As I child, I barely tolerated my mother’s poodles. The first of them, Pepe, hated me, and would only come near me when I had food. Pepe’s successor, Pedro, liked me a little better, but he was definitely my mother’s dog, not mine.
When I met Todd, he had two black Labs, called Pete and Zoe. After a brief period of adjustment—during which Pete felt it necessary to mark a bit of indoor territory, just so I’d know who was boss—a great love affair began and progressed from those specific dogs to the canine world at large.
In other words, I love dogs with a goofy, irrational passion.
The current three dogs I’m loving most are named Tallulah Bankhead, Candice Olson, and Charlotte Regina Doyle. Yes, we have given them all full names, all different from ours and each other, because … well … why not?
Tallulah was a pound puppy. By sheer luck, we first saw her on the day she and her littermates were dropped off at the Santa Cruz SPCA, and we made a point of being there the next day when the place opened, so we’d have our pick of the litter. They were all completely, heartbreakingly adorable, bouncing around in the kennel. We quickly narrowed our choice to one of the females and one of the males, based solely on the fact that each had a bewitching raccoon ring around one eye. In the end we chose Tallulah because she sat calmly in the middle of her tumbling, yapping siblings, and we thought she might turn out to be rather genteel and easy to get along with.
She has turned out that way, but we had to go through a whole lot of crazy to get there. She’s Australian cattle dog mixed with (we think) German shepherd. These are not necessarily sedate breeds in general, and I’ve surmised that Tallulah in particular spent the first few weeks of her life in a rather feral state. Early in life she was very high-energy and occasionally deranged. No other dog has ever proven so difficult to house train. We’d wander around in the yard for thirty minutes as she looked at me as if she had no earthly idea why we could possibly want to spend so much time outdoors—and then we’d go in and she’d projectile-pee all over the carpet. We bought her a crate for training, along with a big thick cushion for the bottom of it. She wouldn’t stay in the crate without yowling incessantly, and she chewed the cushion to pieces after soaking it in piss. Once, when Todd’s parents and aunt came to visit, they were all sitting on the couch in the living room, and Tallulah went racing across them, banking off their chests.
It’s almost miraculous that she’s become the best imaginable dog. She looks at you with this eerie kind of intelligence. You get the feeling that she understands everything you say.
It could be that she’s the canine embodiment of that old aphorism, “It is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” And of course, like any parent, I tend to overestimate the accomplishments and aptitudes of my furry children.
Certainly, our eldest has her quirks. She’s terrified of thunder and invariably hides under Todd’s desk when she hears it. She’s fiercely territorial; she’s made a run at a neighbor and an exterminator, thankfully resulting in no injuries or law suits. She loves to play fetch, but rarely brings the ball more than halfway back. If we don’t watch her, it will take her about ten seconds to find something stinky and roll around in it. But even so, after all that trouble with house training and general wildness, she is, after all, genteel and easy to get along with.
Candice Olson, not so much. She almost never looks like this:
No, she’s infinitely more likely to be tearing off at top speed, seemingly at random and for with no good purpose in mind. She was a rescue dog. Acquaintances of ours—friends of friends—had no idea what they were getting into when they brought home a Lab puppy. They’re full of energy and they’ll chew the deck off your house if you’re not careful. They dig and run and bark incessantly. They didn’t quite know what to do with Candice, and we think they may have kept her crated a lot of the time. She can’t stand to be hemmed in or held down or leashed. Taking her to the vet is an experience perfectly suited to the seventh circle of hell.
But she’s awfully sweet. She has the loveliest brown eyes, and she looks at me with such naked devotion that I can’t help but love the big crazy girl. Todd’s mother took to calling her Beauty for a while, and it’s a name that fits.
And she’s been pretty good with the puppy:
By contrast, Tallulah is a bit less tolerant of the puppy.
Speaking of the puppy, here’s a picture I took after we got her home:
She was all calm and endearing like that for the first 24 hours or so. After that, all hell broke loose. I should have known what we were in for on the second day, when I took this picture with my phone:
If that’s not the face of a mischief-maker, such a thing does not exist.
Like any terrier, Charlotte is fervently independent. On occasion she deigns to lavish a little affection on us, but more typically she prefers not to be petted or touched. Lately she’s developed a game—amusing only to her, I assure you—which begins like fetch, but ends with the ball being almost but not quite placed in my hand, then jerked away. She has a habit of barking at anything she doesn’t understand—the neighbor’s horses, trash cans, trees rustling in the wind, and—just yesterday, in fact—thunder.
But all of that is sort of cute. It’s not so cute that she bites. If we put our hands anywhere near her mouth, she’ll try to bite our fingers. It’s a lot better than it used to be. When she had needle-sharp puppy teeth, the biting was particularly heinous. We’re constantly chiding her not to bite, of course, but she doesn’t seem to be getting the message.
When she gets tired, though, it’s all different. She likes to sleep right up against us, pack style. She used to sleep curled around the top of my head like a Jack Russell hat. When she was a little smaller, she could pull off stuff like this:
In those moments, she’s so sweet and cuddly that, somehow, against all reason, it makes up even for the biting.