Sullivan is one of those dogs with a murky history. He’s a black lab of indeterminate age and an assortment of bad habits, most of which don’t ordinarily amount to a crisis. His unfailing devotion and desire to be with me AT ALL TIMES kind of blows my mind. I mean, we haven’t known each other that long. If a guy gave me as much attention as Sullivan does, I’d be running for the hills crying ‘stalker’ and changing my phone number.
Sadly, recently Sullivan has been trying to kill me. I’m pretty sure it’s not on purpose. When I’m awake I’m usually a busy bee, dashing from one room to the other, inside, outside, hauling bags of feed and supplies around. It’s the life of a slightly disorganized farmer and it is, evidently, fascinating to Sullivan. He creeps up behind me and head-butts the backs of my knees, causing a kind of buckling movement in my legs; his favorite time to do this seems to be right before I go down the stairs. Fortunately this past winter I developed a new method of walking due to the pretty much constant presence of ice (visible and invisible), little old lady style: incline your torso forward, hunch a bit, and take itty bitty steps. Defensive walking. So if I know I’m being shadowed by Sullivan I try to practice this. It’s the times I assume I’m free to move about the cabin that expletives happen. However, I do find that saltiness helps the mind if not the terrain, don’t you?
Sullivan has the softest ears I’ve ever felt on a dog. I blush to admit that I fell in love with him over the Internet. What a world we live in! His bright eyes and sad sack story reminded me of Toby, an amazing soul who lived here for four glorious years after I found him starving to death at a Maryland farm. He is not Toby – it took a while for me to get over that fact – but he is joyously his own man who enjoys a good whisky by the fire at night. And, honestly, I can’t fall asleep until he’s cuddled up next to me. His method is ingenious: he plops down right on top of my bones and slides down hard until he hits mattress – this ensures minimum gaps between him and me during the snoozing hours. After the initial impact, it’s really lovely.
I have some friends without dogs – I don’t know how they do it. Their houses are quiet and clean. I think I might find that upsetting. But more to the point, who takes care of the daily licking of their souls, raw from a day out in the world?
I remember very distinctly when I decided that adult life without a dog made no sense at all. It was also the day my landlady in DC decided I was no longer a desirable tenant. Why there should be such a schism between ‘clean living’ and canine companionship, I do not know. I do think that older civilizations have adjusted more thoroughly to the fact that dogs are so integral to the human spirit that they must and should be part of daily life. In Europe dogs go into shops, cafes, and restaurants with their people. In Moscow the dogs ride the subway every day (free of charge) to their destinations, and back again at night. Once when boarding a train in Germany, I was startled to see a very large German Shepherd climb up the metal stairs into a compartment. Can you imagine the hoopla if someone tried this on Amtrak? Sadly, I think the United States has several more centuries to go before the inevitability of dogs in daily life is truly accepted, where dogs are not relegated to “dog parks” and the only commercial establishments that welcome them are the ones that want the owners to drop a lot of money at the cashier station.
I suppose I’m one of those slightly mal-adapted people who always slinks back to talk to the dog at parties, a sometimes successful attempt to avoid the human small talk “so, what do YOU do?” It’s a serious problem when I have to attend a dog-less event, but often there is at least one person with white hairs on a black sweater which leads to pretty decent conversation material.
Because if you live with dogs, you will succumb to the hair. You will be KNOWN when you go out in public, and fastidious people will ask for a towel before deigning to perch on your furniture. Truthfully, sometimes the dogginess does get to me and I long for a sterile hotel room where I know I will not step in anything vile on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The current dogs in my life tip over and root through the trash can, raid the volunteers’ snack foods, track mud, grit and other things I’d rather not think about through the house, and jump on the bed to dry off after getting stuck in a rainstorm. They crowd the hallway, bodies strewn about in states of total relaxation, so that I can never walk a straight line from one room to the next, and when I’m at the computer, they park themselves directly behind my chair. Sullivan has an insane, relentless bark that accelerates to high decibels when I go outside to the car (I think the bark gene got messed up somewhere in his ancestry); Sam won’t let me leave the farm if I’m driving the truck and jumps the fence to follow me out to the road; Tig-ba barges out the door first, spinning around and snarling and yelping at the two much larger male dogs trying to exit, thus causing a big traffic pileup whenever we go outside.
In contrast, the first dog in my adult life was perfect. Sage was a dog no one forgets. This is not just nostalgia speaking. Smart, sweet, polite, beautiful, gentle with all: a lady and a kind soul. So it was a terrible shock when these other hooligans moved in with me. They annoy the pants off of me at times… and I can’t imagine life without them. They accompany me on feeding rounds outside, watch my favorite “International Mystery” programs in various Nordic languages with me; they let me know if someone is arriving at the farm, and, the best of all, they keep me warm at night. When I go to my office to do “real” work, I always take a dog with me – I just don’t seem to get as much done unless they are helping.
I have been to even doggier homes than my own. On my spring shearing rounds some of the farmers generously put me up for the night, and most have lots and lots of dogs. One farm fosters greyhound dogs and at last count they had 11 in the house – I have at least 2 or 3 of them with me in the twin bed at night. Arriving at their front door is like the Volkswagen clown trick – 2 come running out, then another 2 or 3 and you think that is all, when suddenly 5 more burst out exuberantly exclaiming, “hi hi hi, how are you, let me kiss you, no me first, me first, let me kiss her first, hi hi hi.” This is my idea of a terrific household.
But one’s own dogs are always the best. Whether I’ve been gone an hour or a week, upon my return Sullivan jumps up and down, rolls his head around on my person, snorts in my face, and then happily sticks with me no matter where I go, just to make sure I know he is still there. Late in the night, when the furor of the day’s activities are well over but sleep has not yet come, when the ghosts of those now gone are elusive yet whose absence fills the room, when it’s too late to call friends without a really good story, when lack of diversions strip away the illusion that we are not alone – it is then that a pushy black lab comes up to the computer, repeatedly bouncing his nose under my arm, liquid brown eyes unblinking and adoring.
And he is right. We have a 30,000 year relationship to maintain.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm
And, for those of you who don’t subscribe to dogdom, here is a wonderful wisdom to share:
Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. –Jim Carrey