More notes about Alice

October 12, 2008

My bassadorable dog continues to go straight for the eyes of any unattended stuffed animals.  She can smell a just-opened banana at fifty paces, and will bounce excitedly until she gets a piece.  A tennis ball was of little interest when I suggested it, yet as soon as R. touched it the ball became fun.  She will mash her face into the closest soft object rather than watch me play with the latest little kitten that wanders into the house. Everything on the ground is potentially edible. Spooning in the morning is tolerated only if she can be in the middle.  Car rides are hotly anticipated, and she will take any open car door as an invitation.  Peanut butter is the best thing ever.


May 8, 2008

Today didn’t go as planned.  Instead of slamming back a cup of coffee and heading to campus, I was cross-legged on the floor, cradling my dog’s head in my lap and persuading my vet to make a house-call. There isn’t any definitive answer for what’s wrong.  There are a few possibilities, which is better than the hours of uncertainty this morning in which my imagination threw out increasingly awful scenarios.  Such is the condition of adopted pets – they have a largely unknown history and panic prompts me to fill in the blanks with the direst outcomes, especially when all my speechless dog can do is look at me through big brown eyes that are glassy with pain.  Yet even as she tried to keep herself from moving, she wagged her tail each time I ran my hand across her head; that gesture, more than her intermittent screams of pain, made me cry.  Her tail wagged harder at that, each of us desperate to reassure the other that they were okay.  My little trouper – she breaks my heart.
The adrenaline has drained and I’m exhausted, still on alert, parsing every sound she makes, and I know my sleep will be fitful.  She is mightily drugged and sprawled on the bed; I get up every few minutes to check anyway.

Some reflections

April 14, 2008

1. A new dog is a process. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. I loved Isis so much – she came with me through so many big changes: three cities, two degrees; the start and end of my first big relationship; always curled up beside me on the kitchen floor when I was crying about the one that got away. She stared solemnly at me when I got my BA, danced with me when I got my MA, and always climbed into the car first. And now there’s Alice. She’s not Isis, she never will be. There are times when I resent that, because I wish, childishly, that it could have been Isis forever. But that’s not the way pets work.
I’m no longer ambivalent about Alice’s role here – that was hammered home a few weeks ago when the protective grizzly reared its head, that surge of “Nobody fucks with my dog.” We’re having buildy moments – when she walks into the room, plops down on her ample rump and yawns something inside of me aches and smiles at the same time. Like when she stretches beside me on the couch, accidentally kicking me without apology. Or when I ask her to “heel” and she does (these moments are fewer and farther between). I look at her and know that I’m moving toward the ownership mixture of taking her presence for granted and looking at her grinning because that’s my dog.

2. The past few weeks have been spent bouncing from one important thing to another. I’ve been doing lots of talking, but along the way the kinds of conversations that matter, that have become part of the daily routine (not to be equated with the daily grind, but ‘routine’ in the way that the afternoon coffee is routine – necessary, needed, anticipated, cherished) have fallen by the wayside. So has my dissertation, and, reassuringly, I miss it too. These important things hit their expiry dates soon and the routine will return, just in time for terraces and slathering on sunscreen and late-night bouts of inspiration with nowhere to be in the morning. But still…

Quirky dog habit #1

March 9, 2008

Alice likes to gouge out her toys’ eyes. As you can see, she’s already viciously blinded the whale and the horseball. I brought home a new toy today and she went straight for its bulging plush eyeballs. Huh.

