Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Meet the golden ager of our home

No, it's not me.

Conversation and my thoughts today have been pretty heavy; rather than do the political thing, I've decided to lighten the mood and go with the whole adorable pet angle.

On that note, this is Marlon (and my oldest daughter)- taken last winter after their nap. I'll be disowned by both of them for posting it:

Marlon is, simply put, the best, strangest, most interesting animal ever.

Sure, all pet owners say that. But I'm telling the truth.

Just a few things that make him the oddest dog I've ever met:

1. He sleeps in my spot when I get up from bed, but won't sleep in anyone's bed when they're in it.

Big deal, you say. All dogs lay on beds, right? Yes. But all dogs don't lay stretched out on their sides, with the right side of their head on the pillow, in the exact same manner of a person. Marlon does. He literally looks as though he just tossed back the covers and is ready to get up. It's weird. He could be me, lying there.

Which brings me to item two of Marlon's weirdness. . .

2. He doesn't lick people, or slobber.

Seriously. No slobber. He eschews traditional dog behaviors and only licks hands once every year, usually around Christmas. When he's feeling all the festive love and whatnot.

3. He doesn't hump - not legs of people, legs of chairs, or generally other animals.

The only person he ever tried to do that to was the youngest. We think it's because he gets angry when she and I curl-up on the couch together, or hug. He then growls and tries to place himself between us. Because, after all, he believe he's my youngest baby. So it seemed when she was a bit smaller, like 9 or so, he tried to achieve dominance over her. But it only was once or twice and, however gross, didn't become a habit. Though he still tries to get in my lap before she can.

4. He will not eat in front of you, or while you're in the room.

You can pour him food - dog or human - and he will patiently wait until you leave the room before he starts eating. Or drinking. He sits and waits. . .and waits. . .and waits. . .until the room is his. Which is problematic when I feed him before starting dishes, or while cooking dinner, because he's fed in the kitchen. No matter how long, though, he's gonna wait it out.

5. He does not chew people. He does not jump on people as they walk (except me sometimes when he's excited to see his leash and the prospect of a stroll). He does not scratch things.

He simply doesn't engage in many non-human behaviors. He thinks, for better or worse, that he's simply one of us. Until he sees us scratching each other, or biting, or jumping on visitors -- he's just not gonna engage.

6. He's smarter than me.

I'm trying to give him medicine for an ear infection since Thanksgiving, right? So I start by putting the capsules in leftover stuffing, making a ball around the pill. This works - for a day. Then he starts carefully eating around the stuffing. Takes him ten minutes to polish off a piece smaller than a golf ball. But he does it. And then he does the same with cheese. Finally we had to open the capsule and put the powder on buttered bread, then roll up the bread and give it to him.

Marlon came to us in the summer of 2001. We frequently visited animal shelters, despite the fact it's a painful, sad experience and for the most part, I'm afraid of strange dogs. So, every month or so we'd visit just to pet and look and be friendly. It was good therapy for the dogs and good practice for the girls.

So the day before our scheduled trip to Massachussetts, being nearby we thought we'd visit. My youngest found Marlon there.

We spent the better part of two hours, until the workers nearly kicked us out in order to close for the day, weighing what we wanted more: our cherished vacation, or this big, strange, scraggly, matted white fuzzball?

I wanted the trip. Was looking forward to the annual visit with people I love, and really jazzed about the girls spending time with them. Plus, you know - a dog?!? They're loads of work, time and money. I hadn't excess of any such things.

We got the dog.

A Great Pyrenees mix, he'd been allegedly the companion of an elderly man whose children felt could no longer take care of an animal. He'd spent most of his time in a room with newspaper on the floor, so he could go to the bathroom without being let outside.

Yet, when we got him home, he was fully housebroken.

The first week, Marlon decided that his insides belonged on the carpet; he contracted some godawful disease and I thought he was going to die. A night at the vets, testing, and $700.00 later, nobody could figure out what was wrong.

Personally, I've come to believe it was simple stress. He wasn't sure what we'd expected, and he had to live up to whatever it was. Extremely well-mannered, the thought of making some major faux-pas probably ate at him.

Since then, he's had seizures - something I'm still trying desperately to get used to, because they scare me. But we've worked through them to some degree; I hold and soothe him as his muscles contract and contort, and he knows enough to lie down and let them happen. Afterwards, he gets a spoon of vanilla ice cream (they say it helps). If I'm stressed, so do I.

Adapting to Marlon has been easy. After all, he's probably better tempered and more refined than the girls. ;)

Just a few problem areas:

We had light grey carpeting. Still do, actually. Between his copious summer hair loss I've gone through five carpet cleaners. One each year. We've tried them all: Bissell, Hoover, Eureka. . .they all died within one year. It seemed a bad sign, until my dad bought me an industrial Shop Vac last Christmas.

A Great Pyr's hair is more like cotton balls than anything else. It sticks to everything. I'm constantly lint rolling, and as we're the modern-day Addams family, we all predominantly wear black clothing.

White fur, black clothing. You do the math.

It's also nearly impossible to remove his hair from the dark grey cloth interior of my car. Consequently, nobody rides with me anymore. This has its benefits: last summer, my aunt stopped asking for me to take her to church every Sunday. Even with sheets over the car seats, she emerged from the car covered in Marlon fur.


When left to his own devices, and when we're gone and it's available, Marlon will carry all the trash into the living room, piece by piece. That had a simple enough solution in the form of a large, lidded garbage can with a foot pedal.

So, that's it. No other complaints.

It's hard to believe Marlon's only been with us for nearly five years. He's so deeply ingrained into our daily lives, and such a joy to watch rolling around on his back in the snow, or to snuggle with on the couch.

He's getting older, and since we don't know exactly how old, we just know he's well over seven. I can't imagine ever having another dog; that's how perfect a fit Marlon is with us. If ever we do, though, it will be a Great Pyr or mixed Pyr breed. They're amazing.

The main thing life with Marlon has taught me (maybe simply because I'm older now, but he illustrates it perfectly) is that what is meant to be will be. It won't require undue struggle, machinations or hoop-jumping. Instead it will simply become - quietly, organically and nearly effortlessly. Given a chance, things do work out as they're intended.
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