We Couldn’t Call Her “IT”

Tail: UP Ears: UP Prepare for take-off!

Several of you have been curious about where the name GANDY came from, especially since it is nothing quite so odd as the hemlock tree’s genus that was the name of our recently-departed pup, Tsuga.

I’ll take the lazy way out, and paste in a few paragraphs from “the book” that, at this rate, will be completed in less than a decade, with any luck:

Before we had pets in our married life, I had plant in college—the first plant I ever thought of as my own. I brought it home from the campus greenhouse as a baby, in a cup, and made a new place for it in a pot and called it Percy Plant. That name set it apart from every other bit of greenery, at least in my mind, and gave Percy and me the potential for a relationship. But the plant never once responded to its name—which is the reason most people don’t bother giving names to shrubbery. We might name our goldfish, too, but this is solely for our need to nurture, and though you might swear otherwise, it is only coincidence when you call its name and it turns in its bowl to face you and blow a bubble. Sorry. But dogs know who they are by the names we give them. So choosing a name for a dog is a serious matter.

Let me waffle on this assertion here. Dogs may or may not associate their names with a kind of identity in the way primates do. “Fine animal gorilla” signs, Koko, in American Language, pointing to herself. Our dogs, on the other hand, even if they had hands, likely would not point to themselves when you asked for identification. They recognize that the sound of their name signifies something good or fun might happen to them in particular, or in other tones, that there’s a scowl and disapproval coming their way. The point is, we grow over months and years to share the world with that certain dod in unique ways, a creature whose name, at least in our minds, is WHO they grow to be. The name we give them is the form by which we hold their memories with a treasured tenacity we do not hold for withered plants or flushed goldfish….

God gave names to all the animals, while we get off easy. Our only obligation—and it is not a trivial one—is to give names to our kids and to our pets. It is a profound responsibility, and it’s time to get my head in the name-game: we may come home with a new puppy as early as this afternoon. We can’t call it IT or just “the dog.” How do we divine a scent from the ethers that carries to us a name that will fit this particular animal who will become such a part of our lives for—well, I’ve learned you can’t expect with certainty any number of years you’ll have with a new puppy. But one can hope, and hope needs a name.

• • • • • • • • • • •

Gander: male goose; to take a quick glance at; a silly person

“If we get another dog” I told Ann on December 6–the day after Tsuga suddenly left us–maybe we should call him Gander of Goose Creek” I said in half jest. But I sort of liked it. Gander. Rhymes with meander. The hard G holds something of Tsuga’s name.

Then, much to our surprise, we brought home a girl dog–the first ever in our pet-owner’s career (I think Percy went both ways.)

And we held on to Gander but feminized it to Gandy. Rhymes with Dandy. Like Candy, but with teeth. And she is a sweetie. At least she has her moments.

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End of an Era: Beginning of…

Lion tamer in cage with two lions, a lioness, ...
Image via Wikipedia

It is now official: I will not continue for an 8th year of writing for the Floyd Press or a 4th for Star Sentinel. It just seemed, for a long list of reasons, that the time had come to move on and do something else, liberated from the obligation of these mostly-energizing deadlines staring me in the face without a break now for more than 150 essays and grampa tales.

That “something else” has fuzzy edges. I have two large writing projects vaguely in mind. One would be an expression of the understanding I have come to hold (and still continue to learn more about) with regard to an individual’s relationships to nature, place and community (stewardship from the local to the global.) The other is the “dog book” I mentioned just a week ago–before we had said creature laying across my feet (or alternately, trying to eat them.)

How I will be able under the new circumstances, even without the press deadlines, to devote even 10% of the necessary focus to either of these projects (and not like these works are the sum total of my responsibilities, obligations or ambitions) with a new puppy eludes me. But then, I knew this going in. I just know it in a different, more tactile, puppy-breath sort of way these past few days. Gandy is a good teacher.

That said, I am not going to know what to do with my fingers, my words, my accumulated snippets and read-laters and aha! moments when topics to write about coalesce before my mind’s eye, and I have nowhere for a finished essay to go. I don’t want to lose the constant vigilance and curiosity that has driven me to tell stories in print these last years. I’ve learned a heck of a lot by “teaching” the tip of the icebergs I’ve uncovered in my required studies. Without the requirement, will I just become a packrat of information for its own sake? Does this mean I am in retreat or only changing direction? I really do not know yet.

Well there you go: I just turned around after being distracted (as if I was entitled to a personal moment out of my larger and vastly more important servant-responsibilities) in the typing of these few paragraphs, and caught a rare bladder incident in progress. My fault. I forgot that my writer’s hat hangs on the wall now. Hopefully, I can eventually be clicker-trained to never not-for-a-second take off my lion-tamer’s hat at least until maybe summer.

Yes mum. Coming, Your Grace.

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Gandy: Already Playing Her Part

Ah, the pleasure of a stick, well chewed!

This marks the first 48 hours with a new dog in the house, and only hours short of two weeks since Tsuga left us so suddenly on December 5, written out of this script and off this stage upon which he had performed his part with such ease, grace and joy.

