Thursday, November 17, 2011

From Aloof to Cuddler

I have lived with dogs for as long as I can remember. The first dog in my life was actually one I don’t quite remember. His name was Lucky, and apparently when my mother brought me home from the hospital, he would stand guard over me. He snarled and sometimes bit whoever came near me, with my mother being the only exception. She must have been the one to feed him. When he bit a meter reader who came within fifty feet of my playpen in the backyard, the decision was made to send him to a farm. I guess he was Lucky. He got out while he could and no longer had to live with my family.
When I was four, my parents gave my brother and me this funny looking dog who was the runt of the litter. Although quite popular today, few people had seen a pug in 1966. Oh My God! Was I four years old in 1966? Where is my Geritol?

Because she was the runt, she was small and her tail did not curl quite right. We didn’t care about that. She was a puppy, and all kids love a puppy.

Anyway, Kelly Gaye Stern, her full name since she came from a long line of champion pugs, was the sweetest dog, and as the name implies, she was a lesbian. We tried breeding her with a handsome pug named Ralph on several occasions, but she would have none of it. She adored my mother and would whine whenever my mother left the house.

When she got older, she would insist on sitting in a recliner with my mother even though she couldn’t jump anymore, so my mother would help her up. My father remarked upon witnessing how my mother would assist her from behind, “That dog thinks you are a lesbian because you keep sticking your finger up her ass.”

As I said, most people had never seen one before, and she would sit in the window all day watching cars go by. Our friends would ask about our funny looking Siamese cat in the window.

And, my mother taught her how to sing “I Love You.”

Kelly was also a snuggler. She would alternate between sleeping with my brother and me and always under the covers and snuggled up against our legs. The two of us would watch TV lying on our stomachs on the floor, and Kelly would have to lie down between us.

They say you have not owned a dog until you’ve been owned by a pug. They are right.

Kelly died at age sixteen. Imagine having a dog from age four to twenty.

Next, came Daisy, the craziest dog ever to grace my world. Daisy was a long-haired Dachsund terrier mix, whom my mother picked out at the Animal Rescue League because she was on top of a dog house barking at all the big dogs. She was tiny when they brought her home, and she had three hairs for a tail.

Daisy was extremely affectionate and loved to sit in my father’s lap or sit up next to him in a “beg” position. Whenever anyone yelled, she would run for Dad and seek comfort from their wrath. We would sometimes yell goddammit just to watch her crash through his newspaper and sit up next to him.

When we would leave the house, she would take every item from my bedroom closet and bring it into the living room. I wish we had webcams back then because I would love a video of her taking every item one by one through the house.

Daisy would usually sleep with my parents because she adored my father. My mother once said, “He comes home from paying golf, pats me on the head and kisses the dog.”

She also attacked vacuum cleaners and once punctured the bag while I was vacuuming. Not funny … well it is now. And, she had a thing for basketballs and could entertain herself rolling one around for hours.

I never saw a dog age the way she did. Her brown and black fur, which by the way, grew to floor length with a long bushy tail, turned completely gray and almost white during her final years. A year before she died, I adopted Serena, a toy parti-poodle.

Serena wanted so much to play with Daisy. Daisy wanted nothing to do with Serena.

Daisy died at sixteen.

Of all the snugglers out there, Serena was the oddest. When I adopted Serena, I swore I would not have another dog sleep in the bed. The first week I had her, I actually was taking care of her and her twin brother Moochy, while they were being weaned from their mother, Venus, who was also a rescue and was pregnant when she was saved from an animal abuser. Before you ask, the Serena-Venus connection was purely accidental since no one had heard of them when I named Serena. She was named for Samantha’s cooky cousin.

So, the first night, they whined because they wanted to get into the bed. I made a deal. They could stay in the bed until they fell asleep, then I would put them in their bed. They fell asleep on top of each other. At barely two pounds each, it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. Serena was black and white, and moochy all black. I then picked them up with one hand – both fit in one hand – and put them in their bed, and they slept through the night. This went on for two nights until …

My apartment in Florida was the second floor of a cottage, which once served as a butler’s quarters. On the way down the stairs on the second morning to put them on the grass to pee and poop, I slipped. I was so worried about the dogs, I did everything to keep them safe, and I broke my foot.

They were fine; I was not. I had a performance with my modern dance troupe that evening, and well, that was not going to happen. After returning from the hospital and hobbling around all day, it was bed time.

Same deal as before – fall asleep in my bed then you go into your bed. But, I was tired, and they ended up sleeping with me all night, and after Moochy went back to my friend John, Serena always slept in the bed.

Now, Serena was also an alpha dog, and I often said our relationship was like that of Joan and Christina. I would say to her, “Why must everything be a contest?” and she said, "Because I am not one of your fans!"

She slept where she wanted to and had to be touching me at all times, often shoving me right out of the bed. It is amazing how much room a nine-pound dog can take.

