Monday, April 22, 2013

Doggy Blog #3 -- Cruiser Bites the Dust

            Cruiser’s personality was a trial to our family, but her sudden death took us all by surprise.  Just that night she’d been running from the front to the back of our four acres barking at the deer.  It was only as she ran past the house that her growls and barks woke us, other than that, she was harassing the neighbor’s sleep. 
Our funeral for Cruiser consisted of me consoling Tim, Sine, and Happy, while my husband prepared the grave.  Cruiser lay in the Red Flyer wrapped in an old blanket that had become her shroud.  Sine picked dandelions and purple chive.  Happy kept pulling at the blanket to reveal Cruiser’s paw or pretty face that Happy would then lick.  The powerful bonds of love were again revealed to me through Happy’s reverence for Cruiser, the kindness she paid to Cruiser’s corpse.
            What kind of name is Cruiser, you might ask?  My brother-in-law named her, and he loved fast cars.  He worked at Boeing as a machinist and made an excellent wage that he spent on cars, a black 1980 Trans-Am to be precise.  He was given a German shepherd puppy by a friend who was divorcing his wife.  She locked the mother and pups in a garage to spite her estranged, soon to be ex-husband.  The problem was she also forgot to feed them, regularly at any rate.  It’s a miracle they survived, but survive they did, and when the husband could finally get to them, he found the puppies homes as quickly as he could. 

