Dear One and All,
Roxy is looking at me like she wants to go for a walk but I don't really believe her since I just opened the patio door for her to go out and take care of biz and she just stared long and hard at the puppy deep puddles and opted to hold it...What a grey and gloomy day for our usual sunny CA...maybe we'll just play a little game of indoor catch and hope we don't destroy another lamp (but that's another story)...
Roxy sure loves her little soft leopard-colored squeak ball and all in all she's pretty good with it. Good...but not like Ripley. Ripley was incredible!
The Case of the Creaking Chair
© Ari Dane 2010
Want to go for a walk?
Personally, I never cared much for that old rocking chair and the way the damn thing creaks when you get out of it. For the life of me, I can’t remember how it came to be in our possession though it must have been at least three moves and twenty some years ago. I guess it’s the kind of thing you always say you’ll get rid of when you find the right thing to replace it with and then never end up finding, so you just sort of hold on to it till it becomes, as they say, part of the furniture in your own personal universe.
The frame was still good but the cushions and springs were shot long before we ever jerry-rigged some towels and rags for padding and covered the sorry affair with an eight dollar Mexican woven rug we picked up on Olvera Street in downtown LA. Didn’t really look like much but then again it didn’t look bad either, just sorta’ blended in with the rest of our, I suppose you might say, eclectic décor, which is a euphemistic way of saying it’s a bunch of weird stuff we like with one thing having nothing to do with the other, but somehow or other makes sense, if you know what I mean, and if you don’t, then you probably shop at Ethan Allen, not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, if you do shop at Ethan Allen, then your rocker probably doesn’t creak like mine does which becomes real pertinent later on in this story.
Anyway, like I said, I didn’t care for it near as much as did Ripley. He absolutely loved it and at times it seemed like he just lived in it. Curled up, happy as could be, dreaming his little doggie dreams. Oh, yes, you non-pet owners, they do dream. Those little front paws twitch with the rhythm of running a mountain trail or through a summertime meadow and their breathing fluctuates and sometimes you even see a smile upon their face.
He could have been a circus dog. Half Cairn Terrier like Toto from the Wizard of Oz and half Basset Hound, hence the name Ripley for, of course, Believe it or Not. Didn’t look like either one but definitely closer to the former than the latter and weighed in at just under sixteen pounds most of his adult life.
To say he was bright, affectionate and as loyal a companion one might hope for in the canine persuasion would not set him apart from any of his ilk you might have the pleasure of acquaintance of in your own experience. But, this little guy was special and some of his skills were worthy of comment, in particular, his athletic prowess with a bouncing blue rubber sphere.
In his prime he was a natural and marvel to behold and if parallels were to be drawn it would have to be with the likes of a Michael Jordan for, to quote some of my friends who engaged him on his own turf, “Ripley doesn’t play catch…Ripley has moves!!!”
For instance, if the ball were thrown just right over his shoulder, he would rise several feet in a floating motion, pluck the missile from thin air, execute a perfect back flip, gently place his prize on the tarmac and with laser precision, gently kiss the tip of the ball with his nose and roll it in the direction of your cupped hands as surely as if he were sinking an eight ball in the center pocket. Yeah, he had “moves” and was without question the master at his game which he would play incessantly and, even without a human partner, he would amuse himself for hours on end rolling and nosing that ball around.
Many’s the time I observed him planning and experimenting as he lined up his shots and executed various angle filled combinations across the slick, tiled kitchen floor. Again and again he would practice each move till he could pull it off with an unerring perfection. What do I know? Maybe in a prior life he was William Tell or Robinhood. If he was as proficient with a bow and arrow I would have confidently stood with my back to the tree and smiled as I placed the apple upon my own head. And they say dogs don’t have deductive reasoning. Bull. Anyone who says that never knew Ripley.
I’ll give you another few examples of my observations, like Raleigh, a white shepherd named for the hotel in the Catskill Mts. where I found her sitting on the front steps abandoned, along with her nine darker colored siblings, waiting for the local dog catcher to cart them off to the pound.
