Puppy, Goof, Goofus, Furball, Furbag, Four-pawed-freak-of-nature, Hey You....
Our meeting 16 years ago came as a bit of a surprise. One of my beloved bride's employees had a litter of puppies that needed homes. Those that didn't go were headed for the local pound. She couldn't stomach that.
So Asha came home with her on a trial basis. My beloved bride was taken by his big, floppy paws. "How cute! They are so huge for such a small puppy!", she said.
I told her that he would have to grow into those paws. Considering how big those paws were and how big he was likely to get as a result made her...pause.
We were told that Asha was a malamute and husky mix. In retrospect, I think he might have had a touch of grey hound while being mostly some sort of shepherd/white shepherd mix. The result was a dog with lots of hair and a willingness to share it. Our floors were very rarely without some small amount of his fur. Sweeping solved the problem for minutes, not hours.
We had been thinking about adding a dog to the family for a while and Asha seemed a suitable fit.
I insisted that he be kenneled at night or whenever one of us couldn't take care of him. Caging puppies is a great way to speed up the potty training process. They will never mess where they sleep. Taking them out of the cage and immediately into the yard helps create repeated incidents of positive behavior that can be praised.
Asha did pretty well on the potty training issue. He only had a few accidents early on and was quick to pick up on the solution.
The only problem with the kennel was that Asha didn't like sleeping alone. Since I was unwilling to bend on this issue, would you care to guess who ended up spending the first few nights sleeping next to the cage on the floor?
I also insisted that Asha be neutered. Aside from controlling the local pet population, spaying/neutering a dog while they are still in the puppy phase keeps them at least partially in that puppy phase for life. Even after his body had grown to match those paws, Asha had quite a bit of puppy in him. He responded well to two simple words, "good puppy".
However, his natural pack behavior still came through. He wanted to be the alpha dog of our little pack. It didn't take much work at the end of a leash and pinch collar for him to understand that the "alpha dog" slot was taken and that I was happy to be in that role. Aside from a couple of sandals with a unique smell/taste, he never questioned our relationship.
The worst he would do would be to bounce and bound around our back yard whenever I was there with him. It seemed as though he wanted to say that this was HIS back yard and the least I could do was to submit to him there. But that only lasted as long as it took for me to flip him onto his back and pin him down. He was always glad to get his tummy scratched even if it was from some interloper intruding in HIS back yard.
The only real question left for Asha was to find out where in the pack he fit in. Since he couldn't be the number one dog, was it possible for him to be number two?
I do not know if Asha and my beloved bride ever settled that particular question. Negotiations were eventually suspended.
Of the many ways that Asha attempted to assert himself into the number two slot in our pack, his treatment of my beloved bride's shoes remains a prime topic of conversation to this day.
At the time, she was the general manager for a fast food restaurant. Most restaurants require all employees to wear shoes with skid resistant soles. While those shoes do keep you from sliding around, they also pick up a fair amount of material from the floor.
Which apparently turns them into a doggie delicacy!
But only the left shoe. Never the right shoe. Apparently the right shoe is ineligible for destruction and/or digestion.
Eight pairs of shoes later I received a call from my wife in which she tearfully explained that "that damned dog has done it again!" When I patiently explained that we could always buy another pair of shoes, I was pointedly reminded that she did not want another pair of shoes. Her feet hurt from breaking in a new pair of shoes every other day. And why couldn't he eat some of the right shoes to balance things out?
Needless to say, this position did little to address the problem of our canine shoe vandal or of her need for appropriate footwear for her next shift.
I then suggested that perhaps she might try leaving her shoes in the car or on top of the refrigerator or some other spot where he would not have access to such podiatric delicacies. She agreed that this would be an acceptable resolution...
...after either hell froze over or "when that damned dog starts paying half the mortgage payment around here!"
I declined any further opportunities to act an an intermediary on this issue due to concern regarding my continued well being.
Whenever my beloved bride would take something away from him, or otherwise deny him his heart's greatest desire of the moment, he would quietly slink away to our bedroom. We would later find him sprawled across my wife's half of the bed with his head nestled neatly on her pillow. If we ever changed sides of the bed, then he would know and lie on the other half of the bed and on her pillow.
There are some people that grow up believing that their name is "Jesus Christ". Asha must have thought that his name was "get off!" for a while.
Asha had what we affectionately...mostly...referred to as "dancing eyebrows". He had the most expressive eyes of any dog I've ever known.
Whenever he was about to do something that he knew would get him in trouble, or shortly after engaging in such canine codology, he eyes would dance around as he would glance to see if we were paying attention. And once we were paying attention, he would glance our way and then glance away.
Most folks would suggest that this behavior is typical for dogs as direct eye contact with superior members of the pack is considered socially unacceptable from the canine perspective.
We think he was secretly laughing all the while and he just couldn't keep his eyes from giving away his merry spirit.
Asha really tried to be discrete in his antics. But we all knew that when he slipped quickly down the stairs with his ears and tail high that we would eventually find him halfway through some bit of chicanery. If he really liked the taste/smell of his ill gotten booty, then we would then be forced to chase him about the house in a vain attempt to recover the balance of whatever he had stolen.
On those rare instances when he stopped to see how closely we were following, he would turn and run those dancing eyes back and forth. They fairly glistened with anticipation over the impending chase.
