Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Pack

As always for me, one of the great pleasures of spending time in Idaho is the intimate interaction with the animals (specifically the horses and dogs, of course). Here are some of the charming/humorous/annoying things I experienced with the canine group this time around.

First of all, Spackle was very healthy, unlike last fall when we thought he was dying. This was a relief and a pleasure. He is, of course, a simple soul—happy to fetch, happy to swim, happy to go for walks in the woods (where he keeps running back along the trail to make sure I'm following and everything is in order), and happy to go on the rides when I've planned for a gentle one that won't tax 9-year-old bionic hips—with the one exception being when Ian was still at Jerome Creek with me, in which case Spackle took careful stock of the situation— one horse and three dog companions already for me, no one for Ian—and elected to stay behind. He ate horseshit, but, unfortunately they all do.

Second, Hoover. Hoover, of course, is absolutely in his element. It's the cutest thing in the world to see him actually worn out at the end of a day—completely sound asleep, eyes scrunched closed, paws all together in puppy fetal, occasionally issuing muted grrrs and yips, his paws fluttering, as he relives the joys of the day—chasing deer and ground squirrels and wrestling with Sadie, leaping in and out of mud puddles and creeks, smelling the richest, most amazing smorgasbord of organic smells, and extra food at the end of the day because he's run a thousand miles. Judging from the scrapes and punctures we can see, if Hoover were hairless he'd be a solid mass of scars by now. Looking at my own self here just now, if I weren't wearing clothes on our excursions, I probably would be a mess, too. I currently have a healing scratch on my neck, several on my feet and hands, a bruise on the top of my right thigh, and a giant bruise (about five inches long) on the inside of my left knee. Like mother, like dog.

Third, Sadie. Not being a Lab, but instead being an Australian Shepherd, Sadie is interested in observing situations and, rather than blindly following orders for what may or may not end up being a tasty treat (which she may or may not deign to take even if it is), making decisions for herself—with a certain gravitas, a direct, calculating stare, and, perhaps, eventual compliance if she feels that either 1) the treat would be good AND she would like it or 2) it's not worth arguing about with a mere human. She has to take medication for incontinence, poor thing, and of course recognized immediately a couple years ago that the "liver-flavored dog-friendly" taste of the pill does not mask the fact that it's not food (the Labs, of course, drool over it and jostle each other to take it from my hand). For the first evening, Ian fed the dogs and, not seeing instructions to the contrary, merely put her ¼ pill in with her dinner. She ignored it as she daintily ate her kibble piece by piece—the Labs slavering around her, having all hoovered down their meals in seconds—and it was the one thing left in the bowl at the end. Before Tessa could muscle her way in, Ian snatched up the pill. He thought for a minute, then went and found some bacon grease to dip it in. THAT was very exciting—no hesitation on Sadie's part as she opened her mouth and took the pill . . . and sucked off the bacon grease and spit out the medicine. Ian remembered the Pill Pockets we had brought for Spackle, though—vile, oily-slimy, stinky gelatinous things—stuffed the now-disintegrating ¼ pill into the bottom of one, and held it out to her. Bingo. Sucked down, no hesitation. Take that, Sadie! Outsmarted! She is also very cute, and very sweet, though, and was the first dog (of three; the other two stayed on the ground) up on the picnic table with me when I went out to sunbathe one day, stretched out against my bare side, tickling me with her long hair.

Fourth, Tessa. Tessa met us as we drove into the yard, barking loudly and hysterically, of course, and who could blame her—aside from a morning feeding and letting out, and an evening feeding and putting in, she hadn't seen any humans for two days. And she is the guard. And she is the one who barks all the time, anyway. I rolled down my window and called out "HI TESSA!" and her face and barks immediately changed, from businesslike and warning to ecstatic and relieved. A friend! Someone to take care of things! Even compared to Spackle, Tessa has the best facial expressions. She is very clear about joy, contrition, disappointment, and ingratiating-ness. If you're having a bad time of it (as I occasionally have been since Tessa has arrived at Jerome Creek), she, of all the dogs, is the one who first comes over to rest her head on your knee and stare up into your eyes in mute sympathy. She also still eats anything remotely resembling food, and as quickly as possible before she is discovered—from places you had no idea she could reach. She therefore appears to be a pretty big, lumbering dog (even her ear flaps are plush), but she's quite athletic and is the first in any car at the first sign of an outing.

Fifth and Sixth, Dusty and Kalluk. These dogs belong to G&N, and theoretically were supposed to stay at their house, but Dusty (the girl) would frequently come down to hang out with all of us. I would go up to let them out of their barn and feed them in the morning, give them each a treat and tell them to stay home, and leave. Thirty minutes later, Dusty would arrive on our porch. I couldn't blame her. Ian and I took the five dogs for a hike up the mountain one day in our car, and Dusty was thrilled to be a part of the pack. Several days later, after Ian was gone, Dusty came down one morning, and then after a bit of time, disappeared. I assumed she'd gone home, although it hadn't happened before. At any rate, I didn't think too much about it. Several hours later I went with my inlaws out to start collecting horses for a ride. "Why'd you put Dusty in your car?" asked my father-in-law. "What?" I replied, then looked at my car. Sure enough, there was Dusty, in the back, standing at attention, waiting for the next AWESOME thing to happen. She had managed to jump and scrabble her way up the side of my car and in through one of the mostly-open back windows. From her experience, that was the place to be for some fun, and she was not about to miss out.

On the other hand, Kalluk never came down. After a couple days, I started to feel bad for him and so on several occasions all dogs went up to the top of the lonely mountain and we all went for a hike in his woods. He was a big sweetie and always very happy to see us, but seemed to have a sense of his responsibilities that Dusty didn't share. One evening, Ian and I were late getting up to feed him and put him in (Dusty was with us, of course), and it was almost dark when we arrived at the top of the hill. He was nowhere to be seen. "Kalluk! KALLUK! LUKEY!!" I yelled, and "WOOF!" came from the woods. A moment later, there he was wagging and milling about me, pleased to get his dinner and go to bed. None of the other dogs have ever told me they're coming. I was completely charmed.

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