Tall men seem to be attracted to Josie. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected: they have to bend down so far to pick her up. We met three such men while taking a hike on a wooded trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest near our Wisconsin house.
The trail happens to be for bikers as well as hikers which didn’t give us pause until we saw a biker in full regalia headed straight for us. I managed to snatch Josie up in time to save her from being scrunched under the speeding wheels. Dressed all in black the biker looked like the proverbial “ bat out of hell.”
We needn’t have worried about the next biker. He came to a full halt, his deep baritone breaking the forest silence, “What’s her name?” he asked. And before we could answer, he had plucked Josie up and was holding her against him, delighting in the hot little kisses she was planting on his sweaty neck.
It turned out he has two large dogs, one of them a golden doodle, which might have been why he was intrigued by the miniature Josie. He was not only tall, but broad shouldered, a football player’s build, his sleeveless black shirt giving full display to exotic, small tattoos that ran up and down his arms, like notes on a scale. Sanskrit? I refrained from asking.
His golden doodle had gotten into their spare room its first year and completely demolished the mattress on a double bed and chewed a hole big enough for its head to fit through in the dry wall. He reported these antics cheerfully and assured us the dog had calmed down a little by now. With that he gave Josie a kiss on the forehead, returned her to the ground, saluted us and took off.
The next biker was a bit more restrained in his attentions. We plucked Josie out of his path as he came around a bend and he stopped, smiled broadly and said he needed a rest anyway. He picked Josie up and though no kisses were exchanged she received his friendly hug gratefully. ( Poor pup. So deprived of affection. ) We answered his questions, telling him what breed she was, her age, and her expected size, during which time Josie had wriggled to the ground and was sampling the grease on the bike gears.
The third biker we must admit didn’t stop because of Josie but because he recognized us and wanted to say hello. He was duly introduced to our pup whom he greeted with a smile, and some scratches behind her ears. Wishing us good luck with our new family member, he took off. Josie looked wistfully after him. It had been such a short romance! He was with a woman friend whom he had just met so we understood why he might be anticipating her kisses more than Josie’s.
On our way home we stopped in a pet store to buy Josie’s food and there again, a tall man grabbed her up quite unceremoniously and totally free of embarrassment proceeded to cuddle her and coo endearments. It turned out that we were embarrassed. He evidently excited her enough that her response came from the wrong end. not her head but her bottom. She piddled onto the front of his Edie Bauer jacket.
The saleswoman whisked out a towel for just such emergencies and I didn’t know whether to grab it and wipe down the dear man’s jacket or let him do it himself. “Oh, it’s nothing,” he said with amazing calm, and did the wiping himself. “It’s what puppies do.”
As days go by I am more and more bothered by the scheduled entrance of another tall man into Josie’s life. Our family is meeting for Thanksgiving in California where our son and daughter and their families live. Our oldest daughter and her family will be flying in from New Hampshire to join us. I was relieved when I was able to sign up the gentleman who had lived at our house and cared for our dog Holly when we had to be away. But Holly was an older dog, much more settled and was happy to go out on the three walks a day which Howard conscientiously took her on after which she would sleep at his feet as he read. He is a very responsible man and we were grateful for his care of Holly.
But when he came to meet Josie, and she danced around his shoes, he looked down from his considerable height and said with a frown, “Are you sure you want such a small dog?”
We were outdoors and I invited Howard to sit down as Josie jumped in glee at having a new visitor. She then started her romp with an empty plant container, one of her favorite toys which she pummels and chases and inserts her head into, and runs around in so comic a fashion that would make even the coldest of cynics smile.
Howard did not smile. He then told me, after confiding about the unseemliness of a friend’s grief over a departed dog, that he believes that dogs serve two purposes, to hunt and to protect.
How was Josie going to survive in the frigid climate of Howard’s indifference which would probably escalate to annoyance, if not downright
dislike. She is used to play, love, cuddling, romps in the yard with empty plastic containers and stray twigs and balls thrown for her to retrieve. She is accustomed to lavish praise when she does her business outside, sometimes a treat or two, and a goodnight cuddle from both of us when put into her crate at night. When she wakes in the morning at 7:00 after sleeping through the night, she is greeted with cheerful good mornings and compliments about her long night’s sleep.
