Archive for October 10th, 2005

Search for a Small Dog

Today’s “Monday motif” is “pets.” I remembered that I had written this some time ago for the autobiography group I was in. It’s the story of how we got Bear, the best dog we’ve ever had. I have added a few paragraphs at the end, to tell the rest of the story. The photos here are photos of photos, so please forgive the poor quality.

LG at four months, with Bear

A couple of months later (look how cheeky!)

Bear peeks through the kitchen window

Jif and I love animals, so after we moved from an apartment into our first house, one of our first priorities was getting a dog. We lived in a very small house, so we agreed that we would find a very small dog, perhaps a beagle. We went to the SPCA on a Sunday afternoon in January, 1986. There were many, many dogs and cats, and most of the dogs seemed hysterical. They were barking, some were hurling themselves against the front of the cages; they were clearly not schooled in how to win friends and influence humans. The cages were arranged in a large U-shape, and as I came toward the end of the U, I called ahead to Jif, “I don’t know, I haven’t fallen in love yet.” Jif was near the last cage, looking into it with an “uh-oh” expression on his face. He responded, “I think that’s because you haven’t seen this one.” He was right. The dog in front of him was not barking, but had walked up to the front of the cage and was sitting quite politely, occasionally extending a huge, cream-colored paw toward Jif. The sign next to his cage said “Bear,” and it suited him perfectly. One problem: Bear was not the very small dog we had set out to get. We decided to leave and think about the matter. I thought Bear was such a wonderful creature that someone else would snap him up the minute we left, that if we didn’t take him right then, we’d miss our chance. But Jif talked me into thinking it over, so we left, after finding out from the attendant that Bear could not be reserved, that pets were released on a first-come, first-served basis, so whoever asked for him first would get him.

Over the next couple of days, in my memory, Bear became smaller and smaller. I heard myself saying things like, “Jif, he’s sort of a small dog.” Jif would look at me like I’d lost my mind. “Well,” I’d try, “I think he’s more of a medium-sized dog.” Jif would just shake his head. I called the SPCA to find out more about Bear. He was husky, shepherd and collie mixed (no way you get a small dog out of that!). The lady told me that he was so well-housebroken that someone had to come in earlier in the morning just to take him outside, because he absolutely would not “go” in his cage. This was certainly information in his favor. By Wednesday morning, we had decided to adopt Bear. Now our only fear was that someone would beat us to him.

We pulled into the parking lot at the SPCA before it opened, but someone was there before us, waiting. When she saw us, she got out of her car and ran up toward the door, so there could be no doubt that she was first in line. My heart sank. I just knew she was there for Bear. Jif and I got in line behind her, and she and we took turns sizing each other up. She would look at us when she thought we didn’t notice, and would do the same to her. She held firmly to her position as first by the door, but she still seemed fearful that we would get ahead of her. Finally, I said to her, “Look, we know you were here first. Are you here to get Bear?” She stared at me, then said, “A BEAR??! God, no, I’m here to get a cat! You’re here to get a bear? I didn’t even know there was one in there!” We explained about Bear, and much relieved, we three chatted happily until the doors opened and we got our respective dream pets.

As we walked Bear out to our Mitsubishi Mirage, very small hatchbook, I began to realize what we had done. This was not a small dog, nor even medium-sized. He was a monster. He filled up the back of the car, and then he performed a move that was to become a Bear trademark. He wedged his head in tightly between our shoulders, and rode all the home that way. Jif and I smiled at each other, thinking things like “Isn’t he sweet, isn’t he cute?” We felt very good about our new pet. Until we got him home. They forgot to remind him at the SPCA that morning of how incredibly housebroken he was, because he walked into our living room and his first act was to make a large deposit on the fireplace hearth. We might as well have had a horse in the living room. Since I wasn’t working that day, the job of remedial housebreaking fell to me, and Jif went off to work. We wanted to teach Bear to go out the back door, which meant he had to go down the basement steps. He had a problem with this, didn’t like steps. I got behind him and pushed. He turned and looked at me like, “Are you nuts?” I stopped pushing his butt. Of course I was nuts. I didn’t now this dog; if he wanted to , he could take my head off. Over time, I realized that he was most unlikely to take anyone’s head off, and he did learn to go down the stairs. Once he adjusted to his new home, he did remember that he was housebroken.

