Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Gator

Today winds up a weekend of celebrating Gator's first birthday.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine ever having a dog, yet our household is now home to one. It's not that I don't like dogs, I love all of our friends' dogs, and never deny petting and belly scratches to any dog wanting them; but dogs are so very very different from cats. Compared to cats, they're big and clumsy, a bark doesn't sound as nice as a meow, they don't purr, they are so very dependent, they have to be walked and have to be picked up after, and they smell like, well..... dogs.

I had just pulled into the parking lot at my Mom's nursing home last January when my cell phone rang. It was Bill with a question I wasn't expecting...."Can I have a dog?" Over the years, he had talked about getting a dog, maybe a rescue greyhound, maybe a chihuahua he'd call El Diablo. The conversation was always the same. If we get a dog, he would have to be the one to take it outside during the night when it was a puppy, take it for walks, and scoop up after it. The conversation would always end there. As someone who had a hard time scooping out the cats' litter boxes, the idea of following behind a dog, ever ready with the plastic bag was a deal-killer.

A former work acquaintance, now working for the Humane Society of Wisconsin in Milwaukee also remembered Bill's conversations about adopting a rescue greyhound and had given him a call. He repeated the conversation to me....litter of puppies that needed homes, driven up from Louisiana in a truck, he'd need to come and look at it...and he'd need to do it that day.

Can he have a dog? My answer was the same as always, I wasn't going to say he couldn't have a dog. Once again we went through the conversation of the past.....nighttime trips outside, daily walks, scooping poop. Was he ready for the responsibility of owning a dog?

At that point, he wasn't sure, and still had many unanswered questions. He'd just go and look. With those words, I flashed back to the day I stood in front of a cage at a cat show. In the cage was a breeding quality bluepoint Himalayan female kitten. "But I don't want a breeding quality cat, I just want a pet" I said to the breeders. "Just pick her up and hold her" was their reply. As if she was trained to do so, she rubbed one side of my face then the other, she made "kitty biscuits" with kneeding paws, and she purred. I went home with a breeding quality Himalyan kitten.

For the record, "just go and look" is also how we bought our first car, a sailboat and our first house. I know what happens when you "just go and look."

I arrived home about 10pm that night, tired after after spending a total of 4 hrs driving and a full day with parents. As I walked to the front door I could see a large box through the said Lifestage crates. I thought it, but yet didn't really believe it: We're getting a dog.

I walked into the kitchen. There was a bag of puppy food on the counter. Again, in disbelief I thought, "we're getting a dog".

I looked down, and there on the floor was a food dish, with food in it. Oh my God, we HAVE a dog. It still didn't seem real. I turned around to see Bill standing there holding an 8 lb silvery grey and black ball of fluff. It was real, this was our *gulp* dog.

His name was Charles. He was born on November 13, significant because that is also Bill's birthday (can you say kismet??). He was a Catahoula/Lab mix. A what?? Time to go online. Catahoula. Catahoula Leopard Dog. Catahoula Cur. Catahoula hog dog. Indigenous to North America. Named for Catahoula Parish. Also introduced into the breed were Irish Wolfhounds and Bull Mastiffs. Boar Hunters. Raccoon hunters. Cattle herders. Active would be good if they could herd cattle for an hour a day (Marta the cat would NOT enjoy being a cattle herd substitute). Males would often reach 90 lb. (Humane Society estimated 40-50lb). My god, what have we gotten ourselves into?

He'd need a new name. He was from Louisiana...Cajun, swamps, bayou, VooDoo, New Orleans. Back to the Internet to Google "Cajun dog names" and the list was quickly narrowed: Andouille, Gris Gris, Ju Ju, Gumbo & the eventual winner: Gator.

The early days were spent turning the living room into a large puppy pen with all furniture pushed to the wall and whatever table we could tip on it's side become the doggie barricade. Bill made many a night time trip out into the cold, and we learned that during the evening, even taking a puppy out once an hour was not often enough.

That first week we spent an evening with a trainer learning the basics, and made 2 hr visits to Pet Smart to buy toys and to let him meet other dogs. When he was old enough, we started Puppy classes at the Humane Society. After driving by it for years, we made our first trip to the Dog Park 1.5 miles down the road.

We settled into life with a dog. We learned to read his cues....when he was hungry, when he needed to go out, when he was overtired and it was time for the crate. And he settled into ours. Day times at the office with Bill; evenings at the dog park then snoozing at our feet after supper.

We watched him grow too. Only 1 week after getting Gator, we had to go out of town (planned prior to getting Gator). We were amazed to see that after only 2 days away, the round little fluff ball had sprouted legs! Then the body followed. This pattern continued. The 40-50lb estimate was reached and passed.

Gator's territory expanded from the living room to the whole house, much to Marta's chagrin. And when he was no longer allowed to go to work with Bill, and we were able to trust him home uncrated, his world expanded by way of a doggie door that would open when his collar transmitter was close enough. Once outside, he had 2 1/2 acres of lawn and prairie to roam in.

As he got bigger and the weather got better, after work trips to dog park became a daily activity. Although Gator has his favorites and what amounts to the dog version of a play group, he likes all dogs. He's the dog equivalent of Walmart's greeter, leaving his friends to run out to meet the new dogs coming in. "I'm Gator, welcome to my Dog Park".

As the summer grew hotter and drier, kiddie wading pools (yes, he has 2 of them) were bought, and we got a State park sticker so he could go to the dog beaches at 2 of the area state parks.

I've watched Gator grow from a little bundle of fluff, into a gangly puppy, and now to a handsome 70 lb dog. I've seen him change from excitable puppy, to the "teenager" testing the limits of obedience, to the sweet and gentle dog he is today.

Life is good for Gator and Gator is good for us. He'll never be as streamlined and elegant as the cats, I'd still rather hear a 5am purr than a 5am bark, toys need to be picked up in the house AND yard, and yes, he smells like a dog. Time away from home means making arrangements for care, but we can't help but smile when we see his doggy grin and excited dance when he sees us come for him. And now with no job to go to in the morning, he's the reason I'm still up early in the morning... a morning trip to dog park is now a "must", once a day just won't do any more. I never imagined I would ever have or even want a dog, yet now I can't imagine not having him.

All the pictures have been taken, the cards and presents have been opened, treats for people & dogs at dog park have been passed out, and the cake from the dog bakery has been eaten. And as Gator turns 1 year I'm looking forward to our first full winter with him, and all the adventures yet to come.

Happy Birthday Pup Pup. I love you.

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