A few weeks ago, before taking up part-time residence in Vermont, I would have answered unequivocally, “my husband” to the question: Who is your best friend? Of course my husband! No contest. Best friend of 25 years (24 years and 363 days, to be precise). Love of My Life. He Who Still Makes My Heart Race…He Who Warms My Side Of The Bed In Winter. You get the idea…
But a funny thing has happened over the last month: I’m experiencing a small but nonetheless startling – how can I put this? - transfer of affection. Nothing life-altering, exactly. I don’t think there’s an identifiable threat to our marriage (not yet) but I do find myself increasingly enamored of a gorgeous, limber, tawny-haired female. She’s pretty irresistible. Young and playful, pleasant personality, exceptionally strong. Never complains. Sleeps a lot. Obedient.
She’s a perfect spouse. Hahaha. Just kidding. She’s my three year-old ‘Ridgeless’ Rhodesian Ridgeback, Elsa.
Elsa has some limitations, of course. (And who doesn’t, I ask you.) She’s pretty firmly anchored on the “Not Sharpest Tool in the Shed” end of the intelligence distribution. Some of her choices don’t always make a whole lot of sense to me. I’m still waiting to hear a compelling reason for eating steaming piles of shit while refusing even a sip from her bowl unless the water is crystal-fresh and just seconds from the tap. Her Activities of Daily Living skills are sub-par. (Ass-licking comes to mind.) I guess you could say we’re not 100 percent sympatico on everything.
But, seriously, who is these days?! The main point is how much more I love my dog, now that she’s become a part-time Vermont dog. She’s my new BFF.
[In the interest of full disclosure, I’m talking about only one of my dogs, please note. The dumb one. There will be a future post on the evil-genius/devil-baby miniature dachshund, Rudolph, aka “Rudy,” who outsmarts me, - out-foxes me, I should say - on a minute by minute basis.]
I know a lot of people have jumped on the Huge Dog-in-Small-Urban-Space bandwagon, but I think there’s a reason most Europeans city dwellers keep smallish dogs. (And sidebar: my sister once saw a pack of feral street dachshunds harrassing passersby in a Polish city.) It takes a lot more effort to have a big dog in the city than a small one. (I know! I have one of each.) And that’s why affluent people like to take public parks away from small children and outsource their dog care to professionals. (I know! I am such a person.)
I’m definitely too cheap to go the doggie day care route – not that I haven’t fantasized about it multiple times. Consequently, as an urban dog, Elsa never gets quite enough exercise and she can’t roam free as she’d like, so she’s constantly making up her own fun games: counter-surfing, pillow-shredding, whining and begging for food, sneaking up on couches, tipping over waste baskets to chew on our guests’ used tampon applicators. I take her out a lot but it never quite feels enough, and her activity level depends directly on my own, which is annoying for both of us.
Elsa tries to be a good girl, but we live 24/7 in the midst of human chaos, so there’s always an issue with somebody: the modest South Asian student who’s thinking about giving up her head scarf but nevertheless isn’t up for aggressive crotch sniffing in front of her professor and peers. The young Kenya man who screams in terror, thinking all dogs are rabid, which is Elsa’s cue for: “Let’s Play Jump and Lick With the Frightened Stranger.” It’s all so exhausting, so time-consuming… so minimally rewarding.
Her flatulence is constant and could wake the dead.
But here, in Vermont, Elsa’s in heaven. And me, too. She plays outside all day. She stays near the house. She comes when she’s called. She’s so exhausted by her exertions that she just sleeps soundly on the floor by my feet. I don’t have to scoop up her voluminous, reeking poop. I don’t have to arrange ‘play dates’ with dogs named Balthazar and Ophelia. I don’t have to wake up early and go to bed late and brave the stifling humidity and icy sidewalks at inconvenient times, all in service to her basic needs. I don’t have to feel guilty/resentful for neglecting her.
And here’s the best part. I finally get the whole ‘Man’s Best Friend’ deal because it’s not a one-way street anymore. I’m not just buying plush toys and Martha Stewart grooming tools at Pet Smart. She’s actually earning her keep.
See, I’m not fully acclimatized to life in an isolated area. There’s no light pollution at night and it’s, frankly, more than a little creepy to be in complete darkness and silence, far from the quiet dirt road, especially when I’m here alone. I need a dog around the house to help me. Like people have needed dogs around to help them for tens of thousands of years.
Elsa is my guard dog. She’s alert to everything but not hyper-alert. She’s protective, but not aggressive. And she’s good company too. She comes everywhere with me. I make her go first through the tall grasses, to flush out snakes is what I’m thinking. I’ve already spotted two snakes (and faithful readers know what that means) but guess what? It was only a moderately-sized freak show – not a total mental catastrophe – because… I know this sounds pathetic… Elsa was right there by my side, protecting and comforting me.
She’s the best. I love her. My good dog.