24. October 2004 · Comments Off on The Use of a Dog · Categories: Domestic, General

I am a cat person by default. That said, I like dogs and, and have had a dog, they take to me, and a couple of the neighbors’ dogs are openly adoring, but the fact remains that dogs are more high-maintenance than cats, more emotionally needy. They are like something that comes out of the box in parts, with a collection of tools and a twenty-page manual for assembly and programming, whereas cats arrive completely assembled, ready for instant use. They do not mind that you are away for most of the day, they do not need to be taken for walks, and they see life steadily and see it whole from a perch on the windowsill, or across the back of an armchair. They have their own secret lives and amusements, and while they are glad to see you come home at the end of the day, they are not neurotically overjoyed, like a dog is— for the dog, this is the high point of the day, and they have been waiting all day for the sound of your car, and the garage door rumbling open, and now the dog is trembling with excitement, their someone is home, homehomehome, and they begin to bark, ecstatically. It takes very little to please a dog, but still— their day must have been terribly dull, that this is the high point of it— and it is enough to feel guilty about not having come home sooner. I do not need guilt— I prefer my relationships to be with well-adjusted grownups. Cats fulfill that niche very nicely.

But I have had the use of a dog, without the upkeep, which is a satisfying compromise; these days, the dog is Polly, who lives next door with her people. She is a miniature dachshund, or as I call her “a cocktail wiener-dog”, a sleek and low-slung little doggie exactly the color of a fresh-picked chestnut hull, given to bark with soprano enthusiasm at anyone who walks by on the sidewalk out front, or comes either of our two houses. My driveway, and front walk are clearly part of “her” territory, and noisy attention must be paid to any trespasser. This is a good thing; it is one of the traditional uses of a dog— to alert us of company and passing strangers. As a puppy, I may have cuddled her just enough to form a bond, and now she demands affection as her right. She recognizes the sound of the VEV, and her owner insists that Polly is watching for me at 6 PM daily, bouncing up to the gate so I can lean down and rub that chestnut-brown little head, while her tail whips back and forth so energetically it shakes her whole hinder end. So I have the use of a dog, without any of the responsibility for maintenance, and all it costs me is a few minutes of time. When we lived in Spain we also had the use of a dog, a dog that spent more of the first few years of her life with Blondie, and more time in our yard than her own.

A young Spanish couple, engaged to be married, had bought the duplex unit opposite ours to be their permanent home. Their yard was separated from ours by only a thin and raggedy hedge, although there was a tall chain link fence at the back, and an ornate brick and metal fence at the front of the units. During their engagement, and then while their duplex was being renovated, they used it as a weekend or summer cabin, and one of the first things Antonio and Susannah did was to get a dog to guard the yard and the usually empty duplex. Drufy was a purebred German shepherd, of the Prussian persuasion of German shepherd— that is, lean, intense and very driven. (As opposed to the Bavarian persuasion, who tend to be fat, happy canine slobs). She had a little doghouse under the stairs, and the portero, or maybe one of the urbanizations’ watchmen came around every day with food and water. Of course, my daughter discovered the presence of a dog in the adjoining yard very early on, and since the hedge was permeable, and we were actually there, much more frequently than Antonio and Susannah were… well, it was only logical outcome. Drufy bonded to us; my daughter and I were Her People, and our yard was Her Yard. She was our fiercely dedicated guardian, and everyone considered that a good thing, certainly Juan Vigilante, the retired Guadia Civil who was the senior watchman in San Lamberto— keeping a strict and observant eye upon all the comings and goings— thought it an excellent idea that a single woman with a small daughter should have the use of a such a tireless guardian.

My daughter took it into her head, at the age of 10, that she wanted to be a latch-key child, and the presence of Drufy, Juan Vigilante, a telephone in our duplex unit, and the near-by residences of several friends were the things that tilted my decision to allow it. My daughter took the school bus home every schoolday, with strict orders to call me as soon as she got in the door: I was on air at EBS-Zaragoza, in the radio studio doing the drive-time afternoon show then— I took her call in the studio, every afternoon between 3:30 and 3:35, otherwise I would have been calling out everyone short of the American Counsel. It was reassuring to know, that Drufy-dog was there, alert and vigilant. Indeed, my daughter described with relish, how the propane-gas-bottle deliveryman had barely beat Drufy to our gate, with the empty bottle and the payment for the new one, and Drufy’s teeth bare inches from his ass.

When Antonio and Susannah married, and the renovations were complete, they moved into the apartment opposite, but Drufy’s situation did not improve materially; she was still the outdoor guardian dog. Susannah had a vile-tempered Jack Russell terrier, which had indoor privileges and all the shelter and affection that that implied. Drufy remained in her doghouse outside. My daughter thought this was cruelly unfair; Drufy was loving and affectionate, a better and more satisfactory dog all around than that nasty little terrier. Even when the terrier was bred, and had a litter of puppies— Drufy baby-sat the puppies, and continued to guard our house, and was unmercifully bullied by the terrier. At least, she was, until the summer that we returned from one of our long road trips to notice that the terrier had a long bandage around her middle, and was behaving more respectfully to Drufy and everyone else. It seemed that she had snapped once too often, and Drufy had about bitten her in half. My daughter and I were totally partisan; we felt Drufy’s response was completely justified and long overdue.

But as always with a military tour— and I had done a double tour at Zaragoza, six years, long enough to see my daughter all the way through elementary school— the orders and pack-out date loomed. I made arrangements for the VEV, for the cats, for the hold baggage… and my daughter asked if we could take Drufy, too.
“She thinks she is ours, much more than Antonio and Susannahs’,” she insisted, quite correctly, and even took it up with Antonio, who pointed out that she was a pedigreed dog, and very valuable. He did offer to send her one of her puppies, when he had her bred, which was quite fair, but where would we be, when that came around, and how much would it cost to send a puppy halfway around the world? It would be hard enough to rent a place that permitted the eminently portable and well-behaved cats. We bid Drufy an affectionate farewell— I took a picture of her with my daughter, and gave Antonio and Susannah a couple of bottles of good California wine. We should have given Drufy some nice treats, but how could that have ever made up for half of her People suddenly, and inexplicably vanishing from her limited world?

I just hope she did not grieve for us too much… and that she did not have a nervous breakdown entirely when our duplex was rented to someone else.

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