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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rosie (2005 - 2009)

I have to admit it was love at first sight. At 3 months, Rosie had short, wavy caramelly-tan fur. She had a black saddle on her back and a white zipper of fur on her chest. Her ears couldn’t seem to decide if they wanted to stand straight up or if they should relax and just flop over. 
Rawhide Rescue--the group that had pulled her from a shelter in Arkansas--called her and her littermates a “Heinz 57” breed; the one sister I met could have been mistaken for a Jack Russell. Rosie looked like a mini Airedale with a perm. One woman I met at the vet’s office asked if I used mousse to get her fur like that. As if.

When we brought Rosie home for the first time, we introduced her to Pasha in a local park--neutral ground--as Pasha never quite understood he was a dog. At first, Pasha didn’t get what this puppy was all about, and he barked at her a bit. Within a few weeks, though, she taught our stodgy Mr. Pasha how to play. She demonstrated the purpose of each toy (biting, shredding, chasing, tugging) and she helped him learn how to have fun and not be so serious. During his pre-Rosie years, Pasha only played with toys once or twice, and then he would scare himself and stop within a few minutes. After Rosie showed up, the Pash began to play, eventually getting brave enough to gently tap a Buster Cube in order to get at the treats inside. 

Where Pasha was the most loving and snuggly dog I ever had, Rosie was the most playful. She played with a joyful intensity that spilled over and never failed to touch the people around her. Rosie always gave it everything she had, whether she was running, playing Frisbee, desqueakifying a ducky, disemboweling a stuffed animal or protecting our yard from the evil deer, cats and squirrels that dared to attempt trespass.
When we took her outside to play, we knew she would run amuck in the yard, causing sweet mayhem; in our family lingo, we would ask Rosie if she wanted to “go outside and run mucks.” And she always wanted to Run Mucks. 

Rosie loved to play Frisbee. All my life, I had wanted a Frisbee dog, and Rosie took to it like a pro. When I threw the disk, she would zoom away, leap up and pluck the toy right out of the air. She flew. 
The weather didn’t matter to Rosie. She played Frisbee in the rain, in the heat, in the snow. 
Rosie took breaks, now and again, stopping to rest with the disk between her paws; she’d gnaw the edges or rest her head on it. 

And then, she’d start again, bringing me the Frisbee and demanding I throw it with a sharp, insistent bark.
Sometimes, though, the game became Get the Frisbee, where the object was to chase Rosie around the yard trying to Get It. And if you did grab hold of it (only because she let you: Rosie was very fast), the play morphed into Frisbee Tug.

Inside the house, where Frisbee throwing would not have had a productive outcome, the Best Toy was the Squeaky Ball. There was one particular kind of rubber ball that Rosie loved beyond all others. It looked like a miniature soccer ball and came in red, blue and green. At any one time, we had a dozen of these balls scattered around the house. Every last one had no squeak. That’s because Rosie was the best Desqueakifier around. We couldn’t (well, I couldn’t) resist buying her a new ball or three every time I went to Petco. 
I would wait until I thought Rosie needed a new Ball (translation: I waited until I felt I needed Happy Squeaks) and then I would get the recent purchase from where I'd temporarily hidden it. She always knew when I was going to give her a toy, and Rosie would follow me. A quick toss, and she’d catch it and run around the house, squeaking madly. Then, Rosie would lie down. “Squeaky, squeaky, squeaky, SQUEAKY, squeaky, squeak. Squeaky, squeak, squeaky, squeaky, SQUEAK. Squeaky, squeaky”........silence. The average squeak lasted less than two minutes. But it was worth it, because of the pure joy Rosie exuded when she had a new Squeaky Ball. It filled the room; you couldn’t help but be engulfed by it. 

And once the squeak was gone, the Ball was still a Wonderful Thing. Of the dozen or so scattered around the house, there was always The Ball of the Moment. It was today’s favorite. She could pick it out of a pile of balls that looked just like The Ball. But you couldn’t fool Rosie.  She knew which one was The Ball. 

And Rosie constantly wanted to play Ball. She’d drop it in the lap of anyone; she didn’t care whether the intended Ball thrower was not a fan of wet, shlorby Ball. She’d drop it, and bark. “Throw it! Throw it NOW! Throw the Ball!” She was insistent. Some of us believe that she would pinpoint the person least likely to want a wet slimy Ball in his or her lap. Rosie was like that.

Another game with the Ball was to put it in something. Like a box. You put the Ball in the Box. Then you jump in the Box. And then you get the Ball. And if someone put packing paper in the Box, all the better. A Box was a Wonderful Thing. 
The Ball could be placed in other containers too. A Really Good Place was inside gift bags on somebody’s birthday. For one thing, the ball made a really cool sound when it landed on the tissue paper inside. And of course, it was like giving the person an extra gift: he or she got to Throw the Ball--after the inevitably slimy Ball was removed from the bag and the present inside was wiped off. Though really, Rosie felt you could have Thrown the Ball first.

