Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Dog Year

My second book for the dog days of August was A Dog Year by Jon Katz, to whom I give the award for most ironic name so far. A Dog Year came by way of the Maynard, Massachusetts Public Library. It has a note that says there will be a $2 per day overdue fine - seems a bit Draconian.

At first I thought this might actually be a 7-year (dog year) memoir, but it is, indeed, only one (people) year. The year encompasses the death of 2 very mellow dogs and the arrival of 2 extremely hyper dogs, some of whom overlapped. Katz really loves all his dogs and this book made me remember all of the dogs I've had over my life. So herewith, I reminice about my canines.

My first dog was a basenji named Mtoto, a Swahili word for baby. My mother picked it because basenji's are from Egypt. He had a beautiful, shiny black coat with a white triangle on his neck, white feet and a white tip on his tail. He also had a brown spot above each eye. He was gentle, but typical of basenji's, chewed everything in sight. My mother tells the story of some new furniture that he chewed so badly we were still making payments on it even after it was sent to the dump. We got him a mate who we called Bibi, Swahili for young female, who wasn't as friendly, but just as much of a chewer. She had a lovely red coat.They were especially fond of underwear. They had two litters of six puppies each together. Mtoto's death was my first experience with grief. I was nine years old, he was eight. We had him put to sleep after an unsuccessful battle with cancer. Bibi died when she was 12.

Pablo was a beagle mix my husband and I adopted from a "free to good home" ad on an index card tacked to a bulletin board at a pet shop. We'd been thinking of getting a dog and I especially thought a beagle would be a good size for our small apartment and small yard. I was wrong. Beagles have A LOT of energy and need much exercise. We eventually found an exercise schedule that worked for us all, but he was one crazy dog. Everyone loved him, too. We moved several times while we had him and everywhere we went people wanted to pet him and he schmoozed like a pro. People we were sure we had never met would come over and say "Hi, Pablo" when we were out. He was lovable, friendly and quite a traveler. After fighting Valley Fever and, epilepsy he finally succumbed to diabetes just before he turned nine.

Our current dog, Clover, was a rescue dog from Puerto Rico. She was about a year old when we got her. We have the folks at Save a Sato to thank for rescuing her and sending her to the Northeast animal shelter in Salem, Massachusetts. She is not nearly as friendly as Pablo was, but is fiercely loyal. She is a great watch dog. A true mutt of undetermined heritage she looks like a lot of other Latin American street dogs, medium in size with short brown fur. We got her 9 years ago for my daughter's third birthday, but it is clear to anyone who sees our family together that she likes me best. She follows me around the house all the time and sits outside the bathroom when I am in there. She is not active like the basenji's or the beagle and simply wants to take her daily walk every day and have a "flip chip" (rawhide chew) in the evening. Although she does not have the friend network that Pablo did she does have a few people she greets on her walk. Our friend Kitty is often found at the window of My Sister and I restaurant when we go by, and the gentleman who runs the Lucky Star gas station in town sometimes gives her a biscuit. She always quickens her pace when we get close to this establishment. Her favorite thing is waiting for me to come home during my lunch hour in the winter time, so she can have her "porch time." Our south-facing front porch can reach up to 80 degrees on a sunny day in the winter. She goes out there to warm herself.

My dog memories would not be complete without mention of two others, who were not exactly my dogs, but dogs I was in charge of for long enough periods of time that they had significant influence in my life. The first is Chippy, a mutt who belonged to my Uncle David. Our family watched Chippy for several months while Dave established himself in a new home. He was a very friendly dog, and according the Dave, "the best dog ever." I'm not sure how they came together, perhaps Chippy was a stray, or maybe a friend gave him to Dave. I remember my sister and I driving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to reunite them. There was definite excitement on both the part of Chippy and Dave. The other dog is Barbara who belonged to two professor's at Miami of Ohio when we were students there. The professors spent the better part of a year in Europe during the end of our three-year sentence in Ohio and asked us to live in their gorgeous farm house and watch their dog and cat (who was called Donna). We had Barbara at the same time we had Pablo who was about a year old at the time. She really put up with a lot. She was a simple yellow mutt from the pound who was gentle, kind and gave Pablo a bit of mothering. We had to leave Barbara and Donna when we moved to Arizona. Their owners picked them up at the kennel where we had dropped them off the week before. It was heartbreaking watching Barbara try to come after us when we left her. I saw her one more time about 6 or 7 years later when we were passing through Ohio. She was very old, and if she remembered us, she didn't show it. She died shortly after. I never did see Chippy again, although I did just visit Uncle Dave. He is living with his son and son's girlfriend and they have two chihauhas, Bear and Scrappy. Bear bears an uncanny likeness to Mtoto. He is like Mtoto in miniature, right down to the white triangle on his neck. It was spooky.

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