Monday, June 14, 2010

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Stupid was one of a large litter born one February to Susie, a Great Pyrenees, whose mountain instincts drove her to seek the wettest, coldest corner of the barn for the event. Efforts to move her to a warmer spot were seriously rejected and Stupid was the only survivor.

Stupid’s father was the neighbor’s delinquent Dalmatian whose one accomplishment in his rather short life….he got hit by the school bus…was the ability to climb the eight-foot woven wire fence to develop a relationship with Susie.

Susie, an absolute marvel at her livestock guardian duties, was a nonchalant mother and only visited the pup twice a day to let her nurse. Even at that the pup, a tiny handful at birth, grew phenomenally and within a week had quadrupled in size. But she was lonesome in her cold, wet hole in the corner of the barn and cried piteously at regular intervals for the first couple of days. Susie, deaf to the pup’s pleas, continued to spend her days and nights meeting her responsibilities to the herd.

But Maggie, whose own chance at motherhood had been cut short by surgery in her youth, heard the whimpering pup and the nurturing devotion of her Shepherd blood responded. On the morning of the third day after Susie left the barn for the field with her livestock charges, Maggie ran to the barn and found the pup and their relationship began.

Maggie spent her days with the pup, only leaving when it was time for Susie’s return. By the end of the week, except for the twice a day nursings, Maggie was the pup’s mother. Thanks to Maggie, the muddy little dirtball in the corner of the barn soon became a white ball of soft fuzz. She cleaned her and tumbled her and loved her to exhaustion until the pup would fall asleep between her front paws and I would find them there sleeping, Maggie’s nose resting on the pups fat tummy.

As the pup grew, Susie became even more detached, if possible, and Maggie no longer left at nursing time. I don’t know if Susie appreciated Maggie’s help but she certainly didn’t disapprove. Between the two of them the pup grew..and grew…and grew.

Surprisingly, Stupid lost her white baby fuzz and soon black spots, another gift from her father, dappled her sleek whiteness. She was also huge, a gift from her Great Pyrenees mother, and far bigger than Maggie. What she became was a beautiful coach dog like you see in old pictures riding on fire trucks. Stupid was beautiful!

But Stupid is as stupid does and Stupid earned her name, partly because of her comically awkward habits of tripping over feet that grew too quickly and running into barn doors and tumbling off woodpiles and hay bales. She climbed, (probably a trait inherited from her father) and couldn’t get down without falling. She got stuck going into places that had no way out. She gnawed strips off shed doors and dug up freshly planted tulip bulbs.

Stupid, I thought, was just plain stupid.

Definitely a slow learner, she misbehaved wildly and often, grabbing food right out of my hand, or another dogs mouth, scattering the chicken feed, spilling the dog water, pouncing on the hens and ducklings and jumping on guests.

But slowly, with a two steps forward and a step back kind of progress, Stupid began to learn. Thanks to Maggie, I began to see improvements in her behavior. It had become apparent early on that Maggie shielded the pup from my somewhat harsh discipline. If Stupid jumped on a guest she was severely chastised verbally and with a hard placed knee into her chest. If she was caught chasing a member of the poultry family she was thumped soundly and tied to the barn door for a day.

At first Maggie tried to forestall the pups discipline by placing her own body between me and the pup as soon as I raised my voice. This I couldn’t allow and therefore it did not work. But Maggie did not give up. She began her own discipline and I must say it worked better than mine. She simply put herself between the pup and whatever wicked entertainment Stupid was contemplating. When Stupid lost control at the sight of the newly hatched chicks and their tiny mother, Maggie was there blocking her path. The scattering-the-chicken-feed game ended. Twice I saw Maggie run the pup to the barn as I tossed the corn out for the free ranging hens.

I knew the battle was won when one bright morning Maggie, sitting obediently at my feet waiting for her special treat reserved for after-chore time, was joined by a solemn and decorous black and white spotted beauty known as Stupid. Stupid had never been given a treat at this time. She had not earned it and always tried unsuccessfully to take Maggie’s.

Maggie had been trained to sit, both by my saying the word “sit” or simply lowering my hand from chest high toward the ground. At either signal she would sit motionless for a reasonable length of time. I admit this was the only trick I ever taught her but it came in handy many times.

That morning Stupid lowered her bulk into the “sit” position beside Maggie, glancing first at me, then at Maggie, whom she now looked down on from her superior size, back to me, and back to Maggie. Unsatisfied with her own posture she scrunched her hind quarters a little forward and sat more compactly. Again she looked at me and back at Maggie. Apparently satisfied she fixed her gaze on me and waited for the treat.

