Thursday, February 16, 2012

MahD (Pt. III): Pippin

A man and his dogs: Pondering the relationship between humans and dogs.

Read Part I, Match made in heaven, here.
Read Part II, Trixie, here.


How I found him

In 1982, I was two years out of high school and not going much of anywhere.  I made a half-hearted stab at college, but the allure of independence was greater than that of an education.  So, I quit school and got a real job that paid $7.20 per hour.  I shared an apartment with a roommate on Mount Whitney Street and did a lot of partying with the young Klamath Falls social set.  Life was pretty good.

Young men are not prone to over-think things much.  One day at work, while I was prowling back and forth on the catwalk by the sorter chain, I decided I should have a dog.  It seemed like something that a (somewhat) responsible young man should do.

So I drove down to the Jefferson Square mall after shift.  There was a pet store where a litter of puppies had caught my eye earlier in the week.

The pups were a dingo-sheltie mix.  They'd been there for a few days and were steadily going off to homes with new families.  By the time I got there, what had started as a litter of 5 or 6 was now just 2 puppies:  one male and one female.  I chose the male.  I figured we'd have appetites of a similar variety.

Brother Calee and Pippin, both pups at the time
Pippin had some dingo in him, which was obvious when you looked at him.  At least, when he was a puppy.  He had sharp, pointy fox ears and a tawny, short-hair coat.  In his youth, his hair never got very long.  But, just like humans, dogs may favor one parent in appearance early in life, then come to favor the other over the years.  Toward the end of his life, Pippin's coat got shaggier, more sheltie-like.

Pippin and Sister Mia
He was a smart dog and a gentle dog.  An old soul, I've always imagined.

How he won Dad over

I moved back into Dad's house in 1984 when I returned to school.  Dad didn't like animals.  But Pippin and I had been together for over a year, and I wasn't going to give him up.  It was a battle that Dad chose not to fight, thankfully, and I brought Pippin with me back to the house on the lake.

Such a good dog was Pippin that he won even Dad's heart.

It happened in winter in the blue light of morning.  Klamath Lake had frozen over.  The ice was thick.  Dry powder skittered with the wind across its surface.  Far out from shore, Canadian honkers gathered in the open water.  That morning they were trumpeting their lonely calls, mournful as be-grieved peasants.  Something had set them off.  I lay in bed and listened.

It was known that coyotes would sometimes brave the ice to harry the flocks.  I'd sometimes see their dark silhouettes stenciled against the white void of ice.  Perhaps a goose had been carried off.

Outside my window, and above, on the deck that came out from the front room, I heard the glass door slide open, and then Dad's voice, shouting.  "Bring it here, Pippin!  Bring it here!"

I got out of bed and went upstairs to see what was the matter, but it was all over before I got there.  "Pippin had a honker," Dad said.

Tami's dog, Mingo, and Pippin sharing a snack
The way Dad told it, just as he arose for the morning, he looked out over the lake and saw Pippin dragging a honker over the ice toward the house.  Dad, at one time in his life an avid bird hunter, stepped out on the deck to shout encouragement.  Pippin became confused, dropped the goose and ran toward Dad.  The goose picked up and waddled back toward the open water.

They lost the goose, but Pippin won Dad's heart.  The open ice in mid-winter is a dangerous place for a dog.  There are coyotes; there are thin spots in the ice.  But Pippin was tough.  Dad saw that and admired it.

How his life went

In the time when I lived at Dad's house, Pippin was with me much of the time.  I took him swimming at Lake of the Woods and Link River.  I took him with me camping at Lake Shasta.  I took him to parties and to work and on road trips to Salem and Tacoma.  He spent a lot of time out along the lake.  He would roam miles from the house in all directions.  He loved to swim and scramble over rocks.

One morning, as I stepped out onto the front stoop, near where we parked our cars, there was Pippin running toward me, cheerful as ever.  Thick white whiskers protruded from his muzzle.  He appeared to have grown a snowy beard.  On closer inspection the truth was revealed:  porcupine quills.

"Tried to make the wrong friend, didn't ya, boy?" I said.  We had to go to the vet for surgery that time. 

When I graduated college in 1988, I moved to Portland.  Pippin stayed behind, at the house on the lake.  Dad was with Tami at that point, and Tami is an animal lover.  So I knew my dog was in good hands.  And he was happier there, where he was free to roam all day, than he ever would have been in the confinement of a Portland apartment.

He had a good life.  Lots of freedom.  Lots of love.

Pippin and Sister Chae
Pippin died in 1995.  Cancer.  It was a long death.  Toward the end, Dad and Tami argued heatedly about it.  Tami didn't want to put Pippin down, but Dad insisted it was the best thing to do.  Dad was sick himself at that time.  He'd been diagnosed with Lupus and the prognosis wasn't good.  I think that played into the argument.

In the end, Pippin chose his own time.  Tami took him to the veterinary hospital for observation and he died there.  I got the news the next day. 

At first, when I would go back to Dad's house for a visit, Pippin would wag his tail and come to me to be petted. But over the years, his eyes grew cloudy, and perhaps his mind did, too. Eventually, when I came to the house, he'd bark at me, like a stranger. But I didn't hold it against him.

Not that good dog. No way.

This concludes the Man and his dogs series.

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