Rosie was always Busy. She had Things to Do. She needed to Investigate. She needed to Know About Things. This was Rosie all the time.  She stuck her nose--literally--into everybody’s business. Every. Body’s. Business. The guy who was installing our laundry room cabinets, the cable installer, the cleaning crew--and of course friends and family. Rosie was Helpful, too.  For example, Rosie Helped the cabinet installer by inspecting the cabinets and giving him a wet sloppy kiss as he was working under the sink. And then she brought him The Ball to throw. That was also quite Helpful. Rosie Helped Brian do dishes (she cleaned some of them off when the dishwasher was open).
She Helped me cook (testing any Bits that fell on the floor.
And she Helped Corinne play badminton (chasing birdies). 

Another helpful job that Rosie took on was that of alarm clock and shower. Every morning she jumped up on our bed and licked Brian awake. His face needed to be Clean. And Rosie was just the dog to make sure every part of Brian’s face was washed. 
Aaron also used the Rosie Alarm in the mornings, or, to be clear, I used the Rosie Alarm on Aaron. When he wasn’t responding to the usual, “Aaron, it’s time to wake up!” I would tell Rosie, “Go get Aaron. Go wake him up!” She’d leap on his bed, wagging furiously, and lick any bit of Aaron that wasn’t covered by a blanket or a sheet. A Mom wake-up call might have resulted in groans and complaints; a Rosie wake-up call made him smile.

Rosie was also probably the smartest dog I ever knew.  I could teach her a new trick in minutes.  She was very food driven, and I had trained her to respond to a clicker. When she did what I wanted her to do, I would click and give her a treat. With this method, Rosie learned all the basics: Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Drop It, Leave It, Roll Over, Army Crawl. She had this funny habit of almost barking, moving her mouth as if she barked, but with no sound. We called that trick Movie Dub. It worked best when I said, “Movie Dub,” she opened her mouth, and Pasha barked: perfect timing.

In the summer, Rosie would come swim with us in the pool. She loved to jump in, dog paddle around, and then clamber onto a raft with one of us. It didn’t matter how unstable the raft was, Rosie was happy to come aboard. She did have a few concerns when one of the kids jumped in the pool; Rosie had to bark everyone okay.  Or she’d leap into the water, swim to whomever she felt needed her Help and climb on top of him or her.

Watching her climb on the rafts in the pool gave me the idea that perhaps Rosie would be good at agility--the competitive canine activity where dogs run an obstacle course up ramps, through tunnels, across balance beams,and  weave through poles and jump through hoops.  I signed her up for classes, and from the very first one, Rosie not only excelled, but loved the activities. She learned fast, and feared nothing. She just needed to understand what I wanted her to do and she would do it. Agility gave Rosie an opportunity to use her body and her brain; she was a natural.

Of course, Rosie would put her brain to work for more nefarious goals; she wasn’t content with games and toys. She was nothing if not mischievous. One of her favorite games was to pick something up and hide it in her mouth when we came in from our walks; usually it was a stone from our driveway. You’d never know there was something in there until she took off and ran around the house right after I unhooked her leash. This was the I Have Something and You Can’t Get It game.  I’d call out, “Rosie, what’s in your mouth?” She’d stop and look at me, “What mouf?” She did Innocent very well. And then she’d take off again. Usually, after a few stern Drop Its, she’d give it up. 

One Rosh Hashanah, we had put the traditional round challah on our counter and left the house to go to a service in a local park. When we came back, Rosie was not there to greet us. This was highly unusual, as our arrival was always signalled by the thonk thonk thonk of Rosie’s tail banging against the clothes dryer as she waited by the back door for us to walk in. Pasha was there, though, and we didn’t think much of it until Rosie trotted through the dining room with a happy hello. A little too happy if you ask me. Moments later she disappeared up stairs and came down with the challah; the bread was bigger than her head, yet she carried it proudly. Not an ounce of guilt. It was mostly pride; “Look what I got!” We never did figure out how she got it off the counter.

A dog who played hard, Rosie also knew how to relax. 

