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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lucy and Tanner and Us

We went to see the film "Marley and Me" last night. We knew we'd love it as we'd both read the book and were equally amused and touched by the adventures that John Grogan had with his crazy Labrador.
I had two dogs while growing up, a Beagle named Sporky and then later a miniature Dachshund named Noah. Both were little, light weight dogs that I could control even if they were a bit out of control. When the dog weighs 10 pounds, anything is possible. Doug, on the other hand, grew up with dogs, big dogs. Everything from Great Danes to Springer Spaniels with names like Cookie, Hugo, Buster, Oly and Sam. I hadn't owned a dog since I was a freshman in college and had frankly gotten out of the habit of wanting a canine presence in my life so early in our marriage when Doug started asking me with a regularity that bordered on annoying, "When are we going to get a dog?" I wasn't really sure how to respond. And then one day a colleague from work brought this romping, wild, colt-like 9 month old Labrador into my office and inquired if we were interested. She and her husband were moving to Colorado and couldn't take their new "puppy" with them. I thought, "OK, this is good. A trial run to sate Doug and get this whole dog idea out of his mind." I agreed to take her for the week-end to see if we'd be a good fit.
Things did not get off to a great start. To begin with, she barfed in the backseat of our brand new car. And then she had every possession we owned at the time in her mouth. She was this big, yellow bundle of energy and I knew within the first hour that this would not be a pleasant addition to our lovely household. But Doug is actually really good with dogs and he quickly got all Alpha male with her and a funny thing happened in the first 24 hours of having Lucy in our midst. I fell in love with her. In fact, the bond was so complete that we actually never gave her back after our "trial" week-end. The previous owners came out and saw her and bade her a teary farewell, but from that moment on, she was my girl. Lucy the Labrador. A loving, cuddly, warm, loyal presence in our lives. We let her sleep with us. A mistake. She was a huge bed hog and eventually she got the notion that we were cramping her style in HER bed. When we tried to change the habit down the road, she would have no part of it and screamed and howled like a trapped monkey. When it was time for us to move to Sweden, we found out that she had to go into quarantine for 4 months. We discussed not taking her for about 2 minutes and then began the paperwork to get her shipped over. Funny thing, when the previous owners found out we were moving to Sweden, they called to see if we were taking her. They were glad to have her back if we weren't but there was no way I was crossing the pond without her. We shipped her ahead of our move in order to get those 4 months of separation behind us and I remember crying like a baby as I watched her crate go into the belly of the plane. What a wonderful reunion we had when we could finally bring her to her new home in Stockholm. Again, this would've been the perfect opportunity to get her to sleep elsewhere, but we felt so guilty for putting her in quarantine for 4 months that instead of establishing firm boundaries we pretty much let her rule the roost again!
Of course, we loved her dearly but she also drove us a little crazy once in awhile. Consider the time we had her off-leash in the park and she ran over to a couple having lunch on the steps of the library and stole their sandwich right out of their hands. Or when she'd roll in horse dung and stink to high heavens. She ruined clothes and shoes and none of our pillows had square corners as she'd pretty much chewed off every single one at some point and taken much of the stuffing out of them. But there was nothing quite like coming home to her. She'd wag her tail like it was turbo charged and be so excited to see us. She was a lover, a cuddler, always wanting to be near a warm human body. We were happy to oblige.
We lost her 4 years ago on a sad spring day, 31st of March 2005. She'd been fine and then all of the sudden took a bad turn. Joint pain and an inability to breathe meant that her time had come. I couldn't believe how hard it was to let her go. She was only 9 so in fairness to us, it was a bit premature. She was so embedded into our life that letting her go was unbearably hard. I cried every morning for a month. I just never thought I'd get over missing her presence in our lives.
