Sorry! It’s been weeks since my last blog post. Much has happened in these weeks which I’ve been very eager to share, but unfortunately, I ended my last blog with the words “to be continued,” and thus forced myself into a creative corner. At that time, I was just leaving my familiar walking grounds to start a new route in the Big City, and I felt compelled to eulogize my time in Oak Park by dedicating little paragraphs to each of the critters which I had come to know and care for so well. But then, and perhaps inevitably, the little paragraphs turned into big long paragraphs. It seems I bit off more than I could
chew, so to speak, without inflicting permanent carpal tunnel on my poor typing fingers or acute eye fatigue on any poor reader. So I cut the blog off after a few dogs, foolishly thinking that I would get back to it soon and give each pup their due in the form of a
multi-chapter serial eulogy. Like a wash of sun in a hastily snapped photograph, the strong (perhaps premature) nostalgia of those days blinded my foresight, and I ignored the fact that very soon I would have many other things to occupy my attention. Like summer camp friends who promise to keep in touch, I really believed that the intimacy I felt with those dogs would continue undiminished forever. Then suddenly, I was assaulted by the first day of 7th grade (i.e. walking dogs in Chicago–hard to say which is nuttier). I was
immersed in new furry friends and new startling stories, and my Oak Park pals seemed even more distant than the commute which separated us and prompted my departure in the first place. It was very difficult to look beyond my glittering high-rise surroundings to the vague and distant suburbs. In short, I created a situation in which writing was an obligation and not a joy, as it has been and should be. Whenever I sat down to write, I tapped out sentences with all the enthusiasm of someone writing Christmas thank you cards in morse code. I had forced myself into fighting against the true, terrible and mythically powerful emotion best known as “I don’t WANNA!”
I caught a breath of fresh air when I realized that the intermission had become long enough to require explanation, and I was excited again to write both the above apology and then anything I wanted after that about my new city dogs. But now, wouldn’t you know it, I feel like writing about my Oak Park dogs again. I’ve started thinking about them, and the act of typing my thoughts has oiled up the gears, so to speak, to the point that I feel capable of fulfilling the prophesy “to be continued.” This is a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again: the only cure for a bad case of “I don’t WANNA” is a strong dose of “just shut up and DO IT.”
So I apologize for my premature apology. Lack of foresight, once again. Here, then, is part two of my ode to the Oak Park Pack. It’s shorter than it ought to be in every case, but “DO IT” is a medicine best swallowed quickly. Here goes:
Charlie is a King Charles/Cocker Spaniel mix, which means that he is a little more precious than a purebred Cocker and a little more rowdy than a purebred King Charles. He’s adorable of course, and whenever I walked through the door he came bounding up to me with a huge smile and an urgent need to roll around on the ground like a trout at my feet. I would rub his huge soft ears (a trait typical to both of his bloodlines, and seemingly enhanced by the combination) and he would coo and fall into a sort of ecstatic trance. Then we’d go outside for a nice long walk, and then suddenly Charlie would turn from a perfect domestic cuddle-dog into a crazed feral beast. His drive to eat any and everything off the ground and intimidate other dogs was so strong that eventually I felt it prudent to mention it to his Pet Parent. She shocked me by explaining that Charlie had been rescued from a shelter, and according to the shelter staff, Charlie had been surviving alone on the street for over a year! The crazy outdoor behavior I took to be a deviation from normal sweet domestic pet composure was, in fact, Charlie’s default mode. The idea of a cute little critter like Charlie fending for himself on the street is almost as incredible as the quickness and ease with which he turned from a street dog into a happy mellow house pet. Whenever I see a stray dog, living like so many do off of scraps and trash and resilience and craftiness, I will remember sweet, cuddly, adorable little Charlie. He is a real sweetheart, but also much more than he appears to be.
Mattie the Boxer is by far the most beautiful dog in the world, or at least you would come to that conclusion if you walked her around Oak Park. We always went on very long walks and the great majority of people we passed couldn’t help but compliment her, or compliment me on her. Naturally, I pretended she was mine so I could bask in her celebrity. It might be her sweet face that endears her to people, or maybe it’s her trim muscular build or speckled auburn coat, or perhaps her enthusiastic nature. Probably it’s some magical combination of all that and more. People of all backgrounds and walks of life–from blue-haired grandmas to purple haired rebels–would regularly stop and admire her or ask me what kind of dog she was. I’ve written about Mattie before on several occasions, so I’ll just say that, over the course of a year, Mattie went from a very shy and nervous rescue into a sweet, snorting and amazingly affectionate dog. I’m glad I was able to witness her grow in confidence and sociability, and every time she came running up to meet me at the door, turned around in circles wagging her whole torso and then sat on my feet looking backwards up at me with big wet loving eyes, I marveled to think that this was the same shy dog I’d met a year ago. Mattie was a real pal, and I’ll always remember her for being a beauty through and through.
