ode to tilly

more two, less three

it’s three of late to share with all

how long we knew thee

since then, sans bear and claw

2017 10 24 Tilly 03 Bite

Tilly made me call our big dogs “bear.” She’d put her paws on the picture window in the dining area, claws making whale-songs against the glass. Huge pads and long curls of hard keratin. I’d envision a grizzly wanting in.

I still hated dogs then (a small dog thing) and Tilly arrived small. Energetic. Chewing. Biting. And those claws. Mix Canadian wolf with German Shepherd and you get a force of nature. My daughter says it’s a wolf-thing to hold another’s limb in the jaws. Young with no bite control, she was a paper punch. At a year old, she had bite control. But you’d look down and see your forearm in the jaws of this wolfly thing, and yank your arm away.

Serrated teeth, I swear.

2017 10 24 Tilly 02 Play

She ripped the plastic dryer vent off the house. I replaced it with tin. She ripped that off. I replaced it with steel and it survived. She yanked a 2×4 runner off the fence and trotted up with it balanced in her teeth, proud as could be. Dug holes. Uprooted an 8-foot tree. Pulled the satellite coax cable off the back of the house.

The sprinkler system we used to have? She brought it to us piece-by-piece.

Yeah, I hated dogs. It was like my brother-in-law said. If you have a dog, you don’t have a backyard. You have a dog pen.

2017 10 24 Tilly 01 Snooze

Then, a year and a half old, she matured. Overnight. Stopped digging. Stopped teething on lumber. Stopped putting our body parts in her maw.

If that wasn’t strange enough, I fell in love with her.

She rarely barked. If she did, grab the flashlight and the gun because something is out there. Possum or skunk, snake or porcupine. And playing tug-of-war with a branch or toy, she never growled. Actually, that was creepy. I was used to the hyper little Jack Rat who thought he had to intimidate everything with his vicious snarls and snaps. Tilly played as if she were holding back, dialed from a 10 down to a 1, as if thinking: I must be gentle with my humans, lest I break them. If she won the toy or tree, she brought it back and waited patiently. C’mon, human. I’ll give you a chance.

All good things must end. We got Taiga. An escape artist. She could smell weak spots in the fence. Softness in the dirt. Whatever it took. But usually just enough for her smaller frame to squeeze through. Then one night she engineered an escape Tilly could take advantage of.

And we live right on a busy highway.

Don’t worry. I don’t get sad when I run across pictures of Tilly Bear. I smile.

2016 02 06 tilly


Above the post: Tilly would sit on the porch swing and gaze upon her domain. What was left of it.

As for the ode at the top, I hope you got a laugh. It’s funny in the original Vogon and all nuance is lost in translation.

(the real translation: I am no Keats)

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ball with tressa

This German shepherd is serious about ball. If she doesn’t get to go out at least once a day, she whines and moans as if she’s lost a friend. It’s raining this evening, and I’m preparing for the worst.

I’ll take her downstairs to watch a movie when she starts. She loves to snooze in the basement home theater and catch the occasional popcorn tossed her way… Yeah, that’ll sate her.

2017-02-13-tressa-02

We have to take at least two balls—preferably three. She always comes back, proper fetch style, but I have to either get ugly with the “release” command or be fast with grabbing the ball from her mouth. She lets me take it easily enough, but she’ll stand between my legs with her head away from my hands.

With two or three balls, we can grab one off the ground while she catches the other. When it’s time for a rest, she’ll hoard them, one in her mouth, another gripped in her bear claws, and the third under her body. And she’ll cover the balls forever if we let her.

2017-02-13-tressa-03

We’ve learned not to make her run too far. She’d run herself to death for those balls. So aside from a couple of long throws to mix it up, we’ll bounce them close by and let her leap for them. Means more throws without wearing her out too fast. More play, less panting.

2017-02-13-tressa-04
dolphin technique

But all good things must end, and it’s time to go back inside. When she runs back and sees me holding another ball, she drops the one she just caught, usually while still running. If I’m ready, it’ll roll to my feet and I pick it up. Now, with all balls in hand, I say “house” and off she goes for the doggy door. Good dog!

2017-02-13-tressa-05
shark bites moon

Pictured: Tressa at about one year old. You may note the fold of her left ear in the middle shot. Let’s just say Taiga, the husky, is serious about dominant play, and she rendered that ear so when Tressa was still a pup. Taiga, Taiga, Taiga.

let’s talk taiga

What’s the matter? Never seen a black-and-white before? I channel Mushu whenever I see Taiga. Sometimes it gets a laugh if I call her “the black-and-white.” On a slow day.

We got this Siberian Husky from a breeder in Oklahoma. That makes her an Okie, like my mom. Just saying we like Okies, even if driving up there feels like going behind the Iron Curtain because the first Welcome to Oklahoma is a tollbooth. Papers, or you can pay us off.

The breeders were out of town, so they left our puppy with a friend. A friend, and her flea friends. We’re sure Taiga brought all the fleas with her. We actually bought what looked like a tiny Shop Vac that plugged into a lighter outlet, to suck up the fleas bounding off Taiga on the ride back. Our next stop before checking into a dog-friendly motel was Pet Smart. They recommended Dawn dishwashing soap for a puppy. It works.

