So I took this photo today of Charlie, our rescue pooch. In it, he’s standing amidst the wreckage of a modest plastic laundry basket that I thought would make a nice dog toy bin, as it had survived in this house for several years before he arrived.
Charlie is about 15 months old now. I realize that makes me sound like a really screwed-up “dog parent” but I mention his age in months because while he’s over a year, physically, he’s still quite a puppy mentally. Or maybe this is who he is.
His adult teeth have been grown in for at least seven months, yet he is a chewer. He is such a chewer that he has shown Murphy, our 7-year-old golden retriever, how it’s done.
Murphy really could not care less about nylabones or rope toys or rubber tug toys or giant knot pulls or a moccasin or a scarf, a chair, a rug fringe, a beach towel, a fire log, a down jacket, a pair of leather boots, a piece of trim on a cabinet, a Jimmy Page DVD box, a remote control, a set of headphones, an uncashed birthday check for $100, an electric guitar cord, a garden hose, a wah-wah pedal, a text book, a yoga book, a set of crayons, a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap, shin guards, a candle, an LL Bean tote bag, flip flops, a few cleats, a BBQ glove, a newspaper, an empty cardboard box, an empty cereal bag, a broom handle, a snow shovel, a volley, soccer, basket, foot, playground -ball, a book by Roz Chast and so much more. Murphy doesn’t care. Murphy couldn’t be bothered.
As you can see, just today, here is Murphy simply not giving a damn about Charlie’s basket.
No. No. No. This is not interesting to me. I want to see what Mom is doing. Get your hand off my back.
“WHY NOT MURPH?!? LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF! C’MONNNNNN!!!” Begs Charlie.
Because Murphy was intended. And Charlie was not.
Murphy’s whole being — from the mounting of his wild, long-haired, as-flaxen-as-wheat father “Kirby” onto his sainted dogly, calm, freckle-nosed, light blonde mother, “Bonnie” — Murphy was intended.
“We’d like a mellow golden. One that is beautiful of course, but that is not too crazy, like Zeus, over there bounding up and down along the gate… And not too dark, because then they start to look like Irish Setters, which are completely insane, and I won’t have that…” I remember thinking, if not actually saying to the breeder, almost seven and a half years ago.
Why? Why did we go to a breeder? Well, it’s simple: our youngest son was still quite little, just four, and every golden retriever rescue we tried didn’t work out.
We had to surrender our first one, “Skipper,” because he was massive, a ton of energy and knocked over my kids constantly. Skipper was gorgeous: he had the big blocky head, and flame-colored eyes. He came to me by way of my Creative Memories (remember those days?) consultant.
My consultants’s neighbor, a recent widower and retired Navy captain who had recently undergone a hip replacement, was given a dog, Skipper, by his children to keep him company. These people, who were clear across the country in California, knew NOTHING about goldens. My consultant friend knew I loved goldens and also knew I would be able to help find a home for Skipper. Our “Maggie” was about nine at the time and she was tender-hipped herself, so I thought a 70-pound puppy might be too much for her.
I was right.
Skipper was seldom walked, because the man had his hip surgery and he told me Skipper mostly lived in the garage when he wasn’t walked by a neighbor kid. He was gorgeous though. I told my friend, “Sure, I’ll meet him. I’m sure someone can help place him…”
The next thing I knew: Skipper and his owner were in my front yard with a crate, leashes, bowls, food, toys, and papers. I looked up to say hello to the man and he was gone. >Poof!< I called my friend / consultant and she was a bit shocked. I wasn’t about to turn over Skipper immediately, but I really didn’t know how to manage it all. My friend later spoke to him and said that he was desperate; I was young (a sucker) and loved dogs and well … yup.
I trained Skipper for about four months. He knocked over my kids, he knocked over poor Maggie, he was very smart, but too much. He had to go. So I contacted our local rescue group and the next day, Skipper was picked up around 10am and I cried my fool head off. The rescue group had a family in mind. They loved that he had been trained in the rudimentary drills and he was showing real promise. I love training dogs. So off he went, to befriend a teenage boy with autism. They were inseparable. I felt so good knowing he was going to be someone’s INSTANT best friend. Our kids were sad, for the most part. But we still had our girl Maggie.
For about a year. Then she died. I won’t go into that here, but it was a very hard day.
I couldn’t really “be” without a dog. So about six months after Mags died, I found another golden. From another rescue group. Ironically, and I didn’t know this at the time, my act of surrendering a “found” dog to the previous rescue group prohibited me from acquiring a dog from them for three years… I didn’t understand it, and when I signed the papers at the time, I of course thought Maggie would live longer, so it wasn’t a big deal.
So I found another golden rescue group.
