Sunday, February 26, 2006

Requiem for All the Bad Dogs

Has anybody out there read yet? If you haven't, it's a now-bestselling dog owner's memoir of a lovable canine miscreant -- a Labrador who got into everything, and who taught his owners a thing or two about unconditional love while he was at it. I haven't read it yet, but probably will. I have to find out whether Marley holds a proverbial candle in the misadventure department to my dear old departed .

We lost Doogie a year ago today. I'm not usually one to mark anniversaries (I even had to ask Greg whether we had one), but maybe it's just that Marley's exploits recall Doogie's so clearly that I just miss the old bugger all over again, as keenly as I did last year.

Doogie wasn't my first Beardie. He wasn't even my second, or my third. He was, however, the first Beardie I'd ever had who had decided his own career path, rather than applying his considerable Beardie intellect and energy to a vocation such as obedience or sheep-herding. He decided that his life's work was to keep me busy and always on the alert for ways he could get into trouble. Maybe in another home, as a single dog, he could have been better prepped for some sort of competitive dog sport. In mine, though, he decided to become a career underachiever, the Bart Simpson of the dog pack.

Doogie had the semi-misfortune to be living with at the time. Duncan was a canine A student if there ever was one, a Border Collie in a Beardie suit. We had just lost , the World's Most Perfect Dog, and Duncan and I missed him terribly. Against the memory of old Cadence, no dog could have stood a chance, least of all Doogie.

Anyway, Doogie came to me at the age of seven from a family with three (then) pre-teenage daughters. The girls were beginning to get involved in extracurricular activities, and the family spent less and less time at home with Doogie. They decided to find a more attentive home for him, and I was it.

At the time, I was mystified. Why would a family with three children voluntarily give up a big, handsome, kid-trained, purebred Bearded Collie from a very good breeding? My dogs always waited patiently at home for me to return from the office, so what was the big deal?

And then I met Doogie. The second night I had him, he opened my back door and took himself off for a run in the dark. I chased him for about a mile through icy swamps and semi-frozen muck, and finally caught up with him before he decided to try his luck with busy Route 236. He probably would have become a Doogie pancake if he'd had any idea where he was going, but I had the geographical advantage that time. Keeping a death grip on his collar, I marched us both home, muddy ice forming on our legs. I wondered what I'd got us both into, and whether he would live to see age eight.

Doogie chose to distinguish himself from Duncan the A student and the memory of Perfect Cadence by acting as much the canine hoodlum as he could. He broke all of his teeth chewing through a metal crate. He bullied Duncan, who snarled whenever Doogie passed within twelve feet of him. He never met a trashcan he didn't like. He could open doors, cabinets, and containers, so nothing edible was safe from him. He tried to eat the sheep in our herding lessons. He figured out ways to let himself outside, even escaping from the car before I learned to tether him inside it. A few times, he opened up the bathroom door and accidentally shut himself inside, where he panicked, chewed the doorjambs to splinters, and left the floor -- and himself -- in an unspeakable pool of #1 and #2. He broke the front-door window once, attempting to escape when a thunderstorm came to town while I was away at work. He was aggressive to every dog he ever met except for , whom he adopted as "his" puppy. When we moved out here to the country, he figured out how to escape through both the back door and the backyard fence, and he'd amuse himself while I was at work by catching and eating the frogs in the pond. My sainted, animal-loving next-door neighbor would take it upon herself to catch Doogie in the act of frog-hunting and put him back into the garage to work on the trashcans while he waited for me to come home. She always left a message on my answering machine, and many times I came home to a garage full of shredded trash and a phone message that began with "Hello, Karen... your dog got out again, and I caught him eating frogs..."

You must be wondering, "But Karen, you do obedience. Why didn't you obedience-train him?" Actually, I did, and he did a fine job in class and in practice sessions... but he understood the difference between a training situation and real life, and he never really did accept that there might be some crossover between the two.

And yet, that dog adored me fiercely. When he shoved his big old Doogie face into my armpit and did the "Doogie Boogie" to show that he was glad to see me, I was lost. He might have been a "bad dog," but he would be my bad dog for the rest of his long and trash-strewn life.

I'll never forget the year I took Duncan and Doogie to a herding camp up at . Doogie, in his typical style, spent much of his time bullying the other attendees' dogs on the first day there, so that I was forced to put him in a nearby boarding kennel for that week just to keep the peace. I remember the owner telling me, "You really have to put that dog down." I stopped going to Camp after that, but not because of Doogie.

Until the Marley book came out, I always half-wondered to myself why I always seemed to have more stories about old Doogie the bad actor than I did about Charlie, or even Duncan. It finally hit me: the old miscreant just taught me the greatest number of lessons of all my dogs, and they've all taught me plenty.

Doogie taught me empathy. Before living with him, I had immediately assumed that anyone giving up a perfectly good dog was just making up excuses. I had been a little short with some of the people I'd worked with in rescue. Doogie taught me to listen to what the people were saying, as well as to what they weren't saying. It's easier to find the right home for a dog if you'll listen to why a dog might be in the wrong home.

He also taught me to value each individual Beardie as just that: an individual, with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and to accept that a dog's work ethic might not be the same as mine or Duncan's, or anybody else's. He taught me vigilance, and how not to make assumptions. I learned a great deal about how to puppy-proof a house by making one safe for a big adult dog with crime on his mind.

Doogie may have been a pretty bad dog, but he turned out to be a pretty good teacher. The last thing he taught me is that we who live with dogs are students of canine nature all our lives, no matter what we think we already know. As I remove yet another one of Greg's used socks from the jaws of a bouncing puppy with a familiar twinkle of mischief in her eyes, I wonder what other lessons are in store.


Barbara W. Klaser said...

I haven't read the book, Marley and Me, but just read about it in the news today and thought it sounded really good.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

Me again. I have to add that I was at someone else's site today, where they posted about the death of Don Knotts, and I said there,

"I feel like Barney Fife helped raise me, helped me to accept others' flaws and love them anyway."

It sounds like Doogie was that kind of dog. :)

Lisa said...

Marley and Me cannot be as moving or as true as your post. Doogie sounds a handful -- but a wonderful one.

YarnBotanika said...

Oh..I really need to read that book. I am going to order it. It sounds like my BB. And what a beautiful tribute to Doogie. I have tears in my eyes...I so worry about when the time comes for BB. I don't think I'll be able to handle it Karen......