Thursday, December 1, 2011

In His Prime

Wolfie turned five last week.  In human years, he seems to me to be about forty.  Fully mature in mind and body, poised on the brink of the long, slow, inevitable descent.

Physically, the descent has already begun.  I can't document this, but I'm sure he can't run as fast or as fast as he did when he was two.  And there have been other changes:  in the last year his neck has thickened, which makes his head seem even bigger than before.  And a sprinkling of white hairs has appeared on his black chin.

With regard to his personality, a new gravitas has come over him.  He is definitely in charge of Lexi and Bisou.  If it's dark outside and Lexi ignores my calls to come in, Wolfie sits looking out the back door until she returns. When, because she can no longer hear the warning beeps, she wanders beyond the perimeter of the invisible fence, I tell Wolfie "find Lexi!" and he always does.  He's not at ease unless there are three dogs inside the house. 

Wolfie's desire to have everyone present and accounted for applies to humans as well as dogs.  Out walking with his herding teacher and her dog the other day, she asked me to go ahead with the dogs while she made sure that some deer hadn't gotten stuck inside her fenced-in pasture.  Her dog, who is young and playful, came with me happily.  Wolfie, however, couldn't stand it that now there were three of us on the path, instead of four.  He kept trotting back to retrieve his teacher, despite my calls to stay with me.  At one point he ran off altogether and returned triumphant, teacher in tow.

With a younger dog, he holds his head high with dignity, and tends to boss the juvenile around, which only makes the juvenile adore him more.  His relationship with Bisou is more nuanced.  He lets her take bones away from him, but at ball-throwing time, even though she runs as far and as fast as he does, she knows not to touch the ball.  He still hasn't given up hope of having children with Bisou, and he periodically gives it a try, despite the discomfort to his hind legs that crouching low must cause.  She is good natured about this, but eventually slithers out of his embrace.

Of late his demonstrations of affection for human visitors have become less exuberant, and he obeys, albeit reluctantly, the "enough!" command.  (None of this applies to his special beloveds--you know who you are--who encourage him with high-pitched voices and fond caresses.)  The one thing time hasn't improved is his tail, and the devastation it wreaks.  It is long and he wags it strongly (it has been known to knock small children to the ground), and is capable of clearing the coffee table of wine glasses in a single swoop.

Sometimes I take a look at Wolfie's baby pictures:  the ones where he was fat and blue-eyed and stuck his little tail straight up, like a kitten;  the ones where he's toddling in the snow after Lexi, the idol of his youth.  And I wonder how it happened that I, who have long attained the age of reason, never once thought about the consequences of getting a puppy that would grow into a big, strong, take-charge dog.  A dog whom I would not be able physically to control, since dogs are proportionately much stronger than people, and even a fifty-pound mutt can be a challenge for a well-muscled human.

But I believed in the effects of training on a sound temperament, and in Wolfie's case I was lucky. Still, when he was an adolescent, a single lunge on the lead inflicted damage on my shoulder that took months to stop hurting.  In reality, Wolfie doesn't have to do anything I tell him.  But he does, even when it involves hard stuff like waiting at the door before charging out to meet a playmate.  It is a miracle to me that an animal will control an urgent desire for my sake, not out of fear of punishment, but maybe  because he regards me as his alpha, or perhaps, even, because he loves me.

Or maybe because he has figured out that this serious loyalty, this kindly acquiescence, is the surest way to keep me bonded to him.

9 comments :

  1. Oh. I wish I was there to talk to him in a high voice and rub his ears. B is doing better and we're going for an acupuncture consult. Thankfully he never had the "sweep the table" tail!

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  2. Beautifully written, as always. However, I couldn't manage more than the beginning and the end, and bits and pieces of the middle. My emotions are way too close to the surface for some reason lately.

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  3. mrb, yes, you are one of those special beloveds.

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  4. Susan, I have a friend who can't read dog stories at all....Could your state be due to the looming holidays, which are always an emotional time?

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  5. Beautiful writing on a subject that often sounds just sentimental. Your intelligence and sensitivity shine making the bond between human and animal more real for all of us.

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  6. Thanks, Dona. Yes, the potential for sentimentality lurks around every corner of an animal story. A scary thing, for a writer.

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  7. Heard a wonderful interview on NPR today with a woman who wrote a new book on Rin Tin Tin, the original and subsequent RTTs. What struck me was the discussion of silent films in the '20s before "talkies". Dogs, especially GS, were as popular as human actors since no one was talking and dogs were better athletes!

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  8. I think that's the book by Susan Orlean, who also writes for the New Yorker. It's supposed to be terrific.

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  9. I bought it. Will bring it next summer or mail if too good. We just went and got a joint assessment on Bain: going to give more meds and do home massage, physical therapy and more exercise! Not exhausted enough known therapies to start acupuncture!

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