Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Freedom To Be Owned

From time to time, I may write about my other "children", my dogs, in this blog. With my human children grown and gone, they are often my only companions by choice. And sometimes I choose my cage over my bike in favor of taking them along. They are show dogs and hunters, but most importantly, they are unique individuals that I share my life with.

Eliot guarding his tennis ballI have dogs. Big dogs. Gordon Setters to be exact. I can't imagine life without my dogs. They never talk back (well sorta), they love you unconditionally, they are great company, and are my best friends. I don't even have to cook for them. How good is that?

Like most people who have dogs, or other animals, they become your "children". Neither of them has a mean bone anywhere in their big bodies. My two boys weigh in around 75 - 85 lbs. And being purebred, and show dogs, both of them are intact males. Yet they are best friends, and never offer any aggression toward each other, or me.

I take them to dog shows on occasion; one of those money-sink hobbies I like to indulge in now and then. But the past two years have been up and down for me. Both financially and personally. So I have not participated in this activity a long while.

Sacked out dreaming of chasing squirrels.

And my dogs? Well, they became couch potatoes.

In full show-coat.Setters are lovely dogs. They have long feathery fur on their legs, under-belly, long "spaniel" ears, and long flagging tails. Gordon Setters (so named after the Duke of Gordon in Scotland) are black with tan (mahogany) markings, same as a Doberman or Rottweiler. When they are "show-groomed", they are beautiful, eloquent dogs.

However, in the two years of their couch-potato-dom, my two boys didn't get their haircuts regularly, and they looked more like black Wooly Mammoths. Because, what most people don't know is, their coats grow LONG most everywhere; on top of their heads, between their toes, everywhere. They can be a lot of work if you have too much going on in your life and don't keep up.

So recently, my good friend Patricia encouraged me to show them in the upcoming circuit in town. I bathed them, spent hours removing hair, and general trimming. At last, they looked like the two show dogs they are. I was so proud of my work on them that it was a surprise to me when I saw the clock said 3:30 AM when I finished

Playing kill-the-toy game.The oldest of my two boys, Zorro, is almost seven years of age - that is, seven going on six months. He never grew up mentally. He is the larger of the two, and it isn't a good idea to get between him and one of his toys, as he will gleefully charge you, and use your body for a backboard while grabbing for the toy. He is, literally, a puppy in a very large body. My living room is large, and has no coffee table, or anything else a large dog with a long tail can knock over.

Zorro has been in the show ring many times. This isn't new stuff for him. He has nearly enough points for his AKC championship. I was hoping it would all come back to him and we could just pick up where we left off. Ha! Not likely, as I would find out.

My other boy, Eliot, is coming up on three years of age, and like most Gordon boys, has matured in body, but not yet in mentality. He is a bit mellower than Zorro; not as stubborn, but still a handful. He has very little experience in the show ring, having only been shown once or twice before the age of one year. But he listens and wants to make me happy, so this should be easy....

So, again at the urging of my friend, I made plans to attend a "handling class", where dog owners meet and practice the art of showing your dog. Piece of cake right? The boys look good, and this should be routine stuff. I'm not sure what I expected from my dogs, but I've been to these classes before - in another life - and this should be a good reminder for them. The operative word being "should".

Winning show photo.First in was Zorro - the "experienced" one - or so I thought. Zorro is a "talker". If you scold him, he talks to you with a grumbling sound (my reference to talking back, sorta). Not quite a growl, and not a moan, but something in-between. And when I scolded him for jumping around, when he should be standing still, he responded in this normal fashion as though to say, "FORGET YOU, either let me play with all these dogs, or take me home to my couch!". By the time the class was half over, and I was ready to switch over to Eliot, sweat was running down my face, and my arms felt like lead. Not to mention the sidelong glances from the other dog owners.....

So, at half time, I headed out to the car to swap dogs. But Eliot also wasn't of a mind to cooperate either, and as I struggled with putting on Eliot's collar, Zorro jumped back out of the car and proceeded to gallivant unfettered all over the premises, in the pitch black dark of night. Fortunately he didn't discover the gate leading to the road, or I'd have spent the next hour chasing him down. Eliot was also intent on getting past me so he could join in the fun. But I finally managed to get Zorro back in the car, get Eliot out, and rejoin the class.

I had no idea of what to expect from Eliot, but I soon found out. I'd made the mistake of not locking the flexi-lead and he proceeded to take off at a run toward the front door of the building. Thinking himself loose, he hit the end of the 30 foot flexi-lead at a full run. Which didn't faze him, but very nearly dislocated my shoulder.

I'm thinking.... what the hell WAS I thinking??? But, never a quitter, we went in anyway. Eliot spied all the other dogs and proceeded to jump on the nearest one in play, disregarding the leash held firmly in my hand. Shaking my head, I gained control, and we joined the class.

Eliot's happy attitude from day-one.Eliot is known as a "head tipper". What this means is, when you talk to him, he tips his head to the side nearly 45 degrees when he looks at you. He is also a "grinner". If he thinks another human wants to pet him, his whole body wriggles and he grins at you. So I dutifully "stacked" him for inspection, and when the judge/instructor approached, he immediately attempted to curl around her legs and commenced his wriggling-grin. And while this elicits laughs, smiles and affection (which is exactly what he wanted), it would not do for him to behave this way in front of a real judge.

In this large building, there is also an 8 foot long horizontal mirror, so you can see how your dog looks when you put him in a pose. But Eliot had never seen himself in a mirror before. Upon passing it the first time, his reflection startled him, and I almost hit the floor. He got over that, but would move next to me with his head turned watching himself as we passed. Again, more laughs from the by-standers.

You want me to do what?Most people have never seen a Gordon Setter, even if they know what one looks like from pictures. And what that class saw of my two boys was probably typical of most Gordons; the happy-go-lucky attitude, their obvious attachment to me - their owner/mom/buddy, and the "Gordon Setter Agenda" - which is never your agenda unless they choose that it should be.

This morning, after the class last night, my entire body aches. The boys are crashed out on their respective couches. I'm thinking, while I sit here and write this, how great I always feel the next morning after an all-day ride on my scooter. And how fun it would be to have a side-car on my bike for the boys, and far less effort when it comes to sharing my time with them. But, my dogs being the other love of my life, they deserve more of me, and so I am reminded that the freedom to indulge in animal ownership (or actually, their right to own me!), is a gift.

And Freedom is never anything you should take for granted in this country. Just ask Zorro and Eliot.


Shirley Vandever said...

These pictures are precious ! I envy you.

Being apartment-dwellers, we can't have animals. But rest assured, once we can get into a place of our own we'll be pet-owners.

Your post reminds me of the joy and responsibility involved in loving a pet.

Sam said...

I grew up with a family dog, who owned my mother, lock stock, and barrel. When I left home, I acquired my own, but soon learned they acquired me! They bring me more joy than I can measure, antics and all!