She was such a pretty little thing and the perfect pet, I thought, for my friend Lora Lee, who I felt sure would fall in love with her… but…didn’t… and so, Raleigh became ours. All, eventual ninety, white, fluffy, shedding pounds of her.
Raleigh’s spark of genius and claim to fame was a rather complicated game of her own invention involving perhaps ten or so doggie toys of bones, balls, tied rags and twisted rawhide. Noteworthy here is she had a specific hiding place for each item in her collection and would always return them when finished with her play. Who ever knew dogs could be neat?
With an obvious single mindedness, she would gather her treasures from beneath the couch, behind the drapes and between the cushions of the living room chairs and line them up in an exact order at the top of our split level flight of wooden stairs, and then… one by one…nudge them over to bounce and clatter to the landing below where she would bound after them, and…one by one, retrieve and return them to their assigned place only to repeat the process for sometimes what seemed like an eternity.
We were enthralled with her ingenuity…that is until the time she started to perform this little miracle at 4:00AM and we decided to curtail her Sir Isaac Newton experimentation. Still, I dare you to tell me she was not thinking and reasoning every bounce and clatter of the way!
And then there was Crispin, a character if ever there was one. He was supposed to be a Yorkie when, in what seemed like overnight, these long legs dropped out of his body kind of like a little furry stork and he topped out at twenty eight pounds and we exclaimed, Whoops! That ain’t no Yorkie! Matter of fact, he kind of looked a lot like Tramp from the Disney flick. But, by then we were more than attached and so he stayed around for about seventeen years, which is pretty decent in dog life expectancy.
Yeah, he was an independent little cuss who had an incredible attention span and more of a fascination with the working of any hand held tool than I ever did. Pliers, scissors, hammer, screwdriver, drill and bit, it didn’t matter. Work with anyone of them and his attention was rivited. He also could and would obey any command with the caveat being…if he wanted to… Like Ripley, Crispin also enjoyed a good game of catch …only thing was, if you threw it, or anything else for that matter, he figured if you threw it away you obviously didn’t want it, so… he’d never bring it back. Once, when he was a puppy, I tried to entice him to swim in a lake and he refused to dive in. In a last ditch effort, I threw a stick out over the waves and he fetched. From that point on he was a water puppy…but only if I threw the stick first… and… I’ll never forget the day we went fishing in a reservoir in up-state NY.
I parked off the side of the blacktop and unloaded the trunk as an excited and impatient Crispin darted ahead while I struggled with my fishing gear down the embankment through the dense forest, arriving at the rugged ten to fifteen foot escarpment overlooking the choppy water in time to see Crispin dragging what appeared to be a redwood in his mouth, drop it over the edge of the cliff with a splash great enough to alert any hookable fish in the county, and dive in after it!
Did he want to play? Did he want to swim? Was fetch and swimming part and parcel to his way of thinking even if it meant he had to throw the stick himself? As funny as it was to watch, whatever the answer, he knew what he wanted and acted accordingly.
The examples I have cited thus far , Ripley’s expertise with a ball and elevating it to an art form, Raleigh’s inventive cause and effect game, Crispin’s initiative in going for a swim, are all based on their natural instincts of hunting, gathering and retrieving. It is how they built on these attributes and applied their knowledge to problem solving that amazes me.
On another occasion which seems right out of a Lassie movie…In the mid-seventies my wife and I were living in a trailer, I won’t dignify it by calling it a mobile home, on the grounds of the Green Acres Hotel, formerly the Roxy, on a winding, dangerous stretch of two lane black top called route 52 in Loch Sheldrake NY, with a pretty shade of short-haired blonde with big brown eyes and floppy ears little Heinz 57 mixed breed girl puppy named Calev…which , in case you were wondering, is the Hebrew word for “dog”.