Serena also had to sit in my lap at all times during the few times I actually would sit still. However, I was not allowed to pet her unless she wanted to be petted. Did I mention she was alpha?

She went deaf then blind, and I had to train her not to sleep in the bed because she had fallen off a couple of times when she couldn’t find the edge. Now, she could never jump that high, so I didn’t have to worry about her jumping up on the bed, but …

For three nights she whined very loudly by the bed near my head all night. All night! Finally, she realized that she wasn’t going to get up there anymore, and she slept in her bed for the last three months of her life. She died at age fourteen. Moochy died the week before she did. Venus, their mother is seventeen years old, and she is still alive. Amazing.

Now, with three snuggling and cuddling dogs, I kind of expected the same from Esmeralda. I was in for a surprise.

Emeralda is a study in what happens when human contact is denied for so long. I read somewhere that because dogs have been domesticated for more than 15,000 years they need human contact and companionship for their psychological well-being.

Since Esmeralda spent almost eight years in a cage, she did not understand what it meant to live with a person, and I expected that. One of two things can happen with a dog with her background; she can become withdrawn, or she can suddenly discover her puppyhood. The bonding, and especially affection, can take as long as a few years to occur.

I have never stuck around long enough for any of the jerks I dated to become affectionate and bond with me, so I had no experience – or patience – in this area.

You already know about her need to escape and the fact that it took almost a year for her to eat in front of me during the daytime rather than wait for me to go to sleep. Now, she looks forward to meal time and eats while I am standing near her, and I don’t have to worry about spooking her by walking around. Just doing things in the same room would make her stop eating once she started eating in daylight. Now, she acts like the dogs they used to starve for the Alpo commercials in the 1970s when I feed her. She dances around and gobbles her food down so fast that she belches after every meal. She does slow down if I say, "Enjoy your food; no one is going to take it away."

About the bonding thing. My brother noticed this when I was walking her. She looks up at me the whole time. But that is OK to some extent, but the whole time we lived in Rockville, she would stay in the bedroom, under the bed, while I was in the living room watching TV, unless I closed the bedroom door and forced her to spend her time with me. Then, and only then, she would hop up onto the couch and sleep on top of one of the back cushions and keep her distance.

I was allowed to pet her but only at arm’s length. She never, and I mean never, sat next to me. I would constantly kiss her forehead and tell her I loved her, but she is the first dog I’ve had who does not lick my face. Maybe that is a good thing. A boyfriend did that once, and I still get nauseated thinking about it.

She has never played with a ball. If you throw a ball, she looks at you as if to say, why did you do that. So, bonding through ball tossing was not an option. She does like to run around in circles barking if you do the same thing. If anyone peaks into my windows and sees us barking at each other on all fours, they are surely going to get me a suite at St. Elizabeth’s.

But, I had to remember everything I read about it taking as long as a few years for a dog to show affection. Studies are all well and good, but when Mrs. M. came over for a visit, and Esmeralda sat next to her on the couch, while Mrs. M. scratched her, I got a little jealous. “Wow, she never sits next to me on the couch,” I said.

And, I thought I was doing everything right.

Then, everything started to change.

When I would come home from work, she would carry on and run around in circles, howling and barking. She doesn’t even do that for Mrs. M. So there!

Esmeralda started following me from room to room, and she had to be in the same room I was in. I didn’t have to close a door to a room to get her to spend time with me. I sometimes purposely walk all over the house just see if she will follow me, and she does.

I no longer had to grab her to brush her every night. I could sit on the floor holding the brush, and she would come right up to me. As a matter of fact, if I am fifteen minutes late with her evening grooming, she reminds be by sitting in our spot on the floor and whines. She even comes right up to me for her weekly ear cleaning, and she loves her monthly bath (although she has always liked her monthly bath).

Then, she started coming up to the bed and pounding out “Babalu” with her paws because she wanted to sleep with me. Wow, nobody wants to sleep with me.

However, she still kept her distance. In the bed, she would stay on her side or sleep on the other pillow.

Then …

In the middle of one night, she snuggled up close to me and put her head on my shoulder and snored away until it was time to get up. I was so happy that I didn’t move because I didn’t want to disturb her. This was a breakthrough.

Then …

After dinner, she started hopping up on the couch and sitting close to me, not touching me, but close enough for me to scratch her, especially behind the ears.

And, she started coming up to me and sniffing my face then touching my nose with hers, wagging her tail, then walking away. This is her way of kissing. Esmeralda did this in front of the veterinarian last week after insisting on sitting on a chair next to mine. The doctor said, "Oh, she really likes you."

Then …

Two nights ago, we were watching TV, and I was scratching her and leaning on my left arm with my feet propped up on an ottoman. Esmeralda then lay down on top of my arm and went to sleep. My arm went numb, but I didn’t want to disturb her. Her comfort was more important than mine. She even snuggled closer after a while. We stayed like that for an hour.

Now, my world is complete.

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