It’s cloudy with that wintry half-light that means rain is coming. Warm gusts of wind from the west bring a faint, briny ocean smell and I take deep breaths. We don’t smell that very often around here. Branches toss, and orange and yellow leaves fill the air and spin end over end before they come to rest on grass, roofs, and pavement. In the distance, someone drives a huge mower the size of a small truck, with enormous cutting wheels that swing independently in all directions, getting one last mowing done before the storm. It swings closer and exhaust mixes with the salty wind.
Kieran streaks across the sloping lawns, pushing faster and faster for the sheer joy of running. Just in time, he runs himself out and comes back to flop down at my feet. I clip on his leash and we go back to the car. As we pull into the street, big raindrops splash on the windshield.
Jilly suddenly began walking on three legs while we were out at the park last Sunday. I couldn’t figure out how she got injured, and our vet was closed until Tuesday because it was a holiday weekend. I thought she must have somehow dislocated her right hip, and we went in for x-rays on Tuesday. I was surprised to find out that her hips and patellae are totally normal; in fact, they are “excellent.” But on exam, she had a positive drawer, knee movement she’s not supposed to have, meaning she has a torn cruciate ligament.
Because she is so small and weighs only twenty pounds, she may recover on her own and not need surgery, so the plan is watchful waiting to see if she improves. No more walks for probably six months. She already seems improved and is touching the foot down now, but she is on pain medication, so she may or may not really be getting better. The horrible thing is that with or without surgery, she will develop arthritis in that leg. She will be taking glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM for the rest of her life to try to minimize this. I take those myself to keep my joints healthy; I’m getting older, and so many people younger than I am are needing joint replacements, but I’m sad because Jilly, who lives to chase balls, is suddenly an old lady now at age three.
Prompted by Sunday Scribblings: Dinner
Dinnertime for the dogs is serious business: lots of anticipatory chop-licking and jumping for joy when the bowls are being filled. I taught them to leap high in the air instead of jumping all over me, so it looks like the most joyful cavorting you can imagine. Then I set down the bowls. Each dog checks to make sure the other one didn’t get more. It’s the same with treats, and if a piece of jerky should fall out of Kieran’s mouth (he’s clumsy and not too bright), Jilly snatches it before he even realizes what happened.
When Joel and I were university students, we’d have dinner at Mama’s, an Italian restaurant right out of the movies with red-and-white checked tablecloths and candles in chianti bottles dripping wax all over the straw holders. We’d begin with antipasto–cold cuts, cheese slices, peppers and olives–while we waited for the pizza. At last it would come, round, hot, and succulent with bubbly melted cheese, sliced unevenly with an equal number of slices but some pieces bigger than others. Like a couple of dogs, we’d eye the pizza and try to grab the biggest slice first. Sometimes I won; sometimes he did. Mama’s pizza was wonderful, meant to be savored, but we bolted it like dogs, racing to get to the last slice before the other person could. Joel always got the last piece; I just couldn’t eat fast enough. Dessert would be spumoni, green and pink ice cream full of candied fruit. We each had our own bowl to linger over and enjoy, and it’s still my favorite ice cream.
Besides fighting over pizza, we found countless other ways to be unkind to each other until I moved to another state, found someone else, and had a child. Joel was killed in an accident. I still think of him when “49 Bye-Byes” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash comes on the radio; it was our song. How we could be best friends, lovers, and utterly horrible to each other all at the same time still pains me, but now, years later, the best-friends part is what remains.
The movie, Where the Wild Things Are, is far more complicated than the book, not that I’ve read the book in a long, long time. The wild monsters in the movie have psychological and emotional “issues,” and expect the little boy, Max, to be therapist as well as king. He tries but only manages to muddy things up even more. I enjoyed it anyway; the forts they built were like something Andy Goldsworthy would create, and the kid in me loved the wild rumpus of it all.
My dogs love to go into a frenzy of barking for the sheer joy of making a lot of noise–I’ve got wild things of my own right here at home, just as Maurice Sendak has a German Shepherd from New Skete who’s allowed to jump up on the furniture. I looked at those dogs with their pointed ears, grubby fur, and sharp teeth, and said, “Let the wild rumpus start!” I began to sound off just like Max in the movie, “Whoooo, whoooo, hooooo,” and they jumped right in, barking and howling. We really got into it, making a deafening rumpus that left all our ears ringing afterward.
Somebody remarked at the dog park that Jilly is a badger. He definitely had her pegged, with her prickly, bossy little self. She sleeps on her back most of the time and even looks like a badger.
Corgis are bossy little dogs. She struts around on her stumpy little legs, swishing her furry butt with its little nubbin of a tail, and she never lets Kieran get away with anything, but with me, she’s a great companion and follows my lead—most of the time. But I’ve just had two very bad days in a row at work—almost walked off the job, but only almost. From an assertive energy standpoint, I was more like the half-dead earthworms I’ve been rescuing than the leader of our pack. Jilly noticed and decided to implement a step-by-step strategy to take over the position of pack leader. This morning, she attacked Kieran to get him under control once and for all, but I jumped between them and she had to back off. She got me back, though–on our walk to the park, she slipped out of her collar and ran off down the street. I called and called, but instead of coming to me, she ran to a tiny lady out for a walk all bundled up in coat and gloves and jumped up on her, then ran into a neighbor’s yard, and he grabbed her. She was having so much fun—she had a big grin on her face and I swear she was laughing. I got her back on leash and decided to assert my own leadership with obedience commands. Every half-block or so on our way to the park, I would stop and order them to sit. Kieran would sit, and Jilly would stand there giving me a blank look—“Did you say something?” After several more stops, she eventually gave in, and we are back to normal until next time. I’ve got to say, though, that little dog could give me a few lessons in determination.
There was a strange dog without a person at the park today. She was square-headed and solid black; maybe there was some mastiff or rottweiler in her, and she wore a hideous pink jacket with a brown, turned-back collar and pockets that looked like it had been salvaged out of an old child’s coat. She wandered about, playing with the dogs that came and went, but still staying around the park area until I left with my two much smaller dogs, when she followed us. The last time a dog tried to come home with us, Jilly got quite ugly and let that dog know that it was not welcome in our pack, but neither she nor Kieran minded this black dog at all. She kept scraping herself against bushes and rolling, trying to get rid of the jacket she was wearing, and after we had walked several blocks, I realized that she had decided to adopt us.
I recently saw a wonderful but horribly sad movie, “Wendy and Lucy,” about a girl and her dog with no home but their car. They’re on their way to Alaska when the car breaks down in Portland and Lucy, the dog, gets lost. It was heartbreaking, and I kept thinking, what if this dog belongs to someone like that? Not a far-fetched possibility in these times. We turned around and headed back to the park, and the dog was delighted when I took the jacket off, which by now was somewhere between sideways and upside down. A lady with two pugs tried calling the humane society, but it was closed.
The lady next door has a backyard abutting the park, and she said she’d put the dog in her yard where the owner could see her. Once that was done, I leashed up my dogs again and started to leave. The poor dog was right up against the fence, wanting to come with us and I knew I’d be back first thing in the morning to see if she was still there.
This story has a happy ending. I was barely out of the park when a man came riding an old bicycle across the grass, and I called to him, “Is that your black dog?” “Where?” he yelled back. I showed him the dog in the back yard… “Yes, it’s my dog, Karma!” We opened the gate, and they were reunited. Karma was overjoyed, and so was I.
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