|Tuffy Loved The Beach|
But dogs, too. Dogs charm their way in. They know
You're a sucker for a big-eyed grin, a lick on the hand.
Animals find you. They don't just appear in your home
By accident. They come out of the woods, out of the wild,
to be close to the hearth. You think you don't want a pet.
You say you want to travel light, unencumbered. You're free
To stay out late and never know the number of a vet.
You think you're smart not to take on all that work.
Or you think maybe someday, when life is dull anyway.
But an animal chooses when and where. Ask Eve. One
minute you're all alone, and the next, moved by the blink
of an eye, a skyward smile, a flicking tail, you're owned.
My husband called me from work. "I'm looking at the Internet and I see that someone is giving away a schipperke in New Jersey."
"That's weird." It was. Schipperkes are rare. Most people don't even know what they are. We had one called Edie, and I had been asked if she were a wolf, a fox, a pig. The breed isn't related to any other. They look like miniature Belgian sheepdogs, but they aren't. Their story is that they were bred to live on boats and to work as ratters, but this may be a myth.
"I'll bring the ad to show you."
This was meant to be for purposes of curiosity only. We had Edie. We had cats. A child. A small house. Enough already.
He brought this ad home, and swears now the accurate version of what happened is that the next day he came home from work and the dog was in the house.
I had called the number and had a long talk with a young woman who had to give her dog away. The story came out over several weeks but it was this: she had gone to a car dealership to buy a car so she could go to Rutgers where she had been given a full scholarship. The car dealer, a man in his late forties, had romanced her on the spot and she started going out with him. (Oh boy. She was eighteen.) He took her to a pet store and bought her an $800 dollar puppy. (I didn't tell her about puppy mills. She already had this ancient boyfriend--bad news enough.) She and Spaz, as she called the puppy--too young to coordinate all his motions--then moved in with the boyfriend, who once he had bagged her felt a rivalry and a hatred toward the dog. (To understand the monstrousness of this, take a look at some YouTube videos of schipperke puppies. Yes, all puppies are cute, but these are like little toys come to life--irresistibly so.)
The dog had to stay locked in a room and was NEVER ALLOWED OUT. Never went outside. Never sat with the girl while she watched TV. She went to the back room to feed him and change his paper, but he was utterly alone. (She didn't go to college, but got pregnant and was basically stuck in the apartment herself.) She realized this wasn't a good life for the dog and decided to find him a home. I am grateful to her for this.
So I took him. It wasn't that simple, though. We kept him for a week and then my husband insisted we give him back. He was wild and anxious and peed everywhere. I didn't mind, but I have been told I have a high tolerance for crazy. We drove him to the depressing apartment. The skeezy boyfriend glared. The girl put him back in his room and we left, with me heartbroken.
I kept talking to the young girl about him and her boyfriend was threatening the pound--so I took him again, with clearance this time, for a two month stay, during which I would train him and find him a home. He was completely unhousebroken and had never been outside. He knew nothing.
This was in January of 1998. January! House training a dog when there are no scents on the ground, in the snow, in the cold, twelve trips outside a day (I have never liked crate training)...but Spaz, quickly renamed Chaz (somehow I couldn't see walking around the town parks yelling out Spaz! and anyway, if names are destiny...). But the dog was an easy and sweet boy who wanted to learn and please. He was utterly open and would go right up to the scariest dogs in Mills reservation with a big smile on his face, all curiosity and bright expectation, and they'd look at him like, are you fucking kidding me? I am a Rottweiler. What planet are you from, you friendly moron? I had to explain to him what was up and soon enough he got the idea of watching my other schipperke, Edie, who was street smart and cool; when those big dogs passed her she turned around and gave a little nip at their heels, just enough so they'd swing their heavy heads around to look, because they'd felt something...but she'd be playing innocent by then. She got away with it every time. Chaz, whose name morphed through a series of changes into Tuffy, never wanted to be like that, but he backed up Edie while she did it. He never stopped looking after those he loved.
I have had many animals with me in my life. It is a privilege and a mystery in every case. They grow and change in ways people don't, and they remain the same in ways people don't. The language of communion with animals is as complex as the human is willing for it to be. The vocabulary is truly endless. The death of the animal is part of that vocabulary and always present; knowing their life span, every day is a memento mori. So the life is vivid and fresh. Every walk is taken in Beginner's Mind.