Friday, October 24, 2008

The Pack

I keep talking about dogs, and this is, after all, the Dog Boy's blog. But I haven't yet really written much about them.
Time to fix that and to introduce the 4th Street Irregulars.

(all photos by Julia Riggs 2007)

I don't just have a dog or two, I have a pack. Whether humans understand it or not, even if you have only one dog, to that dog you and he and whoever else lives with you are a pack. Knowing this is the start of understanding how to live with your dogs and to teach them how to live with you.

My oldest dog, Lucie, is a Husky mix who came to live with me 10 years ago when she was four. She'd been in Husky rescue and was being bounced out of yet another home when the kids who had her passed her on to me. She's the alpha bitch in the house and she lets everyone else know it. She has a really sweet face and is such a socialite, making sure when we go out that everyone knows that she's there, making the rounds and demanding her due of attention ("yes, I am here, you may adore me now."). At fourteen she's starting to slow down just a bit, but she hasn't lost her absolute sense of her own role as the queen of the pack, second only to me in the hierarchy.

Our oldest male is Fooss, probably a Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix. We originally spelled this in the correct German way, 'fuss', the word for 'foot' since the size of his feet was remarkable at first meeting! But Americans didn't catch on to that so we went the phonetic route. Mr. Fooss was about a year old when he wandered up out of the woods at a friend's house in the country where someone had dumped him, came up on Jeff's porch and sat in my lap. Julia picked ticks off of him, I scratched his ears and Jeff fed him bologna. He looked around with an expression of "Thank God I found you guys!" and he never left. As big and intimidating as he is, he's as sweet and considerate a dog as any alive. But he takes no guff and when a local thug-wanna-be leaned over too close to me one day, running his mouth, Fooss slid in between us and made it plain that he wasn't having any of that without having to say a thing. He's a good boy. Learning how to work with him was how we were introduced to a new way of thinking about dogs and training, kind of similar in principle to what the dog whisperer on TV does. At 100 pounds, he still likes to sit in my lap whenever possible.

Sunny, our other female, about 65 pounds and probably a Husky/shepherd mix, came to live with us in 2003 when she was 2 years old. She'd been dumped in a pound by some folks who decided that an active, intelligent and affectionate dog was too much trouble. They'd probably also smacked her around a little, but today she's the live wire in the pack. I'd just lost Sergei that winter and I was still sore at heart about it, so our friend Liz Norris, the dog trainer who taught us how to "speak dog", told me I needed her and she needed me and that's how it was going to be. Sunny is the spark plug in the pack, the one who gets things going and who raised Churchill when he came to us as a puppy, teaching him about tussling and being a big dog. She also made it plain from the start that she wanted to be alpha bitch, which led to some confrontations with Lucie and required that I actively referee them for some time until we finally sorted out their place in pack. But she's still keeping an eye on Lucie, and waiting for her chance to move up. She's smart and manipulative and never slows down, always scouting the terrain.

Churchill is our baby. Yeah, he's three years old now and 86 pounds at last check, but he joined the pack as a puppy picked up as a stray and to us he's still the baby in the bunch. I got an email from the Shamrock Foundation dog and cat rescue in Louisville saying that they were desperate for a foster home for "Big Puppy" - and that's what he was! Brought him home and fell in love and here he stayed.
He's some kind of mix of mastiff or Labrador or boxer or pit bull or some such, who knows. He has a head the size of Texas, a soft heart and more teeth than a piranha, but what he loves most in the world is to cuddle up next to you and flop his head down on your arm and go to sleep. He recently had an injury that required him to wear a plastic collar for a week, and he bore it with a stoicism and acceptance that I would never have believed had I not seen it. Loves to play, leads the pack on its runs through the field, is a serious scent hunter in the woods and has the goofiest, happiest expressions you've ever seen.

Seamus also came to us through the Shamrock Foundation rescue group in Louisville. We agreed to take him in to foster him after he'd been picked up as a stray, and like the other big boys, he never left. At 120 pounds he's the largest lad in the crew and he lets the world know he's here with his huge voice. But he's so soft to train, so eager to please and if he thinks you're ticked off with him his brow furrows, he drops his head and he just melts. He's the classic gentle giant, the perfect example of what I love in large dogs. Not sure what he's mixed with, probably Rottweiler and some kind of hound, but it could be Labrador, or it might be bloodhound, all of which would give him his substantial size. He's infatuated with chasing a ball or stick or anything thrown and can't wait to bring it to you to show it off. But he doesn't like getting into the water at all and that makes me wonder about the part that might or might not be Lab. Who cares! He's a happy boy!

Bodi joined up with the Irregulars last year after being picked up running loose. We were told that he'd been abused by his previous owner. Things like that make me crazy. He's so gentle and sweet and eager to please, so desirous of your attention and praise and affection that it's impossible to understand why anyone would abuse him. And he's so happy to be alive, each and every day, every hour of the day, so good with every other dog and with every human he meets that it's hard to believe that he ever was abused. His sweet demeanor is a testament to the resilience and basic good nature of dogs. Do what you like to them, abuse and mistreat them, but give them a chance to bounce back and be loved, given a job and a pack to belong to, and all the past and all the hurt just goes away. Bodi is certainly the embodiment of that. Seeing that he's likely a Ridgeback mix and 100 pounds of solid hard unstoppable muscle it's a damn good thing that he's so good natured, or he'd be hell on wheels!

Some day I'll tell you about our departed friends, Sergei the Noble, and Vanya the Crafty Fox who was Julia's favorite dog. We lost Sergei in 2003 after a long bout with seizures. But Vanya died unexpectedly only last year, and my heart still aches every time I look at her empty crate. I keep it closed with her toys in it, can't bring myself to let another dog sleep in it yet. Maybe soon. Maybe another dog will need a home and a K9-Krew to run with and a crate, and we'll add them to the pack. God knows we don't need another dog, but when the right one shows up, head cocked and ears squared and gives you that look, that special look, how can you say no?

1 comment:

K9TRNR said...


Excellent job. I love the beautiful photos of the pack. You do wonderful photography.

I feel the same about Ryders spot under the front one can fill it......and never will.

Hugs to the furballs.