Then there was the time when Asha delicately picked up my supper plate using only his front teeth. He carefully set the plate on the floor and commenced to give it a thorough cleaning.
I was sitting just a couple feet away reading my paper! Now that is what I call chutzpah!
And after I yelled his name, Asha simultaneously bounced those eyebrows in my direction in a way that simultaneously suggested "who me?" and "I wonder if I can manage one more lick before he pulls the plate away?" I think he got two.
We had a bush in the back yard that stood about waist high and was 10-12 feet in diameter. It also had a trail worn in it that ran up one side, across the top, and back down the other side.
Due to Asha.
We came out on our back porch one day to find this 70+ pound dog standing atop this same bush. He had his paws situated on four separate branches. As this bush was not really large enough to stably support that much weight, all four paws were slowly moving up and down as the branches moved and Asha balanced himself amidst the leaves.
When we called his attention to the fact that we knew that he was standing where no normal dog would stand, his eyes conveyed something between "who me?" and "wanna get in on this?" He didn't even have the good sense to be embarrassed at his predicament.
Asha was never a seriously aggressive dog. He would give strangers a good and thorough sniffing of their nether regions. And he would gladly thrust his head into their laps in order to obtain a proper scratching of his ears. But he never acted aggressively towards anyone or any thing in the house.
Except once. He and our other dog, Brooke, were alone in the house. One of the boys had told one of his friends to come in the house to get a drink of water. The friend, who had never visited before, was met by two sets of teeth that were just a few feet inside the front door. The friend wisely retreated until proper introductions could be made.
Any strange critters that ventured into the back yard were considered fair game. Rabbits, moles, birds and most cats could expect a visit from Asha if they entered his domain.
The only exception to that rule was one cat that found himself wedged under the bottom most stair leading down from our back porch. The stair provided nearly perfect cover for the cat as Asha had only one avenue of approach. This particular cat had wisely arranged all its sharp/pointy ends in that one direction.
After we brought Asha home from the vet the next day, he spent the next two weeks sulking in the basement over the indignity of being beaten by a lousy cat.
Inside the house was another story. Our second son kept a parakeet for several years. One day while we were cleaning the bird's cage, it decided to fly into the bathroom. Asha calmly trotted in after the bird.
For a moment we were a little amused over the idea of Asha nosing about while the parakeet was loose. But then we realized..
Asha was nosing about while the parakeet was loose!
We all went running towards the bathroom only to be met by Asha coming out of the bathroom. Feathers poked neatly out of both sides of his mouth.
We told him to give us the bird and our son put out his hands to catch whatever might be left of the poor thing. Asha spit what appeared to be a wad of moist feathers into his hands. After a pregnant pause, the feathers twitched, then shook, and finally resolved themselves back into the parakeet.
While a bit damp from the encounter, he was no worse for wear. He was also glad to be back in his cage.
Asha was the most sympathetic soul in the house at times. He would lie next to the bed of any one that wasn't feeling well. Even better, he would lie up in the bed with anyone that wasn't feeling well.
Whenever our second son was under the weather, he would collapse into his bed and ask to be left alone. Whenever we went in to check on him, he would briefly raise his head and then sink back into his pillow and blankets.
Most of the time, we saw two heads rising up to look at us. One was furry while the other was not. Both looked as though they were so sick that they couldn't be bothered to do any more. Their heads would sink slowly back down almost as one. Asha would leave to handle his personal issues in the back yard, but he always returned to lie at our son's side until he felt better. He knew how to "act sick" at just the right times.
As most pets do, Asha made all of our lives better and occasionally more interesting than we really intended.
Big dogs don't usually last that long. Eventually something goes bad.
He had his knee rebuilt last year after he stumbled running over a hole he had dug to get at the aforementioned moles in our back yard. We had to take him out to the "facilities" using a leash for several months so that he didn't run and undo the vet's hard work. We also had to confine him to the main floor of the house as he was not supposed to use stairs.
After a few months of back yard rehab, he was back almost to his full form.
Finally, after 16 years, he was half blind due to cataracts in both eyes. His knees and hips were wobbly. He had a flea allergy that caused him to pull out his fur and twist his spine until he couldn't walk straight. Most days he wandered around as if he wasn't sure where he was or what he wanted to be doing. Other days, he spent entirely on his bed with one or two brief visits to the back yard.
And he was scared. Thunder drove him nuts. There were times when just the change in atmospheric pressure that presaged a thunderstorm would be enough to have him climbing the walls, or worse climbing into your lap and up onto your shoulders. Fireworks and gun shots sent him running as well.
While we could easily refrain from making such loud noises, we couldn't do anything about others living nearby. We also couldn't do anything about the weather.
And so we arrived at the point where we believed the most humane thing we could do for Asha was to finally let him go.
One week ago, I held him in my arms in the vet's office and told him one lie.
But the last words he heard were the words that I think he loved to hear the most.
He slumped in my arms and was gone.
He wasn't in pain. He wasn't wandering in a bit of canine fog. He wasn't blind. And he wasn't scared of thunder any more.
Goodbye old friend. Good puppy.
Puppy, Goof, Goofus, Furball, Furbag, Four-pawed-freak-of-nature, Hey You....