Thursday, November 29, 2007

Friends Til the End

Lesson Number 5: You've Gotta Have Friends, part two

In April, Jim finished his sea duty rotation and was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago, Illinois for shore duty. I had just graduated from college, so we packed up our stuff and moved north. My parents lived in Milwaukee at that time, and invited us, along with their “Granddog”, to stay with them so we could take extra time to find a place to live. We were happy for the offer but nervous about Bijoux meeting Dapple, who was thirteen years old at the time, and Willie and Sandy, her eleven-year-old sons. Because the three miniature dachshunds were so much older, we weren’t sure how they would respond to our puppy, or she to them. My mom was nervous also, and we put much thought into the introduction. Mom and Dad lived across the street from a big field, and when we arrived at the house I took Bijoux there, to wait for the others. A few minutes later, my mom crossed the street with the three dachshunds on their leashes. They barked and as I remember it, Bijoux was nervous and slightly overwhelmed. My mom and I got down on the ground with the dogs—something that my dad still laughs about to this day—and let them sniff each other before we all went into the house. From that point on, although the age difference prevented any real interest in playing together, the four dogs tolerated one another just fine. Whenever Bijoux “got out of line” by trying to impose her puppy self on Dapple, Dapple would growl and snap, and Bijoux invariably ended up just lying down—completely still and calm—next to her.

Occasionally, Bijoux’s “friends” weren’t of the canine variety. She would smell a rabbit or a squirrel nearby and take off running, trying to find it. If we happened to be inside the house, she would whine and paw at the door, as if she were a bull trying to get out of confinement. When she was after something, she could get all the way across the yard practically before the screen door could re-latch itself!

When Jim left the Navy for a civilian job in 1995, we moved to our current town. Bijoux was a real trooper about the move (this was her 4th house in five years!), and we were overjoyed when we learned that our new neighbors brought a puppy into their home. His name was Rudy, and he was a Boxer. Although Rudy and Bijoux rarely played in the same yard, they spent hours running back and forth along their respective side of the chain-link fence that was between them. In fact, occasionally they had another partner in crime: that fall our older son was three and a half, and even he was astounded at how much fun he could have, running alongside a fence with two dogs!

We moved away from Rudy in 1997, to the other side of town. Unfortunately, it would be three more years before Bijoux “found” another friend. This one, however, would carry her to the end. Minnie was a Schnoodle (schnauzer/poodle mix), and she was adorable. My friend brought Minnie into her home directly from the breeder, and we introduced her to Bijoux almost immediately. At this point, Bijoux was an “old girl” of ten, which made Minnie the “young whippersnapper”. I was uncertain at first about whether Bijoux would accept Minnie (and whether her 50+ pounds would crush Minnie’s 7 pounds!), but as it turned out, I was silly for worrying about it. Bijoux knew what she was doing, and although she began her friendship with Minnie in a diva-like attitude, she learned to “leave her ego at the door”. The first time that Minnie came to our house, the dogs were racing around within 30 minutes. It was definitely reminiscent of Bijoux’s relationship with Rex, only this time Bijoux was in charge. I laughed as she continuously pushed Minnie to the ground with her chin, just as Rex had done ten years before, and when she tired of playing, she would growl at Minnie, letting her know that Playtime was over. To me, this was better than television, and nobody could understand how I could just sit and watch two dogs play for as long as I did. The truth is, it not only gave me a good laugh, but I was genuinely so happy for Bijoux, as she was having such a great time and finally getting some quality exercise!

Minnie became a regular visitor to our home, and that Thanksgiving we took care of her for four days while her family went to Ohio. I had no problem leaving the two dogs home alone together if I needed to do so, and now and then we would take them both for a car ride. As our family relaxed in the family room, Bijoux and Minnie would often sleep curled up next to each other. It was a sweet picture.

Two more dogs came into our lives at Christmas time, and coincidentally they were both beagles! Buddy was a Christmas gift for our next-door neighbor’s son, and Maxie was the family dog of our friends who lived on the next block.

Buddy was the only dog I have ever seen Bijoux run from upon first sniff. He was an adorable puppy and, in fact, resembled the puppy that Bijoux used to be. But looks didn’t mean anything to her. Bijoux became immediately annoyed at Buddy’s bark, his nipping, and his pouncing. In fact, he made her downright nervous! She did everything she could to get away from him, all while he did everything he could to get near her. Not wanting to force the issue, we just prevented Bijoux from being on the same side of the fence with Buddy. He was persistent, though…he would stand on his side of the fence, howling at her, begging her to come over to him. She wouldn’t give him the time of day.

Maxie was a different story. Also a spirited sort of beagle—-one eye always had to be on her when there was food in the area because she was known for jumping up onto a dining room chair and eating whatever was on the table—-Maxie eventually became an accepted friend. Maxie was another dog, to Jim’s initial dismay, that I offered to care for while her family was on vacation. Bijoux and Maxie didn’t run around the house together; Maxie had shorter legs and moved much faster than Bijoux could. It seemed as though, somehow, Bijoux had let Maxie know that although she was welcome in our home, her youthful silliness would be neither tolerated nor acknowledged. Their relationship mostly consisted of an initial greeting, tails wagging, and then mere glances across the room in a simple parallel existence.

As time passed, Minnie continued her frequent visits, and we would often have her over for the day for no other reason than to keep Bijoux’s company. Minnie made Bijoux happy, and in the spring of 2001 we would find out that she was good for Bijoux in other ways as well.

I took Bijoux to Dr. Heflin for her yearly check-up and shots in May. As always, the first item on the agenda was to weigh her. I did a double take when I saw the scale hit 46 pounds. When I expressed concern (and a little panic!) at the read, Dr. Heflin checked Bijoux’s records from the last time she visited, in the summer of 2000. Indeed, she had weighed in at a hefty 53 pounds (Blognote: Bijoux was overweight but was indeed a large beagle, unlike Roxie, our current beagle who is a waif-like 27 pounds). Dr. Heflin also became slightly alarmed, and as we discussed what could be happening, I realized that it was quite possible that Bijoux had finally lost her extra weight because of her new, intense exercise regimen: running around like a crazy dog with her friend Minnie two to three times each week. Dr. Heflin agreed, but recommended blood work, just to be sure. When I received the call three days later, I learned that the tests showed nothing to be concerned about; in fact, they indicated that Bijoux was quite healthy, especially for her age. With a sigh of relief, we went on with life: although over the next 2 years Bijoux and Minnie ran together less and less due to Bijoux’s advanced age, she remained at a healthy weight.

More importantly, it was Minnie who always got Bijoux to perk up near the end. Her visits were lovely surprises to Bijoux, and I am so thankful for that.