In the store, Taiga yipped at anyone who ignored her, straining at her leash to go after the insolent shoppers. If they didn’t ignore her, she soaked up their attention with attitude. Queen Taiga.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s sweet. She just knows our place. I like what my niece passed along one day…

Dogs think: “They feed me. They must be gods.”

Cat’s think: “They feed me. I must be a god.”

Taiga sits at the cat-end of that spectrum.

Here’s Taiga looking wolf-like playing with Tilly (the wolf-Shepherd hybrid) one day.

taiga stalker

And here’s Taiga looking goofy when the tables turned. Don’t worry—Tilly didn’t hurt her. It just looks scary.

chased

Problem with Taiga is she’s an escape artist. She’d find a weak slat on the fence and dig under it. Just a bit. Then she’d break the slat and somehow squeeze that Husky frame through a 4-inch wide opening with a little hole under it. Once, we got her back a week later after putting an ad in the paper. For that week, she happily resided with one of the local pharmacists four miles away from home.

One night she broke two slats. Enough for Tilly to squeeze out with her. Taiga returned hot and thirsty the next day. Tilly didn’t survive the highway. Sad day.

Can’t be mad at Taiga for it, even though I know she plotted becoming the only dog, never happier since. But I made her pay for it, with this…

von Tressa

i hate dogs

I hate ‘em.

That’s me a few years ago. Mom raised me a cat person. Cats seemed quiet and affectionate just the right amount of the time, compared to the needy, energetic, yipping dogs I’d been around. Like my childhood friend’s Chihuahua. Bug-eyed stares. Nervous and cold. It’d poop in their den and my friend would bribe me to clean it up. Our cats were house-trained.

My future mother-in-law had two Miniature Schnauzers. They’d hop on the couch and sniff, brushing me with their salt and pepper beards, and I’d cower. “You don’t like dogs, do you?” I decided brutal honesty was called for in case this was a deal-breaker. “Can’t stand them.” It went over okay. They said at least the dogs liked me, and dogs sense good people.

One of the Schnauzers belonged to my wife. She assured me, “My mom is so attached to those dogs, she’ll never let one go.” The phone rang immediately after we were married and in our first house. “Come. Get. Your. Dog.” The honeymoon was over.

I won the battle over the dog sleeping on the bed, its head on the pillows between us like it was used to at the in-laws’, but I didn’t win the war. That dog passed, succeeded by a Jack Rat despite my protests. I wear the pants in this family. Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 4:00.

Our daughter wanted a big dog. Sounded like a problem multiplied. Bigger barks, vomit, puddles and poop. I put my foot down because we had a small backyard, but promised that if we ever moved to the country, she could have a big dog. Maybe two.

We moved, and this happened…

2016 02 06 tilly

We got into our country home in October that year. I told my daughter to wait for Spring, that if she got a big dog, it’d be an outside dog, and I didn’t want her whining that her puppy was freezing in the cold.

She brought Tilly home in December. German Shepherd and Canadian Wolf mix. “Legit,” said one of my son’s friends. A typical small dog, as far as I was concerned—it being a puppy and all. Running, biting, yipping, occasionally howling. Once, it lost track of my wife in the house, sat, pointed its nose at the ceiling and let loose a long howl. Cute, for about a sec. My son had friends over and one noted our puppy was freezing outside. My son said, “It’s a wolf. From Canada. It ain’t cold.” High five.

Tilly grew big. She destroyed everything. The corner of the entertainment center. The sprinkler system. The satellite dish wires. I had to put a steel dryer vent on the back of the house. She jumped and put her mouth on our arms—perfect bite inhibition, but you’d look down and see your forearm in the mouth of a wolf and yank it back and, well, her teeth were serrated like a shark’s. We have scars.

At a year and a half, Tilly abruptly matured. No jumping and scarring. If she ever barked, we checked around the house because something or someone strange had shown up. She didn’t growl in play, which was a little unnerving, being used to the frothy snarls of the Jack Rat. Tilly became calm and unobtrusive. Like a big cat.

I ran across a passage in a book that explained my mindset. From Drive, Ride, Repeat by Al Macy:

Ted and Britta have a little dog named “Sophie.” It’s some kind of Lassie Apso, or Cocka Shitzel. I’ll now draw on my vast scientific background to tell you something about dogs. Here is an actual brain of a dog:
2016 02 06 dog brain barrier
The lightning bolt things are neuroses attempting to enter the dog’s brain. Large dogs have a “dog brain barrier” (Canis cerebrum obice) which keeps the neuroses from entering the brain. This barrier is absent in small dogs.

I apologize. If you have small dogs and love them, great. I’m sure they’re the best. Maybe I’m not quite the good person those Schnauzers sensed. But for me, Al Macy hit the nail on the head. Why I love dogs, big dogs, and took so long to discover it.

Then came Taiga, our Siberian Husky. And that’s a different story.


The dog brain illustration, courtesy of Al Macy.

Those are Taiga’s eyes at the top of the post. She has the attitude to match.