We’ve been babysitting since last Friday.
This is Blackie:
This is Duke:
This has been a challenge.
We’ve been Blackie’s babysitters of choice since she was two years old. In fact, the first time I took her I had her for five weeks while her owner, My Dearest Friend, recovered from surgery. We almost didn’t give her back. She never barks. She’s gentle as a kitten. She never strays from the boundaries of the back yard, even if no one is watching. She has perfect recall.
One morning, a few years ago, I let her out at about 7:00 to do her duty, and went to take care of my own needs. I came back out three minutes later– and saw her nose-to-nose with a skunk. I froze for about two seconds. Then I screamed, “Blackie! COME!!!” And Blackie immediately turned and raced back to the porch. The skunk waddled back up the hill and off to who knows where. Disaster averted.
(When no one is there to interrupt such proceedings, Blackie will attempt to make friends. She has been skunked on average 1.5 times per year in her lifetime. I was dead lucky.)
Occasional skunk encounters aside, Blackie is The Perfect Dog. Duke… not so much.
My Dearest Friend got Duke as a companion for Blackie about two years ago. The first time we kept him, he chewed the furniture. He ate the girls’ Polly Pockets and Littlest Petshops. Every time we turned around, we tripped over him. And he barked incessantly, which set off Our Best Friend and made life quite noisy.
As a result, The Spouse has never quite warmed to Duke the way he adores Blackie. But they’re a package deal. My Dearest Friend would rather pay to board both than separate them. So if I want my Blackie (and I so want my Blackie, every minute of every day), I have to endure Duke.
Truthfully, Duke has been better behaved the last few times. He barks less, and he’s stopped chewing completely, thank goodness. He still steals food if it’s left out, and he’s chronically underfoot, but he’s so loving and goofy you can’t help but fall for his charms. Unless, of course, you’re The Spouse, in which case you are immune to charm.
For some reason, Our Best Friend, who can be territorial, has never had an issue with Duke in the house. I think it’s in deference to Blackie, whom he reveres. Blackie spent an entire month with us after we took in OBF, but before Duke entered the picture, and we credit her with improving his social skills in those early days. Sometimes, when Blackie and Duke wrestle, OBF gets a bit freaked out and starts barking at them. They ignore him. And everyone eats out of everyone else’s food bowl, without snarling or fighting. They even share the dog bed, though not at the same time.
Walking three dogs simultaneously, all of whom pull on the leash and weigh fifty to eighty pounds each, is not in my realm of possibility, so we try to get them to the dog park for their exercise. On Tuesday, Duke proved his worth in a way that even The Spouse could not deny (he was even there to witness it).
As I’ve mentioned before, Our Best Friend lacks social skills, and can be a target for dog bullies. That day, of all things, it was a standard poodle with her fur (hair?) in a frou-frou double ponytail on top of her head. She made me think of the “cool girl” bullies one encounters in high school, with the up-to-the-minute hair and clothes that everyone will laugh about in twenty years. This prancing princess sniffed at Our Best Friend, and without the least provocation, leaped at him, teeth gnashing. I grabbed OBF and lead him away, which he was very happy to do; it’s become obvious that he’ll do anything to get himself out of a confrontational situation. He’s more of a lover than a fighter, in spite of the fear aggression that rears its ugly head from time to time.
Well, Poodle-Poof couldn’t leave well enough alone. She came trotting across the park about ten minute later, and again jumped our poor boy. Much snarling and snapping ensued, and the poodle was clearly out for blood.
She didn’t count on Duke. He sped over and nipped her on the backside– he didn’t draw any blood, just drew her attention from OBF. I grabbed OBF and hustled him back to the bench where we were sitting, while Duke kept the poodle busy. It was completely, 100%, crystal clear that Duke was defending Our Best Friend.
The poodle had no personal quarrel with Duke, so she ran off. Duke came to us for some deserved praised and affection. The Middle Child, who loves unreservedly Duke because he is so unbelievably affectionate and cuddles her in bed, crowed about his loyalty and courage. Even OBF seemed to understand that Duke was the hero of the moment.
Outside my bedroom, at this very moment, three dogs lie companionably in the hallway. OBF still doesn’t lie with his head on Blackie, like Duke does; he still doesn’t enter their play sessions, and Duke is still underfoot ‘way too much. And the fur is unbelievable. (I haven’t mentioned the fur, have I? We’re eating it, sleeping in it, and we all have furry lungs.) The fur alone is driving The Spouse nuts– that, and Duke’s unbelievable knack of being in the way. Still, when My Dearest Friend turns to me in December, I’ll have a hard time saying no.
They shed less in the winter, right?