Monday, February 21, 2005

IT'S THIS DOG'S LIFE

If you have ever visited the Netherlands, you will know that the Dutch love their animals. You are allowed to take your dog almost anywhere, and unless the laws have changed since we lived there 1995, that includes into informal restaurants and cafes. Of course the dogs have to be chilled out and are not allowed to run around the venue. It is not uncommon to find yourself having to step over a dog as you make your way to a table or on your way out after enjoying a meal.

You never tire of watching a dog being taken for a walk in the uniquely Dutch style. If the dog can keep up, it is not unusual to see the pet owner cycling on his or her bicycle, the lead looped around the handlebars, and the dog happily running alongside the bike. The sign on the door to IKEA would never be as blatant as to say ‘NO DOGS ALLOWED’, but rather reads ONLY GUIDE DOGS ALLOWED.

Having both grown up with dogs as pets, Daniel and I decided it was time for a pet. We had moved off the houseboat into a house in Zoetermeer, and were now ready to bring a dog into our lives. We couldn’t ask for better guidance than that which we got from our friends Lizzie and Leo. These wonderful people chose pets over children, and are still today, experts in the field of raising and caring for dogs.

Our home was quite large. It was on three levels with really nice and spacious living areas, three bedrooms and a garden. My Mom was staying with us at the time and she agreed it would be nice to have a dog in the house. The middle floor had a small landing. Off the landing were the three bedrooms and the bathroom. Our bedroom was also large so we would give the dog the choice of sleeping downstairs or in our room, we didn’t mind. My Mom would prefer not to have the dog sleep in her room but as she slept with her door closed, this was not a problem anyway.

We had a long conversation with Lizzie and Leo, and armed with all the facts required, we set out to the local animal rescue center to find ourselves a dog. In the reception area, there was a large information board with Polaroid pics of the dogs available. The details about each dog were listed under the pisc. Daniel was immediately drawn to a black dog by the name of Tosca. Tosca was a medium sized mixed breed dog. We went over to the desk and said we would like to see her. We were directed to the outside viewing area and waited for her to be brought out. We got really excited as we watched other people meet and greet the dogs of their choice and in most cases, it didn’t take long for them to walk off as proud new owners. Tosca came bounding out and we spent a little time with her. At one point the dog handler attached her lead to the handle on the gate, and I wondered if the fact that she nearly twisted it right off was as a result of her excitement at all the attention she was getting from us, or if she was indeed a little crazed.

Like all the other new owners, we were soon in the car with our new dog, two silver bowls for her water and food, the collar, the lead, a blanket, food and a few toys. Tosca was not quite a puppy, but a young dog and she was quite boisterous. My Mom sat in the front of the car with Daniel and I was at the back. By the time we got home, I was somewhat irritated by the fact that Tosca insisted on standing between the driver and passenger seats which basically resulted in me having her butt in my face the entire way home. I couldn’t really move over because by sitting where I was, I was just managing to restrain her from sitting on Daniel’s lap while he was driving.

When she practically wriggled her way out of the collar, I asked Daniel if he too has noticed her strength and how she had nearly twisted the handle entirely off the gate during the viewing. He was sure, as I had thought; it was just her excitement from the attention. To be honest, the dog was already starting to get on my nerves.

We got inside and the dog basically went frigging insane. She was charging, but when I say charging, I mean CHARGING around the house. Up and down the stairs, skidding on the rugs on the hard wood floors and generally just going quite nuts. We realized this all had to be quite overwhelming for her and decided she probably just loved having space after her time in the cage while waiting for her new Mommy and Daddy to come and find her. Yeah, right. I was not feeling particularly maternal towards Tosca, the Dutch dog at this point in time.

Much like with a small child, when things get too quiet in the house, best you go look to see what is going on. Before we could get upstairs to see what Tosca was doing, she arrived in the living room with the bottle of grouting cement she had found in the bathroom. Because we had gone out to get a dog, we did not think it was necessary to childproof the house. Daniel therefore did not clear the bathroom of the kit he was working with to re-do the grouting.

Tosca stood in the middle of the room with the grouting bottle in her mouth and she was biting down quite firmly on it. We were really anxious to get it from her because you don’t need to be a genius to work out that this would not digest well in her belly. As Daniel tried to ease it out her mouth, the Doberman in this mixed breed started showing through loud and clear. We suddenly became aware of her frame and the size of her paws, which looked as if they were growing by the second. As Daniel tried once more to ease the grouting container out of her mouth, she started to growl and looked totally vicious.

I came up with the bright idea that Tosca probably did not understand us because we were talking to her in English instead of Dutch. We never really learnt to speak Dutch because we always got by with English and our knowledge of Afrikaans helped a lot as well. Daniel thought this was good thinking on my part, and in the most stern voice he could come up with, he started yelling at the dog “gee my die bottle, jou stoute hond”. If you do not speak Dutch or Afrikaans, there is no way I can phonetically illustrate to you what that sounds like, but directly translated, noting the English world for bottle in the middle, he was saying “give me the bottle you bad dog!” The power struggle worsened by the minute, and I hate to admit, motivated purely by the fact that we did not want her to do herself any harm by eating the grouting, although at this point I was starting to also feel like I didn’t give a shit what happened to this dog, Daniel proceeded to do the only thing he could to get the bottle, and that was to punch her, really hard, on the side of her face. She dropped the bottle and charged off upstairs leaving us feeling like we had just fought off an intruder. Daniel, my Mom and me stood there looking at each other, totally speechless. “Don’t get freaked out”, said Daniel rubbing his knuckles, “she’ll settle down, you’ll see.”