Calev had a friend named Rikki who belonged to the family who owned the resort. She was a very small German Shepherd and without question one of the brightest canines I’ve ever known. For one thing, she had street smarts. She understood what traffic was all about. A useful skill considering where we lived cars appeared from out of nowhere and zoomed by at high speed. You could see the intelligence in her eyes and demeanor. When you spoke to her you had the distinct feeling she not only understood what you said,but if she wanted to, she could hold up her end of the conversation.
Rikki was mostly a loner and outside of her immediate human family didn’t care for a lot of people or other dogs, for that matter. The exception was me and Calev. We had a connection. I remember how her family was surprised on the occasion she had a litter and would allow no one to venture near her off-spring. Yet, when they were less than a week old, she left them long enough to come to my trailer, bark at my door to get my attention, and then take my hand in her mouth to lead me to her house and the closet where her puppies awaited her return. Make of this what you will, but I know she wanted to show them off to me.
Unfortunately, the next time she came for me was on a tragic note. This time when I opened my door to her insistent bark I could tell from her tone and action it was a more urgent need. Once again, she took my hand in her mouth, but this time she led me down the long steep driveway to the highway and around the bend to where Calev had been struck by a car. I’m sorry to say there was no happy ending. With tears in my eyes and hoping against hope I rushed Calev to the vet, but it was too late. Still, in my book, Rikki will always be a hero. She recognized a problem and figured out the best solution was me.
Ripley, Crispin, Raleigh, Calev, Rikki, I loved them all. Each in their own way was special and each at one point or other displayed an unexpected flash of intelligence by utilizing deductive reasoning to solve a problem. How else would you explain their actions?
For those of you who do not have the desire or opportunity to share your lives with a pet, I feel a great deal is missed by their absence. Granted, they are not always convenient and it hurts so much when they depart, but hey, that’s the price of admission.
Gotta’ give it to him, Ripley was cool to the end. Yeah, in the last year or so he slowed down. His eyesight and hearing failed and he retired from his game. And, although he still had a good appetite for dinner and would rally for a short walk, it was a far cry from the five to twelve miles a day he ran with me on the local Southern California mountain trails. I’ll be the first to admit it was sad to watch him fade. When the end came it was peaceful. In the Vet’s waiting room, moments before his appointment, he took a deep breath, stiffened and was gone.
I don’t remember exactly when it was, but a few months before he died he stopped sleeping in our bed and moved into that chair…
It’s not that I don’t appreciate sunrise, but my inner clock plus a lifetime as an entertainer make me an inveterate night person. Every few years or so I steel my resolve to reverse this cycle but eventually and inexorably find myself adrift in my natural currents floating back to the vampire hours. Most nights I am to be found writing till one or two in the morning in my office adjacent to our living room and, through the always open door, in a direct line of sight with the rocker.
It was during that hour Ripley would wake from his sleep and within a few minutes of coming to himself, with the afore-mentioned creak, vacate the chair and head for the kitchen and doggie-door, return a few moments later, drink some water from his bowl, glance in our bedroom to reassure himself my wife and other dog, Cassidy, were still where he had last seen them, visit me for a brief pet and scratch behind the ears and then return to his chair and one final creak before settling down till daybreak.
It is now almost six months since Ripley passed.
Witnesses will attest that between one and two o’clock in the morning the chair creaks.
All explanations would be subjective.
I think it might have been in the Seth Speaks series of books by Jane Roberts when I first came across the concept of pets being fragment personalities. In other words, when a soul passes on to another level or existence but still wants to retain a bit of the material plane, it leaves behind a small piece of itself in the form of a domestic pet. I don’t know if I really believe that or not but it is a comforting thought and I’ve heard worse ideas. I could see doing that.Leaving just a bit of myself behind to keep tabs on things. Maybe that’s what people really mean when they say he or she is a dog or a cat person. Of course, where this leaves the folks who like hamsters and parakeets, I haven’t a clue.
(Here's a little video of our Puppy Pals. I hope James Taylor won't mind if I borrow one of his songs...)