Friday, May 25, 2007

Sadie Joins the Firm

From 9/07/94
Sadie, a chic Dalmatian,
moved into my house two
weeks ago.
Sadie doesn't whine, groan
and slobber on my shoes,
which the basset who lived at
my house for 12 years did.
And she doesn't argue about
what we watch on television,
which the basset did.
She has long legs. She runs
like a zephyr and leaps like a
gazelle, which the basset
didn't.
Sadie barely trots, however,
while I jog. She smiles and
holds her head inches from
my knobby knees. Her
shoulder brushes my leg. This
fearlessness comes from her
unique carriage-dog heritage,
but I'll explain that later.
More importantly, unlike
the basset who hated fishing
_ he'd howl to go home be
fore I could wet a line _
Sadie fishes long and intently.
Well, we've fished once,
and she loved it. Sadie rode in
the back seat without one
whine or slobber all the way
to the isolated boat launch
area on the Snake River
above Little Goose Dam.
As I rigged the fly-rod with
a fast-sinking line and a black
woolly bugger, she snuffled
among the weeds around the
car. Then she followed me to
the water's edge and sat
patiently two feet away while
I cast for bass. She tilted her
head and perked up her ears
when I spoke.
When I laid a 50-foot cast
onto the water and bragged,
her shoulder muscles rippled
with excitement. Then, when
I hooked a steelhead smolt
and it jumped and splashed,
she danced on her toes.
After I fumbled with the
10-inch fish to release it, she
turned a quizzical gaze
toward me. Then she flung
herself into water up to her
chest and searched for the
fish. She pawed the water and
overturned submerged rocks
to peer underneath.
And when I caught and re
leased a second 10-inch smolt
30 minutes later, she gasped
and redoubled her efforts.
She tipped one shiny rock and
bit at it.
Wow! What more could I
ask?
Actually, when I first met
Sadie at my daughter Andrea
Gascon's house, I didn't know
much about Dalmatians. Oh,
sure, they'd been in movies,
and they rode fire trucks. But
I'd never actually spoken to or
touched a Dalmatian.
And when Sadie first spot
ted me, her lithe, muscular
body froze. Her brown eyes
bored into me. She raised her
hackles and woofed.
Almost immediately,
though, she relented. She
brushed against my leg and
licked my hand.
In addition, already a year
old, she had most of her
shots. She'd been spayed. She
had papers, if we wanted
them.
And she would cost noth
ing.
Free!
Spouse Darlene and I could
take her on a trial basis. If we
didn't get along, we could re
turn her. What a deal. Imposs
ible to refuse.
So we took her home.
For a trial?
Ha.
We knew better. When
you're to the point of taking a
dog home for a trial, well,
you're hooked.
Nevertheless, we came to
this moment of transition with
severe reservations. We'd
lived with the basset for more
than 12 years, so we under
stood what it means to have a
dog move bag and baggage
into your life. You adjust to
feeding, doctoring, washing,
walking, training, /{ad infi
nitum/}.
Furthermore, we'd had no
dogs around the house for
nearly three months. It felt
WONDERFUL. Hardly any
slobbers on the floor. Fewer
ticks. Fewer moans and
groans. Less arguing about
what we watch on television.
Yet, Sadie needed a new
home. She seemed so pleas
ant, so bright and happy.
She'd welcome me home for
lunch. She'd bounce around
and lick my hand. She
wouldn't drool on my shoe.
So, as I said, she moved in
and immediately wanted to
kill Oscar, the longtime cat of
the house. We nearly faltered.
But we didn't, and Oscar took
fewer than three days to get
fed up and charge a horrified,
yipping Sadie, who crashed
into a tree getting away.
With the Sadie-Oscar crises
resolved, I read about
Dalmatians in the 17th edition
of ``The Complete Dog Book,''
by the American Kennel Club,
from the public library. I'm
impressed. Sadie has the po
tential to be anything she
wants to be.
According to the AKC, the
Dalmatian has, over the
centuries, ``been a dog of war,
a sentinel on the borders of
Dalmatia and Croatia ... a
draught (draft or pulling) dog
and a shepherd.'' It has been
``a bird dog, a trail hound, a
retriever, and a pack dog for
boar and stag hunting.'' It is
well known for ``heroic per
formances'' in firefighting
situations. A ``retentive mem
ory'' distinguishes Dalmatians
as circus and stage per
formers.
And the AKC says the
Dalmatian ranks ``as the orig
inal, one and only, coaching
(or carriage) dog.'' This heri
tage may go ``back to an en
graving of a spotted dog fol
lowing an Egyptian chariot.''
Other centuries-old evidence
apparently reveals ``the
Dalmatian with ears entirely
cropped away and padlocked
brass collar plying his natural
trade as follower and guard
ian of the horse-drawn ve
hicle.''
That's why Sadie trots close
when I run. It's in her genes,
unless she's simply moving
me out of her path. Either
way, Sadie thrives on ``road
work.'' With ``speed and en
durance, she has the heart to
run gaily until the journey's
end'' no matter the distance.
The Dalmatian is quiet, an
``ideal guard dog, distinguish
ing nicely between barking
for fun or with a purpose,''
according to the AKC. It is
courteous with ``approved
visitors'' but has a highly de
veloped ``protective instinct''
and the ``courage to defend.''
It is ``extremely hardy'' and
``suited to any climate.''
Dalmatians are also neat and
clean and require a minimum
of care.
Heck, Sadie may be the
perfect dog. And with my ex
pert teaching _ I've also
checked out and read 86
pages of ``Training Your Dog''
by John Rogerson _ her out
door skills will improve with
leaps and bounds.
She'll soon dive into thorny
thickets after pheasants.
She'll pin them down until I
get the ol' blunderbuss ready.
And she'll graciously fetch
any pheasant, duck or chukar
that I happen to knock down.
Then she'll learn to balance
the canoe while I cast for
trout; to carry the tent and the
food when we go backpack
ing; to stand guard at night
and scare away porcupines
and skunks; to go skijoring at
the drop of a mitten, that is, to
pull me on cross-country skis
for miles over mountain trails;
and to read and to discuss
Ruth Rendell mystery novels.
And when we acquire our
new golden, two-horse char
iot, we'll both be chic driving
to work: me in an alabaster
toga and Sadie with cropped
ears and gleaming, padlocked
brass collar. She'll trot fear
lessly between the dappled
stallions and haughtily ignore
their slashing hooves _ as
her ancestors apparently did.
While I work, the elegant
and ferocious Sadie will stand
guard while my chariot
awaits. I'll probably never get
another parking ticket.

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