“I’m telling you we should have paid more attention to her nearly twisting the handle off the gate and the fact that she stood with her ass in my face all the way home in the car. I am not getting a good feeling about this dog.”

As we started recovering from this most unpleasant interaction with our new pet, we heard her coming bounding back down the stairs. “Oh for fuck sake, now she’s got the grouting SPONGE in her mouth. Daniel, she can’t eat that, you have to get it away from her.”

“I promise you, I am going to moer this dog now.” [slang translation: Moer ('Moor-r')(Afrikaans - Hit, punch) Afrikaans word meaning to hit someone. "I will moer you if you take my things."]

I think Tosca totally heard Daniel’s tone and in fear of getting punched in the face again, she took the drastic step of basically, right there in front of us, in one gulp, swallowing the whole entire sponge, and believe me, this was not a small sponge.

Nobody said anything. We just all sat back down where we had been sitting before and looked at the dog that finally lay down and chilled out. If only we had known she was hungry for a sponge!

Fortunately she slept peacefully on her big new blanket at the foot of our bed. No sooner Daniel was out the house in the morning, and the nightmare started again. In one huge leap on to the bed, Tosca was lying on top of me, her snout resting on the tip of my nose. I was pinned down under her and had no idea how long we were going to remain feeling the breath out of each other’s noses on our faces. I was really scared to move. Her claws looked huge this close up and she was darn heavy. I started speaking really nicely to her and made her all sorts of promises including serving her steak and eggs if it would help to get her off of me. After what seemed like an eternity, she eventually got off and I leapt out of bed.

I stepped out the room and was surprised to not find all the bedroom doors open. My Mom would always be up ahead of me and have all the bedroom doors and windows open.

“Mom?” I called out.
“Yes.”
“What’s going on, where are you?”
“I’m in my room.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine, but I’m not coming out until that dog is out of the house!”
“Really, why, what happened?”
“She ate my slipper.”
“What?”
“She ATE my slipper”
“Your whole slipper?”
“Yes, my whole slipper, I only have one left now.”

I went to the phone downstairs and called Daniel at work.

“Hello” he said.
“Daniel, I am sorry to ask you to do this, but you have to come home and get this dog and take it back to where she came from.”
“Why, what’s going on now?””Well, she pinned me down in the bed this morning for about 5 minutes, and when I came out, Mom was sounding like the lady from the ‘Young Frankenstein’ movie when she was telling him to put the candle back.”
“Why, what did she do to Mom?”
“Ate her whole entire slipper!”
“Shit!”
“Exactly. I think you need to just put this down to a major error of judgment on your part and you really need to get off your point of view about not wanting a small dog. I am speaking to Lizzie and Leo and going to ask them to help find us a Yorkshire Terrier, they are the best dogs.”
“Ok, I’ll come take Tosca back, she is a bit of a crazy one, but I really don’t want a dog as small as a Yorkie.”
“Just come take Tosca back for now, bye.”
“Bye.”

Within an hour Tosca was back where she came from, the windows were open in all the bedrooms and life started getting back to normal in our household.

Within a couple of days Lizzie had found us a breeder in The Hague and once again, Daniel and I were in the car on our way to go get our puppy.

I knew how totally cute and adorable Yorkie puppies were, as I had owned one in South Africa. The breeder came to the door with the puppy in her hand, and I saw Daniel fall instantly in love with her. When we were leaving the apartment, Daniel asked the woman if she perhaps had something warm we could wrap the puppy in. It was winter and freezing outside and we had in fact come unprepared as far as Daniel the large dog lover was concerned. We said our goodbyes and Daniel carried the dog to the car wrapped in a cosy flannel lumberjack type shirt, which belonged to the breeder’s son. I told you the Dutch loved their pets! As he was handing her to me, as much as I was totally in love with her already, I couldn’t help reminding Daniel that she was actually a dog and it was not a new born infant he was passing me.

That was all some ten years ago. Pingy crept into our hearts the moment we laid eyes on her. By the time we left Holland to go back to England, I was 6 months pregnant with Ross. Quarantine laws were still in place in England and we were adamant that Pingy was not going into quarantine. By traveling on the train through the channel tunnel, we managed to sneak her into England in the bottom of my handbag. She survived her immigration to the USA where there are thankfully no quarantine laws.
Over the years, Pingy has created her little routines. When we lie in bed and watch TV, she sits on my lap. The moment the TV goes off, she moves over to Daniel’s side of the bed, he lifts the covers; she crawls in and sleeps practically glued to his hip. We always have a special little doggy step next to our bed that makes it possible for her to climb up.

Last week, Pingy had her period, so we removed the step, which forced her to sleep in her basket. This was hard for her and Daniel. She was standing next to his bed, scratching at the side, and crying to get up, but of course, under the circumstances, was sent back to her basket.

On the third night, I walked into our bedroom to find Daniel folding his fleece sweater into her basket and covering her with it.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Well, I want her to be warm and I don’t want her to be lonely.”

It was very touching, especially seeing how Pingy was snuggling into the fleece, clearly smelling this wonderful person who had not wanted a small dog all those years ago.
I walked away with a smile on my face thinking, “when I come back in my next life, I really want it to be as Daniel’s bitch!”
PROMISE: None of the animals were hurt or harmed in any way and both have gone on to lead happy and healthy lives!
UPDATE ~ 2/22/05: I thought it was worth mentioning that when I was taking the pic of Pingy all shnoogled up in the fleece in her basket, Marti walked down the hall saying, "nobody treats US like that when we get OUR period!" I couldn't agree more and thought this was worth a mention!

 
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