About Alice

January 20, 2008

I have held off posting about Alice. Given the last time I tried this, it seemed prudent. It’s been almost a week without a snag (read: freak-out), so here I go.
I have a new dog. Her name is Alice. She is 4 ½ years old, part yellow lab and part basset hound*, meaning she’s a little longer and more tubular than most labs, with stubby quick legs. As I had pointed out to me, she’s a lab low-rider.
Alice’s hobbies so far include sleeping, angling for treats, napping, stretching, angling for treats, hogging the couch, making you rub her belly, and angling for treats. She refuses to play fetch, likes to shove herself through the snow head-first and ass-up, and every so often lays a smack-down on one of her many toys.
We get along well, as I also enjoy napping, treats, and sitting on the couch. I’m pleased. It still feels like those first few weeks with a new roommate – things are convivial, but not yet comfortable. I don’t really know who she is, which isn’t to say that I suspect her of having hidden terrible traits, just that I haven’t deciphered her noises, her gestures, her habits. It’s nice, though, to have this kind of company again. Someone to walk with, to direct my general nattering at, to just be – in the other room, on the other half of the couch, at the foot of the bed. The house feels more full – with someone who will never pick up after herself, sure, but who will also always be happy to see me (and who loves to cuddle). Which is exactly what I wanted.

*Update: I have learned that such creatures are called bassadors. A dog with her own neologism!

The last few bits of the last long weekend are ebbing. Tomorrow the fall semester officially starts, which actually means very little – this is the first September in six years that I won’t be teaching. Both of my parents (teachers as well) retired in June; we’re trying to revel but there’s an undertone of trepidation. How do we fill time now? My answer seems so simple – write the diss (it’s not my diss now, but the diss; a crucial distinction, as lately it’s been writing me). But first, snippets of how I spent my summer vacation:
Socializing: Added up, more than a month was spent entertaining visitors. The last (not counting one arriving this week) left yesterday. Having my space back is both appreciated and a little lonely (I might even miss the cat). Such serial visits make one observation unavoidable: my friends are fabulous.
Travelling: Retirement parties, a shower, a wedding, a funeral. Flurries of activity and stockpiley trips to the LCBO.
Biking: Useful and economical – 12:30 is too early to call anything quits, and cabs are financially unfeasible for someone of my proclivities, (un)employment status, and geographical location. I tried so hard to enjoy biking everywhere. But I just don’t. I’m a pedestrian.
Writing: I wrote a decent draft of about a third of the diss. Not as much as I’d have liked, but summers here are notoriously unproductive. I blame Montreal.
Fucking: I slept around a bit. It was fun. And easy (which isn’t the same as uncomplicated, but what’s summer without a little light drama?). I like how thank-you emails are becoming de rigueur.
Running: I hit the 10k mark mid-June, and have been doing that three times a week ever since. I’m toying with the idea of training for a half-marathon, but could just be looking for an opportunity to toss around the word ‘fartlek.’
Preening: I officially if grudgingly accepted that I look good in hot pink.
Listening: Boxer by The National. Writer’s Block by Peter, Bjorn and John. The Reminder by Feist.
My parents will be gleefully sleeping in tomorrow morning. I’ll be up, futzing with the coffeemaker and wondering how to organize my non-semester. I’m not comfortable with unstructured time. Summer is always a needed reprieve, but after four months I’m antsy again. Sans students until January, I’m compiling a list of fall distractions, er, plans. My tentative triangulation: the St. Henri pool, a diner with free refills, and Allez-Up.

Time passes.

August 25, 2007

It’s been a year. I miss you, baby girl, every day. I’ve been looking and there’s not another like you out there. I rolled around on the grass in your honour this morning – it’s not the same without you, love.

The breaking point

May 9, 2007

So it seems that after a year of biting off more than I could chew but chewing nonetheless, my inner ballast has finally decided to speak up and make it perfectly clear that I’m not ready for a dog just yet. Between the mild panic attacks (ever had one? Think the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, but without the Wookie), an unscheduled visit from my period, and constant anxious fidgeting, my body was hollering that this was too much too soon. Colour me surprised. I really believed I was ready for another dog. What happened?
I’ve spent the past year trying to be the dedicated and attentive teacher, the compassionate and attentive friend, the desirable and attentive girlfriend, the considerate and attentive roommate. Through all of this, a friend wisely pointed out (and my mother, but when do I ever listen to her?), I’d stopped attending to me. Taking on the role of loving and attentive dog owner without an intermission wasn’t going to work – I wouldn’t be able to give her what she needs without hesitation. I had to learn this the hard way, and I had to look into her big brown uncomprehending eyes to apologize and say goodbye.
I feel awful. Shaky. Near tears, again.
I force myself to take comfort in knowing that she’s returning to people who are determined to find her a good home, and I wonder what my home is going to be like. For ten years there’s always been another heartbeat – a roommate, a dog, a boyfriend, a cat – and now there’s only one. I look around my apartment and think it’s just me for the next little while, and am bravely uncertain.

