Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dream Dogs

I had a dream last night about being back in my childhood home, running around with two of my dogs. These animals are now deceased, but playing with Baby and Allblack in my dream was so real at the time, it was like I got to visit with them again. It was wonderful.

I was somewhat conscious that it was a dream, because I remember really appreciating the fact that these dogs were dead, that I was a child again, and that eventually it would have to end but that I should enjoy it for now. I don't really even recall what we were doing, just that Allblack (as usual) was being goofy and neurotic and was terrified of a thunderstorm... And Baby (as usual) was being adorable and sneaky and prancing around like she owned the place.

Baby was just that, my baby. I picked her out of a litter when I was 6. She was a little mutt, half purebred Cocker spaniel, half godknowswhat, but we assumed some sort of terrier mix due to her feisty nature. She was little and yellow and long-haired and floppy-eared with white feet and freckles on her nose. She was adorable and awesome. Totally fearless and terrifically fierce. She was the alpha female 100% of the time and wasn't afraid of other dogs, no matter how much bigger they were than her. I once watched her go after a Great Dane when she was just a puppy. The larger dog was unfazed, but she had set a precedent of domination that she would uphold forever.

My dad used to refer to her as "The Bubs" or "The Bubbers," although her official name from my 6-year-old brain was Baby's Treasure. I'm sorry, it's true. I was a weird kid, but I was lucky enough to have an amazing dog to grow up with. When I was 18, I had to put her to sleep due to a rapidly growing tumor in her stomach. I was holding her when it happened. I felt I owed her that much. She went long before her time and I'm still broken up about it. She was officially my best friend and the dog to which I will compare all other animals for the rest of my life. Yup, Baby was just that cool.

Allblack was a different story altogether, and a sad one at that. He was rescued from a neglectful situation by my dad when I was about 9. He was at the time around 5 years old, we're really not sure. Or maybe a vet told us but I just don't remember. I do remember that he was a painfully skinny, scraggly, shy black Lab with a skin condition, a voracious appetite, and a fear of raised hands. He had essentially been abandoned by his owner, who owned the house next door to my friends but had moved out and left his dog behind. Allback (or Spike, as he was called back then) used to roam their neighborhood looking for food. While he mostly stayed away from us kids, we were scared of him because he was a stray and we didn't know what to make of him. I didn't really pay him much attention.

Then my dad came to pick me up from my friends' house a few times and, having lost his black Lab (the original Allblack) a few years before, took note of the poor creature. One day my dad knelt down, put his hand out, palm facing up, and coaxed the dog to come over to him. He got the story from my friends' mom and decided that he'd take the dog home. We learned that he had spent an entire winter, one of the coldest that Maryland had ever seen, chained up on the back porch. He was only saved because the little old ladies who ran the post office would walk over to bring him table scraps. When we got him to the house, Baby quickly asserted herself as the alpha dog and we gave him some food. I have never seen a dog eat so much, so quickly.

Within a few days, my dad heard the owner was home went down the road to talk to him. As the story goes, he knocked on the door, told the guy he had taken his dog home, the guy got a little defensive until my dad made it clear that he was criminally neglectful and that he did not deserve to own a dog, and finally the guy handed my dad the dog's collar and feigned regret. He apparently said, “I’m really gonna miss him,” to which my dad retorted, “No you’re not.” Spike was officially rechristened Allblack II and he was our dog from then on.

Allblack was a beta dog if there ever was one. Hell, he may have even been an omega. He was totally submissive to Baby, to all other dogs, and to humans. His lack of training in his first few years was evident every time we tried to get him to sit, lie down, stay, etc. He was not dumb, but he was definitely a bit damaged and neurotic to the point of being obnoxious. He was also extremely gentle, so he was one of those dogs that a kid like me, totally comfortable around animals, could never be fearful of again. He never quite got "drop it" through his head and I would have to pry his jaw open with my little hands to retrieve whatever potentially harmful object he had scooped up hoping for a snack.

A few years later we adopted Max, a middle-aged yellow Lab, from some family friends. He too was totally beta and together he and Allblack were generally known as "the big dumb Labs." Oh, they weren’t completely dumb and they were sweet and slobbery and just wanted to be loved. They were also totally neurotic and submissive and couldn't quite get basic commands through their heads, and they were both petrified of thunderstorms. I remember being home alone at some point in high school during a raging storm, and I was sitting on the kitchen floor trying to comfort two huge, drooling, whimpering Labs as they both tried to crawl into my lap. Baby just dozed calmly through the whole thing and kept looking at them with a judgmental glare.

I guess a thunderstorm is what did Allblack in. I was about 16 and he was getting old, with hip dysplasia, cataracts, and the beginnings of deafness. During a bad thunderstorm my mother went outside a few times calling to him, trying to bring him inside since she knew he would be scared, but she couldn't find him. Sadly, he ended up wandering a mile away from our house and was hit by a car. The guy was nice enough to pull over and call the vet, who of course had to put him down. It was not a good way for him to go, sad and scared and alone in a storm. For all his suffering, though, I'm glad my family was able to give him a good home for most of his life. He deserved it.

This post was supposed to be short. It was supposed to be about a brief, fractured, yet sentimental dream. But now I can’t stop thinking about my dogs and how it felt to be running around with them, to touch Baby’s fur one more time, to give Allblack a well-deserved scratch behind the ear. I miss my dogs. Perhaps one day I’ll have one again, but for now I guess I’ll just have to make do with memories.