jewel and the rascal

By jewel, I mean of course Lady Brown. She’s been a source of much joy and delight, it’s pure pleasure having her with us. How she survived being homeless for the past 5 or 6 years and yet retained her sweet, trusting nature is a wonder. But then again she combines the best of her mix of Labrador and Podenco (a Valencian hunting breed) genes — her robust frame and sweet nature from the former, and her small (in proportion to her body) pointy head and sad but wise eyes from the latter. From both lineages have come her intelligence and superb observation skills, that have enabled her to live for years on her own, bereft of food and permanent shelter and a caring family. Perhaps as a result she has learned to take things as they come. She is also extraordinarily perceptive and affectionate, using her tongue variably as greeting, endearment, detector for how anyone in her pack is feeling, and if she feels it is needed, a comforting and reassuring touch — her version of a hug. She’s not too keen on being hugged though, though she’s not averse to light stroking on her back or head. Occasionally she will lay one or both paws on my arm, or put her head on my lap when I’m sitting, especially when we’re in the car. If she doesn’t see me up in the morning, she’ll come to the bedroom and satisfied that I’m okay, will go back to her usual daytime spot on the veranda sofa. Because of her calm, all-accepting, sweet nature, I call her our Zen dog.

lady-b-portrait1-cropped-fab

Hunter, on the other hand, is just the opposite — ever the naughty rascal, mostly due to immaturity rather than intent. He’s likely younger than two years old and thus behaves no differently from an irresponsible, irrepressible, incorrigible teen. As well perhaps because of having been mistreated previously, he is extremely wary and fearful (less of women however), but once his trust has been earned, he becomes truly devoted, and his innate affectionate nature comes to the fore. He loves nothing better than being stroked lovingly on his head and body, and as his fur is so silky-smooth, it is as much a pleasure for the person doing the stroking as it is for him. He curls and shakes his body in unabashed delight when you do this — twisting his head towards his tail and pressing his body ever closer to you in what I call his pretzel pose. And when you stroke his chin, he gazes straight into your eyes with grateful affection. Throughout the day, he’ll come to see what you’re up to and gaze longingly into your eyes. He does know how to capture your attention and ultimately your heart.

hunter-portrait-fin

Both dogs were subdued and diffident when we took them in, and I suspected they might not have or had lost the ability to bark, particularly in Lady Brown’s case. But after a few days, Hunter assumed his self-assigned role as defender of the pack and its territory. However he’s unclear about the territory’s extent, so he barks indiscriminately: at the neighbours’ dogs, neighbours in their yards, and every vehicle that passes by. With his youthful energy, he can bark non-stop, and that gets a bit grating. Lady B rarely barks, but when she does, it is usually for support if she feels he’s being threatened by the dogs next door (M calls them the Hooligans). She’s that protective of him. Her barking voice is unexpectedly deep and gruff, pitched quite low. What we’d thought at first was Hunter’s bark turned out to be actually hers. His is much higher pitched than hers — tenor-like, if you will.

Hunter’s relentless barking was triggered, we suspect, by one of the older construction workers. The man, who has a cottage up the mountain, admitted to always being barked at by Hunter in the past. The man is also a hunter, and quite likely Hunter associates his smell with his previous owner who’d maltreated him. And so throughout the veranda renovation, Hunter had to be confined indoors. Even indoors, he continued feeling frightened and would stand unmoving by the door at full attention, letting out an occasional ‘hooff’ or full-on barking. Only long and patient soothing and stroking would calm him down. His compulsive barking is perhaps also due to short-term memory: it took a good month for him to remember who M was and stop being wary in the morning. I’ve nicknamed him Our Dog of Little Brain, to add to his first, Hattori (Hanzou) Hantaa, as he moves stealthily, rather ninja-like: he can be behind you without you being aware of it.

Hunter is like the little girl with the curl — when he’s good, he’s truly lovable. But when he’s bad, he gets on everyone’s nerves, including Lady Brown’s. After two months, we figured both pets were sufficiently attached to us that we could unleash them at the beach. What a joy it was to watch them running gleefully side by side along the wet sand. It was the first time we’d seen Lady Brown match Hunter’s rapid running pace. We’d always assumed she was incapable of much expenditure of energy, because she’d be panting heavily after an hour’s walk. But that day, she matched Hunter stride for stride and bounded and leapt with unexpected vigour. Amazing what improved nutrition can do. Hunter then headed inland towards the street, and of course she followed, turning our delight to worry. Fortunately a wall blocked their way and they headed back.

A fortnight later at another beach, we unleashed them anew. Both had such fun sniffing the sand and getting their paws wet. And once again seeing them — especially her — running with such gusto was so gratifying, until he began to race at great speed towards the high-rise condos in the far-off distance. Even she realized he’d gone too far. She stopped at once, looked in our direction, and came running back. Meanwhile he pressed on wildly, not sparing a glance in our direction. Admittedly, his running form is truly wonderful to behold, but we became anxious. Eventually he turned back, perhaps because he sensed she was no longer beside him. We assumed he was going to join us directly, but his eyes focussed straight ahead, and it was then that Lady showed a side of her we’d never witnessed before. She charged straight into him — a running tackle — and although muscular, Hunter’s young, lighter body didn’t stand a chance with her mature robust frame — several kilos heavier — ramming into him. That was a sight to see: our mild-mannered, sweet Lady B, roughly disciplining unruly Hunter. He was thrown up into the air and twisted and turned over into a somersault, clearly winded and subdued enough to be clipped to the leash. We were so relieved, but told him firmly he’d been a naughty boy.