Dog, meet world.

May 6, 2007

I’m road-testing a dog (we have a two-week trial period before the animal rescue organization checks back in to see how we’re doing). Her name is Ladybug, but I’m considering calling her Lucy. Think of the possibilities: the dog will have ‘splainin to do, I’ll be able to holler “Lucy, I’m home,” and if I’m lucky one day she’ll look up at me with her big brown eyes and howl “Waaaaah.” My first choice was Gracie, but I was so eager to use the name that my iBook is Gracie, and you just can’t have a dog and a laptop with the same name. It’s just not done. Lucy’s part Lab, part Pointer, and has issues. In a nutshell, she’s overprotective. It’s clearly not in her nature, because she’s also a giant suck and more than happy to sidle up to you once she’s been assured you’re harmless. So we’re working on that assurance process by establishing me as the alpha dog (numerous people have pointed out the parallels between dog-shopping/training and dating, and I’m sure a few of my previous boyfriends would vouch for my propensity to jockey for that position). She’s remarkably smart – figured out after just one awkward clotheslining how to navigate oddly placed trees and lampposts – and she listens to me without question, so I think it’s doable. As Dave Gahan so wisely said, it’s a question of time. And of trust. Luckily I have a well-honed teacher voice.
What I’ve learned about Lucy so far: she eats used Kleenexes. She really really wants to get up on the bed, but politely refrains from doing so until I’ve left the house. She’s got it in for the horseball. Her bum can wiggle at a remarkable rate. She understands the concept of sleeping in. She likes coffee (I’ve never seen a dog get so excited at the sound of a coffee grinder, or voraciously lick the remnants from the bottom of a mug).
Tomorrow is another day of socializing. She met, frightened, and then threw herself at the feet of two friends this afternoon, and tomorrow she can repeat the pattern, hopefully with a little less emphasis on the frightening (she’s got an impressive build and one helluva growl, which might prove useful given my penchant for long walks late at night). Lucy just got bumped to the top of my summer project list.

The slow climb back home

April 26, 2007

It’s happening – the fridge slowly refilling with condiments, the milk crates giving way to shelves found tucked at the back of used furniture stores, the creaks of doors and windows becoming familiar background noise. How I can find my way to the bathroom in the dark. Settling in. The appliance count is up to four now with a washer and dryer. Give me a stud-finder so I can hang my favourite antique mirror and I’m set. That’s not entirely true, I still haven’t found a paper towel holder. Or a dog. The hunt continues – I’ve made a few depressing trips out to the SPCA; dogs endlessly rising to the promise that each person who walks in will be theirs. Hopeful eyes, wagging bums. I cry each time I leave, and not just because I haven’t found the one for me but because I can’t be the one for all of them. Like everyone else, I often imagine what I would do if I won the lottery; I always imagine a sum of at least ten million so that at least one million can go to the SPCA in every city I’ve lived. When my uncle died a few years ago his will asked that donations be made in his name to the local shelter – their house was always full of foster pets, of strays. They never turned an animal away, and eventually moved somewhere large enough to accommodate their menagerie. I found the best friend of my life thus far at a shelter before and am committed to adopting again, but it’s a heartbreaking search. It will be worth it in the end (sharing your life with an animal always is) but each time I go I have to restrain myself from lashing out at strangers on my way home – I find it hard to stomach that I move amongst people, nameless faceless people, that would do something as cruel as chain a dog’s face to an exhaust pipe while the car is running just so they no longer have to take care of it. I can save one right now, and one day a tenure-financed tract of land and I will save more.