Monday, May 01, 2017

My Dog

I grew up with dogs. I know, I know. With my allergies, how could that be? Well, I mostly stayed sick and no one realized it was the dogs, I think. Or the Christmas tree. Or any of the million other things that are on a farm that a child with bronchial issues shouldn't be near. It was a different time and such things weren't given much thought.

We had inside dogs and outside dogs. We had Dalmatians, poodles, collie mixes, and mutts. I think there was a German Shepherd in there somewhere.

After I married, I quickly found out that I was going to be alone a great deal. I worked so the 8-6 hours weren't so bad, but the nights were deadly. At the time we lived right on the Blacksburg Road and the cement trucks constantly rumbled down the two lanes of asphalt, their brakes grinding as they began descending the small incline that started near the house we rented.

About this time of year in 1984, I went to the flea market. A friend of my husband's sat with a litter of pups, mixed mutts she was giving away. Part Eskimo Spitz and part Terrier, she said, the result of an clandestine and unwanted affair between her dog and a neighbor's pet. They were about 12 weeks old. She had several left, and I picked up the solid black one.

She came home with me. I put her in a box in the basement with an alarm clock to keep her company. She was tiny then, but quickly grew, though I don't think she ever weighed more than 30 pounds. I could always pick her up.

About the time I adopted Ginger, I visited an allergist and was told the dog needed to be outside. Ginger actually preferred to be outside,  I think. Once we built her a pen and a dog house, she seldom attempted to come inside even when I tried to coax her in. I hated to put her in a pen but with the traffic on Blacksburg Road we couldn't leave her to run free while we lived so close to the road.

After we built our house and moved in 1987, we had a difficult time keeping her here. We let her run loose because we are about 1/4 mile from the road. However, she would find her way back to our old house, which was on the other side of the farm. I had to fetch her many times before she finally figured out home was not there anymore.


Ginger (left) facing down a raccoon while the neighbor's dog watched.

Her biggest and wildest chase occurred in the middle of the night the second summer we were in our new home. I was alone and asleep. She woke me with her frantic barking. I climbed out of the bed and turned on the exterior lights to find a skunk on the front porch, spraying the cedar wood siding, the dog, and everything in between. The smell was atrocious and choking. It really should be used as sprays for police use. That is some strong stuff.

Anyway, I went out the back door with a handkerchief over my face to keep from gagging. No amount of calling would bring Ginger from her prey. The air was so heavy with skunk odor that you couldn't breathe. Finally, in desperation, I called my husband at the firehouse and woke him at 2 a.m. to ask him what I was supposed to do. I couldn't shoot the skunk because I'd be aiming at the house. What if I missed?

He said he would come home, but by the time he arrived I'd figured out that I needed to turn the water hose on the dog to get her away from the skunk. He pulled in the driveway in time to see the skunk race down the hill in the front yard and into the field while I grabbed a soaking wet and stinking dog.

The dog reeked for a month despite numerous baths, and for years, even with  repeated washings with Dawn, Mr. Clean, tomato juice and anything else we could think of, the front porch smelled like skunk when it rained. I lost a pair of tennis shoes and clothing in that incident - they smelled too bad to save.

This is her pen from when we were renting. She ran free
after we built our house.

She seemed to like snow. I think it was the Eskimo Spitz influence.

Still, she stayed outside. Even when the temperatures dropped below freezing I had a difficult time coaxing her into the garage. She wasn't house trained and I always put out newspapers when I brought her out of the bad weather, but she seemed to know she wasn't supposed to "go" in the house regardless. Until she aged, she managed to hold it and then race outside when I opened the door. After she turned 10 or so, she looked forlornly at me if she made a mess, even though I didn't scold. It wasn't like we'd trained her to be an inside dog, after all.

She also had a way of letting us know we had annoyed her, especially when we went on trips and left her in the care of my in-laws. She would ignore me for days upon our return, and then finally I would be forgiven. I had to give her a great deal of attention to get back into her good graces, though.

Ginger seldom stayed still, and when my vehicle came up the driveway she would dance around the yard. Even when she was 17 (yes, 17!) and near the end of her life, she stood up and wandered over to the driveway when she heard the car.

She was hard to photograph.

Her dog house behind her. We put cedar in it.

I was glad when we didn't have to pen her anymore.

The only time she was sick was when she about 10 years old. I came home from work and she didn't greet me. I immediately began looking for her, and found her whimpering near the fence in the woods. She was alive but obviously something was wrong. I couldn't find any bites on her, and it was after 5 p.m. and I feared I wouldn't be able to get help for her. I carried her to the house and laid her on a rug, then raced to the phone (no cellphones back then) and called the vet. Fortunately he was still working and said he would wait for me to bring her in. He kept her for two days but we never did know what was wrong with her. He suspected some kind of snake bite but could not find puncture wounds. Antibiotics helped whatever it was.

After I began working from home, many times during the day I would go to the back door and talk to her. All I had to do was peck on the glass and she'd suddenly be there. I still miss that.

She died in May 2001, about seven months after I'd lost my mother. She'd been my dog for a very long time, so long that I forgot she was 119 in dog years. We must have done a fairly decent job of caring for her, since she lived so long.

We did not get another dog after she passed away. I'd had her for so long I couldn't bear to replace her. I think it took me a year to stop looking for her, dancing her doggy dance of delight in the yard when my car pulled in.



Taking a rest during one of our walks.


She liked the creeks, too. Looks like we might have
been feeding her a bit too much in this photo!

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