(POSTSCRIPT FIVE YEARS LATER)
OK, that was a smarmy tale. But, you cynics will ask, how did this love match turn out over time? Allow me a pause while my heart and my head work out a compromise answer. Well, hot and cold, in a word "uneven"...like all affairs of the heart tested by years. If I had to give it a grade, it would be a gentleman’s B.
We’re still good friends, and we have our moments of intimacy, but our relationship is no longer in balance. I’m more smitten with her than she is with me.
Before I explain the many turns our tryst has taken, let me bring you up to date on Heidi, that pup I rescued at six weeks and used to call Moriarty, after the nasty professor who was Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis. She’s mellowed since then and has earned the name of Heidi, virtuous orphan girl of the Swiss Alps. Let me also say that at age five she physically shines in her pale tawny prime, never more brightly than when her long uneven hair is backlit by the sun, enveloping her in a lustrous golden halo. And let me tell you more about her adult looks. In overall appearance, the Golden Retriever genes of her mother dominate, with the long, wavy hair and the puppy cuteness that remains in her fluffy white rump area. Only a slightly lighter coat, a broad and deep chest, and that wolfish snout remain to tell you she transcends the mere sweet gentleness of her older, purebred Golden Retriever “half-sister,” Gypsy (also a rescue).
It was those very physical anomalies in Heidi that prompted me to get her DNA checked in the first place. Turns out the Shepherd genes (German Shepherd and White Swiss Shepherd) of her paternal line dominate her behavior. Intelligent, curious, protective, duty-driven, aloof, often mysterious, she is frequently moody, on an emotional pendulum, and would prefer to explore than eat. She’s first up each morning to patrol the house to see if all is safe, intact. If something is new or moved, she makes note of it with a satisfied sniff. Before going out to answer nature’s call, she stops and freezes at the open door, surveying the yard for possible threats or intruders. Once outside she patrols the property’s periphery to confirm that nothing’s amiss. Her nose knows all.
I should also number among Heidi’s virtues her protective nature. She has this uncanny way of sensing the weakest, sickest, most vulnerable person in any social gathering and crouching in front of him or her, as if to protect them from any insult or assault. Reconcile that with her reversion to wolfish ways when presented with a new toy animal. She sinks her canines into the effigy’s throat and shakes it violently from side to side until it’s reduced to a slack rag emptied of its cotton innards. A kill to please her ancestors!
But not my wife—not when it extends to dismembering gentle Gypsy’s toys. Timarie has sternly warned Heidi that those are off limits, never in season, on the forbidden list. Strangely, Heidi understands. I have watched her approach Gypsy’s treasured little brown bear with the liquid stealth of a leopard, smell it, then turn reluctantly away without baring a fang.
It’s hard to figure out Heidi’s many peculiar ways. Take her relations with other canines—dogs met at the beach or on the street. A few she warms to immediately, as though they were old, well-sniffed friends; with some she is permanently standoffish, silent, and keeps her distance; and to some she suddenly extends an olive branch, welcomes them into her circle of friends without visible motive. She is, in sum, consistent only in being inconsistent, predictable only in her unpredictability.
With one exception. Play. She has a passion for athletics and games and will play them anywhere at anytime with anyone—though it's most often with my son Franz, who roughhouses with her in daily no-holds-barred bouts. And she loves it! She becomes a blond streak ricocheting off living-room bookcases and coffee tables without a flinch or a moan. If she had two legs instead of four, she’d be a first-round pick at running back in the NFL draft.
Wrestling shows off her muscled body to great advantage, but I think she really prefers playing ball—you know, you throw it and she chases it for as long as your arm holds up, then brings it back for more. (For me, it isn’t long; I’ve needed Tommy John surgery since before it existed.) Others, too, tire of the game in time...certainly before she does. I’ll never forget when she, having exhausted all the human arms in the house, trotted over to Marie the cat (since deceased in her twentieth year and off to cat heaven) and dropped a ball between her feline paws. In vain. Marie was disinterested. Being a cat, she couldn’t grasp it was hers to throw. I had a new respect for Heidi’s mental powers after that.
Stop! Enough! Quit dodging the issue, I hear you shouting. Get back to the amour and how it’s going between you and your dog! Finish your true romance!
Well, it’s not as torrid as it used to be. In truth, Heidi has extended her circle of affection to include my wife and my son...at my expense, I must add. We’re still good friends, of course, and there are days (increasingly rare) when she seems to remember who first rescued her and first loved her, and she cuddles up with me as on the most passionate of past days together.
I rationalize my slip in status. After all, my wife feeds her, walks her, grooms her, medicates her. My son also feeds her, plays with her, sleeps with her. All I do is worship her and stroke her coat when she lets me. I understand the whys of my demotion in affection, and in my heart I know that if our foursome had to be reduced to a threesome, she’d vote me out.
But then I remind myself that love is rarely at parity between lovers. With time and wear comes an imbalance in feelings exchanged. I got a reminder lesson of all that just last week. Franz was away on vacation and I was home alone with Heidi at midday. Suddenly, only ten feet from me, she lifted her head and let out a heart-rending bay I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of years. Those who have heard the sound of wolves in the wild howling their feelings know what it sounds like. A call from the deep past, the sound both chilling and reassuring, a fellow mammal’s complaint of life’s loneliness.
I tried to comfort her with words. No response. She gave another heart-felt wolf howl. A cry for help? I moved toward her to comfort her with strokes. She moved away from my hands, trotted down the hall, and stopped for a third loud lament. She was in front of Franz’s closed bedroom. Oh! That was it. I opened the door. She went in, leapt upon his bed, curled up in the ancestral way, at rest at last. Sure it hurt. Another reminder of my diminishing place in our pack’s love hierarchy. But I’ve come to accept my reduction in rank and treasure the more what love I do get...the gentle way she takes a proffered treat from my hand, the morning leap upon our bed to give me a nose-to-nose wake-up-call, her evening eagerness to get a back rub when I have settled into my recliner.
Yes, love is, like gold, where you find it. And when you do, hoard it. Remember always the Prioress’s wise words on her way to Canterbury: Amor Omnia Vincit. (For those of you who have forgotten your Chaucer and your Virgil and your Latin: “Love Conquers All.” Or, in the Beatles very loose translation, “Love is all there is.”)