Finally after 4 months, I announced that I could no longer live without a dog and our quest for a new yellow lab began. I was pretty sure that I wanted to stick with a female so when we went out to this woman's house to look at the last light colored female she had, I surprised myself by being immediately drawn to the naughty little male that was prancing around the yard. He was kind of small (but with ENORMOUS paws) and had a funny little knob on his head. He was clearly the most lively of them all and I just couldn't keep my eyes off him. I looked at the other puppies, but found my gaze returning over and over again to the happy male who was running all over the place with reckless abandon. I went in to talk with the breeder about some details, all the while keeping my eye on the sprightly male that was hopping around the yard. When I came outside, Doug was loving the female and admiring how cute she was. He said, "What do you think about her. She's pretty great, huh?"And I said, "Well, what about the boy? Look at him." By this time, our little guy had dug out a flower pot and was carrying it in his mouth in such a way that it was flipped over his face and onto his head. This pretty much sealed the deal for me. I said to Doug, "He's the one. I just know it." Doug warned me. "You know Jod, he's clearly a live wire." "I know but won't that be fun?" I exclaimed with naive glee. Come to find out, he was the only dog that no other person had shown an interest in. Like Marley, he was the little clearance puppy and 4 months, to the day, after Lucy died, July 31, 2005, we were driving him to his new home in the city.
The first month was a nightmare. He was adorable, but naughty. I learned that the best way to keep your perspective on possessions was to get a puppy. He broke stuff. He ate stuff. Doug just kept saying that I needed to be patient and realize that that's what puppies do. Then Tanner ate his mobile phone and his "patience" theme changed in a hurry. Worst of all, he peed in my house and didn't even seem to care that it was upsetting me. His little razor sharp puppy teeth cut me all the time which made snuggling with him a real mixed bag. I was exhausted. I really thought that I should be allowed to cash in my maternity leave given that I never had a baby and this was clearly as much, if not more work, than a baby! (Just kidding, but it was a lot of work and angst!) We did crate train him which was our saving grace but each morning when we'd open the door to let him out, he'd doubled in size. I was wondering if his crate was radioactive because there had to be some explanation for why his size increased so rapidly every night. He did eventually grow into those ENORMOUS paws and become an incredibly handsome animal. His personality grew along with his body and not long after getting him we realized that we had, in more than one way, a very big dog on our hands.
Along the way, something amazing happened. Tanner quit peeing in the house. He started to come when we called him. And he quit chewing on everything in sight. I don't really know exactly when Tanner burned his place into my heart and mind, but I remember one day recalling that I didn't miss Lucy quite so much. I mean, I remembered her with great fondness. She was my girl! But Tanner...he was my boy and now I love him with such deep affection it's had to imagine that he hasn't been part of our life all along.
Oh, there are issues, that's for sure. He barks like a banshee whenever someone rings the door bell. The drama that ensues during the first 5 minutes of anyone coming over is enough to make people invite us to their house instead. He can be very hard to walk (he prefers to walk me), he likes to eat trash and he's strong as an ox. At times the 90 pounds of wackiness on the end of my leash is a bit much for me. He doesn't always listen and he too loves to roll in horse dung. But he's a first-rate lover. He knows when I'm sad and instinctively gives me a cuddle. He sees tears rolling down my cheeks and he quickly comes to lick them away. He always greets us at the door, even squealing like a pig sometimes because he's just so happy to be re-united with us. He wants in on a hug and hops up for a dance with me when I'm dancing around the kitchen with country music playing as I make dinner. He is a lover and I love loving him right back.
The capacity we have to love and adore an animal is an amazing gift. As we watched the family in the movie struggle with the last days of Marley's life both of us were weepy. OK, Doug was weepy. I was just outright sobbing. My memories of letting Lucy go that late March day 4 years ago are still fresh and can still move me to tears. She was Lucy Goosey and we loved her enough to move her across the pond to live with us here. A little part of me died that day. And I never thought another dog would steal my heart in the quite the same way. And then we got Tanner Bananer. Mr. Tan Man. The silliest, biggest, moose-like bundle of lovin' I've ever met. He's almost 4 and we're hoping for at least 10 more years with this big lovable lug. But you just never know. But what I do know is that I've become absolutely canine crazy. It's likely I will always have a dog in my life although in my mind Tanner might be the last BIG dog I have. The jury is still out on that one because Doug thinks a 50 pounder is small. Luckily we don't have to decide today because our 90 pound Labrador/Flatcoat retriever mix is sitting by my side, eager to take a walk, ready to love me with unconditional love. All I gotta do is feed him and rub his belly in exchange. A small price to pay for the priceless treasure that he is in our lives.