-- Tom Stoppard --
I've been dogless for nine years now, after having had at least one dog in the house from Puppy's arrival in 1968 'til Baby's death in 2001. (Yeah, we were never very good at naming dogs.) I miss dogs. But the way I live now, running off for days at a time, it just wouldn't be fair to a doggy.
The folks across the street have two dogs, both medium large and black. One has floppy ears, looks lab, and the other has stand-up ears, looks like a small-boned German shepherd. The stand-up eared one looks a lot like my favorite old dog, Puppy. She was the smartest dog I've ever known.
Puppy arrived in 1968. I lived in a log cabin in the woods, and something had been getting into my garbage in the garage. I thought it was raccoons, but one day, after about a week of depredation, I saw it, and it was a very small young puppy, probably no more than seven weeks old. I captured her with the lure of a hot dog.
I was working full time and a lot of overtime, and renting the house, so I really couldn't keep a dog. I had a ten year old cat, Smokey, who needed little daily attention, and no potty-training, and that was just fine. I figured the puppy had been dropped off, but I put up "found puppy" posters all over anyway, hoping someone would claim her. I didn't want to get attached, because there was no way I could keep her!, so I didn't give her a name. I just called her Puppy.
I spread newspaper in the kitchen. She used it. For the first two days, there were deposits on the paper when I got home from work. Then suddenly they stopped. Huh? Clean and dry. I was amazed that she had housetrained herself so quickly. A few days later I happened to glance into the kitchen, and I saw Puppy starting to squat on the paper. Smokey came running, swatted Puppy on the rear end, and drove her into the pantry. Where the litterbox was.
Yup. Smokey had a huge litterbox, so I didn't have to clean it more than once a week or so. And the litterbox was full of both Smokey and Puppy deposits. Smokey housetrained the puppy. (Smokey was also the smartest cat I'd ever seen.)
Left alone to amuse herself all day every day, Puppy invented games. In that area, in those days, I could not only leave the doors unlocked, I could leave them open in good weather. So I'd leave the front door open while I was at work so Smokey and Puppy could go out onto the glassed-in front porch. Sometimes I'd open the porch windows a crack at the bottom for the breeze.
Puppy had a ball, and she actually taught herself to throw the ball against the wall so it would bounce and she could catch or chase it.
I noticed that she didn't always eat all her breakfast. When the porch windows were open, she'd put bits of kibble on the window sill and nudge them out to the outer sill. Squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons would gather for the free lunch. She seemed to have a special relationship with one particular rabbit, who would sit on the window sill for an hour at a time, and they really seemed to be conversing.
Every day when I got home, the teddy bear on my bed would be missing. I'd have to search for it, and she'd get all excited when I found it. I discovered that she'd hide it, then go find it and hide it again somewhere else, then retrieve it and hide it again, several times during a day. She wanted me to hide it again so she could search for it. So I learned to hide it before I left for work. I'd find it someplace else when I got home.
I never formally trained her (heel, sit, stay, come, etc.), but she listened well, learned anyway, and was always eager to please. I swear she had a 500 word vocabulary. She was a happy doggy, always friendly, never suspicious, but still super protective.
When we lived in the Washington area, I used to walk with her on the canal towpath along the Potomac river. We did the whole path in 5 to 10 mile segments. It was pretty deserted in the northern reaches. Sometimes we didn't see another walker for miles. She'd trot happily along 20 feet or so in front of me, sniffing either side of the path, doing doggy stuff. But I eventually noticed a subtle change when she saw another walker. If he was coming toward us, she'd gradually get closer and closer to me, still sniffing and ranging and tail wagging, until as the walker passed us, she'd be beside me, between us, then as the walker receded behind us, she'd be behind me. When the other walker got what she judged to be a safe distance behind, she'd surge ahead of me again. It was so subtle I didn't notice at first what she was doing.
She got a compliment from a mountain man once. We were in the woods, and she treed a squirrel. The squirrel hopped from tree to tree, and she stayed right with it. An old hunter watched her, raised his eyebrows, and said to me, "Good squirrel dog. Smart." I asked why, and he said that the average dog will bark up the tree the squirrel ran up, even though the squirrel is long gone. Takes a "right smart dog" to follow the squirrel tree to tree. (That's where the expression comes from, by the way.)
Damn she was a good dog! She died of kidney failure (I blame the flea meds) in about 1987ish. Even as an old lady, if she couldn't get outside when she had to go, in a dire emergency, she'd use the cat's litterbox.
I still miss her.