She loved to sleep under things; a favorite spot was by my feet under my desk, where she slept while I worked in my office. 
Rosie liked to rest her head on anything handy: a part of the table, a box, a stuffed animal (usually previously Disemboweled.) 
But the Best Place of All was on the stairs in the hallway. Each stair seemed to be custom designed for Rosie; every one was just the right length and width for her body. And so many stairs to choose from. Most often, she’d lay halfway up, the Best Spot because she could see out the front windows from there--and could use the hallway mirror to watch what was going on in the back of the house as well. Rosie could Keep an Eye on Things. She could Watch.
Another favorite thing to do on the stairs was to bring the Ball to the top and then lay down looking over the top step. With just a little nudge, Rosie could engineer a Disaster. The Ball would go Bouncy Bouncy Bouncy Down the Stairs. Then she would look at it longingly for a few minutes, perhaps wondering why it wouldn’t bounce right back up. She’d make moany murguly noises until she just couldn’t stand it anymore and then Rosie would run to the bottom, grab the Ball and run back up. And then do it Again.

Because Rosie liked to be Busy, sometimes I would bring her to Camp Bow Wow, a local doggy day camp and boarding kennel. When we got out of the car and she realized where she was, Rosie would wag her entire body; she loved playing with all the other dogs. We also boarded her there when we went away; she came home tired but happy. Once summer, when the humans in the family traveled to Israel, Rosie got to stay overnight at Camp Bow Wow. When we came back, the owner showed us Rosie’s picture in the local newspaper; in it, she was standing with a happy grin and a Party Animal hat perched on her head, somewhat askew. Apparently there had been a celebration for the camp’s one-year anniversary while we were gone. The newspaper quoted one of the happy humans, who noted that Rosie won the “best kisser” award at the party. You leave the for a week and she parties hard, gets a tipsy photo in the local rag, and is noted for her kissing. That’s Rosie.
For even more pictures of Rosie, see my Picasa web album.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pasha (1994 - 2009)

As with all our dogs, Pasha came to us from a shelter. One of my work colleagues had found him wandering in a park in Somerville, New Jersey. After confirming that all the neighbors didn’t recognize him, she brought this large ball of fur back to our dog-friendly office in town, where everyone fell in love with him. Assuming he must belong to someone, she drove the dog to the Somerset Regional Animal Shelter, where he was to stay for a week, in case someone claimed him. Unfortunately, my work friend couldn’t adopt him, as she already had 3 dogs. At the time, only Kelsey, our sheltie / shepherd mix, lived with us, and it seemed like this new dog came into my life at just when I needed him. It became obvious to everyone that he’d be coming home with me, if it turned out nobody came looking for him. I called the shelter every day to see if he was still there. 
The dog was a keeshond mix. Having seen him only briefly when he visited the office, I kept thinking he looked just like a teddy bear...and somehow he felt especially Russian. He had long silky fur that was black and tan and white,with shades of all three running through. His tall, point ears sat perkily on top of his head. And a very long-haired tail curled over his back with a jaunty flair.  As coworkers asked me what I might name him, I would answer, “Pasha.” It’s the first Russian name that came to mind.  But I wasn’t sure, I said. I’d know what to name him once I got him home.

The first moment he was available for adoption was in the middle of the work day, so with my company’s approval, I was there to pick him up and bring him, once again, to the office. Within minutes, everyone came to say hello. “Hi Pasha!” “Here, Pasha!” “Pasha’s a good boy.” By the time 5:00 rolled around, he was, already, Pasha.

We didn’t know anything about Pasha’s life before he came to live with us. At first, he cringed when we moved our hands near him, and was afraid of squeaky toys. Mr. Pasha didn’t really understand any toys for that matter, and didn’t know how to play with them. One pet sitter reported that when she threw a ball for him in the yard, he looked at her, looked at the ball, and then trotted over to where it landed and promptly lifted his leg to christen it. “Here’s what I think of your silly game.”  When Rosie, our terrier mix, joined the family, she gave Pasha a great gift by teaching him how to play; he learned to romp and run with her, and even tried playing with some of her toys now and again.

Pasha was the most affectionate dog I have ever known. He loved to Snuggle, be petted, and Snuggle some more. He would bury his head in your chest, sometimes climbing haflway into your lap for the hugs. And he mastered the art of getting pets from any one any time. His modus operandi was to look up at people with the most sorrowful expression, his ears pointed expectantly, and gently nudge his intended petter. As soon as the person touched him, he would lean into him or her, and look up with such unabashed gratefulness, that his was sure, just positive that this dog is completely ignored, is never loved, and lives a life of complete neglect. Another sucker! Everyone, everyone he met, would fall for Pasha’s scam.
Pasha was a creature of habits. Every day the members of our family were greeted with a Morning Sniff. “Sniff sniff, sniffy sniff sniiiiif.” Pasha would inhale long draughts of each person’s scent, always ending with an exclamatory, “SNIFF!!!” You could also set your clock by Pasha, as he always knew when Dinner Time was; at 5:30 on the nose, the dog would start pestering and dancing, pacing and making horfing noises. He would generally make a nuisance of himself, getting in the way of anyone nearby until someone realized it was Time to Feed the Dog. A keen observer of patterns who also understood a wide range of vocabulary, we learned not to say the word, “outside,” or even spell it, or Pasha would be on his way. We had to say things like, “I think I’ll take the furry creatures on the other side of the door.”
His Keeshond heritage gave Pasha black eyeliner marks around his eyes.  My daughter Corinne called him Emo dog; combining his doggy mascara with his pointy, expressive ears, Pasha could emote pathos at the drop of a biscuit. He was so good that we coined a verb:  to ears. As in, “Pasha is earsing at me; he wants my cookie.” And, when my children really wanted something, they’d put their hands on top of their heads in imitation of the dog, cocking their heads, “Please, Mom?” Hey, it worked for Pasha.  Even my kids knew how to ears. 