He has since grown more wayward. I’ve read that his breed — the short-haired German pointer — is notorious for escaping, but I assumed he’d have no reason for doing so. Several times each night, Lady B comes into our bedroom voicing her unique high-pitched whimper-whistle to let us know they need the loo. But they almost always return: she with alacrity, because she loves being indoors and her bed; he, however, takes his sweet time coming back, often as much as half an hour. Until he’s back, she shows her concern by whimper-whistling and coming to our bedroom to make us call out for him. I’m guessing her whimper-whistle is also her way of communicating with him, but I doubt if he hears it when he’s out of range. The other night, it took nearly an hour before he came back, and until then she couldn’t settle, giving her squeaky whimper every now and then in her anxiety. Once back, he quickly went to his ‘bed’ — M’s armchair, protected with loose covers (he has used his own bed only once or twice) — and immediately fell asleep. She, on the other hand, came to our room some minutes later, continuing to whimper. What now? I got out of bed and stroked her back to calm her down. But she was inconsolable. Only then did I realize this was probably her way of venting extreme annoyance at Hunter’s late return. What a rascal that Hunter is. An irresistibly handsome rascal who knows how to turn on the charm and focus all attention on him, with his affectionate pretzel contortions and his adoring gaze. Of course that’s why she’d fallen for him, as had we.

Three days ago however he didn’t return. Normally he’s so eager for food that he dances on his hind legs around M as he prepares their bowls, curious to see what special treats are in store. (They get broth and bones, pressure-cooked until the bones soften, to supplement their kibble.) It turned out the gate had been flung open by gale-force winds during the night, and he simply took the opportunity and went walkabout. M took a turn around the hamlet to find him, but we had to leave soon for a meeting. Even Lady was too upset to eat her breakfast. We took her with us and, meeting over, introduced her to a lovely beach we’d been meaning to revisit since first seeing it a year ago — the Platja Rabdells in Oliva Nova. This is in a much more natural state than the other beaches: no multi-storey developments and a river teeming with fish (there are several fishing hideouts along the banks) that empties into the sea.

Although we were anxious about Hunter, it was a welcome change to have a calm and peaceful walk at the beach, just us and Lady. (Hunter’s curiosity about everything around him means that he does not walk — he runs around M or me in circles or else pulls at the leash really hard, that it is more the dog walking me or M than vice versa.) When we got back home, a contrite and guilty-looking Hunter met us at the gate. He’d cleaned up his bowl, but left Lady’s uneaten one untouched — so unlike his normal self, as he usually tries to filch from her bowl even when she’s around. Lady was clearly mad at him: she withheld her usual greeting lick, and ignored him completely, only relenting hours later. It was difficult for us to ignore his endearing apologies — he kept pressing himself to our knees, twisting head to tail pretzel fashion, and gazing imploringly into our eyes.

Lady B is more appropriate for easy-going, laid-back oldies like us. I certainly would recommend an older person to adopt an older dog, not an energy-draining puppy. In many ways, Lady B’s Zen-like behaviour — being in the moment, never in a rush, always gentle, self-contained — is more like a cat’s than a dog’s, which suits me just fine. I’ve always been more of a cat person, and this is the first time I’ve actually begun to understand and thereby grown to love dogs. Hunter, typical teenager that he is, thoroughly bursts with curiosity and vigour. He’s hardly ever still. Just watching this nervous hyperactivity can be tiring. When Hunter sees us preparing for a walk or a drive, he’ll leap and jump all around us, unable to contain his excitement at the prospect. She, meanwhile, eyebrows raised, observing calmly what’s going on, remains reclining until we say, ‘Come on Lady.’ It’s the same at meal times. Unlike Hunter, she doesn’t hover around M or me preparing their food. She waits, lady that she is, until she is called and her bowl is on the floor. And even then, she’ll come slowly, sniff at it, and not eat at once. Meanwhile Hunter will have wolfed down his food by this time. It’s as if Lady’s waiting to be asked three times before she’ll deign to eat, and when she does, she does so very delicately and slowly (hence her name.) Which is why, often, when she takes a bone out of the bowl and runs off to the garden to chew it, Hunter pounces on her bowl. But she can emit an uncharacteristically menacing growl from wherever she is, and that’s enough to stop him.

In contrast to Zen cat-like Lady B, Hunter is only too eager to please, particularly in a game of Fetch. Since he’s a Dog of Little Brain, it took several days for me to teach him there is nothing to fear and much fun to expect from a thrown ball. Even when he’s practically dead on his feet and aching for a rest, especially after a long walk, he’s still up for a game. Lady B doesn’t like Fetch: she doesn’t see much point in retrieving a ball so that it can be thrown again and again. What she prefers is being chased round and round by M in a circle.

Last night once again Hunter didn’t come back. Poor Lady B whimper-whistled her concern all night long, coming into our room several times for M to go out and call him, to no avail. He’s only now (10:30 am) just come back. Lady B, much relieved, wagged her tail happily, but immediately ignored him and won’t look at him. Oh, these two — so diametrically opposed they complement one another. How can we not love them to bits? But what’s to be done about Hunter’s nocturnal escapades? That’s a tale for another day.

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