still keep up and hopefully, will be able to teach some good manners and household etiquette.

Back at the house, Dingo is feeling the urge again, but in the end, can only bark in frustration. If he could write a love song with more words than what he’s come up with so far.

Tutoring is scheduled for next Wednesday morning, after which maybe he’ll sing an octave higher?

Doglemma

We don’t know what we want. We don’t know what’s best. We don’t know what’s possible. Other than that, our future of dog ownership is perfectly clear.

We have been fated to cross paths with a fully worthy young stray (dropoff?) dog who has entered our lives unbidden, perhaps at random, perhaps ordained by the powers that both torment and reward. The rain—and feral dogs—fall on the godly and the ungodly alike.

And so we face another full week until we can take Dingo to Christiansburg to be tutored. (Remember the Gary Larsen cartoon?) And yes, I know the perils of giving up a dog you’ve named or eating a chicken named Rosy. But there you have it.

If you do Facebook and find me there, you know the story, but for both blog readers, a bit of background (and foreground, unseen and unseeable this morning.)

This dog first showed up in a burst of chicken terror, though the racket was not so much that he was after them as that they wanted no part of him. And Ann, mistaking him at first glance for a small bear, panicked; and I reflexively burst out the door in my underwear waving my arms and hollering, as Gandy chased the not-a-bear down the road at high speed.

Said gray-black but otherwise vaguely-observed dog reappeared a few days later on the edge of the pasture, and then a few days after that. Each time I protected the free-range hens by firing the .22 into the ground. And yet the dog persisted, returning a day or two later.

And cutting out all the in-between, last Thursday, when we concluded that we could get him to the animal shelter if we could pen him. We used Gandy as bait inside the chain-link enclosure under the shed roof. Within a few hours, the year-old blue heeler was himself inside the pen. So we called Animal Control to come fetch him to town, problem solved. What a relief!

But no. We learned, to our dismay, that the facility is closed for repairs until at least Sept 11. No, there are no other places that will take him. And we do not need another dog. We can barely tolerate this temporary dog whose Little Brain so dominates his behavior any time our six year old (spayed) female is outdoors or visible inside the house. She keeps telling him in no uncertain terms that she is NOT that kind of girl!

So we will try to endure this dysfunctional sorting of dog, chicken and people needs until Sept 4 when Dingo can get a shuttle from Floyd to Christiansburg to the Spay-Neuter clinic for de-balling. That SHOULD do wonders for his ability to concentrate on people and their instructions. He, however, will still be a puppy. This morning he carried both my Timberland boots out into the rain.

He is a bright dog and wants to please, though he probably has had no training and little human affection, if any. He will “sit” for a puppy treat. He is faithful, staying very close in our walks around the pasture and sleeping on the back porch for five nights now. He has shown no aggression towards us or Gandy, though he was not sold on the large FedEx van yesterday, but gave the driver a pass when he tossed out a dog biscuit.

But what are we going to do here? What is the best way forward for all?

The cost (of shots, boarding, health issues); the hassle (of going through maybe another year of puppy-hood and training from scratch a year old dog; the inconvenience (of two dogs inside all winter long, wet feet and dog aroma for six months)—taking on any of this makes no sense.

But then, dog ownership is not necessarily a rational choice. And we have not made a final choice yet, mind you. But I can read the writing on the wall. And I would be very surprised if Gandy doesn’t have a new best friend—if he can just keep his paws to himself.

Feather Go Home

Go to medium.com to see more images for this post.

We don’t know what goes on in their minds when they are with us, but only the smiles and memories they leave in our own hearts and memories when they are gone.

We did not even know her name in 2014 when we first insisted that the white dog go back down the road to the new neighbor’s house where she belonged. Surely her family doesn’t want her wandering too far from home, we reasoned, what with their small boys who would miss the dog if she was gone for long.