Pasha’s long silky fur was beautiful, and nearly everyone who met him thought he was a very pretty girl.  I don’t think he minded as long as there were Pets involved. Apparently Keeshonden (plural of Keeshond) have a double layer of fur, and Pasha certainly had at least two layers. He had bedroom slipper feet, which Corinne dubbed “wissle fuppy swippers.”  I had to trim them often so we could see his toes every once in a while.

In addition to Snuggles and Pets, Pasha also loved food--of any kind. His definition of food was rather broad though. If it had a scent, it was edible. Didn’t quite matter what kind of scent. Deer poo (we live near a wooded park) was a delicacy. Crabapples were a crunchy snack. Corinne’s lip gloss; hey it smelled like strawberries. In his search for such delicacies, Pasha left no log unturned, no bit unsniffed, no garbage can unexplored. We resorted to closed doors and put lids on all the trash receptacles in our home. Always an opportunist, Pasha figured out how to stick his head through the swinging lid on our trash cans.  Once, there must have been a particularly alluring item, and Pasha stuck his snout in just a little too far, and he came away with a new type of dog collar; the trash can lid was stuck around his neck. He came prancing into the kitchen later; I swear his expression was, “Trash can? Lid? What are you talking about?”

His love for Sniffs of any kind let to several adventures. An encounter with a skunk taught us that no matter what you do, the scent lingers within dog fur, re-awakening every time it rained. Another time, we visited some friends who live near the Delaware Water Gap, with their Jack Russell terriers. Apparently bears don’t always poo in the woods, and one of my friend’s dogs discovered a nice fresh pile in the yard and rolled joyfully in the mess. When Pasha got a whiff of her, he must have thought, “Hmmm. Where’d you get that? Eau de Peau, yes? I must have some, too.” You can wash a short-haired little Jack Russell in the kitchen sink. Not so with an oversized, uber-furred Keeshond. 

Like Kelsey, Pasha was not a fan of cats. He, too, thought they were designed to be chased. This got Pasha into trouble several times. One night, he was outside in the front yard and we think he ran across the street to chase the neighbor’s cat. The best we could figure--since nobody saw it happen--was that he then sat in the middle of the street to Ponder the Situation. Another neighbor turned the corner in his car and hit poor Pasha. He was very lucky, and escaped with no broken bones and no internal injuries. But he had seriously damaged the skin on his back, which left him with a large bald patch there for the rest of his life. It didn’t really bother Pasha, though. While the wounds were healing, he had to wear a t-shirt to protect his skin. When he graduated from that, he loved to be patted on his bald spot, and would perform a Happy Butt Dance of joy. In the summer, we rubbed his furless back with sunscreen, which Pasha thought was an even better treat.

Pasha was a dog of many roles. In addition to pulling off Emo Dog, he could also channel studied nonchalance, evoking a Royal air by simply crossing his paws. 
He was Security Guard, performing a perimeter check of the yard every time he went outside. 
In our first house, his sacred duty was to stand guard behind the privet hedge, wait until some unsuspecting human walked by and bark a kid off his bicycle or send an elderly neighbor into palpitations. 

A patient dog, Pasha enjoyed Bird Watching; he would sit by our sliding glass doors and watch as they flew down to feed on the seed I would scatter outside in the winter. When a minyan of the feathered creatures had been achieved, he would pounce at the window, his tail wagging as he watched the birds scatter heavenward. And when wanted a little time and space to himself, Pasha the Spelunker would hunker down under a corner table, where he could watch everything from his Cave.

Pasha was also an Entertainer, once interrupting no less than 3 children’s soccer games in a row, by trotting onto the fields to run around with the kids. Every game came to a complete halt, while Corinne tried to corral Pasha.  He also provided entertainment for every sleepover Corinne held; Pasha would walk into the landscape of sleeping bags, position himself appropriately, and within seconds a dozen young girls would be petting him, hugging him and fussing over him. 
For even more pictures of Pasha, see my Picasa web album.