Cruiser came to our house, a short legged, six-month old, lanky and thin.  She lived chained in our yard until my sister and her husband could finish their house next door and take the dog to their home.  It didn’t take long to install the septic, water, and electrical then park the mobile home.  They built a deck and moved in, and Cruiser left us. 
We already had a dog, a magnificent Samoyed named Mecan, a neutered male, who when Cruiser appeared, began to show signs that the neutering didn’t take.  He fell in love with Cruiser, and she liked him, but she was a little distracted as she came into heat for the first time in her life.  Mecan had his hands full protecting Cruiser from her amorous suitors, but his size and fabulous white fur gave him a distinct advantage over every mutt that entered the yard.
Mecan was tireless in his role of protector, but after a couple days, I realized that our dog was not sleeping or eating because of Cruiser.  What did I do?  I complained.  I told him that it was time for Cruiser to pay a little visit to the vet.  He told me no.  He wanted a litter of pups.  Cruiser came from a long line of champs, and he wanted to make some money.  So Mecan had to endure the heat cycle, and he did.  He could not act upon his love, but he became her chivalrous knight and worshipped her with a courtly love that was formal and permanent.  It was a bond they shared until his death several years later.
It is no wonder that Cruiser thought she was our dog.  She’d lived with us for almost six months.  We were always outside.  She was the only dog for a ten-mile radius that Mecan would let into our yard.  Our house must be her home, was probably how she understood the situation.  When she began barking, and not just barking but spit-spraying-gravel-flying-fangs-gnashing-barking at our guests, I flew into action. 
I would open the window of whatever room I was in, usually Tim or Sine’s, and scream, “Cruiser go home!”
She would look at me, and her tail would droop.  She thought she was home.
I would scream louder, “Go home.”
She would look at me in wonder, the tip of her tail swaying in an attempt at wag.  I’d realize my mistake and let her stay.
Again, I would bellow.  She would turn in the direction of the empty mobile home next door, glancing back at our home as we apologized for our “neighbor’s” bad dog.  It was pretty horrible actually because she was a very pretty dog, despite her short legs.  Plus, she loved us.  Where’s the harm in that? 
I grew more furious, though, each time she greeted my children’s playmates and their mother’s with a frothy, fang-clanging welcome.  She really invoked a gut-wrenching fear in those guests who thought they had a play-date only to meet Fangzilla the German Shepherd guard dog.
Then it began.  I would race out the front door and scream, “Cruiser, come!”
Cruiser knew I would chain her up, so she would proceed to go home.  I would chase after her, knowing that she would reappear and harass our young visitors as they played in the sandbox or ran to the swings, as soon as my back was turned. 
Cruiser had no comprehension of what “company” meant.  They were intruders and needed to be dealt with.  Some of these intruders only weighed forty pounds, so she out-weighed them by thirty-plus.  She could not be trusted, and I began to loath my brother-in-law for putting me in this position of apologizing for his dog!
After the $150.00 vet bill and the fifty pound bag of dog food, I realized that Cruiser had always been our dog.
She had known that all along.  Once I’d made that decision, we embraced Cruiser as a family.  We nursed her through her healing-tail, and she rewarded us with eternal devotion.  I learned to catch her before our guests arrived and to explain to her that it was in everyone’s best interest for her to take a break from guarding “her” children, Tim and Sine, from other thirty-five and forty pound toddlers half her size.  I don’t think she agreed, but we were all happier without the drama of me screaming so our neighbors a mile down the road could hear.
I didn’t always get to her before the UPS man came driving down the drive, and Cruiser would not be denied that particular pleasure.  The driver, Pat, would scan the yard.  I told him not to worry.  If she had the cojones to take on a UPS truck, she got what she deserved.  I told that to Dawn too, but she didn’t take it as well as the UPS man, whose eyes lit up with the possibility of one flattened German shepherd. 
Cruiser survived the UPS man, Christine’s Volvo, and my constant explosive outbursts at her mischief, but she didn’t survive the neighbor who slipped her antifreeze (just a hypothesis).  We never found out who it was, and Happy never developed Cruiser’s habits of chasing small children, Volvos, or UPS trucks.  After the third delivery and no Cruiser, the UPS man ventured to ask. 
“Yes,” I replied.  He smiled. He wouldn’t miss her.  In fact, he lost his frown and wore a big grin every time he drove into and out of our yard, especially once he realized that Happy would not continue Cruiser’s legacy.
Happy tried to muster the fierce bark, the joy of the chase, but it was not in her DNA.  She started after the UPS man, the first time he delivered after Cruiser’s death, but she stopped after ten or twenty feet and look at me, confusion in her black eyes.  She missed Cruiser’s strong personality, her resolve to protect “her people,” her domain.  Happy greeted our guests with a smile and a wagging tail, and she became the babysitter who followed the thirty-five and forty pound toddlers as they made mountains in the sand box, ran to the swings, and rode trikes like Mario Andretti around our yard.  The smaller the child, the better she liked them, and she never barked at anyone, except men with full facial hair.  She didn’t trust people without mouths, just like small children with Santa Claus, I guess.
We kept our sign, “Guard Dogs on Duty.”  I put it up to protect us from liability, in case Cruiser got the better of someone while we weren’t home.  It also became a security ploy.  I added the “s” after Happy arrived, and even now twelve years after Happy’s death, the sign is still nailed to a tree on our driveway, a reminder of Cruiser, Happy, and Mecan.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Doggie Blog--A Broken Tail

Cruiser liked to chase my horses.  I was on horse number three, since she’d arrived next door.  His name was Questie for the question-mark blaze on his face.  He was in his twenties and not prone to tolerate mischief, especially from a canine, a species he considered sub-par.  During a snowstorm, my brother-in-law and sister were not home, and Cruiser was once again trapped outside in the elements.  She sought refuge in the barn with Questie.  The next morning she drug herself to the house, her tail hanging.  She moped around all day, and when I walked to the mailbox with the kids she drug herself along.

We had a family commune for several years, which was heaven for my children.  Grandparents on the right, cousins on the left equaled heaven for them.  Cruiser loved my dad because he never tired of throwing her sticks.  Cruiser would spend hours at his house as he worked on the house siding, the garage, the Honda Civic, the Ford pickup, and Dad never failed her.  My father was a tall, silent man, like my husband, but he always smiled when he saw Cruiser coming, and they would find the perfect stick together to begin the day’s session.
This day Dad was working on his pickup, replacing an alternator.  He took one look at Cruiser and asked what was wrong.  The kids stopped making snowballs and came to inspect.  Cruiser stood with her back arched and her tail drooping.  The snow came up to her belly and created an insulator of sound.  Even the winter birds chirping in the trees sounded muffled.
“Is she sick?” Dad asked.
“I think she’s just depressed about the snow,” I replied.

