Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If You Lay Down with Dogs...

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket get up in the company of friends. I know the adage goes, " get up with fleas" but I completely disagree. (Not about the possibility of fleas, of course, but with the derogatory perception that accompanies the proverb). Cohabitation with dogs means you are in constant company with ardent admirers, faithful followers, loving kin. Friends - those who view us with ardent affection, with great personal regard. Comrades who *like* us, even when we aren't particularly likable.

I have never understood non-dog people or people who profess to be dog people but their dogs live in pens on chains in backyards. While they might appreciate the animal, I don't know if they truly comprehend the relationship that can form in closer quarters. Never mind the constant appearance of dog hair on your clothing, the companionship is more than worth extra vacuuming and a goodly supply of lint brushes.

Watching the news the other day at the gym, I was struck by a story of two golden retrievers, Merry and Pippin, who stayed by their owner's dead body for three weeks in the wilderness until he was found. Both dogs suffered dehydration, but they stayed by his side, fighting off predators and protecting the body of their beloved master who apparently died from hypothermia and dehydration. He had developed Alzheimer's and had had a hard time communicating with friends and family, yet never failed to communicate clearly with those dearest of buddies.

Faithful. Loyal. True. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas write about the "grace of canine companionship." It truly is grace, unmerited favor. Sometimes I'm in awe of how much my dogs love me.

Each morning I wake up to loving eyes blinking at me in the dark room. Moogie, who sleeps on my feet, crawls up my body to give me a hug and then he moves over to allow me to get up. He's gotten smart - he stays in bed until I get out of the bathroom and have my contacts on. Freckles, on the other hand, feels compelled to follow me out into the hallway and then station herself at the top of the stairs. Usually Virginia, Queen of Demon-spawn, will position herself on the banister to await the procession downstairs. Camile will slink down when she is good and ready.

Moogie and Freckles sleep in my room each night. Moogie, curled up on top of my feet and legs; Freckles, in her "beddie bye basket." She needs her own personal space, too. :) Freckles will turn 10 next March, Moogie will then turn 8. Freckles is a cocker spaniel with quite a weight problem; she gets most of her exercise following me up and down the stairs all day. It's no struggle for Moogie, who is long and lean. All day long whenever I go upstairs, they follow me. When I go down, they go down. In her old age, Freckles is now trying to anticipate if I really plan to stay up there for a while or not. She tends to lag behind, sometimes several minutes, hoping that she doesn't waste a trip. More often than not, by the time she gets up the stairs I am almost ready to head back down. Moogie, on the other hand, is always hot on my heels. Over time they have learned that I will shut them out of the bathroom, so they usually wait patiently just outside the door.

When I go out on an errand, I am sure to be greeted by a course of yips and howls when I return. You would not believe there were only two dogs waiting behind the door - it sounds like I have a full kennel. When I open the door, I am greeted by unspeakable joy. Oh, sometimes looks of disgust come after the initial joy - I occasionally get chastised for being away too long.

When I come home and am not greeted by the cacophony of the canine chorus, I don't need to guess what's going on. A joyless greeting means that Moogie has been in the trash and both dogs know it won't be a happy reunion. Moogie often watches me drive away by standing at the backdoor watching me get into the van in leave. Sometimes he looks like "Oh, no. There she goes, I wish she'd stay." Other times I can tell that he's thinking, "Alright, when she gets to the end of the driveway that garbage can is MINE."

When we go away, we used to send the dogs to separate houses. Moogie went over to our friend, George's house. Staying at George's was like putting Moogie up at a brothel. The female dogs there took a liking to him. :) Freckles was never that easy. She tries to escape and get back to us. Last time we left her at a friend's house a block away and she broke down their screen door...TWICE...and ran back to our house where they found her quivering on the steps. The day we returned she heard the sound of our vehicle and she made some sort of amazing escape through a fence and as we pulled in the driveway we could see her barrelling down the road, ears flying, her fat body using every ounce of power she could pull together to get home to us. Now we leave them at home and have someone come in at least three times a day to take them out, walk them, play with them, etc.

Sharing my life with dogs has enriched it - all gain and limited loss. Oh, Moogie #1 chewed through a set of living room furniture, amongst other things. Moogie #2 became adept at opening doors and letting himself in and out, even into someone else's porch to chase their cat. My current crew is getting older, so there is a lot of snoring at night. Moogie likes to try to take up more space on the bed that he is allotted, if at all possible. He also likes a good rotisserie chicken or a pizza if one is left unattended on a counter-top. There has been consternation and there has been aggravation, but material things aren't all that important to me and annoyances fade with time. It's all been worth it.

Now for my controversial little soapbox. Bob Barker has a point when he preaches to have our pets spayed and neutered...HOWEVER, I disagree with the way it is done. When a female dog is spayed, everything is removed. Everything. When you think of women you know who have had complete hysterectomies, you know that there is major hormonal upheaval. I find it wrong to do that to a defenseless animal. Tubal ligation is a kinder alternative - leaving the ovaries intact. Many vets won't take the time to do that.

Male dogs are basically castrated - I feel it would be much more humane to perform a vasectomy. The personality would not be altered, hormone production would still be possible - and yet one could still help control the population of unwanted canines. Sadly, only a few vets will perform this procedure. In spite of common mythology, neutering a male dog has NO proven effect on aggression.

While I agree that it is a necessity to prevent unwanted litters, I think it is wrong to infringe on the natural state of animals that we profess to love. Some disadvantages to the current popular methods of sterilization are: obesity in both genders, urinary in continence in females, increase risk of prostrate cancer in mails, hormone-responsive alopecia, a twofold excess risk of osteosarcoma, severe geriatric cognitive impairment in males -- and more. I have recently seen osteosarcoma in two female animals I know, young dogs, who were spayed at a young age. It's sad and it's sick. We wouldn't do that to humans knowing the risks... but we do it to the defenseless. The way the world is going these days, I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes increasing commonplace to commit this brutality on humans who cannot speak for themselves.


Great dog books that everyone should read. Keep tissues handy for some of these:

Lad: A Dog by Albert Terhune
The Hidden Lives of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
The Social Lives of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan
Mostly Bob by Tom Corwin
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz
The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions by Stanley Coren
Amos: The Story of an Old Dog and His Couch by Susan Seligson and Howie Schneider (This is a kid's book but it is THE BEST).

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