Well, as of tomorrow, the newest addition to the family will be 18 weeks old.
Thatís four and a half months, you know. Of course Iím speaking of Bogie, the little yellow Labrador retriever who came to live with us when he was only seven weeks of age. At that time, he weighed about 10 pounds. As of the second week of April, he weighed 25 pounds, and that was two weeks ago!
Itís been an eventful, and rewarding, almost three months since Mr. Bogart came to live with us. I call him that when Iím displeased, you see. Kinda like your mom would use your proper name when she found out you skipped out of school and was smoking cigarettes back of the neighborís tomato garden. "Roger Emile Stouff!" Itís required to put an extra emphasis and volume on the final word in the series, usually the surname. "Harcourt Fenton Mudd!" As if, somehow, that makes more of an impact. So heís Mr. Bogart when he steals my left sandal and runs off with it. Rest of the time, heís Bogie.
Thankfully, Iím rarely displeased with the little fella. Bogie has proven to be remarkably intelligent, well-behaved and obedient. Iím training by a set of classic books by Dick Wolters, old-school stuff by modern standards, but you know how I am. Family Dog is a great instructional on how to get your puppy home at just the right time to become a member of the family, and how to teach him to fit in. Game Dog will, in the long haul, teach Bogie to be a hunter and game retriever.
But weíre a long, long way from that as of yet. He has learned to SIT, STAY, COME and FETCH and is about 90 percent reliable on all of them. I am teaching voice command and whistle command at the same time. Itís pretty hilarious to see him bounding ahead of me on some trail somewhere, full-throttle, I blow one long staccato blast on my whistle and that blonde behind hits the deck and he skids another three or four feet before coming to a complete halt, turning toward me as if to say, "What?"
We have a wonderful time together, exploring the bayouside and some of the wide-open spaces I take him to. No way our Bogie will be afraid of anything or anyone! Last week, he made his first water retrieve. He has, since he came to live with us, loved water, but dared no deeper immersion than his chest. Well, we were at a pond one day and he got to playing with an old clear plastic water bottle some idiot had left as litter. He galloped through the edge of the water Ė three or four inches deep Ė and I thought, "Hmmm."
I had him bring me the bottle and threw it about five feet into the pond, ordering, "Bogie, fetch!"
The little streak of yellow lightning hit the water before he realized what he had done, and when it touched his chin he froze like a statue. He kinda stood there, staring at the bottle just a few feet away, and you could see the mental processes going on as the fear left him and he just seemed to think, "Whatís the big deal?" and swam out to the bottle, took it in his jaws, and brought it back to me. Bravo! We played fetch several more times in the pond, and I realized I had indeed a true water dog.
Heís just a pup, of course, and sometimes heíll get distracted and not hear his commands. Thatís the 10 percent factor mentioned above. Of course I insist he do what I tell him, not harshly, and heís coming along nicely with understanding that I Am The Boss, and more importantly, I Am He Who Takes You Fun Places With Interesting Smells and Critters.
I always heard Labs were a handful, bundles of unbridled energy and destructive tendencies if bored. Suzie has had a Lab for 14 years now, beloved old Daisy who is slowing down a lot in her advancing years, but as sweet a girl as youíll ever find. The relationship between pup and matriarch remains a little tenuous, but weíre working on it. Itís surprisingly a little better with Patches, whoís extremely curious about the little fellow, but Patches has the same dysfunction with Bogie as she does people. Youíll recall that Patches was rescued at only a couple weeks old from a broken litter when her mother was killed. She was raised by people, therefore never really learned kitten-play and social interaction. Patches wants to be sociable, wants to play, but when you interact with her, she panics and swipes. Sheís the same with Bogie. Thereís been no bloodshed, thankfully, and I can usually hold Bogie back just by voice. I think Patches thinks heís just a big lumbering oaf with no dignity. She ainít seen nothing yet. Wait till heís 80 pounds or so!
I spend an hour with Bogie in the morning while drinking my coffee, and he gets a brief outside break before Suzie leaves for work. He is kennel-trained and quite content in his "safe place." When I get home, we spend three, sometimes four hours gallivanting across the countryside, checking out all the neat smells and chasing all the funny critters. I let him rest for a few hours in the evening, then give him a half-hour or so before bedtime. So you see, heís quite well-socialized and "balanced," as Cesar Milan would say.
He loves us both like the world centers around us two. Weíre working on DOWN at the moment, having failed miserably at resisting the temptation to let him on our laps when he was oh, so cute and adorable. Well, heís doing pretty well with it, though I had to enlist the aid of the neighbors to help insist with a gentle knee to the chest that he doesnít jump on them, either. Heís getting there!
I have taught him that when I am out in the yard practicing my fly casting he must absolutely, positively leave my fly line alone. Sinking his sharp teeth into a $40 fly line would not be good.
One day, standing out there practicing, I noticed a smell. I looked down and Bogie was chewing happily on something I couldnít quite make out. I took it from him and reeled in disgust to find it was a squirrel head!
I was confused and nauseous. Did my little man chase down and kill a squirrel while I wasnít looking? I threw the thing away, and watched him. He ambled over to the corner of the yard where an old boat trailer sits, sniffed around, and came back with a squirrel tail. Ah-ha! I take this away from him as well and he gives me that, Aww, man, look then I go to investigate. I find no more squirrel body parts so I figure it was the leftovers of a stray cat or something that feasted on tree rat a few days earlier.
Another day he came prancing up to me with something dark in his mouth and I ordered him to DROP IT at once, and soon as he opened his mouth to comply, a toad leaped free, bounded across the patio with Bogie in hot pursuit and managed to escape into the garden. Bogie looked at me with a gaze of, Nice going, Ace.
His favorite part of the day is when the lady of the house comes home. He perks his ears up when he hears the car coming down the drive, and waits by the door with his behind wagging uncontrollably. When she comes through the door, his ears lay back and his behind-wagging becomes a spiraling, spinning cyclone like his tail is a propeller and heís about to launch into orbit. Hey, I donít blame him. I feel the same way when she comes home. I just donít have a tail.
My favorite times are dusk. Twilight, and a dragon-fire sunset is spreading like wind-fanned flames across the tops of browned cypress along Bayou Teche. I lean my back against a live oak. Bogie comes to me and, in an uncommon moment of calm, sits and looks out over the conflagration to the west. I rest my hand on his back.
He whines, and it may have just been because he's had a long, exciting day, but I'd like to think it's an exhalation of wonder at the glorious sunset before us, and the sharing between us.
I stroke his little back, but if feels strong, and will only grow stronger. The things he'll see, and learn and experience! The things we both will. Takes my breath away now and then, when I dream of itÖwhen I glimpse it there in the sunset at the close of his seventeenth week of life on this rare and wonderful old world, bathed in amber and saturated with eventide. Heíll see it all for the first time, and I envy him for that.
We watch the light fade and wait for the tomorrow of an uncertain world unfolding before us one sunset at a time.