While Bear was still new to us, even though he was well over a year old when we got him, he went through several chewing stages. There was his one shoe phase, where he chewed up one shoe from each pair of my best pumps; then there was the underwear phase, during which he was partial to bras; finally there was the electronics phase, where he ate a remote control, stereo headphones and a calculator. He also ate half a birthday cake, once (it was our fault, because earlier in the day we had put a party hat on him, so he must have thought the cake was his); he once ate an entire bottle of “Fiber Trim,” (we were afraid he would blow up when he drank water, but he didn’t; he just looked real unhappy); and he stole and ate countless cookies, pies and bread. (Looking back, he seems to have had a carb problem.) He always preferred to eat in the dining room, and whatever he stole, he carried under the dining room table to enjoy. Except for that one time, when Jif came out of the shower (Bear must have thought he was home alone) and walked out into the dining room to see Bear standing ON the table, vacuuming up the breakfast crumbs.

We loved Bear dearly. Over the years, we expected, hoped and prayed for children, but they never arrived. Until that wonderful day, about 10 years after Bear came into our lives. There was never a gentler, smarter dog than Bear, although whenever children were around, he would make himself scarce. I had noted this in the months leading up to LG’s birth. He was not aggressive toward children, but seemed wary of them, seemed to realize that people of that size were unpredictable and not always to be trusted. I was a little worried about how he would take to the new “pup” in the house. At first, all was well. He slept by her crib, as every dog lover dreams their big dog will do when children arrive. Even after she could sit alone on the floor, he was right there with her, propping her up, inspecting her toys, or just hanging close. Life was good.

And then LG started to become mobile on her own. She would crawl after him, and inspect his toys. He started with the behavior I had seen him exhibit with other children, that is, when she became too active, he’d head for the hills. Or at least, for the sanctuary of under-the-dining-room-table. He fully expected that LG would honor that boundary. She did not. And that was the beginning of the end for Bear as part of our live-in family. LG loved him by that time, and would relentlessly pursue him. But he was approaching 13 years old by that time, and he didn’t always want to be pursued. The first time he “grabbed” her arm, I denied it to myself. It kept happening. Never hurting her, or even frightening her, but trying, in his way, to discipline her, to send her the message to back off. She couldn’t get the message, and I couldn’t live with a dog I couldn’t leave alone in the room with my child. We had lived as a family of four for about 10 months when we finally faced the fact that Bear couldn’t be with us anymore.

Even after all this time, I must defend him. People thought he was jealous, that he became aggressive toward LG. He wasn’t one bit jealous. He loved her, and I don’t believe he would ever have intentionally hurt her. But he was elderly by that time, and not in the mood for all of her monkey business; it was only a matter of time until his attempts at limit-setting with her resulted in an unintentional injury. And we couldn’t have that. Thank God, a newish friend from our church, also a dog lover, heard about our plight and asked to adopt Bear. It was a perfect solution. Bear got to live with someone who loved him dearly, for the rest of his life, and we got to see him and hear about him often. A few years later, Bear’s new “mom,” who had become, and remains, a good friend, called to say that something was very wrong and she needed help getting him to the emergency vet. At his “peak,” Bear weighed about 120 pounds. He didn’t weigh that much by then, but he was still a big guy. Jif was suffering with a back injury at that time, so I went and helped get Bear to the vet. He was dying, mostly of old age. Our friend made the decision to have the vet give him the injections there that would end his very long life. I was able to be there and stroke him and thank him for all the joy he had brought us, while he went to sleep.

We went back to my house to tell Jif and LG about what had happened, share some tea, and tell stories about what a fine, fine creature Bear was, and how blessed we all were to have him pass through our lives.


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