Friday, January 16, 2015

A Dog in the Life

In my last post, I used a weaving term, "dog on the loom," and mentioned how I felt that was demeaning to dogs.  Dogs have been a part of my life almost from the beginning.  I can't really imagine not having dogs around, although there are times when I claim that life would be easier without them.  Easier, perhaps, but not nearly as fulfilling.

Dinah, the Ur-MinPin with Me on my Skates
Early 1950s, Laurel, Montana

When I was a small child, my parents decided that every boy should have a dog.  For some reason they headed over to the Paradise Valley south of Livingston and picked up a small black dog that had just been weaned.  I do not remember any time without Dinah in my early life, but apparently I was old enough to talk as the story I grew up with is that my parents asked me to name the pup and I said "Dinah."  I guess someone else in our acquaintance had a black dog with that name.  Dinah curled up on the floor at my mother's feet and rode the 100+ miles home to Laurel without any complaint.  That did it.  She was not my dog, but my mothers from that point on.

Dinah was a fierce protector though.  The thing about Miniature Pinschers is that they have absolutely no idea how small they really are.  Bred originally as ratters, they can be absolutely fearless.  Dinah would take on any dog that dared to come near our home, and once, on top of Skalkaho Pass, she took on a bear.  Mother thought we'd lost the dog at that point, but no, the bear took off for the tall timber rather than face such a concentrated bundle of fury.

She lived for fifteen years, and when she died, Mother said "No more.  I can't take it."  That was in the mid 1960s.  In 1969, after a month in Montana with my friend John, I returned with Hans, a purebred Keeshond, in the car.  Mother took one look at Hans and said, "That's a nice dog you have, John."  When John replied, "He's not my dog, Mrs. Spellman," Mother came back with "Oh yes he is, John, because he's not ours."  But, sure enough, I moved into an apartment in Berkeley, and Hans stayed with my parents.  When I moved to Montana, I wanted to bring Hans with me, but Mother said no.  "He's my dog!"

Gotta Love the Hair
Sandra Stedinger, Me, and Yazzie
Cross Country Skiing at Chief Joseph Pass, Montana
Winter 1976

Living in Montana, in a log cabin in the woods, I had to have a dog, and since Hans was still in California with Mother, Animal Control in Missoula furnished me with a Cairn Terrier with the very un-Scottish name of Yazzie.  Yazzie might have had a Navajo name (Yazzie means little in the Diné language), but he was a true Scotsman, er dog.  Whenever we would march with the Scottish Heritage Society in various parades, Yazzie would walk along patiently until the pipes started playing.  Then he would puff out his chest, raise his head, and proudly strut down the avenue as long as the pipes played.

Jr. was my first "second" dog.  My partner at the time, Forrest Moon, had brought his dog with him into the family.  Crescent Moon was a pure-bred Chinese Crested, but one of the throwbacks that is fully furred.  I wanted another MinPin, but Forrest was afraid of Doberman and wanted nothing that even remotely appeared to be one.  When we learned that our friend Tom Freeman had a pregnant bitch, we went to visit after the pups were born.  Mother, Little Bit, was a miniature shepherd, and the supposed father was a MinPin.  There were five puppies in the litter: two black and rust MinPins, two tiny Shepherds, and one, the runt of the litter, that was all white expect for one red ear and a red ring around the opposite eye.  We immediately said "That's our dog!"  and when Tom called us to say "Your dog's ready," we raced to St. Ignatius and brought him home.  We named him Jr. and allowed as that name could be read as either "Junior" or "J.R."  My life with Jr. lasted longer than the relationship with Forrest, but Jr. developed cancer, and on a visit to California, I took him to my mother's vet who administered the shot that put him to sleep in my arms.  It was almost more than I could bear.

Baby Jr. on my shoulder
Late 1980s, Missoula, Montana

On the way home from that trip, I stopped at a rest area just north of Grants Pass, Oregon, and before I could get out of my truck, an Asian woman approached.  She was driving a large motor home and was having mechanical problems.  For some reason she figured I would know what was wrong, poor mistaken fool that she was, but I went over and climbed under her rig where I saw a hose just dangling.  I suggested that she return to Grants Pass rather than try to climb the mountains to Roseburg, and as I straightened up, I noticed several ribbons hanging from her mirror.  Turns out she was in the business of raising and showing Miniature Pinschers.  We had a brief conversation about the breed, and when she learned that I had just had Jr. put down, she asked if I wanted another dog.  Long story short, when she got to Missoula for the Five Valleys Kennel Club Show in June, I picked up Speedy, a beautiful stag red MinPin who became the new love of my life.

From that time till now there has not been a moment without dogs in my life.  While living with Speedy, I learned of a dog over in Wallace, Idaho, that needed a new home.  My partner Gary and I took Speedy with us and went to visit Faylene.  Speedy and Faylene played well together, and in another couple of weeks, there were four of us at home.  Then we got a call from our friend Lance who worked with the Bitterroot Humane Society in Hamilton, Montana.  They had a MinPin who needed a new home.  Gary and I drove to Hamilton, and adopted Rocky.  Both Faylene and Rocky developed diabetes, and needed to have insulin shots twice a day.  As we began preparations for a vacation trip to Puerto Vallarta, we needed to find someone who could administer those shots.  Finding someone to house/dog sit is one thing.  Finding someone willing to shoot your dog twice a day is another matter entirely.

A visit to the Missoula Humane Society got us a connection to someone who could do just that, and by the way, we have a MinPin here, would you like to see her?  One thing led to another, and that's when Minnie entered our lives.  We now had four Miniature Pinschers in the house, two with diabetes, and one the tiniest thing we'd ever seen (well, apart from Jr. when we first got him).  Minnie is still with us, the oldest of the now five MinPins who share our lives.  I fear that her time is almost over as she's at least fifteen years old now and is getting a bit feeble.  But spunk?  Boy does she have spunk.  Unfortunately, she does not really have any bladder control these days, so she has been banished from our bed.  (The other four still sleep with us.)  This morning, I took her into the shower with me and gave her a bath which she desperately needed.  While Kevin dried her off, I took my shower trying to get all the short black hairs off my body.  She smells better now, but it won't last.  Tonight, while she's asleep, she'll undoubtedly pee all over herself again.  She has trouble standing up, but she'll run across the room to be with me, and once outside, she runs all over the yard.  Did I say she has spunk?

Minnie after her bath
Plains, Montana
January 15th, 2015

The remainder of our pack?  There's Gypsy who came to live with me while I was in California looking after Mother during the last year of her life.  My profile picture for this blog shows me holding Gypsy on a southern Oregon beach.  I'll never forget the first time I put Gypsy on Mother's bed in the nursing home.  Momma looked at this small black dog and said, "Is that my Dinah?"  "No, Momma.  She just looks like Dinah."  Gypsy spent a lot of time at the nursing home with me.  Major came to us when a friend found him running loose in an industrial area.  We placed an ad, but no one responded, so he became our boy.  Harley was an owner turn in at the Bitterroot Humane Society.  He's a love, but he has moments when he turns into Cujo in seconds.  I'm sure that's why he was turned in, but my question is, what did that family do to make him so aggressive?  And finally, there's Rocky II, whom we saw at PetSmart in Missoula when we were going in to buy another 40 pound bag of Eukanuba.  Life Savers Animal Rescue from Polson was there with various dogs available for adoption.  What can I say, Rocky left with us.

I consider all of our dogs "rescues."  None came from a pet store or breeder.  If you have it in your heart to add an animal to your life, you can't beat taking a shelter animal into your home.  It will enrich your days more than anything you can imagine.

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