Sunday, December 06, 2009


Beast as a Young Man -->

When I think about Beast, "Marley and Me" comes to mind. My DH and I didn't have the kind of relationship things going on, and I haven't had a problem finding myself--I'm always right here. But the dog. Oh yes, the dog ...

We adopted Beast and his sister Angel from the SW Washington Humane Society not too terribly long after we moved into our current house. We wanted Nikita's help raising the next generation of dog(s), and we were ready to celebrate our new open spaces with dogs that could cavort and run rampant around the property. Also, the kids were tiny when we got Nikita and Frey, so they lived with them as part of a pack, but hadn't been involved in training dogs. Nikita and Frey were family. We thought it would be fun for the kids to have best friends. We saw the dynamic duo, named Fred and Ginger by the staff, and decided not to break up a winning team. Little did we know that these two had probably escaped from a yard much like Beast would later turn loose the Sea of Unconditional Love again and again and again ....

As is the way of the world, all grand plans fall apart within the first couple of steps. Beast was the smartest stupid dog I'd ever known, and he proved it within a week. He learned to lift the latch on the gate, probably by watching our kids leave for the school bus that morning. He and his sister Angel got loose a short time after the bus had left. I watched our kids get on the bus through the window and had no idea Beast was so smart. In a few tiny seconds after I moved away from the window they got to the main road, and Angel was struck by a car.

I remember hearing the squeal of tires and the yelp, and the wash of disbelief pouring through me. I'd just seen them out there, safe inside the yard and the gate was closed. It couldn't be.

But it was.

I ran out, thinking 'please don't let it be Beast ..." I don't know why I connected with him more deeply in the beginning. I felt like such a bad parent, but as my heart stopped and stuttered back to life and I saw his shaggy face full of terror and confusion, relief soothed the red hot grief I felt as I gathered Angel in my arms. Beast had been a very smart, very bad dog and I'd been a very bad mommy for not predicting the need to clip that latch down so he wouldn't be able to lift it. We bonded hard in blood. The kids learned an entirely different lesson--the price of a moment of recklessness.

Did that make him mindful and obedient? Hell no. I can't count the number of times he opened that gate if we forgot to lock it. He'd watch for it. If anyone--stranger, kid, one of the adults, a house guest--neglected to clip the latch into a locked position he'd nose it up the second the coast was clear. He knew to wait for the front door to close and away he'd go.

He knew sit, and down, and come here ... if there was something in it for him. I had to learn the lesson that first-time airedale owners learn the hard way. Airedales are single-minded. Born for the chase. Born to run. To get an airedale to obey you have to make whatever it is you want him to do much more fun than running.

Beast knew how to find joy and hang onto it. If you weren't part of the joy, you were part of the problem, not part of the solution.

One time he chased a deer off a cliff and went missing for five days. Another time I lost control of him--he bashed past me as I went through the gate--while trying to recapture escaped goats.

Did that annoy me? No. Weirdly, I felt proud of him. He had a truly indomitable spirit. And he loved us completely. When we let him in the house he'd tear around the place looking for opportunities for play--teasing the cats, eating kitty tootsie rolls out of the litter box, snuffling every surface for food or something expensive to chew. (He got an irreplaceable remote on an older tv once--we had to recycle the tv and get a new one. Yargh.) But eventually all that destruction and chaos would get boring and he'd settle on (not by, on) my feet, sleepy contentment smooth on his face.

Everything active was his favorite, so I can't really say that jogging was his favorite thing, but it was. The other dogs couldn't keep up with us, even the younger ones. Sure, he'd be a little weary on the way home, walking slightly behind me instead of beside or ahead of me during the cool down, but he'd be ready to go again in a hour, easy. We'd play the sit-for-the-passing-car game which was great for him. He knew he'd get ear rubs while he was sitting on my foot, braced against my knee so I couldn't go anywhere without him.

This last summer we went to the river to cool off quite often. This was the first year he actually swam. Water to him had been a necessary evil, and he wouldn't go in deeper than his belly unless forced. But this time he followed me in until his feet left the sandy ground and I'd swim with him back to shore over and over. We walked together afterward, drying off in the luxurious sunshine, his clean, wiry coat perfect and shiny in the golden light. From that day on the river was his favorite walk.

I'll always remember that he experienced joy on a level far beyond that of any dog I'd known. He really knew how to live. He focused his entire being on the hunt, the chase, the run. Watching him run was like watching exquisite art in motion. The emotion of it was more like Olympic ice skating or ballet, so much more than getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. And he knew how to drink in love and accept it fearlessly. In fact he demanded it shamelessly, a big grin on his face, knowing he deserved no less.

You deserved no less, Beast, my monster. Blessed be.

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