11 November 2019

Comfy slippers.

Banksy's kind of sort of afraid of swimming, at least til she warms up to it. Down at the old log mill pond, now home to suburbia birds and creeping willows, and the guys who sprawl around the picnic table drinking beer any and all times of day, when I toss a stick, she splashes out so she knows how far she can touch, a careful measurement of where the bottom falls out. Then she reaches out her teeth to grab it with her tippy toes still attached to the bottom. She whines if it sinks, laser burn eyes back on me, and gives me her desperate stare, that signals to find her a new one that isn’t dropped down too deep like that one is now. We do that a few times til she’s not afraid to reach further, or stick her nose under, and then she’s brave enough to paddle a little. Once the little paddle happens she remembers she isn’t afraid to swim, so she paddles some more, then she’s swimming out to where I throw the stick. Every single time she goes swimming, this is how it goes.

We’ve figured this out about each other, how to negotiate things where we have different ideas how to do them. We’re reasonably patient with each other, with stuff like who’s supposed to supply the stick, who’s supposed to jump off the bank, how far it should be thrown, how long is the stay til the throw. It’s very important to Banksy not to have to swim out to where it’s too deep, so our deal's that the first time I throw the stick, it won’t be past the shallows. Every time, we work it out. It took some doing, because I'm impatient and she's a dog and I'm a person and I just want to throw the stick and she gets it, duh. But now there’s a way for swimming when there wasn't before.

The pond water’s always cold, so a bonus ice bath for a border collie, for cooling off muscles that are tired from competing earlier in the day. She ran her agility flawlessly, didn’t put a foot wrong. Hit her running dogwalk with split feet, just like in my dreams. I showed her the right side of all the jumps, the bars stayed up, she flew into her poles, and followed my every move. She came in 2nd place in the finals, and we stood on a box for a photo. That kind of day, the kind I always dreamed of having. Is that a weird dream to have?

Some punk rock kids climbed down to our swim spot that other afternoon. The same t-shirts and boots like I used to wear, the jeans cut real skinny, and messy hair. Maybe they’re just watching birds, or looking for a quiet place to smoke pot or listen to the sky, wandering around the neighborhood looking for something. Just regular kids who like the pond like we do.

Gooey sidles up to them for pets, he’s happy to have something to do, since we’re doing sticks and splashes and he mostly roots around in the willows and only goes in the water up to his toes. He’s never been a swimmer, and never will be. Which is fine. Everybody on their own trips. Anyone who comes down the bank is his instant friend, so there’s three instant friends to hang out with him now.

They were pointing at an egret out in the water and wondering amongst themselves, heron or stork or what? I am the wealth of bird facts at the pond, if you want to know the difference between a duck and an egret. One’s short, one’s tall. Also I can identify a turtle, who I believe somewhere descended from the birds. True genetic fact that I read somewhere. That’s about it.

“Egret,” I offer up, butting into their murmured questioning. Maybe they didn’t know I was there at first, just some lady with her dogs. My dogs are rarely invisible, but sometimes I am. You get to this age, if you’re a girl, where all of a sudden you’re like a mist, even though you’re standing right there. Which is pretty cool, if you think about it, the power of invisibility. Maybe why standing on those boxes is a nice thing to do sometimes, the photo proves you're still here.

They start to marvel out loud, just amongst themselves since I'm still invisible enough not to hear I guess, to how I tell Banksy where hop up on a rock, and to stay there til I throw out her stick, and then release her after I throw it. How every single time, I can send her up to the bank and she goes right there, and looks at me and waits. I ask for a down, that’s what she does. We have our little pond games, that place where dog training meets regular fun stuff we do, and we could probably do it all day, until Banksy gets shivery and cold.

“Howd you get her to do that?” one of the girls asks. “That’s amazing.”

It’s not a big thing, it's what we do to spend some time together on a hot day.

“I just use a stick.” The easy answer. That’s what I told her, leaving out the part about the agility and the podium and our medal and the big deal about staying and going where I want her to go and that we have to really be on the same page or else everything goes to shit.

It’s easier to leave out the whole past, and how long that took to stay and for her to not just run away down the hill to jump in the pond the second she gets out of the car way up top in the illegal parking lot. It would be easy to go on and on about clear reinforcement and rock solid criteria, but probably they don’t want to hear anything like that. So I just wave the stick like a magic wand, it's all in the stick.

They stay a while, to watch us play. A normal day for me and Banksy, a marvelous feat for her quiet audience. They still only spoke in whispers, maybe they were tripping on acid, a stay and a release would be extra cool in that case. Maybe that's their dream, to have a dog like Banksy.

In my future vision, back in the past, I conjured up a dog who ran like the wind, flew over jumps, and always brought back the ball. Maybe you've heard my stories, that described in detail what happens when That Lady with All the Little Black Dogs goes out and gets herself a border collie puppy in the hopes of being that champion. If you don't know those ones, long story short, I don’t think my border collie wanted me to train her at first, not at all. Forget train her, she didn't want me even to pet her. We had a long haul to work things out.

This thing has been happening lately, when I'm with my now 5 year old dog. Who I love as much as I love all my fingers and toes. I think she reads my mind. She looks for my smallest move. She goes exactly where I send her, for better or for worse. I was having a lesson a while back with an instructor who just comes to town once a year, she said, “She’s your comfy slippers now, isn’t she?” She gave us some courses, we ran them, simple as that. Always a rush.

If you ever in a million years told me I’d describe Banksy as comfy slippers, I would have laughed in your face. HA!

