Even as a puppy, Argus had a gleam in his eye; a clown in the making!
It is possible for our dogs to teach us important concepts. For example, Caribou has taught me about the definition of work.
I watch Caribou in the yard. She walks around the fence line; she sniffs beneath the woodpile. Sometime a feral cat spends the night beneath the woodpile tarp and she catches him there early in the morning. He hisses, safe beneath the wood and she lays at the edge of the tarp and guards the opening until I call her inside and allow the ragged cat to escape the yard.
Outside once again, Caribou trees the chatty squirrels and prevents them from raiding the bird feeder. Sometimes she lays on her bed just inside the breezeway where she can watch the backyard and also keep an eye on the road. Neighbors stroll by the house, walking their dogs, and Caribou always sounds the alarm. She lets them know that this house is guarded; this house has a german shepherd on duty 24 hours a day.
As the day darkens into early evening, I bring the dogs inside and feed them. Only then does Caribou rest. She climbs atop the leather sofa; lays her big head against the armrest and falls into a deep, satisfied sleep. She is exhausted at the end of the day; and I realize that she has indeed “worked” all day long. A day of strolls around the yard, laying on the breezeway…it looks to me like a leisurely day; and yet clearly it is not what it seems.
I think about my day of work which typically consists of phone calls, note taking, driving from place to place to make patient visits, sitting in meetings. I wonder what Caribou thinks when I leave for the morning and climb into the car. She loves car rides; to her they are adventures, not work.
Caribou is a working dog; she is a trained search and rescue dog. When we respond to a callout, I say she is going to work. But, I watch Caribou on searches or in training and I see her bright eyes, her joy of the hunt. Would she say this is work? I doubt it.
Ultimately, work is defined by the individual. And perhaps the way we define it determines our joy or our unhappiness.
Some things come from our childhood and stay with us all our lives. That’s how Argus feels about his towel. As a puppy, Kip tucked a warm towel into his crate to comfort him; after baths Kip wrapped Argus up in a big, fluffy bath towel.
To this day, Argus becomes animated and excited at the sight of a towel. He has one of his own, of course. He likes to wrap it around a favorite toy, in essence making an individualized soft toy that he clamps between his paws and chews on. He rolls onto his back, holding the towel toy between big feet and waving it in the air while he grunts and growls in a mock battle. When the battle is done, he lumps the towel beneath his head and slips into a satisfied sleep.
The day the boxes arrived from New Hampshire, I piled them in my guest room and forgot about them for a few days. I was busy, afterall. But a week later, with rain sluicing down the gutters and nothing else to do, I dragged one out and pried it open.
I had spent the holidays in New Hampshire where I had been given the daunting task of going through my parent’s attic and sorting through all my childhood memories. What to keep? What to throw away? There were stuffed toys, fur rubbed off and eyes missing; favorite books; scrapbooks of all my sporting events; yearbooks; old jewelry; a cracked porcelain figurine of a cat; and letters…lots and lots of letters that I had saved over the years. A scarce amount of things went into the garbage; most of the stuff went into boxes to be shipped back to California.
So on this particular rainy day in California, I began to open the boxes. Before long I was immersed in the letters that my best friend in junior high school had sent to me when she and her family moved out of state at the end our our ninth grade year of school. We had exchanged daily letters over a two year period; and I had saved every one. As I read I laughed, I cried, I remembered the pain of adolescence and the struggle to be adults when we were still just children. All our thoughts, fears, joys and confessions were scrawled in those letters. I sat back and wondered where my childhood friend was now. We had lost touch, as people do, and I had not spoken to her in well over 20 years.
I logged onto my computer and spent less than an hour on the Internet to find my friend. With a bit of apprehension, but mostly excitement, I dialed her phone number; got an answering machine; and left a message. Ten minutes later the phone rang and I was speaking to my old friend! The years melted away as we talked. Our lives had taken us miles apart and we had traveled diverse pathways, but within an hour we had bridged the gaps.
I am left with the feeling that what is important in our lives is not the money we make or the homes we build; it’s not the scenery we view or the jobs we hold. What is important are the people; the relationships; the sharing of dreams and joys and sorrows. And that is something for which we must always find the time.
It is not quite March, but even here in the mountains there are signs of spring. Two years ago I planted one hundred bulbs, most of which were dug up and eaten by squirrels. Last year I was smarter and snugged chicken wire over the tops of the pots. The squirrels chattered angrily from the tree branches, but my bulbs remained safe. Yesterday I checked the pots and found strong green shoots pushing through the soil. Even one of my roses which was tormented by beetles last summer, seems to feel the approach of spring. New growth has sprung up on its skeletel branches.
As I descend into the valley each morning for work, I pass by dozens of ranches where cows graze. The new calves throw up their tiny hooves and spar with one another; they romp in the bright green fields and roll in the muddy pools of standing water.
All around me are signs that winter is ending and the world is being reborn.
Sussi came to live with me when she was seven years old. She was underweight and doubt filled her chocolate brown eyes. For the last two years, her owner had neglected her in order to pursue a world of drugs.
Sussi’s personality was sweet. Intelligence radiated from her eyes. Her stump of a tail never stopped wagging. She and Kodiak fell in love at first sight. Kodiak was glad to have a friend to help ward off Clint’s unexpected attacks.
Sussi quickly became known as “the pack cohesion coordinator.” She worried about keeping everyone together; she circled round me on hikes and then raced back to Kodiak to check on him; then back to me again. She probably ran ten times the distance I walked on a single hike.
At night, when the temperatures dipped, I lay on the couch and tapped my chest.
“Dog blanket,” I said. And Sussi would leap up and drape herself across my chest, her head tucked beneath my chin. Her deep, even breathing often put me to sleep.
On outings, people often noticed Kodiak first. His huge, majestic body and fawning expression reeled people in. But, within a few moments, Sussi would get their attention. She sat quietly, her gentle doe eyes attentive.
“And who is this sweet dog?” People would say; and Sussi would thump her tail and grin.
If someone made me choose, I would have to say I am a dog person. But, I did own a cat at one time. Clint Catwood was the product of my brother-in-law’s tiny housecat and an unknown Boston alley cat. Clint had none of his mother’s gentle traits. I can only imagine that he resembled his father in every way.
Clint traveled with me from Boston, to Maine and across the United States (three times), until he finally ended up in California. He was worldly and confident. He hated children and dogs equally. He had an obsession for Brillo pads.
One day I heard a kitchen cupboard door bounce on its hinges. I walked into the kitchen and began opening doors, peering inside cautiously. When I opened the door beneath the sink I found Clint, one foot atop the Brillo box, ears back. Busted. When Clint successfully snatched a Brillo pad, he made short work of the thing, enlarging it to four times its size and leaving it dead and destroyed on the kitchen floor.
My dogs had great respect for Clint. He terrorized them. He often lay in wait atop a bed, or beneath the couch. When the dogs ambled by, he sprang. Once he managed to wrap his paws around Kodiak’s neck and hang on as the huge dog back peddled down the hall in a panic.
Luckily, Clint mellowed with age. He began to miss opportunities to frighten the dogs. He slept long hours in the sun on the windowsill. He resisted the urge to snag me with a claw when I was done patting him. I imagine his dreams were of his youthful days when others stood back and yeilded to him as he trekked through his terroritory.
I will probably own another cat someday. He or she will have big paws to fill.