Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Little Friend of My Little Friend...
And that is Laszlo's little friend.
When I say Laszlo is my dog, I don't mean I went out and selected him. Other way round. Here's what happened. When our Australian shepherd Amanda died, we said it would be a while before we replaced her. But our terrier (rat and Jack Russell mix) Roxxie started getting the crazies within weeks of Amanda's passing. Roxxie is one of those high-pitched individuals who doesn't get along in the world in general, and the loss of her friend really got to her.
So the missus got in touch with some animal rescue people, and Laszlo was the first dog they suggested for us. We drove out to the valley one day and met the rescue worker who was handling Laszlo (unnamed at that juncture) at a park.
According to what she said, Laszlo had been abandoned on the street and then rescued. "He's a dog person, not a people person," we were told, which, given the circumstances, sounded good. When we met him, he wouldn't approach me, wouldn't respond to me when I called him. I am an animal person -- not all animals love me, but if they don't, I wonder what the hell has gone wrong with the world. When this little guy wouldn't meet my gaze or let me near him, I figured something was wrong. Really wrong. This animal had been abused, and as much as I wanted to help, I didn't want a dog who didn't want me. So I started to harden myself to say we wouldn't be going home with the little mooch.
I fell into conversation with the woman who was caring for Laszlo, and while we were talking, she looked past me and smiled. "He sure likes you," she said.
I followed her gaze, and looked down to my right rear. The young Laszlo was sitting directly behind me. He wasn't touching me, but he was as close as he could get without making contact. His body was curved around my right calf, and he was gazing up at me with an expression on his face that said, "Please. I want this. Please, please, please..."
We took him home.
For the first couple of weeks, he wouldn't approach me from the front or respond to my calls, but he stayed as close to me as he could, and if I let him sneak up behind me, he'd let me pet him. The combination of love and fear was heartbreaking -- but he got over it.
Roxxie the terrier has always slept in our bed. The missus uses her as a sort of hairy hot-water bottle. I'm an insomniac. If I get more than five hours of sleep a night, I'm okay. If I get less, I'm a miserable neurotic wretch. And due to my back pain, there's a limit to how long I can lay down comfortably. So I usually get up for a couple of hours in the early morning. One night after Laszlo had been with us a couple of weeks, I came back to bed and saw him curled up all by himself on our couch. I thought of the missus and Roxxie and myself warm and cozy, and I scooped the little guy up and took him back to bed with me.
It was purely an act of affection influenced by pity, but it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
When I'm laying in bed in the dark, I am at the mercy of my mind. I usually go through three or four fairly serious stress reactions a night in response to compulsive fantasies of violence or other misfortunes. The missus is a lovely person, but I have made it a practice not to roll over and clutch at her, shuddering and hyperventilating, more than three or four times a year. It is not my intention to establish a hostile work environment.
But get this. These days, when it's time to go to bed? Laszlo dances around me as if we're going for a walk or it's time to be fed. So far as he's concerned, keeping me company in bed is his job. Having him next to me is a constant reminder that I am in bed to rest, not to torture myself. And when I start feeling crazy? I get ahold of him, and pet him until I calm down. He likes it, and it helps me, and it is an all-around good thing.
There has been a recent development.
Laszlo is, as the rescue worker said, an animal person. He loves other dogs and shows a keen interest in birds and other critters. But the missus and I were taken aback a few weeks ago when he started carrying a stuffed toy around. It is a chickadee, one of those disturbingly life-like stuffed animals one runs across from time to time. Laszlo doesn't use it as a chew-toy. Rather, he treats it as though it's a...
Well, a pet. My dog has a pet.
He sets it down and stares at it lovingly. He cuddles with it, and sometimes rests his head on it. And up until the last couple of days, if the missus or I set a finger on it, he'd take on an entirely out-of-character air of grievance, and take the chickadee away into the yard where we couldn't see it.
But a couple of days ago, when it was time for bed? Laszlo was sitting with the chickadee, and when I approached him, he picked up the toy bird and gazed at me winsomely, then set the bird down and looked away, abashed. He then repeated the gesture. It was as if he was saying, "Please, come on.. Oh, man, I'm sorry, I know it's too much, but... Please?"
So I put the goddamned bird on the bed, and Laszlo spent the first half of the night staring at it in rapture. The next night was the same. And last night, the bird showed up in bed without me.
This is fascinating to me. The suggestion of a much richer, more involved inner life makes a lot of sense to me, but what the hell is going on here? If he was a bitch (rather than a bastard, which is what I think we should call male dogs), I'd be able to tell myself it was a pseudo-puppy. What's really weird is the way it brings out a new emotional spectrum in Laszlo; the damned dog is serious about his bird. My best guess at this point is that he's emulating the relationships he knows, the relationships between the missus and I and Laszlo and Roxxie. I suspect he's decided he wants a pet. If that's the case, the genuine tenderness he shows reflects well on our relationship with him. His desire to keep that relationship independent of his relationship with the other organisms in the house, his growing acceptance of my interactions with his 'friend....'
Let's get this straight. I don't sleep with a stuffed animal.
But I sleep with a dog who does. There is no dignity in life, you know?