Old Girl

 

August 2013

My Stories

Granner

Crunch Time

Putting on the Ritz

Granada and Sevilla

Amsterdam

Tuscany and Umbria - 1

Tuscany and Umbria - 2

Driving in England

Dwelling in England

A Dozens Reasons

In the Hamam

Istanbul Greece Diary

Pearl Harbor Team

Old Girl

Paris

Provence

Grandpa's Cabin

Pay-It-Forward Latte

England and France

N. Italy - 1

N. Italy - 2

N. Italy - 3

N. Italy - 4

Lessons from 4 Corners

Mexico

Going to the Dogs

Don't Embarrass Me!

Letter from Siena

Arrivederci Roma

Joining the Matriarchs

Living History

Newlywed Game

Chaos Theory

Zach on the Road

Huckleberry Season

Stanley & the Sunbeam

I Dare Say

Middle School Relay

Grad Party

Yellowstone

Moving On

Newlywed Couches

Visitors

Old Faithful Inn

Snowbound

Sweet Potato

Mother Bear

Two Blondes in Iberia

Revisiting Spain

Curly's Truck

Old Buildings

Chelsea's

Split Seams

All Nighter

Talent Show

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Usually a dog’s biography surfaces only after they’re gone.  But with our Bailey approaching a dozen years--already defying her breed’s average life-span--I’ve decided to tell her story while she’s still around.  Around as in currently comfortably sprawled at my feet, in good health, on a canine cushion with pretty pink pillow for resting her head.  

Growing up, we always had dogs, one big black Labrador after another.  I’d wanted the same experience for our children...just not yet.  Our young children kept us so busy, and I wanted to wait until I had enough time and energy to care for a pet properly--to love it, play with it, exercise it.  I figured that if we had a dog, I wanted to do it right. 

In fourth grade, Taylor accelerated my timeline when he brought home a school assignment of “What I want for Christmas.”  He wrote that all he wanted in the world was a pet.  Any pet would do, really.  Even a hamster or a gerbil.  Just something furry that he could love and hold and cuddle. 

Something stabbed me in the heart. 

Taylor’s teacher, Mrs. Hannegan, gave him an A+ for his assignment.  She added a note:  “I think this will work, Taylor.” 

It did. 

We began making plans to get a dog.  Taylor couldn’t believe this turn of events.  Jim purchased the appropriate books.  Normally Jim told original stories to Taylor at bedtime, but for a while, father and son cuddled on the pillow reading dog instruction manuals instead.  Tay’s eyes sparkled in anticipation.  

Jim learned from a colleague of a litter of yellow Labs in nearby Silverton.  Annie joined Jim and me to check out the puppies.  We were the first ones to visit. 

Jim and Annie clutched their “How to pick out the best dog” checklist from one of Jim’s books.  Puppies swarmed at their ankles.  Armed with clipboard and pen, Jim and Annie started down the list.  

How does the dog react when approached? 

Does the dog demonstrate good social skills with its litter mates? 

I asked the owner which of her ten puppies were females.  She indicated the three girls.  I told her we wanted a female dog with a moderate temperament--not too shy but not too hyper.  She pointed to our Bailey. 

“That’s her,” the owner said.  She’s my favorite.  I find myself taking her into the house with me now and then, she’s so sweet. 

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“I think she’s the one for us!” I answered. 

Jim and Annie hadn’t completed point one on their list yet, but even they knew their work was done. 

A few weeks later, we picked up our puppy.  Some of us wanted to name her Rudy, but Taylor said that reminded him too much of old Rudy from the  first season of Survivor.  Somebody suggested Bailey instead, and Taylor granted his approval. 

Bailey didn’t turn out to have such a moderate temperament after all.  Initially we kept her gated in the kitchen and entryway, where she chewed through wooden chair legs and stair rails.  When she started attacking kitchen drawers, my brother James suggested cayenne pepper.  I concocted a mixture of cayenne paste and rubbed it onto the drawer edges.  This worked.  To help satisfy her wood-chewing needs, we supplied pieces of scrap board for Bailey.  Guests looked puzzled at the nibbled wooden remnants on the floor. 

