Advent 8: Punch

Our new dog, Punchy, chomped on my hand today. I was holding a Milk-Bone at the time so I’m not entirely blameless here. Still, the chomp hit my upper thumb, sort of a jaws wide open grab whatever is meat kind of action like a shark gliding under feet dangling from a surfboard. Instinct doesn’t allow for the differentiation of treat from human flesh.

Despite the chomp or the chomp notwithstanding, either way, Punchy has made a remarkable adjustment to life inside. He sleeps in a bed. He follows the morning routine. He eats from his own bowl. He walks in a straight line instead of running in circles like he did the first week or so. He stands quietly for me to put his harness on. He stops doing bad stuff if we yell at him. And……biggest of all…..and amazing after two weeks. He comes when he’s called.

We’ve been working on this at the dog park every day for two weeks. Having him know we are his people now is the basis of everything. This goal comes after ten years of him having been a working sled dog that lived outside in a dog yard with 200 other dogs. We’re all about bringing him to a new pack – our little TV-watching, rum-drinking, truck driving pack. Big cultural shift, yes?

So the other day when Punchy punched through the fence and tore off after a squirrel or some such and we saw him halfway down the next block, across a busy street, we called his name and he looked up and ran right toward us while we yelled for a nice, concerned college student to stop traffic for him. He barrelled right to us, turned around and waited for us to rub his fanny and tell him that he was a good boy, a very good boy.

And he is a good boy. Amazingly so. Except for the Milk-Bone issue. We’re working on it.

Minnie Looking at Lake Superior


She looks through the railing, her nose twitches

at something floating by that we don’t see

or maybe fish swimming yards offshore.

The fog disappears and the sun comes out

and for minutes it is warm outside and bright

and then the fog gathers itself, regroups.

Ten minutes is all we have to sun ourselves

and remember other times we spent outside

being warm with people who are somewhere else.

The fog takes back its spot, layers gauze where it was clear,

chases us off our chairs, there’s nothing to see but each other

the two of us and our dog waiting for what’s next.



My Dog Jak


It can be years, many years, a decade or more, and a person can still miss her dog.

My dog, Jak, my big, beautiful, thick, smiling Jak. Jak, the dog who circled his own wagons, curled up in the snow, and fell calmly asleep until the people in the house realized the next morning that he had been left outside in deep winter the entire night. He stood up and shook off the snow, wagged his tail and came to the door.

Nothing about him held resentment or memory. He was a smiling Samoyed. He just lived and smiled and sauntered along as if he was the finest creature on the planet. He believed it to be true. It never occurred to him otherwise.

I loved Jak because of his massive white fur, his black eyes and nose, and the true curl of his lips into a smile nearly all of the time. He was the only dog who was completely mine. He was a gift from my husband, a present preceded by great suspense and intrigue, my husband teasing me with hints and jokes for weeks.

We had been married two years, we already had a fine dog, we were settling in to our life, remarried me with an 11-year old daughter, him the new step-dad, the two of us wanting to have more children but not being able to, me being depressed in a bottomless way that only happens a few times in one’s life, and my husband, as always, never accepting the worst. If we could not have more children, we could have more fine dogs.

He bought Jak for me, an outrageous gift since we already had a perfectly good dog and had no money to spare. Jak was a purebred, AKC-registered Samoyed with the extraordinary name of Kipperic Union Jaksun.

He was a magical puppy.

Have you seen in your life a more perfect puppy? A better consolation prize? It was extraordinary and crazy that my husband would buy such a dog – with our finances, our worries, another dog already chewing our shoes. It was early in our marriage and before I learned that my husband understood the importance of grand gestures. Practicality gives small comfort to hurting people; grand gestures make them laugh and forget themselves. And that is what Jak’s arrival in my life did.

Jak was the only dog that was mine and mine alone. Oh, everyone in the family tolerated Jak. I loved him. Because he was mine.

As it happens, though, and as it often happens when we think we’re doing so well holding the consolation prize in our laps, life took an unexpected turn. Within months of Jak’s arrival, we agreed to adopt a 21-month old Nicaraguan boy. Jak was still toddling around the kitchen when the phone rang one July afternoon and a friend with connections in the Nicaraguan government asked us if we would consider adopting a baby with a ‘hole in his heart.’ He was very ill and needed health care unavailable in Nicaragua in the 80’s.

He needed a family in the U.S. She had heard we were interested in adoption. Would we take him?

By October, I was holding our new boy on my lap. My husband had gone to Nicaragua to bring him home. An 11-year old daughter and two dogs were plenty, life with them was rich and lovely but we wanted more. We needed the boy who needed us.