Why goldens? Because I grew up around them. Because they are wonderful with children. Because I wanted another one. Because.
When we went to meet “King” he was sooooooo very mellow. I thought he was drugged. We didn’t plan on adopting him that day. The rescue lady (INSANE WOMAN, read on) said it was a “site visit” (for us?). He was a sweet boy, about three years old. His story was sad: his original family moved around the world, they tried with a family friend, but that didn’t work out (I SHOULD HAVE ASKED MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT) and no one else could take him, so they gave him up.
He was so mellow, we ended up taking him home that day. Of course we did (I can see my husband rolling his eyes now). All the boys raced back to their seats in our minivan (yes, I did drive one for four years) and in piled King. I knew that name had to go. King belongs to a German Shepherd Dog or a mastiff. We decided to try “Riley.”
Riley worked, he adjusted to the name. But KING… King was still alive and well. You can take the dog out of West Virginia, but you can’t take the West Virginia out of the dog. Riley was calm, sweet and docile in the car. I knew he wasn’t drugged because his eyes were bright and alert, but man, it was like he was in a Zen state.
Until the moment we opened our doors after we pulled into our driveway.
Riley took off. Booked. Bolted. Flew. Freakin’ hauled ass. Tore it up. Burnt rubber. Burnt asphalt. Left us in the dust. Ran. Laughing, if dogs could laugh, Riley was freakin’ howling has ass off.
Riley ran. and ran. and ran. and ran.
Our street is very quiet. But it is an appendage off a side street to a major traffic artery. We’re talking a four-lane-separated-by-a-median-strip artery. A 40mph zone. Riley went for the artery. West. More West. To the sunset.
It was like a scene from a mad-cap Disney pic from the 1970s …
Forget “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!” Everyone is on a zany foot chase after Riley, the new dog, who simply can’t be caught! Don’t miss out on this great, fun, family adventure, where Riley shows everyone, even people he’ll never meet, that he wants to find his original family somewhere halfway around the world…. in ‘Riley Hates the Suburbs’… starring Elizabeth Montgomery as ‘Molly’ and Gavin McLeod as ‘Dan,’ King as ‘Riley’ and Joan Crawford as ‘The Rescue Lady.’
Riley fooled us all. After a 30-minute death-defying jaunt along our parkway and being caught by a really hot guy who looked like Ricky Martin, Riley came
home back to our house on a collar and a leash. When Riley had a leash on, or was behind the gate (which he never tried to dig beneath or jump above) he was your man. He was calm, loyal, patient and sweet. The problem was our kids. Keep the dog, get rid of the kids? My youngest was still quite little, maybe three then, and he needed the doors held open a long time as he exited and entered our house. When Thing 3 had to go outside, Riley was waiting. And off went the older boys to catch him. The final bout was when one of the neighborhood boys almost got hit by a car, in hot pursuit. Everyone in our neighborhood knew that if a deep-red golden retriever was running like an idiot through the yards, it was Riley Field. One of the kids is now a track star at the high school. We’d like to think that we had something to do with his training.
So after about nine months, it was determined, quite easily I might add, that Riley/King had to go back to his original rescuer.
MAAAAAAAN did I get my ass handed to me by that madwoman rescuer. When we got him, he was about 10# underweight. His coat was a mess: it was dry, breaking off, and his skin was scaly but not diseased. He’d clearly been malnourished and under attended. He didn’t know any commands, especially not “stay” (obviously). The woman accused me of all sorts of things when I told her he needed to be returned: of breech of contract, of lying, of trying to look good, of being “fancy.” (Ouch.) Of NEGLECT (even though she’d never seen him) and she said that my vet said that I was a horrible owner and that I should be reported. Well, she never called my vet, because if she had she would have seen that Riley put on all his weight, that his muscle tone was restored, that his coat was lustrous and shiny and that he ran like hell. When we returned Riley, we provided a 50-pound bag of high-end food, his coat luster additives, leashes, a bed, a crate, toys and a $100 donation to her rescue league… JUST BECAUSE.
So that’s why I went back to breeders after two rescues. I feared at this point that my name was mud (because I figured these organizations were like interpol cross-referencing owners and all that) and I just couldn’t let that stop me from getting a dog. I love dogs. Desperately YET responsibly.
So last winter, when the chance to get Murphy a pal presented itself, I had to say yes. A puppy. I knew I could handle a puppy. I could train it. I could imprint it (as much as possible) and I could get it to understand that we are the home base. We are the team. Plus, Murphy was so mellow and huge, I figured any new puppy to him would be in good paws because he’s so patient and sweet. (Right now, Murphy is chewing on his rawhide and Charlie is hovering over him –Charlie finished his– and Murphy is ignoring him, but lowly growling, as Charlie gets terribly close to Murphy’s jaw, pressuring him to give up the goods.)