I lobbed bits of gravel from the road in her direction in mock threat. “Go home!” I’d tell her, and she’d slink back east, a few tenths of a mile, to where we knew she belonged. We thought this was the right thing to do, especially as the times she did get close enough to the house, our dog, Gandy, would set upon the would-be visitor with bristling bluster and harmless aggression, not willing to share either territory or affections with an interloper.

We went so far as to call her owners once, early on, to let them know where their dog was, lest they worry, like we would worry if she was our dog, gone. They did come to pick her up that time, and we learned her name was Feather. She was also a rescue dog like Gandy; she was the same age and almost the same weight as our dog. But the two dogs did not have a speaking relationship. Yet.

Later that year, we’d see her (you could not miss the long-haired almost-white Labradoodle at the shadows at the edge of the pasture) just watching from a distance as we made our routine walk-abouts down the New Road and back to the house. Gradually, she’d leave the cover of the woods and slink sheepishly towards us near the end of our walk, her approach greeted by Gandy’s challenge and some mild rough-housing. I’d pick up a rock (or maybe throw a pretend rock her way) and say “go home” and she would go.

But after a few months of insistence, Feather and Gandy came to an agreement. By that time, we’d realized Feather’s whereabouts might be lost in the list of concerns of the young couple with full-time jobs and two small children. And Feather had figured out the retired folks with that other dog in the neighborhood who were all outside every day made for a pretty nice day camp. And so we saw her often. Then we saw her every day. And many nights. We did not own her, but she seemed to have decided that she owned us.

And yet, early in that growing relationship and before Feather finally realized which side her bread was buttered on, she was bad to set off on an adventure to find human (and maybe other four-legged) companionship. Feather, it turned out, was the most needy dog ever to be in the company of humans and driven to be touched by hands. And so when nobody was home down the road, she took a road trip.

Her time and distance record were four days and five miles from home. We were frantic during her uncertain absence. It ended well. Another time we saw her picture on Facebook when she had been taken in by some folks we knew about four miles up the mountain, rescued from a bad outcome on a very busy road. We fetched her home in the car.

In those early days, she followed many a bicycle rider out of the valley, certain they had come to sit with and adore her in the cool shade. They didn’t sit, so she just kept running behind them. When this happened on our watch, we jumped in the car and caught up with her, and brought her “home.”

Finally, after some months of routine day camp here, she understood that her needs for adoration could be more than met just up the road from where she technically belonged; plus she really relished the romps, the boxwood chase and the roughhousing with Gandy — eventually to the point that they turned what used to be the yard into a muddy wrestling ring. We lowered our standards of yard care and increased our tolerance for mulch on the hardwood floors, and life was good.

She was a creature of habit, governed by regularity and predictability. We new for certain that it would not be long on any given dawn before her ghostly white form would appear, ambling in no particular hurry, up the road, then up the driveway, and at last to the porch. If we failed to see her arrive we’d be startled (but not surprised) to find her standing with her nose pressed against the back door when we opened it for firewood. She’d enter, greet all, and go to her Feather bed — not far from but not in the same room as Gandy’s cushier loveseat in front of the woodstove.

Predictably, should we be away from the house for a few hours, upon our return, Feather would appear out from under the lilac bush to greet us, always searching with some urgency to find a stick or a piece of gravel or a leaf. In her world it was bad manners to have nothing to offer in exchange for a two-handed head snuzzle. She might even get a brushing if the offering was carefully selected and convincingly presented.

And just as predictably, at the end of the day (on those days when she was required back down the road) the one of us that drew the short straw got the distasteful task of coaxing her out the back door, telling her how happy we were to have shared the day with her, and finally the tough love command: “Feather, go home.”

We never figured out how she learned to obey this directive, but she always did, even though she visible wilted when she heard it. Down the walkway, round the front of the house between the Forsythias and to the road she’d go. One of us — usually Ann — would watch from upstairs to be sure she didn’t double back and hide until dark and show up again just at bedtime. The next morning, she’d punch the clock and another day of romping, wrestling and serious napping would begin.

