Change of Pace
I knew I wanted this month's column to be as far away from terrorism, war, anthrax, recession, and other worldly woes as possible. Neither did I want to write about my personal travails, although they seemed particularly overwhelming this past month. As I sat petting my dogs-something I often do for solace, anxiety reduction, unadulterated pleasure-it suddenly occurred to me. I'd never written a column about my dogs! And what could possibly be farther away from the tensions of the world than gazing into the soulful eyes of a dog.
I used to look strangely at people who obsessed over their dogs. Generally, they were couples without children who had anthropomorphized their dog's every action to a point I secretly considered absurd. Or, couples like us, with grown children, whose dogs became their second chance at parenthood. Ridiculous. That is, until we got Kodi.
Oh I know, all puppies are adorable. But Kodi was the most precious ball of totally dependent fluff you've ever seen. Really. He was only 3 weeks old when we took him in, so, as his "mother," I bottle-fed him for awhile. He was a stuffed animal, a cross between a seal and a teddy bear. In fact, we named him Kodiac, in deference to his "bearish" demeanor. Then he began to grow, quickly, looking far more like his Great Pyhrenees father than a teddy bear. Eventually, I traded in my Miata for a larger car, to accomodate Kodi's 105 pounds. I think that half the reason we bought our house was for Kodi; we wanted him to have a huge backyard. Ridiculous, the things one does for one's children.
Kodi is, and has always been, a dog's dog. He learned to raise his hind leg, mark his territory and drink water from the toilet bowl from his mentor, a wonderful Akita named Kosai, and he grasped the rules of playing fetch, hide & seek, and "stay" from his Dad. His human Dad. Kodi also knows that it is his moral obligation to guard the house, and he takes his job seriously, responding to every street or yard noise with a deep, continuous, and thoroughly convincing bark.
When Kodi was a puppy, he was frisky, playful, and highly social, but he quickly discovered his role in the dog world. Quietly dominant. Independent. Quintessentially Alpha. He is sweet, tolerant, kind to small children, and we know he adores us, but he is, above all else, dignified. Kodi would never spend five minutes licking someone's hand. It took several years before he would look me directly in the eyes, preferring to avert his ever so slightly, just to demonstrate that he could. Kodi is, when all is said and done, a prince among dogs. And a prince must maintain a certain aloofness. But Kodi can also roll over on his back, fully exposed, tail thumping, begging for affection. Which he gets, unfailingly, whenever he resorts to that move. He can afford to show his vulnerability; he understands he's a prince.
Kodi makes his feelings known. We can tell when he's content, and there's no doubt when he's happy; he smiles. We know when he's completely perplexed, or horribly disappointed, and we know when we should advise the five-year old child to stop annoying him. Kodi warns us first. In the past year, as he is getting older (he's approaching eight, which makes him around our age in dog years) we've noticed some subtle changes. He is more affectionate, for longer periods of time. He'll nuzzle up to me when I walk in a room and sort of stay nuzzled for awhile. He enjoys being stroked, rubbed, petted, for as long as either of us is willing to do it, and if he hasn't had enough, he'll simply put his big heavy paw in my lap, indicating his desire for more. As thrilled as he obviously is to see me when I come home-and his joy shows in every part of his huge body-he has never jumped up on his hind legs to greet me. But every night, when his Dad comes home, Kodi greets him with a "kiss:" he jumps up so he can be "face to face" and licks his face. He knows who the human leader-of-the-pack is in our house, and he knows that only he is worthy of an eye level greeting from the canine leader.
When Kodi was four, we decided to give him a baby brother (actually I decided, and my husband couldn't say no once I brought home a puppy). Max was eight weeks old when I "adopted" him from the shelter. He had one ear pointing up and the other down, freckles on his adorable face, and a kind of lab/shepherd appearance. He looked like he might become a "Max, " although my son started calling him "Little" because of his size relative to Kodi's, and variations of that nickname have stuck with him despite his now 85 pounds. "Little" became "LaLa," then "LuLu"...who knows how these things happen once the ridiculous baby-talk (that we ALL do) begins, but let's just say that the names still fit.