Gandy, the 9 week old understudy, has been tapped for a role she struggles to imitate, stepping into paws she could not possibly fill. Even so, she is a trooper, and after all, the show must go on. She knows her lines somehow, and her sense of timing will some day have her name in lights, at least on Goose Creek.

This has been our first day at home alone, just the two of us. And already, she shows a good sense for finding the best light, knowing when to be cute, coy, heroic, sweet and when (we hope less and less often) to play the vixen.

It is late on an overcast day, the somber clouds cast a shadowless light into the room otherwise lit by the flickering glow of the wood stove. She had just made the rounds through all her toys and the new rawhide chew she was introduced to for the first time a little while before. Then she turned her focus of tooth-and-claw to me. She jumped hopefully beside me in my swivel chair at the computer.

When she is in this barracuda mode, I have learned to be careful picking her up, because she forgets her play bite and thrashes savagely for the hands, the shirt sleeve, the ears, the beard. And I have remembered the way to fend off those jaws by holding her head just so that she works hard to connect, and never quite makes it, wearing herself out finally, with any luck. We used this technique with Tsuga, who was all teeth his first weeks to the point where we thought it might be necessary to give him back to the breeders.

And in this little martial arts parry and thrust, Gandy ended up on her back in the crook of my arm, exhausted from her failed attack, and welcoming the chance to settle down. I began to rub her tummy–the first puppy-belly in our lifetime of adult puppy ownership to have little nipples, I noted.

She suddenly seemed to hear something far off, with a distant gaze on her face. Her eyes grew heavy. I continued to stroke and coo, and there she was, asleep, so small, so dear, in my arms, in this quiet, warm, once-again complete home. And I saw, just beyond my feet, Tsuga, lying on the carpet in front of this very wood stove, over lying beside me as I napped on the couch, and up beside me of an evening in our routine guy-time just before bed. The present and the past co-existed for that rare moment, like layers of a complex photograph, the recent, still aching then,  forever underneath the unknown, hopeful and emerging now.

How sweet. How sad. How confusing and wonderful. And life goes on.

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Eight Pounds of Pounce

Posts promise to be fewer and shorter than usual. We are under siege. The source is a bipolar pup, half barracuda, half Miss Congeniality, a chimera of canine good and evil.

The snickersnack of the jaws: how to divert over and over into acceptable directions and towards acceptable approved objects: that is the challenge.

Today will be our first solo run, just Gandy and me, all the live-long day.

She did as well her second night as she did her first. We shouldn’t complain. It all goes with the job description, and we knew what to expect. Still, to have your life completely co-opted by eight pounds of fur-wrapped energy when I thought I was going to be doing so many other things with this prime time for writing in the winter months…well, think again.

A saving grace: when she gets in her snuggly mood, she is happy in her crate (where she is at the moment) and naps for a while and I have an unpredictable few minutes to eat, shower, write a blog post, answer an email. But write a book about dogs? What was I thinking!

Gandy Has Entered the Building!

We came home yesterday, as predicted, with one of the pups (on the left) in this picture. Her name is Gandy.

Of the three we saw yesterday (playing in a grassy strip adjacent to the shopping center asphalt) her sister was too aggressive and always-on; her brother, too passive; and she was (we thought) just right.

She has her moments of frenzied mouth-oriented crazies, and still only knows how to play with her litter-mates, full out, unrelenting, and teeth-first. After ten minutes of this, and many opportunities to reinforce NO! when she bites hands or socks on feet or beard or newspaper on the hearth–anything other than her designated toys–she calms down and becomes docile but curious, sweet and submissive.

For the hour ride home yesterday, she was alert, cuddly and issued not a peep. This is something for which we were unprepared, because Tsuga’s hour ride home in 2003 was one constant tortured howl of separation and anxiety. His first night with us, the ONE where we tried the crate, was a miserable failure, with more moaning and barking and angst.

And so it was with fear and trembling and mental preparation for what surely lay ahead that I slipped her into the crate by my side of the bed at 9 pm. She issued not a peep until 2, did her business outside the back door, and after a few minutes getting comfortable, went off to sleep again until we got up. Halleleujah!

These were pups “rescued” by an individual from a “free puppies” indiscriminate back-of-a-pickup give-away at the local Walmart. Fearing bad placement under those circumstances, the gal we got the pup from took home the mom and the entire litter, and is seeing that they go to good homes. We trust ours will be one of them. So far, so amazingly good.

Had it not been for a late morning call yesterday from R, who offered us the loan of a crate (until Gandy is house trained, I’m thinking it won’t be long at all) we would not have brought her home. She takes her meals in the crate, and does not seem fearful of it, though at the moment, she is sleeping unconfined on the rug remnant in front of the flickering wood stove–the exact position so often filled with 15 times more dog in physical size, a yeller dog possessed of a character and largeness of soul that she, we are increasingly confident, will someday grow to equal, in her own unique way.

It promises to be a wild ride, and I promise to not take a day for granted, and that more than a few words and pixels will be forthcoming.

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