I have always wanted to own a dog that loves water more than peeing on every bush in the neighborhood or humping anything within a four inch radius. Watching Dock Dog competitions make me want to run out and cheer the athletes on, their little legs kicking ferociously against the tide just to bring whatever it is that his master has thrown back. When we hunted with buddies who had true-blue hunting dogs, I loved watching the canines throw themselves into freezing water all for the love of the sport. Avery, our rescued black lab, been looking less and less like a duck dog everyday. She won’t retrieve, she won’t swim, she continually sleeps in the blind and does not seem to understand why other dogs chase whatever it is that falls out of the sky after mom shoots. I figure this is some type of karma, directly related to a dog who has gone to the happy hunting ground.
My childhood dog was a retired greyhound named Howie whose favorite pastimes included sleeping, ignoring our family and eating pasta. Howie ran into our lives after his race days were long behind him. After his last round the track came to an end, he became a blood donor dog. This stint also ceased and Howie found himself in a peculiar spot; he couldn’t race anymore, nor could he be of service to transfusion-needing fellow pooches. Where he ended up was a rescue society for aged greyhounds looking for a good home. What Howie received could, in some cases, be argued as a good home while some may classify it as boarding on psychotic.
By the time that we adopted our boney, huge pup, he was ready for a good rest. He had been beaten (and had the racing scars to prove it), abused and forced to run in circles to increase the bank accounts of greedy drunks at the track, for which he received nothing in return. Howie gave his blood to help out his brethren then placed in a foreign shelter all by the time he reached 6 years of age. Hence, it was perfectly understandable that he yearned to spend the rest of his days surrounded by people who love watching him sleep. Howie never knew a real home so I assume he loved ours, even if we were a little eccentric in his upbringing. He could be found easily in our house, either in the kitchen playing a convincing vacuum or slumbering near his monstrous bed.
If there is one thing that Howie did not do, it was fetch. Obviously, he was not bred to do such a degrading activity and one could see his attitude towards the dog pastime anytime a ball was thrown in his general direction. Instead, he ran. Mostly he ran in the backyard but more often than not, he ran from us. I believe I’m leading you to conclude that he was abused in some way by our family but that is certainly not the case. We did little things, like dressing him up in wigs and dresses that made him look like a terribly skinny, long-nosed, extremely unattractive woman. Given his unnatural affinity for pasta, Wednesday spaghetti nights were Howie’s favorite. Besides being allowed to pull the tendrils of pasta from the strainer, our poor pooch also engaged in an activity we lovingly called “Throwing Pasta at the Fridge and Watch Howie Try to Pry it Off”. We also played “Put Peanut Butter on Howie’s Nose and Watch him lick if Off” and the classic, “Tie a Balloon on Howie’s Harness and Watch him Try to Evade It”. Our decrepit greyhound went along with our shenanigans as a rescue dog does, seeing them as ridiculous habits of the weird people who fed him. Howie never barked, growled, or bit at any of us. He simply loved his life and the insane people in it, even if we put Christmas ornaments on his ears or wrapped him up in blankets like a gigantic burrito.
Howie passed away when we were both 14. In his advanced age, Howie could no longer function and the day came when his legs refused to comply with the directions of his brain. My mom cried for days and the house felt too empty. He was the greatest dog ever, even though he didn’t fetch, swim, or respond to any command, except to come for food. While some may see that as a useless dog, I found him to be the greatest companion who listened to my adolescent whining, no matter what. In the years since his passing, I’ve thought about how the retired greyhound saw his life. I haven’t come up with any conclusions but I know how I saw him, as an unconditional tissue, ever present to shoulder the burden of a teenager's woes .
Years later, Howie’s spirit seems to have infiltrated Avery’s little brain. She loves sleeping, eating and playing, which is to be expected with a puppy. But just like her racing predecessor, she won’t fetch. I’ve worked with her tirelessly, thinking that if I believed it enough, Avery would begin to shape herself as the duck dog I hoped she would turn into. She shows small, brief explosions of greatness when she brings a dead trainer back or respond to a simple snap of the fingers but she refuses to swim. Granted, she will walk to where the water gets deep, but she just will not pass the threshold of the black abyss.
Two weeks ago started like any training day with Avery; nothing much happening except her small self, chasing whatever passed by her black nose. I had just gotten a writing job with an amazing company so even her initial reluctance to act like a duck dog did not deter my efforts. I brought her over to a small creek that joins our two equally small ponds. Figuring she’d feel a bit safer with more land outlets to fall back on, I picked up a stick and threw it. What happened next defies explanation:
It seems that all of the sudden, her puppy brain made some deep connection with her natural instinct and she realized, fetching is fun. Not only fun, but mom freaks out every time I bring her a stick! (If you haven't realized yet, DU and I subscribe to the belief that excessive praise is seriously excessive.)
Howie was on the receiving end of an interesting hand. He was fast, so he raced. He was healthy, so he helped. And when he was in need, we were there. While we may have had some fun with him but, we loved him for the dog that he was. Avery seems to be walking in the paw prints of her predecessor, with a couple of differences. Howie wasn't given the chance to have a life filled with people who loved him until he was almost too old to enjoy it. Avery, on the other hand, was rescued early and seems to be turning into a duck dog before our very eyes.