That boy is 29 years old now. I went shopping for school supplies with him and his 8-year old daughter yesterday. I watched him spread composition books of each color on the floor of the store so she could choose her favorite one. I watched that yesterday. I could have just been another older lady looking at new mops had the call not come that July and had we not answered it the way we did.

So that’s what I think of on National Dog Day. I think of the dog in my life who was the harbinger of a lot of hope, who set my family on a course of doing the impractical, the illogical, the chancy thing.

I think of Jak, my beautiful Jak.


I just noticed that in this photo Jak is wearing the blue cast that was put on his rear leg after his big (dog) sister accidentally squashed him against a big planter in our yard. Hard to explain, you had to be there. The two dogs went on to have an extraordinarily loving and companionable relationship for fifteen years.


Two a Day #4: Is Redemption Possible?

How bad or how often does someone have to screw up to make them beyond redemption?  What does it take to redeem oneself after showing really bad behavior? What do these questions have to do with this picture of a dog?

After years of happy strolls through the Mequon Dog Park, Minnie (the dog in the picture) reclassified small dogs as wild game.  As if she had been trained for months, she’d leap out of the car, cast a quick eye across the landscape, and pick out the smallest, weakest, and best groomed dog to chase, terrify, and pin to the ground.

“Minnie! Minnie! MINNIE!, we’d yell, my husband and I feigning expressions of surprise as if this was the very first time she’d ever shown such behavior. It made me remember the ‘oh dear, whatever are they thinking?’ looks I’d conjure up when my toddler boys would be seen by the neighbor peeing in the bushes next to our house.  “Stop it! Don’t pee in the bushes!  (Why are my sons peeing in the bushes?  Why is my dog eating that frou-frou dog with the bow?)

I’m the third child not the first so I shouldn’t have this overblown sense of responsibility about everything.  I should be carefree, used to being taken care of, enjoying the loveliness of low expectations, and living life so clearly off the hook that nothing should bother me.  So not the case.

Instead I am in a constant state of anticipation of bad things happening but only with regard to my dogs or my kids.  In both cases, I don’t worry about something bad happening to them, I worry about them causing something bad to happen to others.  My dogs will bite somebody or chew up somebody’s dog.  My kids (read boys here) will do something stupid – wrong place, wrong friends, wrong time thing – and someone will get hurt and they will end up in jail. Irrational?  Probably. Maybe.

Anyway, so my husband announced yesterday that it was time to go back to the Mequon Dog Park.  He said we needed to give Minnie a chance to be a great dog.  (He’s very much into dogs, communicating with dogs – or so he says – seeing meaning and purpose in dogs that the rest of us don’t see.  He’s different.) He was set on our taking Minnie back to the scene of her terrible behavior.  He said that we needed to give Minnie a chance to redeem herself. I was sick with worry.

“I’ll stay in the car,” I said, figuring it the best way to avoid the inevitable bloodshed and keep a distant perch from which to second guess and criticize after the fact.

And then it occurred to me, the road to redemption could be paved with hot dogs!

We took a class at the Humane Society once where the instructor had us cutting hot dogs into tiny pieces, stuffing them in a little pouch that we were to keep hanging from our belts (who wears a belt?) and between holding the leash and using the clicker to signal various commands, we were to dole out the hot dogs.  It was nuts.  Required so much manual dexterity that I wanted to sit down and smoke a cigarette.

So we went to Pick and Save where we bought the cheapest pack of hot dogs possible ($2.41) and then we drove to the dog park. Before we let Minnie out of the car, we showed her a wonderment greater than any fluffy frou-frou dog with a bow.  We each had a whole hot dog clutched in our fist.  She took off.  We called her back. Each time, she got a chunk of hot dog. Sometimes she just trotted along sniffing our hot dog hands. She’d run ahead and come back when we called. Chase a dog or two, sniff a little dog (scary!) and come barreling back down the trail when we yelled Minnie.

I’d wave my hand in front of her nose and she trotted alongside – honestly, I felt like Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer but with a little hot dog crutch. Now I want hot dogs on me all the time, wherever I go with this dog.  Permanent hot dogs in my hand, in the glove compartment, in my coat pockets, hanging in links around my neck. The hot dogs made her a perfect dog.

Is this redemption?  Would we call this redemption? Maybe it comes under the category of ‘assisted redemption.’  (HDAR – Hot Dog Assisted Redemption)

All I know is nothing terrible happened.  That’s good enough for me.