She got her treat. Stupid may have been stupid but she had something better than superior brain power and better than beauty. Stupid wanted to learn.

And so learn she did. Not everything was uphill and hard work. Maggie taught her a lot of fun stuff like how to wrestle and how to get a cripple-grip on a foreleg in case she was ever in a fight to the death. Maggie had never had to use the dread cripple-grip herself but instinct told her how vital this was for a young dog to know. She taught her never to turn down surplus food but to run to the back of the barn with it to be buried in the manure pile. She taught her to relax in the heat of the day and to use the cool mornings for tug of war games with sticks and old feed sacks and other stuff that made strong jaws and sharpened reflexes.

And then one day Stupid was all grown up!

And the question had to be asked. What place did she have here? What was her job?

Susie, her mother, was totally and consistently committed to the herd and filled that position with awesome capability, taking the goats to pasture each morning, guarding against predators all day and in emergencies, such as gun shots, firecrackers, loud and unusual machinery rumbling by or rain, thunder and lightening, brought them back to the safety of the barn at a dead run. And every night, good weather and bad, she led them back to the barn for the night, occasionally falling to the rear to check for stragglers and little ones. But Stupid had no interest in the livestock.

Maggie, with the exception of her nurturing devotion to the rearing of Stupid, has had no allegiance to anyone or anything except myself and the tasks I required of her. In her youth she kept guard beneath my window each night, accompanied me every morning at chores and held livestock at bay so I could feed and water without fear of being trampled.

At my order, “Hold ‘em, Maggie” she would drive back the overly eager herd that threatened to flatten my none-too-good fence. As Maggie saw her responsibility, I was it! Even today, after eighteen years, except in the most inclement weather, she still sleeps on guard across my back doorsill. But Stupid, although friendly and gentle, looked upon me only as a provider and periodic disciplinarian.

What was there here for Stupid?

I needn’t have worried. Stupid, never leaving the yard, became the self-appointed gatekeeper and was soon very effective at the job. She lay at the end of the drive all alone, easily visible in her flamboyant black and white coat, and no one entered or left without her inspection. Friends were greeted, politely searched and escorted to the house. Strangers, entranced by her beauty, often made the mistake of taking liberties and were soon put in their place. Wanderers no longer used our drive as a turn-a-round. Neighbors’ dogs no longer left their calling cards at our driveway entrance. Stupid took her job very seriously.

But three big dogs were more than I could maintain. Stupid had received the regular medical care, as were all critters on the farm, and was spayed, vaccinated and wormed as needed. These things do not come cheap and feeding costs were getting out of hand. I half heartedly decided that I needed to find a home for Stupid. But she was such a great dog. Such a beauty and so full of character. Maggie had done her job well. It had to be just the right kind of home. It had to be just the right kind of situation. It had to be just the right kind of person.

I talked to my vet and we put a sign up in his office. I definitely wanted someone who valued their dog people enough to know the vet. Within a week a call came and a lady wanted to stop by and see my dog. She gave me her name and we made arrangements for her visit. I called the vet and talked to Bridgett, the receptionist to get a character reference on the caller. It was good. On the agreed upon day I called Stupid back from the gate and tied her to the yard gate near the house. (I had had my fill of animals mysteriously disappearing for a few days when their departure from the place was imminent.)

The lady drove down the unguarded drive and I knew by the look on her face when she saw the glorious Stupid in her sleek maturity that she was a goner but I agreed that she should definitely check out the animal shelter before making a decision. The pup, no longer a pup, and a friendly sort at heart, took to the lady. I think she thought she was going to untie her. She hated to be tied.

Late in the afternoon the lady returned and said she had seen nothing as great as my dog and would love to have her. We agreed that if it didn’t work out the dog would be returned A.S.A.P. Stupid, having been tied to the yard gate most of the day was more than willing to make nice and go anywhere with anybody.

As for the lady, she lived just a mile or two to the northeast and raised exotic animals! What she needed and wanted was a gatekeeper to discourage the questionably curious.

She asked me what the dog’s name was. I looked up toward the gate that had been so ably guarded, I glanced down at Maggie who was staring me right in the eye, and off over the pasture, hazy and misting up over the pond in the twilight….. I looked the lady right in the eye and said,

“Her name is Misty. We call her Misty.”

No comments:

Post a Comment