October 22, 2008 Today's Word of the Day is: pet tricks
Back when my mother was my sister and my husband was my brother, before dog spirits got dog bodies, I think I struck up a conversation with Sally. Sal, who would be our lethargic but cute Basset Hound when my other sisters and brother became my kids. If I don’t force the memory too hard I can find it, and I think it came out something like this:
Me: So you’re going to be a Basset Hound?
Sal: Guess so. How bout you?
Me: I’m going to be a girl and I’m going to be beautiful.
Sal: Well good luck with that.
Me: Hey, you wanna be my dog? I can fill out one of those silver request cards and see if you can get your goods when I get mine. I’ll be sure to take care and feed you and bathe you and play with you and you can do cool dog tricks. Wanna?
So I guess I must have submitted the request because sure enough Sally appeared under our Christmas tree one December morning via my sister, Libby and a pet store somewhere in Salt Lake City. Cute she was. Darling, even. All cleaned up with those sad brown eyes and those soft floppy ears. She curled up in Kate’s arms and was content. Then Kate went to school, and so did the other kids. Sal did not know how to be an indoor dog. And I did not know how to be an outdoor girl. And I did not know how to make her into an indoor dog. So I researched dogs, and dog training, and I found out that the Basset Hound is historically one of the hardest dogs to train, even if they have not spent the first year of their life in a kennel. So Sal and I had another conversation, after the kids left for school:
Me: Sorry about losing my temper.
Sal: Sorry about the puddle. And the mess. Can’t help myself.
Me: Yeah, I know. But you know what this means don’t you?
Sal: Uh. No.
Me: Well, it means you are an outside dog. We’ll build you the world’s largest and most expensive running grounds, with a nice iron fence around a big grassy space. And we’ll build a nice big dog house that has a door that leads right to the garage, which we will heat in the winter. But…well, I’m not sure how to put this…you sort of leave a trail of slime wherever you go, so about coming in the house…well, we’ll have to do our pet tricks outside. Hope you’re ok with that.
So for 13 years we watched Sal through the kitchen window, weaving her way through the yard, making tunnels with her low lying belly in the winter, curling into herself under the Hornbeam tree by the back gate in the summer. Gram fed her Cheez-Its every day, throwing them through the fence to her. Dave faithfully gave her ½ can of puppy chow when she got old, because that’s what the vet said to do. We scratched under her chin when we had enough time to go back in the house and scrub up. Or shower. When the back door was left open and she got in the house we played catch me if you can until she found the light and headed back outside. It took towels and warm soapy water to clean up the slobber mess. She would swing her head back and forth, her ears flapping like paddle balls, her jowls scraping the floor and her lips like a spigot leaving a trail of slimy drool. Good old Sal. Sally the Slobber Dog. Never, in all those 13 years, did she ever even once attempt to do a dog trick. Never even turned her head to see the stick that went flying. I’m not sure if it was real or if she was just playing dumb. “Sit” might as well be “stand on your hind legs and twirl” or “Just lay there Sal”. I think “Just lay there Sal” was the only command she ever followed. No pet tricks. Then again, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain so well either. In spite of what appeared to be less than adequate care, Sal lived a good long life. Doc White said he had never seen a Basset Hound live as long. It was a mournful day when Sally went the way of all the earth.
Someday I’ll have another conversation with Sal.
Sal: Well, hey. So you’re back, too?
Sal: How is everybody?
Me: Good. Maybe a little sad, but they’re all good. Hey, you look great! How do you feel?
Sal: Sheesh, so much better! Hey look what I can do.
At that moment Sally the Slobber Dog stands on her two very happy and healthy hind legs, reaches her paws up into Heaven’s Heaven, lifts one leg to the side and twirls just like a ballerina.
Me: Wow Sal! A pet trick! Who knew.
That’s when Sal lowers her paws to the ground, turns her hind quarters in toward her snout, lays her fluid sparkling head on the ground with her cheeks spreading out like a wedding dress and winks at me.
Sal: Yeah. Who knew.