I have to start by saying that Maxi is the most lovable, malleable, affectionate dog in the world. But he's a typical second child. With Kodi we went by the book, including a stint at doggy-training school. With Maxi we threw the book out. I guess we thought that his big brother would "train" him, but that never really happened. At first Kodi "tolerated" him, then he firmly established the pecking order. Once Maxi knew where he stood, and that he could never hope to compete with Kodi for "top dog," he went about developing his own unique style. And it was the complete opposite of Kodi's.
It's not that as a puppy Kodi didn't do some naughty-puppy things. He chewed up the legs of a rocking chair, a shoe or two and a remote control before he outgrew that stage. But, Maxi spent a long time in puppyhood, long enough to destroy our entire complex sprinkler system as well as all the outdoor lighting on our property. Apparently he got a pretty decent buzz from the underground wiring.
And Maxi doesn't seem to enjoy many of the dog things that Kodi enjoys. Car rides, for example. Kodi used to love going for a ride to almost anywhere; he'd sit majestically at the window, head out, wind blowing back his ears, spellbound. Max hates the car. First of all, he can't sit. It's not that he can't, actually, because he's perfectly capable of obeying the "sit" command, extending his paw for treats, etc. It's just that he doesn't. Kodi will sit, next to your chair, or staring out the window at the street, for hours. Max has two positions: standing and lying. So, it's difficult to enjoy the wind in his face while trying to maintain his balance standing in a moving car. Beyond that, though, is a far more serious problem. Max makes an unholy racket in the car. His unbridled enthusiasm, excitement, adrenaline, fear, whatever, all mix together into a grating, non-stop, high-pitched series of yelping barks. No one will get in the car with him. When I take Max and Kodi to the park (because of course, no one does not include me) Max hi-pitch yelps and Kodi, not to be out-done, low-pitch barks as loud as he can. It's a cacophony that forces me to close all the windows in embarrassment, or for fear of being pulled over for disturbing the peace. On the way home, however, his energy spent on running around like a lunatic for an hour, Max is angelically quiet. So, Kodi can enjoy the wind on his face while Max reclines on the back seat, and my anxiety level returns to normal.
I have thousands of photos of Kodi. He's a born poser. I have about twenty of Max. I'd love to have more, but Max has a camera phobia. All he has to do is see a camera and he's gone. Not just gone but scared. Hiding. Like he believes the camera will steal his soul. So we don't take pictures of Maxi. And Max has never taken a drink from the toilet, or figured out the rules for fetch, but he has, finally, learned to raise his hind leg. It took two years, which might have been the result of his confusion over being called "Lulu," or might be because Kodi had so totally marked and claimed his territory in every conceivable spot that Max simply didn't see the point.
While Kodi has dignity, and an air of independence, Maxi is completely undignified and totally dependent. O.K., he's a Mama's boy. He follows me from one room to another, licks anything I put near his mouth-hands, feet, face, whatever-and craves my undivided attention. Whether napping, outside, or in another room, his radar tells him immediately if I'm alone somewhere petting Kodi; he has to rush to the spot and poke his head in for some loving; he simply can't bear it. And he still sleeps in his bed (all right, I call it his "beddy") next to me on the floor every night.
In fact, the "beddy" thing is one of Maxi's rituals that continues to amaze us. Not that he sleeps in it, but how he sleeps in it. First there's the "approach." It begins with Max on our bed, napping, when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, he makes the decision that it's time to go to bed. His bed. So, he stands up at the edge of our bed, and in one leap jumps into his bed. Never lets a foot touch the floor. Always lands in his bed, and, in the very same highly gymnastic motion, curls up into a ball and is sound asleep. Of course, it's the only position that works in his beddy; he's at least twice its size. The other uniquely Max quality is that he talks. Well, he tries to talk. I guess, to the untrained ear, it's more like squeaking, singing, playful growl-type sounds, especially when stretching, yawning, or impatiently waiting for something "fun" he knows is about to happen, but to us it's talking. And he says some awfully amusing things.
What is truly awesome about our two dogs is how much they love each other. They are brothers, including snuggling, play-fighting, sniffing, and hanging together all the time. At night, when my husband and I are in bed having our customary snack, they are both practically on top of us, side-by-side on the bed staring, eagerly waiting for a morsel. Their beautiful heads move in unison, following our every move. Their soulful eyes shift back and forth between us. And we sit back and admire our incredible boys, our hearts full. They are as different as two dogs could be. But they love us with an intensity and a loyalty that only dogs seem capable of. Which makes them both perfect children.
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