Posts Tagged ‘old dog’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 12, 2009

From here on the Ridge the sun is bright behind thin clouds. I can look out over the valley, and, over where the hill shoulders down to the river, there’s a thick spread of white cloud. “Freezing fog,” the forecast says, limited visibility. In a little while, I’ll head out to experience it myself, but, for now, I’m content to be at the kitchen table with a cup of peach ginger tea and this laptop.

Yesterday was Jeter the standard poodle’s first birthday and he e-mailed his sister Lucy and brother Kooba (the whole family has celebrity names–Lucy’s a red-head) to wish them happy birthday. For his birthday, he got two dog cookies from the fuel delivery man, a long walk, and a couple of pieces of cheese. A bath and a grooming would probably not have been a welcome present for him, though he needs it.

After sixteen years of living with our old dog, Kermit, living with a young dog is both a challenge and a joy. Though we had done plenty of research on dog breeds and, like the Obamas, had considered breeds like the Portuguese Water Dog, we still had some resistance to buying a breed dog rather than adopting a mutt like Kermit from the shelter. But when the poodle puppies showed up in the paper, we took a ride out to see them, and when the largest brown puppy lay in our arms, so mellow and sweet, there was no question. And the poodle at my feet has been a wonderful dog. He’s smart, energetic, enthusiastic to a fault, and, for the most part, eager to do what we ask him. I’m finally seeing, now, that things we ask of him are becoming routine, so there are fewer communication problems. However, in spite of his baseball player name, he’s not too keen on the game of “fetch.” He gets bored after a while and claims he can’t find the ball or the flying squirrel toy and would much rather run up the hill to see what’s happening there or go off and grab a piece of frozen horse manure to bring into the house. I think more mental challenges are in order.

I know that spring is on the way. Here, schools are on spring break. I have students coming by to see Mattie and Sam today, and our horse club will visit Tom Hart’s blacksmith shop this Saturday. The seeds arrived from Renee’s on Monday and I need to set up the shelves and lights to start the tomatoes for the greenhouse. The Iditarod is halfway over, though I’m not following it the way I did the Quest. Birds flit onto the planters on my deck, nibbling the remains of last year’s flowers, and zipping away. They still ignore the feeder we hung from the roof beam. The days are filled with light.

Still, there’s deep snow everywhere. I went out to work with Mattie yesterday, using the clicker to work on “stand” and “ears up.” Mattie is less fit at this point than Sam is, partly, I think, because she spends so much time sulking in the run-in shed while Sam is out enjoying the view in all weather. Her back doesn’t seem as muscled as his is, so I’m starting off with hand-walking, practicing “walk” and “whoa” and “ears up” all at once. As we circle her side of the corral, we end up walking through the parts where she doesn’t usually walk, and she and I both sink in to our knees. Good exercise for us both, but not very practical and a bit scary, since I know there are frozen brown piles under that snow–the ones we were planning to pick up the day the snow storm hit and that we’ll see again at snow melt in late April or early May.

This is the time of year when we feel most out of synch with the rest of the world, here in the Interior. We have spring fever–our minds wander, we think of places where there are flowers, we plan our gardens and summer training schedules-but we could be hit with snow and 20 below any day.

View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 30, 2009

About dogs-for Glow:

The cold weather we dreaded hasn’t materialized. Tonight, when I went out to feed the horses, snow fell in fine white flakes through the floodlight on the peak of our house. Sam had a thick fleece of it along his back. Mattie, who had been in the shed, had a light powdered sugaring along her back and rump. The dog dashed around in the soft new snow, kicking it up behind him, rolling in it, nesting down, watching me cut open a new hay bale, waiting to see if I would feint his way so he could leap up and dash around me in long loops.

The dog is a young, nearly year old Standard Poodle pup. It surprises people who know me to learn that this is the new dog in my life. The dog before him, Kermit, my companion for 16 years was a mixture of three breeds: Shepherd, Corgi, and Lab–all big body, big bark, short legs. He had a talent for shedding on three twice-a-year cycles, one for each breed. He was hard headed, but my dog to the core. He had claimed me at the shelter when I wandered in full of skepticism to look for a dog. I was about to walk out when I saw a yellow dog in a pen, looking at me with recognition and urgency. I asked to see him; my guard was up. Then I felt his ears, the softest fur I had ever touched. I came back for him the next day and spent sixteen years trying to discern what that look was telling me.

I don’t know how to write about dogs the way I do about horses though dogs seem essential to a good life. Without one, there’s an empty space in the house, and it’s hard to know when strangers or anyone else drives up to the house without the barking. Dog training is a precise but playful activity, not edged with danger like horse training. A dog is an animal of manageable size: a head on the lap, a paw in the hand, a quick jog side by side–none of this is easy with a horse.

Tonight I took the poodle, Jeter, to get the last of a round of shots. He was ecstatic to go to the vet and, when I dropped the leash, ran from the car all the way up the stairs and sat waiting eagerly at the door of the vet’s office. He’s a shaggy mound of brown fur, still in his puppy cut, and he wiggled from tail to head as he greeted the attendants in the clinic. He has a habit of standing on his hind feet to hug people he hasn’t seen for a while (even if it’s me coming back from feeding horses), so he embraced all the humans in the clinic. There’s a toy poodle in the clinic, left there by former owners, now the clinic dog–a distant cousin, the size he was when he first came home with us. Jeter sniffed this dog then play-bowed to it hoping for a romp. She sniffed at him, then ducked under a chair.

When I posted the excerpt from the horse book yesterday, I wrote that dogs lie–that was Kermit, who never felt that he had been fed recently enough or been out on enough walks. But this young dog is eager, straightforward, gentle, earnest. Kermit always seemed ready to pick up a conversation left over from some previous life, as if he had been dropped suddenly into a dog’s body and wanted anyone who would pay attention to know about it. Jeter seems to love to be a dog and to bring us with him into a world of play: flying snow, wayward sticks, a game of tug now and then, and long walks. And he’s been running up on the hill where Kermit’s grave is, where the irises and delphiniums will blossom in the summer. Maybe he knows more than he lets on.

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