There is no doubt that Phoebe was one of the world’s most brilliant dogs. Trust me. I’m a dog person, and just like a good teacher can evaluate students impartially, I can do the same with dogs.
These days we have no dog and that’s a void, a major one. True, we are related to Ziggy, who owns our son’s family, but she is only a welcome visitor at our house. She doesn’t live here.
Speaking of Major, that was the name of our most colorful dog. We got him the day after the aged Gringo slept through an attempted burglary and roused to bark only when the police finally arrived and rang the doorbell. That very morning we went, all six of us, to a dog pound to select an additional dog. It was that or a burglar alarm, which none of us wanted. Have you ever snuggled on the couch with a burglar alarm device?
Major stood out in the crowd of needy dogs at the pound. He looked kind, gentle, and affectionate, and it turned out that he was all of those things. It also turned out that he had some major deficits, which we discovered only when it was too late to exchange him. He was already a family member, and we could no more return him to the pound than we could return one of our children to the maternity ward. No, for better or worse, Major was ours.
The people at the pound also were kind and gentle, but they knew suckers when they saw them, and they had wanted to get rid of Major for quite a while, it seems. Major was sort of claustrophobic. Leaving him home alone brought out his fear of being locked up, so he spent enormous amounts of time figuring out how to launch escape.
The first place he always wanted to escape from was the very back of the station-wagon. He did not like to be out of control, so no matter how hard we worked to confine him, he always wound up in the front seat, leaping ungracefully and ungraciously over the children in our care, who happened to be our very own. He would create havoc, climbing and crawling until he wound up on the driver’s lap. Giant creature that he was, it was somewhat difficult to drive with a 50 pound dog assisting with the steering. Abba, as my husband has long been known, worked endless hours using his engineering degrees to design a system to keep Major where we wanted him, relaxing adjacent to the rear door. Eventually, after many false claims of victory, he met with some success. Major never resigned himself to the indignity of it all, but this was one battle he lost.
It wasn’t only in the car that Major suffered psychologically. Our house was pretty big, and he never felt comfortable being alone in it. After quite a few destructive acts we finally decided that Major would have to be in the basement when he was left alone. We cozied up the cellar with all the amenities that he needed. He was a high-class street dog after all, obviously rescued from someone who didn’t appreciate that in his genes was aristocracy, someone who considered him a disposable mutt and simply abandoned him. Thus we fixed up a veritable palace down there with toys and blankets and fresh water. It was cozy and welcoming. At least I thought so. Major disagreed. When commanded, down he would go, always treading dramatically on the descent, as if he were being marched to his execution. He would turn his head on the decline, so his drama could be witnessed by all, looking woefully at those of us who had some exciting day trip planned that didn’t include him. One day, we arrived home and there was Major waiting to greet us, but wearing his very distinctive guilty look. We all were sure that he had been put into his downstairs headquarters, so what was going on here?As soon as we headed towards the basement we saw it.It was an enormous dog-sized hole in the wall, a hole whose creation had required tremendous effort. No jail-break was ever as elaborately planned and executed. His escape had succeeded, and it took lots more conniving on our part to learn to live with him. Luckily we loved him. That was the problem, not the solution!
Our future consisted of several other dogs of varying degrees of intelligence and character.
There was Buttons, adopted by our daughter and her husband and loaned to us for 13 years. Buttons (nicknamed Bubba) was food-obsessed. When she saw food she was uncontrollable, especially if it was something humanoid like family leftovers, particularly if they had originated at the kosher butcher’s. She was a passionate carnivore. Vegan was just not her style. Normally she was pretty tame and very smart compared to Toto, our own dog, who was sweet, and finally managed to learn the command to sit, as if it was akin to a PhD from some Ivy League school. Buttons, at the same time, had skills equivalent to writing an original thesis on some esoteric subject. So when I would put the food into their individual doggie bowls, I would see Bubba instantly strategizing. If the food tempted her (which, if it was dried bags of kibbles, it did not), she would conjure a plan to eat both her portion and Toto’s. Toto never planned ahead, and she was never the aggressor. This made it easy for Bubba to inhale her own portion and scoot over to Toto’s and consume it as well. At such moments Toto would look sadly to me to arbitrate, since she had figured out that she would be hungry if she didn’t eat.I worked out all kinds of plans and finally had to resort to separate feedings. Bubba would eat first and then be removed from the kitchen so that Toto could eat in peace.
The two dogs seemed not to like each other and often fought. Bubba always started the fights, but Toto learned to defend herself. Big fights were rare, but they did happen, and there were moments where hair and blood flew around the house. Once I tried to intervene, and was rewarded with a nasty imprint of canine teeth on my hand. From then on I left them to their own devices, having decided they would get over it, which they always did.
Then Bubba got sick. We took her to the vet, who recommended putting her down, which is vet-talk for killing her. He said surgery would be very expensive, and would only buy her a short reprieve. In fact, it bought her two more very healthy years.Ultimately she got sick again. The vet said he could do nothing more and that we should bring her back a few hours hence for the euthanasia. Abba brought her home, and I prepared a feast of whatever temptation I could conjure from my freezer. As usual, even sick as a dog, she managed to devour all of the enormous quantity of food. And then it was time for her final farewell. I hugged her tearfully, as did the children.Then we heard a unique, strange sound. Toto, Bubba’s longtime companion, almost a sibling, never one to figure things out speedily, figured this scene out too well. She let out a painful cry. It was not human, but it was also not canine. Somehow she understood that her friend, her enemy, her sister, was leaving without her. I could never replicate that sound, but I hear it in my nightmares. It was a passionate moan of love and forgiveness and farewell.
And then Bubba left, never to return.
Toto lived to great old age and met death easily and without a fuss. One morning Abba went down for his morning coffee and discovered her. He came and told me that “I think Toto died.” I bolted up and said, “What do you mean you think?” He replied that rigor mortis had set in. Rest in peace Toto!
Our lives have been filled and beautifully enhanced with dogs and their stories. There is more to tell.