Like all Labs, Bailey had a food obsession (which continues today).  Her favorite is Taco Bell.  We’ve never deliberately offered her Taco Bell, but clearly there’s something about the smell that pushes her sensory buttons. 

Once I brought home a bag of tacos for the kids and set it on the kitchen table.  When I left the room, our puppy retrieved the booty and devoured every crumb.  I returned to find the paper wrappers on the floor, licked perfectly flat and clean. 

We decided it was time for doggie obedience class.  At age seven months, Bailey was one of the youngest students.  She was also the most hyperactive.  At first the instructor tagged our beautiful Labrador as a demonstration model for her lessons.  This was a mistake.  Bailey got so worked up around the other dogs that she gnawed through her leash. 

I got frustrated.  The instructor approached me.  “Yes, she’s a little immature for her age.  But hang in there, because when she’s two or three, you’ll have the most wonderful dog you can imagine.” 

I never forgot those kind words of encouragement, and they carried me through some challenging dog days. 

Soon after our first dog obedience class, Bailey discovered a pair of Jim’s leather work gloves in the back yard.  She grabbed one and ate it.  (We figured this out only after noticing the missing glove, and that our puppy suddenly had less interest in food.)

I called the vet.  We could do an ultrasound, but likely a leather glove would slowly dissolve in Bailey’s stomach acids.  For the next few days, we should feed her rice, flavored with beef bouillon, if desired. 

I sent Jim to the next dog obedience class.  Owners carried treats in their pockets as doggie rewards for completing a task.  Jim carried a handful of beef bouillon rice in his pocket.  When the instructor told everyone to toss a treat to their dog, Jim threw a handful of rice onto the pavement.  Bailey lapped up every kernel.  The other dog owners looked bewildered. 

Bailey likes most other dogs, and used to dig tunnels under our fence to visit Cosmo next door.  She started chewing on our fence, and then the neighbor’s fence behind us.  One day, the infinitely patient Peter brought over a chomped fence panel and told us that he was down to his last replacement piece.  Horrified, we ran to Home Depot for more fence panels.  While there, Jim purchased low-wattage electric fencing for our back yard perimeter.  This saved our fencing as well as our neighbor relationships. 

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Within the confines of the back yard, however, there was still more for Bailey to unearth.  Our phone and cable systems mysteriously started crackling and deteriorating.  Calls to the cable company and some detective work revealed frayed cables where the wires entered the house.  Bailey had discovered a new chew toy:  telephone wires.

While fearless in her chewing, Bailey is terrified of strangers, particularly young men.  (This isn’t so terrible when salesmen approach our door.) When Zach was in high school, our house functioned as an after-school hang-out for teenage boys.  Bailey monitored their arrival, and a new boy experienced something of a doggie initiation.  Zach’s strapping teenaged friends scurried in terror past our little Labrador.  Bailey’s a small female and has never bitten anyone, and is at her core a puddle of fear, sensitivity and neurosis.  Yet she can project ferocity when she wants.  In truth, Bailey’s all bluster.

Teenage girls fare much better with Bailey.  When Zach realized that a puppy works as girl-bait, he demonstrated a never-before-seen interest in Bailey.  The girlfriends appeared, and they taught Bailey tricks, talents she retains to this day.  (Annie later tried teaching Bailey to roll over, but Bailey misinterpreted it as wrestling, so that never quite panned out.) 

Sometimes strangers spot our sweet yellow Bailey trotting in the park, and mistake her for a normal, never-met-a-stranger Lab.  The stranger will jut out their hand to pet her. This doesn’t go over so well with Bailey, especially if you’re a grown man.   

But if you’ve been here a couple of times, particularly if you’ve made a gentle effort with her, Bailey will be your friend for life.  She’ll never forget you.  You know you rank exceptionally high on her love scale if she greets you with a joyful cry, a submissive posture, or a piddle on the front porch.