Banksy was wild. She was crazy. She ran away. She chased anything that moved. I couldn’t walk her on a leash. She didn’t like me to touch her soft fur. Or feet. She freaked out inconsolably at goats. And surfboards. And wheels. And the broom. I was never going to get her running dogwalk feet to hit the yellow. She was out of control.

Forget turning her into a champion, I just didn’t want her to bite me when I did a late front cross and be able to dry her off with a towel. Banksy was a lightning fast, feral beast who lived in a hidey hole under our living room desk and prefered staring at pieces of dust to doing anything with me.

Comfy slippers? That would be the day. Her boots were made for walking. You know the giant metal stud platform flame shooting boots the guys in KISS wear? Those kind of boots, the kind that one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you. Sprain the ankles burn your eyebrows off and slash your wrists comfy slippers.

I don’t know where it happened. Was it on the trails in the woods? The thousands of hours we logged ambling through the forest, where now she always walks just ahead, stopping and turning to stare at me with her perfectly round eyes and make sure I’m right there.

Maybe on the beach? Where we spent a year negotiating the terms of when it’s time to leave the beach, even if she’s still busy running out into the surf and dropping her ball, laying there and waiting for the wave to smash down on her. Or the worst, losing the ball out to sea, making it impossible to leave. Seemingly impossible, until the understanding was more clear. We can always come back again, and there’s always going to be another ball, even if that one’s drifted out to where the the whale spouts puff up close to the horizon.

Maybe in our living room? Where she’s either lying in her bed, watching for my next move, or following me like a fluffy shadow. My house is really small, a tight fit for border collies, so many toys played with in that tiny little space. Lefts and rights and beep beeps taught from that couch. So many dog beds eaten there, until we reached that negotiation, it’s stupid to eat your bed. Where she used to run away from pets, but now instead flops down to have her eyebrows and her belly rubbed, and I sing her songs about biscuits and gravy.

Or the driveway where I clicker trained most of her tricks? Flinging cookies around the asphalt, clicking for the feet to do this, up and down on the things, trying to help her figure out what I wanted her to do. Which included just eating the cookie. Or at the soccer field across the neighborhood, sending around the backstops, ciking and capping the trees, watching her fly across the field to Up Up on the stumps in the playground. Where she learned to be cool with the skaters, carrying her flippy across the grass, not a second thought about the skateboards carving up and down the bowl and popping off the sides, wheels clattering as they fly by.

On the agility field? That may be her favorite place ever. The car pulls in, and she leaps out and runs straight down to the field, toy in her mouth, and usually climbs up on the dogwalk to wait for me. We’ve logged a lot of hours on that dogwalk, me staring at a yellow rectangle with her flying through it. Now flying through it, a lot of gruesome hours of her not. Where her joy of flinging herself into a tunnel had to become a bit more finessed, and the watching me for all the cues of which side to go in and which way to turn coming out. Listening to my words, syncing them up my shoulders and arms and feet and eyes. That I had to learn how to do clearly. Really clearly. Waiting for her toy, that toy, that lifeline to heaven, whatever tuggy du jour I happen to dig out of the toy bag in the car. Lately it’s the blue looped bungie one, with a shredded blue ball attached. She swings it over her neck and carries it with her when I go to move the jumps around or drag the tunnel bags from here to there.

Maybe it happened out on the bluffs? At agility class? When we started competing? Maybe it happened down here at the pond. Maybe it was everywhere, all the time.

“She never takes her eyes off you,” marvels the tall boy in shorts and beat up leather army boots, as Banksy methodically hands off the stick and heads back up the the rocks to prepare for the next launch. Also known as Up Up Lie Down Wait for It, in our special language the two of us share.

“My dad’s dogs wouldn’t do that, they don’t listen to anything. You know him? Older guy with a black scruffy dog and a blonde one?”

Yeah, I do. I know that guy. Once Otterpop chased off that little yellow one down here, a long time ago, a different dog training era for me.

Banksy's up on the bank again, prepared for lift off, eyes like lasers burning holes in me til I throw. Earlier that day, she’d done her Up Up on a podium, so we could get our picture taken with a silver medal on the red strap. Wholesale medal cost, about $4.99. A huge achievement, not only the 2nd place run, which was amazing and cool and I still am surprised, that we can do that, run fast and clean enough to win. At least almost win. But more so, that in front of an audience, she hopped up on that podium box, and stood still for a photoshoot. You don’t know that, when I blast that photo over Facebook, bragging to the friend world we won a thing, Banksy’s scared to jump up there in public and it’s the first time she’s done it without trying to run away.

We don't tell you those things in the social media. We just want you to think, we are the champions, my friend.

Me and Banksy, both of us have stuff that’s easy for you, but hard for us. But that day, climbing on the little box is just another thing we do together, she looks at me and her eyes say, I’m not sure if I can do this, and I try and show her a way she can. She trusts me that I do right by her and I trust her that she does right by me. I look at that course as step up the line and try not to question, how are we gonna run this? I trust her enough to take my lead and use her skills and speed and smarts to get around. She only tries her best, ever single time, and just wants me to show her the right things. If we wipe out somewhere, it’s definitely on me, but she forgives me.

When I hear someone say that phrase, dog of a lifetime, now I get it. I might not be talented enough to ever be a champion, that letter “E” seemingly fixed into my handling vocabulary. But I clearly realize I have a dog who’s one. Comfy slippers, sure. Feet with wings for us both, definitely.


Anonymous said...

it's so special, that "dog of a lifetime" thing. congratulations!

Anonymous said...


2 Punk Dogs said...

Perfect timing with this! Saturday a girl at Tractor Supply said that we "lucked out with these dogs". And yeah, we did, but we also spend every day walking & working with the border doofus & the super shy sato. :)