Dog Tales: Part One
My wife had always loved dogs, and had almost always had one. Since she was pregnant at the time we both agreed that we want our child to grow up with one, in our mind dogs and kids went together like… peanut butter and jelly. So when I came home from work and opened the door to see her holding a dog, I wasn’t all that surprised. What did surprise me was that the dog was a six month old Doberman. It turned out that a photographer friend of ours had done some work for a local breeder who was moving to another state. They had been trying to sell this one since she was born, but with no luck and time was running out. Our friend told them he knew someone who would give it a good home, but couldn’t afford to pay for it. The breeder traded her to him for a couple of extra photos and we agreed to help with lighting setups and equipment transportation for some of his future photo shoots in exchange for the dog. (Don’t you just love the barter system.)
As I said, my wife had almost always had a dog and I was no stranger to them either (although it had been much longer since I had one). Among the stories that we exchanged during our early days of getting to know each other were our “dog stories”. I told her about growing up on the farm in Pennsylvania and how at one point our family raised pure-bred collies. One of those collies was born the same year as I was and she and I became constant companions. Her herding and protective instincts had kept me out of trouble more than once. I was reminded many times by my parents of how, if they were going to discipline me, they had to take me in the house and leave the dog outside to prevent her from interfering. Beauty was her name and it fit her well.
Naturally when my family moved to Ohio, Beauty came with us. Unfortunately, as is the case with most larger breeds of dogs, Beauty aged quickly. She and I were both ten when the family made the move. The most noticeable sign of age on her was the loss of hearing. This became a real danger since we no longer lived on a seventy acre farm (where she knew most of the place by scent) but were now located on a two and a quarter acre plat next a busy state highway.
Rather than take the chance of her getting hit by one of the “big rigs” as they raced between Akron and Youngstown to deliver their goods, we found an old farmer who had a large piece of land and gave her to him. We knew she only had, at most, five years left, but at least this way they would be peaceful and she would be happy. I still miss her.
Most of my wife’s dogs had been Dobermans. She loved the breed for their sleek lines, but more importantly since they were bred as “companion” dogs, for their loyalty to their masters.
Because of their noble and almost majestic stance, she had given each of them a “regal” name. She told me of Sir Morgan of Troy, who could be as gentle and playful as a kitten or, if the situation called for it as ferociously protective as a lion. She also loved their speed and strength. One time when she was living in an apartment building Morgan had chewed and clawed his way through both sides of a sheet rock wall in an attempt to get out because there was a female Doberman somewhere in the building who was “in heat”.
I told her of the time when I was walking through a small town in the wee hours of the morning on my way home after visiting a “lady friend” who lived near the city forty miles away. Some of the neighborhood dogs had barked as I passed, which I expected (after all that is part of their job). I ignored them and kept walking, knowing that as long as they did not sense fear they would probably leave me alone once I got past their “territory”. About half way through the town I noticed that two our three of them had continued to follow me and were starting to gain on me. Now, two dogs are a “pair”, but it only take three dogs to make a “pack”. Once the pack instinct sets in, the rules change. The hunting mode of being a dog takes over. The larger the pack, the more intense the pack instinct becomes and it is contagious to other dogs in the area.
By the time I noticed that there were five dogs about twenty yards behind me, I realized that if I didn’t do something quickly, I would be in BIG trouble. There were no lights on in any of the houses and no traffic on the road. I mustered every ounce of courage I had, turned to face the dogs, took about five steps towards them and raised my arms in the air, took another step and let out the loudest, deepest sound I possibly could (I can only describe it as a roar). I had become the lion chasing back a pack of jackals….. To my relief (and surprise) it worked. The dogs stopped immediately, even their barking stopped. I calmly turned and began walking toward home again. After a bit I noticed that some of the dogs were still following, but at a greater distance and without the barks. After I left the town limits, they stopped following and the rest of my journey was comparatively uneventful.
My wife had reminded me that, because of the strong bond that needs to develop between “companion” dogs and their masters, initial impressions were critical. I remembered this as I stepped through the door of our little adobe house. Since the dog had been there before I got home, in its mind I was the stranger. I let my wife welcome me before advancing and meeting the dog. Seeing that my wife accepted me, the dog decided that I was ok and after the standard sniffing inspection I was able to move freely through the house. Next came the task of choosing a name for the dog. She was young and beautiful with the classic Doberman lines and markings. She was both gentle and proud, and you see the look of intelligence in her eyes.
In the tradition of selecting “regal” names, we decided to call her Athena (after the Greek goddess of wisdom, battle and protector of cities).
We had only had Athena a few weeks when she decided to test the limits of her “royal” treatment. As with most new couples, the furniture in our little adobe house was (a) second-hand and (b) limited. In fact some of it was old wooden crates turned upside down with homemade cushions stapled to them for a seat. This came in handy at moving times since they also doubled as packing boxes (and we didn’t have to worry about what to do with them after the move). The one piece of “real” furniture that we did own was a king sized waterbed (hey, you gotta set priorities right?). The only way we were able to afford that was because it was one of the “private line” models the company I was working for had decided to discontinue making. So, on top of the normal employee discount, we also got the discontinued model discount and they let us pay it off by deducting $25 from my pay check each week. Naturally, I worked a lot of overtime to make up the difference.
Since we delivered all over the state, there were many times I didn’t get home till late (New Mexico is a big state, check your map!). I came home after one of those long days and was greeted at the door by wife and dog (you would have thought we living in the suburbs). After “hello’s” and kisses from both of them (my wife first, even if Athena didn’t like it), My wife proceeded to tell me about her adventures of the day. We had two stuffed chairs, one of which I was headed for to unwind from the road like I usually did while listening to my wife’s tales. Athena had gotten in (or should I say returned to) my chair before I reached it. She refused to budge when I told her to get down and tried to look the other way and ignore me. That is when my wife informed me that Athena had spent most of her “inside time” in that chair and had grown quite fond of it.
I could understand her fondness for the chair, it was the least worn of the two and it also was higher than the other available seats (the high ground with a dominate view kind of thing), I was rather fond of it myself. I knew enough about obedience training with dogs to realize it was not a good idea to let Athena ignore me. I gave her the command to get down one more time and then quickly (but not so suddenly as to startle her) scooped her up in my arms, stood up straight and paused just long enough for her to realize that all four of her feet were off the ground and that I was the one that held her there. Then I carefully set her down beside the chair and sat in the chair myself and praised her for sitting and staying beside the chair as I stroked her. She calmly laid down resting her head on her paws and making sure that one of her feet was touching one of mine. I asked my wife to proceed with her stories of the day, but before she did she observed, “Well, Athena may have been a Greek goddess, but I think she just got reminded that Zeus is still her daddy.”
It wasn’t long after that I was met by the neighbor across the street as I pulled into the driveway (company truck, another job perk they let me bring it home since I lived close). He was there to apologize for his dog getting out earlier in the day and coming over to “visit” our dog (who happened to be in heat). I wasn’t too concerned about it since his was also a doberman (although not nearly as good looking as Athena, and definitely over-sized). So, there I was coming home every night to two pregnant females, a situation that truly “separates the men from the boys”, as they say.