Homer is a Bearded Collie Mix and a real gentle pup. Aside from Callie, Homer is the only dog to ever have bitten me, and it was really just a case of me startling him and him swinging his head (a head which encases surprisingly sharp fangs) to catch the offending intruder, in this case, my hand. We were both startled, really, and he sheepishly slunk off to await the moment, about ten seconds later, when I would call him and he could come be my happy friend again. During those ten seconds I carved in bronze a lesson I had already learned but forgotten, perhaps cheated on throughout the years with my own dogs, and put completely out of my mind that day when I saw sweet, soft and totally harmless looking little Homer resting in the corner: don’t startle a dog. Even if he looks like a muppet and acts like a teddy bear, he still might respond roughly if he is suddenly jostled by an unknown force. It’s amazing to think, of all the dogs I’ve walked, that the composed and dignified Mr. Homer is the only one to have nipped me (except Callie, but she’s a special case as I’ll explain). I won’t forget the lesson again, and I won’t forget Homer, the way he stamped his rear feet when I pet his rump as he burrowed into my lap, the way he would wipe his own sensitive paws on a towel on the ground because of a mutual understanding that having them wiped was too distressing. He was and is a class act. I could go on and on. But I won’t. So long Homer the Gnomer. I wish you and your human all the best.
Rocky and Rumpus are a Beagle and a Chocolate Lab, respectively, who were always a pleasure to walk. Rumpus was lone king of the manor for the longest time, and then one day I walked through his door and voila: Rocky. Both pups are sweet as can be, and though I was happy to meet Rocky (and he was clearly very happy to meet me), I was a
little apprehensive. Rumpus, you see, can be a handful, and adding another dog (and clearly a very energetic dog at that) seemed like quite a challenge. Rumpus happens to be a martial arts master. There are legends of tiny ancient men living in bamboo dojos on the tops of sacred mountains who could withstand the gusts of a hurricane while balanced on their toe, so great was the concentration of chi energy within their spindly frames. Just as these sensei could focus the breath they inhaled into an iron obelisque which passed
through their hearts into the heart of the earth which even a cavalry charge of raging ronin could not move, so too could Rumpus remain completely immobile despite the desperate efforts of a dog walker to get him away from the center of his attention. And that was always food. In short, Rumpus is both ravenous and strong. But it goes beyond that. He tried to eat everything (seeing a walk as simply an opportunity to graze) including sticks, dirt, poop, etc., and was amazingly, almost surreally difficult to discourage in this. A train
engine could not pull him away from an old french fry. So having another bouncy dog along to distract me precisely when I most needed to focus my chi to keep Rumpus-san from doing catastrophic things to his digestive tract, well like I said, it seemed like quite a
challenge. But Rocky had an amazing effect on Rumpus. One has to be careful when introducing a new dog into an old dogs home. It takes time for them to get to know each other. But Rocky’s sudden appearance showed me that however much time they needed (48 hours?), they’d had it. Rumpus, patient old kung fu master that he is, had already resigned himself to being petted only after Rocky for ever and ever, since Rocky immediately tries to climb the leg of whoever comes over, and barks incessantly and exactly like a seal with a megaphone the moment your hand leaves him to dare give Rumpus a quick pat on the rumpus. Rocky’s shenanigans, in other words, made Rumpus act much calmer and more dignified, as if to highlight the contrast in self-control. So it was great. Walking them together was fun, playing inside with them was fun, and sharing a wink with Rumpus that said “we share the respect of great martial arts competitors who have dueled for weeks with poisoned spears atop the lily pads of the lake of harmony, but man get a load of that guy, he’s a nut and barks like a seal,” was fun too. (Winks can say a lot.) I’ll miss those dogs.
Marty and Sweetie are a couple of Wheaton terriers who looked very similar but were actually a very odd pair. The dogs lived in separate rooms of the house since they had a history of trying to kill each other, needed to be walked separately, fed and treated separately, and medicated to help alleviate their fratricidal urges. It sounds very
intense on paper and was always a challenge, but the amazing thing is how happy and friendly they were in real life. Marty was a classic goofball. You couldn’t see his eyes through his shaggy hair, so the only way you could tell when he was really looking at you was when his tail started thumping back and forth at 65 beats-per-second and his
big grin turned even bigger. He was the older, bigger brother, and was very low-key. Sweetie, on the other hand, was a wacko. She would always do what I came to call the Praying Mantis Dance when she saw me, in which she balances improbably on her hind legs and flings her front legs up straight up beyond her head, only to flick them down
together at 650 beats-per-second. You may have seen versions of this dance in little tiny dogs, but never has so large a creature so successfully mastered the maneuver. Her front paws got so far behind her head that she was effectively dancing toward me armpits-first.
Her big smile was the only thing that told me that she wasn’t trying to flick magic dust on my head or mate with a fellow tarantula. She just wanted the highest possible five. It was adorable. But I’m sure Marty didn’t think so. I imagine her energy was part of the reason
they had a history of fighting. Well, long story short, eventually these two learned to live or at least walk together without fighting. I’m sure Marty still finds her the annoying little sister, but Sweetie just can’t help it. I enjoyed my time with these two and I look forward to seeing Sweetie’s Praying Mantis Dance on You Tube someday.
Sally, oh Sally. Where to begin? On second thought, Sally will need a blog devoted to her alone. I’ve written about her before on several occasions, but there is so much more to say so I’ll leave off here for now.
Once again this is getting too long. So, to be continued! And soon.