Dad ran his hand over her back, but when he reached her tail, she yelped.
We all jumped. 
Sine cried, “Poor Cruiser!” 
And that was that.  We had to take her to the vet.  This is not my dog, I kept reminding myself, but my father was ready to go, and my mother volunteered to watch Tim and Sine.  I looked at Cruiser and wondered what she’d been up to.  She looked back with her sad brown eyes.  I ran back to the house, grabbed a big blanket and the car keys, and drove through the deep snow to my father’s.
We live on three acres, sandwiched between two acres lots, one with a house for my sister and her husband, and one with a house for my mom and dad.  I drove down our long driveway, sliding and slipping, to my dad who was ready to load Cruiser into our Ford Pinto.  She filled the backseat and cried when my dad accidentally touched her tail again.
I felt safe as I drove on the icy white highway into town to the veterinary office.  There were few cars on the road.  My father had taught me how to drive in the snow when I was sixteen.  We were a family of successful snow-drivers.  
“Just take it slow, and if you slide, turn into it.  Don’t gun the engine,” etc., etc.
I had chains in the trunk and my dad in the passenger seat.  We set out and reached a top speed of twenty miles per hour once we hit the highway.  We passed four-wheel drive vehicles throwing up rooster tails of snow, and everyone waved.  It was like a celebration of our skill to maneuver through the sloppy, wet Pacific Northwest snow.  It’s not like that now.  Too many people who didn’t have my dad to teach them how to drive.  Poor bastards.
I’d called ahead, so the vet was expecting us.  Cruiser was her only patient on this snow day, except for the animals in-hospital, the ones that meant she had to get to work.  We led Cruiser into the office, dragging her tail.  The vet took one look at Cruiser and announced, “She has a broken tail.”
Dad and I looked at each other and shook our heads.  Dad’s frown showed his concern.  He really loved this half-wild German Shepherd, and Cruiser looked back at him with a steady gaze that said, “Please fix this.”
“What can we do?” I asked.
“Keep her inside, give her a round of antibiotics, and let her heal.”
“That’s it?”
“I can’t very well put a caste on it.  It’s broken at the dock.  Do you know what might have happened?”
I thought about it, and my dad kneeled down to rub Cruiser’s ears.  She panted her appreciation.  Then I remembered.  Cruiser had spent the night in the barn with Questie, her arch-enemy.
“She might have gotten kicked,” I said.  By a horse that hates her guts, I didn’t say out loud.
“You have a horse?” the vet asked.
“Cruiser chases him,” I said.
We all stood looking down at Cruiser, who sensed for the first time that barking at and chasing Questie had not set the proper precedence for sharing sleeping space.
“Looks like Questie got revenge,” she said, and we all chuckled at Cruiser’s expense.
“One more thing.  Dogs lift their tail to go to the bathroom.  Cruiser won’t be able to do that for a while.”
Cruise looked sufficiently mortified, her agony subtle and quiet.
I paid the vet, and we loaded Cruiser back into the Pinto with only one yip.  I drove to the nearest grocery store.
“Guess I’ll have to buy dog food,” I said.
Dad sat and smiled.  I think he knew, or had at least seen the writing on the wall.  My brother-in-law was never home, nor was my sister, but I was.  Me and the kids in the yard playing, and Cruiser came to visit us every day. 
She was the scourge of the neighborhood, the eater of small dogs, the killer of cats, and now she was ours.
“What will you tell Miller?” Dad asked.
“He owes me $200.00,” I said. 
Dad just shook his head.
“Hmm, I think I just bought myself a dog.”
And I did.  The kids loved her, and she loved the kids.  She actually settled down after she’d healed.  She lived in our basement for days, and cried piteously when she finally had to evacuate her bowls.  It was either endure the pain or explode.  I fed her medicine in chunks of cheese, which she gobbled down like ambrosia.  She never trusted or liked other people, though.  That’s when her wild streak would rise.  She’d bark and growl, like the wild thing she was.  She had an equal opportunity attitude toward her protection of family, and I often ran interference between guests and Cruiser—guard dog extraordinaire .