In my private recollections and journal but not here, I will enumerate a long list of very particular behaviors and attitudes and already-fading memories of Feather — a character in my life that I never want to forget. It is both a kindness and a tragedy that the wounds of such a loss do become less painful with time, but words can give the faint solace of a kind of immortality.

We are grateful to have had so many hands-on moments with our unofficially-adopted grand-dog, to have had so many smiles over so many miles with the two good friends; to have had so many sweet encounters with a creature that we always knew would likely go before we would — though not certainly at our ages, pushing seven dog years now.

We never took her for granted, nor do we the days we have left with Gandy — who has not yet given up on the notion that a white form will appear out of the morning gloom. I don’t think she’ll ever quit watching and hoping. Those two dogs were quite a team. We make a point now not to say F’s name out loud so Gandy will hear it and rush to the window expectantly, with her tail wagging.

The blessing was that the decline in Feather’s regular, predictable habits was a quick and painless goodbye. We’d noticed for some time that she was losing weight, but it made no apparent difference to her ability to reach the top of any ridge with amazing speed and endurance, even during her last week. But when she could not keep food on her stomach, she visibly faded. The vet diagnosed her condition as kidney failure. Monday January 23rd was her last day. And Feather went home.

Doggy Delegation: I Come in Peace

A year ago, every time the neighbors shaggy white dog Feather would appear at the margins of our property, Gandy would bristle and charge and invariably run Feather back across enemy lines.

About three months ago, something changed between them. The two dogs, about the same age and size, came to some kind of an agreement. In one of the clauses it must have stated the terms:

1) Feather comes and goes as she pleases but Gandy agrees to remain close enough to home to hear us calling, and NEVER goes to visit at Feather’s house.

2) Feather will arrive not later than 8:00 a.m. (adjusted earlier as the days get longer) and will obediently “go home” upon the command, although if it is too early of an afternoon, she did not sign the agreement to stay home.

IMG_4041feather1

3) Each new greeting (upon a human arriving home in a car or upon exiting the back door for any reason) will result in a token offering of any kind (stick, rock, leaf) as act of appeasement.

Yesterday’s offering as I crossed the footbridge fresh home from town struck me as Feather’s Olive Branch of peace. It is a fragment from a privet bush.

IMG_4045feather2I came in and put up groceries, only to come to back door and see that I had failed to adequately accept the dog’s symbolic  indication of her peaceful intentions on our household and our resident dog. The latter was let out the door, promptly to begin the mock-combat they so dearly love, to heck with Feather’s silly gift.

I retrieved the Olive branch to a safe place indoors. It was the diplomatic thing to do.

And even as we speak, four thrashing dog paws are stripping away any remaining grass that once grew in what once was a yard before it became a Saturday Nite Wrastlin’ Rink.

Three Dog Night

By all rights we should not have had a very small puppy in a wire crate next to our bed on the morning of December 19, three years ago. When Tsuga died suddenly on December 5, we vowed we’d live out the pain before we dared open our home and hearts to another darned dog.

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You know how such things go–the empty places where their faces always appeared, the missing sounds, the unmet need to love and to be warmed in the guileless fidelity of a familiar friend, now gone. You think you can live without them once that the decision has been thrust by mortality upon you and that is just the way things are.

But this far-flung fenceless playground and Mole Ranch (and its ranchers) could not go on until the pain subsided, and on December 18, we brought home an 8-week rescue pup from a Walmart parking lot in Carroll County.  We called her Gandy–my crafted feminine for gander–of Goose Creek.

And on December 19, we began our first full day together.  So how could I, this very morning, write about anything else? Herself watches me at the keyboard from her accustomed place on the loveseat–HER loveseat now–where Buster, then Tsuga could nestle briefly and by invitation only.  She OTOH is nestled permanently and sometimes grants us permission to share.

So happy three-year homecoming anniversary, mutt. We hope you’ll keep us as we’re paper-trained and don’t jump up on visitors or sniff inappropriately at strangers or delivery persons.

Gandy Has Entered the Building! | Fragments from Floyd

If Life Gives You Gandy… | Fragments from Floyd