DOG LUV PART II

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Mazel in red

Once upon a time long ago—last February, actually (sheesh, where does the time go?!)——I told you part of a tale of two dogs. Well, it’s high-time I tell you the “rest of the story” of my two dogs.

If you remember (if not, just read the post a few down from here), I had described as best I could the differences in tone of my two dogs. Those differences have given me much pause to ponder this past year.

Since I last wrote, winter finally packed up and left south-central Indiana. Spring flew in immediately, and has been busily unpacking for her three-month vacation since about the middle of March. She brought so much stuff with her!

For weeks, she’s been throwing it all out of her overstuffed seasonal suitcase, into the air, onto the ground, down into the hollows, into the trees and streams. Her belongings are everywhere: flowers and bird’s nests and infant salamanders. Tiny green leaves and pussywillows and pond lilies poking their tender green stems skyward.

Hannah with shoe (or what's left of it)

Walking the forest is a joy and an agony: there is nowhere I can step without squashing delicate green leaves or tiny wildflowers fragile as spun glass. I read that deer walk without stepping on flowers, even with their back feet. I walk like a bulldozer in a rainforest, wincing at every clumsy step. One morning, I nearly stepped on a little green ringnecked snake, stretched out sluggishly on our cold patio stones.

The dogs don’t walk like deer, either. Actually, they don’t walk at all. Hannah flies like a black rocket, low and fast, through fresh glades of Virginia bluebells, across rocky slopes blanketed in dappled trout lilies. Her speed and stamina are mind-boggling. I get tired just looking at her.

Mazel bounces and twirls through the forest, stepping on my feet, tripping over logs and sticks, flopping off stream banks. It is hard to keep an eye on your feet when you are obsessed with the stick in your human companion’s hand. Hard to keep from breaking your toenails on rock mounds and old brush piles when you MUST keep your eye on that stick no matter what happens!

I swear, a parade of briefcase-carrying squirrels could march in front of that dog and if I had a stick in my hand—or was looking for a stick, or throwing a stick, or even THINKING about throwing a stick—he wouldn’t give them a glance. I’ve seen Mazel bypass a smelly cottage cheese container for a chance at a stick.

Forest walks define many of the differences between my two dogs. From the moment I grab a walking stick and some mucky shoes, the dogs are primed for forest adventure in their own, unique ways.

I step off the back porch, and Hannah is gone, flying across the ridge like the shadow of a hawk. She doesn’t look back, and in seconds, she is out of my sight. I may not see her for the next half hour, except for brief glimpses of her shiny black pelt, weaving out of sight behind bushes and dense trees.

Mazel dances around my feet, bringing twigs and log stumps which—thanks to Carter’s diligent training—he literally throws on my feet. Once I find a good, solid stick, he launches into a frenzied howl, and the tossing begins. He’ll keep fetching for as long as I meander, unless I tell him, “wait a moment, I’m busy.” Then, he will putter around me, nose to the leaf litter, busying himself while I gather water bugs or newtlings for my pond.

No matter what, Mazel’s attention remains on me. No matter what, Hannah’s mind and heart are somewhere else. It takes Hannah a good two hours of exploring before she is ready to slow down to my pace and rest within my sight as I wander the forest floor and creek bottoms. Mazel remains close, checking in often to lick my cheek, or check out the fern that has captured my momentary attention. Hannah, even in her “finally worn out” mode keeps to herself, napping many yards away.

Twice in my life, I have brought home dogs who were slightly older puppies, past that milk breath, ball of fuzz stage. Strongheart, my Anatolian shepherd came to me when he was five months old and 87 pounds, Hannah, when she was eight months and skinny from parasite infestations. Hannah’s beginnings were rough, and she had very little socialization when she was very young. My ego told me that I was such a good dog trainer, those lost months wouldn’t make a difference. But they have.

Her nature and nurture (or lack of it) had solidified much of what would have been her younger flexibility. I believe Hannah had already adopted a fixed set of beliefs about life and people when she came into our home, whereas Mazel Tov was like a ball of silly putty–easily molded.

Another thing that I am only beginning to become aware of is that I am not the same kind of dog person I was in my younger years. The dog person I was then was focused, energetic, and totally fixated on the idea that my dogs were a reflection of me; thus, they were vigorously trained to make a good first impression.

This past winter I finally began the hard work of reconciling who I was with who I have become in the past decade. My health failed so slowly, I feel as though I woke up this winter to a “sudden realization” that I was truly no longer the woman I had been in any area of my life. When my first disability check arrived in March, it signaled a tipping point in my self-awareness.

And my first long forest walk in the spring brought into focus the fact that Hannah and Mazel have been heavily influenced by the new, sort of decrepit me—much more than I would have thought, but then again, my thinking is compromised these days.

Yes, Hannah is a gentle loner by nature, by nurture—and by my hand. Mazel is a self-confident, happily disobedient, willful soul by nature, but more so by my failing energy and willpower to enforce the very strict dog rules I crafted years ago. By the time Hannah and Mazel came along, I had morphed into someone much less inclined to go into a Hitler mode with my puppies. I no longer had the energy or staying powering to invoke perfect sit-stays, spot-on “comes,” or instant “downs.”

I no longer have any investment in my dogs as a reflection of me. I have come into a much deeper appreciation for their unique doghood. My dogs are as annoying as anybody else’s these days. Gone is the no-dogs-on-furniture rule. Mazel takes up more than his third of our double recliner, and Hannah will sprawl the entire length of the sofa if you don’t fight for your few inches of turf.

Gone are the days I can leave food near the counter’s edge. And trash cans–especially the bathroom trash with its tempting empty toilet paper rolls—are occasionally breached. Hannah will still sneak off the to forest if given the chance, because I have not found any means or training that can cage her gypsy heart.

So, are Hannah’s lost early months the main reason for her solitary nature, or has it been my own more fatigued and solitary nature that steered her course? Is Mazel a goofball because I have been lazy, or is he just the funniest, happiest, most unrestrained spirit to every inhabit a dog’s body?

I suspect it is both and much more. The more my mind and body settle into a kind of humorous, peaceful foggy state, the more I can see the hand of mystery at work in all things. I am no longer the crafter of dog’s destinies. I never was, except in my own, control-crazy, immature mind. I’m too old for thinking I can control anything anymore. And I think my dogs are probably the better for it. And you know, fading abilities aside, I think that I am better for it, too.

I am graced with the steadfast and fierce love of two very different dog souls in my life right now, and I’ll try to remember the hand of mystery is always at work the next time Mazel eats the contents of the bathroom trashcan.

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