Bailey eventually matured beyond her more destructive behaviors, instead developing her own special set of neurosis.  As a puppy, she’d knocked over the baby gates which barred her from the living room, and the gates had tumbled on her.  (The gates hadn’t hurt her, just startled her.)  As a adult dog, she now refuses to enter the living or dining rooms because the evil gates had once stood in their thresholds.  A decade ago.  002_0039 003_0104

Here are some more of Bailey’s neuroses:

1.   People wearing costumes.  She finds the Subway sandwich guy on Commercial Street highly offensive.  

2.   Hats, particularly boys sporting knit caps.  They’re too similar to costumes, aberrant and distressing.

3.   Skateboarders.  They’re the devil, second only to the squirrel dogs (see below).

4.   Crutches, canes or walkers.  Bailey has issues with the disabled.

5.   The yapping twin Pomeranians that regularly scramble up the street, whom we refer to as the squirrel dogs. We believe that Bailey imagines them as yapping squirrels on leashes, something not found in nature.  They trouble her greatly.  Jim and I conduct squirrel dog checks before taking Bailey out to the car.

6.   Gunshots, which is puzzling since she’s a Labrador retriever.  If Bailey detects a gunshot in the distance, she puts the brakes on.  This can be challenging in the middle of a Minto-Brown Park walk.

Here are a few of Bailey’s favorite things:

1.    Children, except in costume (see above).  Halloween is a particularly stressful and conflicting time.

2.    Asian females.  This is Bailey’s most preferred demographic in all the world.  We have no idea why.  Annie says that Bailey is a racist, ageist and sexist dog.  I think she’s right.

3.   Grandma and Grandpa.  The mere mention of their names causes Bailey to search around and her ears to shoot up.

4.   Walks anywhere, especially Minto-Brown Park and Opal Creek.

5.   Retrieving tennis balls.  (Grandpa tried to take Bailey pheasant hunting, but she was afraid of the birds.  Tennis balls are less scary.)

6.   Our McCall, Idaho family cabin on Payette Lake.  Bailey bawls as we ascend the final hill. 

We’ve adapted to Bailey’s odd personality traits and love her for her warm, loyal, affectionate, unbalanced self.  But I don’t think I fully appreciated what Bailey meant to me until a few years ago when I had my scare with ovarian cancer and subsequent major surgery.  My family and friends were very caring, but they had work and school obligations, and I was largely alone during the day with my angst.  Except for Bailey.  She accompanied me nearly everywhere in the car.  She sat by my side, always.  She may or may not have sensed my distress, but her presence offered a great deal of comfort to me during those frightening days.  She became something greater than just a dog to me then.  I’ve always been grateful to her for that. 

Today this dog which we purchased for a young Taylor nears her twelfth birthday.  (Little Tay-Tay himself is now all grown-up, married to the amazing Anna and is currently completing his second engineering internship at Boeing in Everett, Washington.)

You could say that Bailey helped raise our children.  They taught her and she taught them.  Certainly she flooded our home with love, laughter and piddle.  Our kids are no longer children, but healthy and happy adults, making their way in the world.   

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Jim and I and Bailey love when our grown kids come home.  Lately they’re bringing more people along with them, some specifically to meet us.  Maybe even a special someone belonging to Bailey’s dream demographic...  

When our kids visit, we’re ready.  Some of us cook and hug.  Some of us lick and piddle.  Their arrivals are emotional and joyful experiences for everyone. 

But when the kids aren’t here, we’re pretty happy, too.  We kinda like the quiet.  We take long walks together.  On our way to the park, we get Starbucks drive-thru.  (Starbucks offers pup-a-ccinos for dogs, which is a coffee cup lid filled with whipped cream.  The anticipation alone initiates dog drool all over my gear shift.) 

Bailey and I figure we’ve done our girl jobs pretty well.  Retired from our main tasks of raising the kids, we have greater license to relax these days, and we get to hang out all we want with Jim, whom we both adore.  When Jim arrives home, one of us kisses him and the other leaps up and down.  I’ll let you guess who does what. 

We’re all content in this empty nest.  And we’re glad that we provided the significant childhood experience of dog-ownership for our kids.  They all got to have their something furry to love and hold and cuddle.  We owe Bailey for that, plus a lot more. 

That dog obedience instructor was right.  Despite all the destruction and neurosis, Bailey has turned out to the best dog we could have ever imagined.  And I can even leave a bag of Taco Bell on the table safely unattended if I want. 

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