Friday, December 23, 2011

Lady and Carol

Carol and I began dating at the end of summer in 2009.  It was not long before I was introduced to her thirteen year old beagle, Lady, who lived behind Carol's family's house.  The decision had been made early on in Lady's puppyhood that it was not worth the effort to attempt to housetrain her - Carol's parents had their hands full with their business, Carol had her hands full with her junior year of high school, and the house's only other resident at the time was Carol's younger brother Johnson, who has Down Syndrome.  So an outdoors life for the beagle it was.  It may seem odd, then, that a decision would be made to acquire a pet at such a time, but Carol was battling depression, and her parents hoped that a faithful companion would be of some comfort.

They moved several times over the years, as the family business grew and prospered.  Despite an uncontrollable itching which Carol would experience whenever she spent time with her new pet, she walked her faithfully two or three times a week, quite willing to accept the inconvenience of needing a shower after every walk.  Allen, Carol's father, was responsible for feeding the dog every morning, and he would regularly take her for walks as well, although after he broke his leg in 2001, he scaled back his walking a duties a bit, out of concerns that the energetic animal's pulling on the leash might possibly trip him up and cause some recurrence of his injury.  Still, he walked her about once a week.  The rest of the household displayed little interest in the canine addition to the family, so Carol and Allen were the principal objects of Lady's affection.

As for Carol, she graduated from high school and briefly attended UNC Chapel Hill, but returned home and finished her studies at PCC and UCLA.  She hung around the house, depressed, playing video games as a distraction, not knowing how to find a feeling that her life was worth something, until she gradually became more and more absorbed in the family business.  She became quite good at it, eventually becoming accepted as an integral part of it, and offered an equal share of ownership.  She lost sixty pounds, delighting in her new figure.  The weight loss revealed the clear lines of a delicate jaw and elegant cheekbones.  Boyfriends came and went, one hanging around for six years.  Lady was with her for it all, their regular walks being the only constant of Carol's own choosing in her life.  Never one to connect much with her peers, or retain close friends, Carol instead confided in her digging, sniffing, leash-tugging companion, retelling her struggles, hopes and fears in Taiwanese to her British dog as they walked the local roads of the San Gabriel Valley together.

Carol and I met after the family had finally settled in Arcadia, where Lady's domain - oddly - was an unused, fenced-in tennis court in the backyard; I suppose the hard court prevented the wholesale uprooting of the lawn. (I recently inquired about this digging compulsion - "Did she ever find anything?"  But apparently her habit was merely to dig a deep enough hole to create a little shade for her to lie in.) A doghouse was set up inside, to protect her from the elements when necessary.  Clearly, the mild southern California climate made such an arrangement workable.

Early on I realized that Lady was not what I normally expected from a dog.  While not hostile or standoffish, neither was she particularly keen on being petted or played with.  She loved for her favorite people to take her for a walk - if you so much as picked up her leash, kept next to the house, she would immediately wake from dozing in her doghouse a hundred feet away, and come bounding across the court to pant eagerly by the gate.  But like an autistic child (I would know), she didn't feel a strong urge to interact directly with the people she loved, preferring simply to have them nearby while she was doing her favorite things: the aforementioned running, digging, and sniffing.  And she displayed interest in neither the friendly overtures nor the aggressive provocation from other dogs she'd meet at the dog parks or in yards she passed on her walks.  The running did get her in trouble a few times, once breaking loose from the median on Huntington Drive - running through traffic, fortunately unharmed, until a passerby rounded her up - and at other times, getting separated from Carol completely, but finding her way back home on her own, or wandering the neighborhood until being rescued by an impromptu search party.  For this reason, Carol would choose among a very short list of paths for their walks, knowing that the monotony might bore the dog a little, but reasoning that it gave her the best chance of finding her way home after one of these inevitable escapes.

This introverted beagle, more than just loving her walks, also experienced an indescribable anguish at the prospect of being deprived of them, as well.  I learned, after a couple harrowing experiences, that upon returning her from a walk, I could never walk back out through the gate; somehow this signified to the dog that I was going for a walk, but without her, and she would howl disconsolately for what seemed like an eternity.  If I re-entered the house through the back door, as Carol pointed out, the crisis could be averted.

Part 2: Lady and me
Part 3: Carol and me

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