DULUTH — When I was growing up, we had a red standard dachshund named Mitzi. She loved the water and was just long enough in the body, with her little legs splayed out front and back, to balance on an inner tube, floating around whatever lake we were visiting.
My mom couldn’t swim, but she also enjoyed being in the water, so my dad always brought two inner tubes on vacation, and my mom and Mitzi would blissfully float around, tied together. I was never sure which one was driving.
One year, our Labradoodle Gus and I asked for a puppy for Christmas. Tom and I were still out on our 20 acres of woods, and having friends over was easy for me, but not so much for Gus. He seemed lonely. So right after the holiday, through a white-out blizzard, Tom and I drove to Peever, South Dakota, home of a retired dairy farmer-turned-Doodle-breeder, and picked out Rudy, the little blond guy with the bent tail and the adorable “over-the-shoulder look.” He seemed the mellowest, least bossy pup in the litter, and we knew that would sit well with Gus, the “alpha dog.”
On the way home, we wrangled about names. Eugene (after my grandfather), Rowdy Doodle and Howard were all rejected. We finally settled on Rudy, after the former governor of Minnesota. We felt that would give him something to live up to.
The thing about having one dog, is that they are your dog. They hang with you; they are part of your clan. You do stuff together. With two dogs, they form their own club, egg each other on and take turns thinking up trouble.
Gus rarely left our large yard by himself, but with Rudy, out the door meant “into the woods.” We tried tying them both up — they whined and barked. We tried tying one of them up. One whined; the other barked. Finally, Tom hit on the solution. He got about 15 feet of rope and tied them to each other. They never could agree where to go, so they didn’t go anywhere.
Before Gus and Rudy, there was Toby. He was a big, lovable barn puppy and my companion after we moved into the north woods. I was intrigued with everything woodsy, making trails down to the river, identifying the wild plants and animal scat. We had watched a local television show about a man setting up his tree stand and calling moose with a birchbark megaphone. Fascinating!
I knew we had moose on our 20 acres because I had seen their “leavings.” So one snowy day, all on our own, Toby and I headed for the northern property line, me on my snowshoes breaking trail, Toby bring up the rear. I’m standing there, about 15 acres away from my house, looking into the dense woods, and I let loose with a series of noises that I thought sounded like, “Hey, big boy; come over here and let me take your picture.” Pretty good, I thought. Toby gave me the “What! Are you crazy?” look and headed back the way we came, galloping all the way. I never thought Toby was a Ph.D., but that day, he was the smart one on the team!
You have to admit, you gotta love puppies. The first paycheck I ever earned bought a new puppy. But they take a lot of energy and can wear you out. Our current pup, Jordie, runs on two speeds: stop and go. The very minute he falls asleep, we both lie down to take a nice little nap, ourselves. Once, he woke up first –grabbed and ran away with my brand new eyeglasses and chewed them to little bits and pieces. When I found the pitiful, left-over clumps and took them into the optical shop to beg for help, they said, with a knowing smile, “oh, gotcherself a new pup, eh?” Puppies also love hearing aids. Ask me how I know.
We have several long-standing Christmas traditions in our house. One is that Santa still fills stockings for my kids, even though they are well into adulthood. I always help out by gathering some treats, some reading material to keep everyone occupied before dinner and always some funny items because I love to hear them laugh.
Another tradition is that middle son, his wife and his dog come for Christmas Eve, and we go out for Chinese food. The dog waits at home and reports on whether Santa has been there yet. One year, we came home to find that Bailey, the 165-pound Newfie, just couldn’t wait for Santa, got into my bag of treats and ate all the red wax lips that were the “ha-ha” part of the stocking stuffers. Just think about a big black Newfoundland wearing a guilty expression and red wax lips. Try not to laugh. I dare you.
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at The College of St Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.