And we were right. To a threshold.
When we acquired Charlie, the vet estimated him to be about 8-10 weeks old. That’s about two weeks longer than most puppies are with their mothers. With a responsible and ethical breeder, 8-10 weeks is not a huge deal because the dog would have been socialized with other humans and other pups. With a dog like Charlie, who was bred near a salt marsh somewhere in South Carolina, whose mother was a stray, whose father was either dead or just clearly uninvolved, and who was likely whelped in a torn-down abandoned house in not the best of neighborhoods, you need to be careful.
Charlie has strange behaviors, whereas Murphy does not. Murphy does not scrape at the wooden floor or decking before lying down. Nor does he try to lick that flooring or bite the planks out of their position. He is interested in the trash, from the concept that it smells like something he’d consider if there were no food, ever, to be had or if the trash fell over and no one was home and he could get away with it… (he’s no angel).
But what I’ve noticed is the subtle distinction between their behaviors: Charlie came from chance and squalor so he’s scrappy and cheerful and game and so very charming, like a vacuum salesman. Murphy came from certainty and plenty so he’s patient, kind, interested in playing but not to the point of chasing you around the house with a sock to tug on it and he’s very loyal and assured; there is no “desperation” with Murphy whereas there is a definite sense of urgency with Charlie. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re both on the make and totally full of shit and just want my hamburger, but it’s a very clear case of nurture versus nature between them.
When Charlie came to us he was wild, insofar that he was not a “dog” as I have come to know them, intentionally. He cried like a crazed hyena in his crate. He ate like a fiend and growled when we came near him while eating. I knew that had to stop immediately. As a babe, and as recently as this morning, Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to lick it to get Murphy to regurgitate his own food. Well, anyone who knows Murphy knows that ain’t happening, so what that did was also establish Murphy’s “alpha” position in their pack, which is constantly being challenged with little fanfare by Murphy.
What this tells me, watching all of it, is that Murphy knows in some way, because his mother was not in a panic, that he is safe and that all his needs will be met; and that Charlie has been conditioned to be more aware (despite their breed differences; goldens are NOT watch dogs) and needy or resourceful. Murphy has confidence, where Charlie simply has gratitude. I know that if I’m ever with Charlie and I feel unsafe around a person, he will go for the throat of whatever is approaching in a hostile way. He’s a sweet boy, but don’t cross him. Whereas Murphy, he’ll offer the person my coat and jewelry and ask for a ride.
At 5:35 every night, I can tell without the clock that it’s time for their dinner because Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to see if anything is there.
You couldn’t PAY Murphy to sniff this.
When people come to the house to visit, Charlie is beyond thrilled. He can’t wait to sniff them, to kiss them, to inspect their bags or pockets. Charlie does play bows, and wags his tail and smiles. Murphy is, on the other hand, just glad they’re here. He saunters up to them, he lets them pet him, he inspects their crotches and then he moves on. If it’s someone he REALLY loves, he will wag his tail and do a little dance and “wooo-oo-woof” at them. Charlie is silent, but going through their stuff. If he finds something, he shares with Murphy; the same can not be said of Murphy.
He’s a charmer. This was after I took my leather gloves from him. He had a great time running around the house with them saying “Catch me!!” Is he sorry or just pissed that the game is over?
What’s nice about “knowing” about Charlie’s litter mates is that their owners and I occasionally share pictures or stories about the dogs and it seems that they all have a predilection for digging into established floors. In the case of Charlie, it’s not that he eats what he digs up; but there’s something in him that tells him, “below is security; below is sustenance.” Knowing the story of his exhausting rescue (I shared it here at this link), leaves me barely surprised by his digging and scratching, once I put it all together. It’s part of who he is, just as my telling jokes to cover over a pain or a hurt.
Watching Charlie — a dog by chance who survived by sheer will and the goodness of others, and Murphy — a dog of intention who was spoken for before he was even born, tells me a lot about how I am the way I am. I am scrappy, resourceful, defiant and loyal like Charlie because I grew up in a place that required it in order for me to survive and thrive. Charlie is charming –real and authentic– but there is something that I believe he “knows” about kindness: that when you are safe and secure, that you can give it, without wondering if it will come back to you. And now I can understand Murphy because when I give and live with kindness, I just end up enjoying it.
Possibly my favoritest (that’s a word) picture of them yet. Charlie is “hugging” his “baby” and his head is resting on Murphy’s hip.
That “baby” has since been eviscerated to a mere pelt.
PS — one more: this is IMMEDIATELY after I washed the glass door:
He has excellent timing.
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