She won’t know what to make of this unyielding stick of a man who might crack like a pretzel if he ever did bend to pick her up.
And these two are supposed to co-exist for ten days?
I went to my address book and looked up the number for United Airlines. A half hour later Josie was booked for her first flight to the West Coast.
The death of a beloved dog tears a hole in the fabric of your life, leaving you with a reminder of loss that cuts to the quick many times during the day. Holly leapt on my bed to alert me to morning and settled down beside me when night fell. And then there was all that companionable time in between, particularly for someone like myself who works at home.
Dogs love unconditionally. Holly ( and Yasha, and Gaia and Gila before her ), alerted by the sound of car wheels scrunching on the driveway, began to bark when I returned home. I never had to enter a house that resounded with emptiness. It was urgent that Holly see me immediately, that I stroke her head and tell her what a good girl she had been and that she answer with a wet lick to my face.
Gaia, one of the three huskies who spent their lives with us, and whom we thought of as our resident Buddha, would greet me more sedately. She looked at me with her deep, quiet eyes and emitted a half bark, half howl that, translated, meant “Where have you been so long?” Now that I was home her world was complete – something you might hesitate to say about the most loving spouse. In human terms that might be deemed unhealthy. Enmeshment is what it’s called. Co-dependency.
If you’ve stooped to venting your irritation on your dog, she doesn’t play hard to get when you’re ready to be comradely again. She doesn’t punish you or hold grudges. She’ll leap to your call as if you’ve always been the pinnacle of loving kindness. And when you invite her for a walk, she doesn’t act as if she’s doing you a favor. She’s right there with you all the way, eyes alert, tail wagging. Is there any other moment in life in which, by saying one word, you bring such happiness to a living creature? “Walk,” I would say, and it seemed every part of Holly’s body quivered with delight.
The longer we live with a dog the more aware we become of each other’s ways. When I was putting on shoes, Holly was right beside me, and if she were able she would have tied my laces to speed up the process. Of course, she was hoping for a walk. By the time I was downstairs and reaching for my coat she was usually able to tell whether she was to be included in my outing. If she realized she wasn’t, she would lie down on the living room rug, face resting on her crossed paws and not take her eyes off me. She didn’t bark. She was resigned.
Many years ago, when Yasha died, I wrote in my journal that there seemed to be no socially sanctioned way to mourn the death of a beloved animal. Though bereft to the core, we are expected to go about our lives as if nothing has happened. Even a dear friend might show an edge of impatience if you went on “too long” about the sadness.
I am more fortunate today. Our children, adults now, and with their own beloved dogs and cats, call from their distant homes and grieve with me. Three friends came over to share my sorrow, one with a yellow orchid because she knows I am an orchid lover. A grandson, on the phone, tries to find words to express his sympathy but goes mute and can say only, “I love you, Nana.” Another young grandson wants to tie a string around a dog biscuit and hang it on a bush in memory of Holly.
Yasha, 14 years old, arthritic and low in energy, lay under a tree and wouldn’t eat or drink. “Leave her be,” our son Daniel said when I attempted to get her to drink water from my hand. “She’s taking her leave.”
We dug her grave in the wild area of our backyard, illegally, but whose laws were we following? Our oldest daughter, Eve, driving home from Boston, amazingly pulled into the driveway just as we had assembled at the graveside. She silently joined the circle Alexander, Joanie, Daniel and I had formed around the grave. We had covered Yasha with the damp earth redolent with green summer smells and we held hands, each saying our private good-bye.
How long does it take not to ache with loneliness for that friend as you sit in the lamplight and read, without her head resting on your shoe?
I can never replace Holly, as I couldn’t replace Yasha, Gaia, or Gila. But having a dog as a friend is having my life touched with a beauty like no other. I don’t want to give that up, to live without that touch.