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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

The Dogs, a.k.a., “The Boys”

100_4326.JPG Guardians, defenders, companions. Ruling potentates with over-the-top, larger-than-life personalities. They say that Scotties are big dogs in little dog bodies.

I’ve also heard that owners begin to look like their pets. In that case, I would be short and stout, black and bearded. On my better days, if not in my dreams at least, I am tall, thin, and blonde. Right.

I grew up with a dachshund (that’s a hotdog dog to those not in the know), and my husband with a German shepherd. Misha and Grisha are our first acquaintance with dogs who need grooming in both beard and body. They get a regular trim and then daily brushings from me. Their long, luxurious hair has a mind of its own. That mind seems to be somewhat intelligent, albeit undisciplined.

Misha came first and he is black, curly and cuddly. His hair is softer than soft. As a puppy, he loved to hop—usually up and over any dog he would meet. Then came Grisha, with straight black, very coarse puppy hair mixed with highlights, you might say—cinnamon brindle—and a spicy personality to match!

Recently, he slipped out the back door when I stepped outside for some cooking herbs from the garden. Grisha pushed past me, puppy legs scrambling like he was on a high-speed treadmill, running for the get-away escape of his life. Rounding the corner of the house, the puppy Houdini ran toward the road and my heart practically stopped. Fortunately, I was clothed decently enough to give chase. I screamed, “Greeeee-sha!”

He stopped. Then he wagged his tail and took off running. Every time I came near and lunged for him, he was off again. It was a day at the races, Greyhound Grisha in the lead. We ran down the length of four houses. I even pretended to run in the opposite direction, fake jogging, in an effort to get him to follow me. Nope. It was all a game. He was a young bachelor who enjoyed the chase. On such short notice, I had no enticing treat to offer him. It was only when he became tired, that he stopped. It had nothing to do with my commanding abilities. The next week, I checked into puppy training school.

The same puppy academy where Misha had once attended, Grisha would be put through his paces. Not that I thought for a moment that if Misha escaped, he would come when I called, either. But at least the idea was in the back compartments of his consciousness. If he so desired on a rainy day, ostensibly he would be able to conjure up a memory of the command, “Come!”

But Misha had never learned to “Heel” and thus had problems all his own. He alternated between pulling our arms out of socket when going for a leisurely stroll, and at other times, making us pull him, sliding his 25-pound frame across say, the vet center floor, his legs locked in full stop. Our former dog training instructor, the always delightful Miss Heather, took one look at Grisha and greeted him warmly, while saying that we were certainly welcome to bring along Misha gratis for a refresher course. Both of the little boys wagged their tails wildly, imagining the sausage treats that would be liberally handed to them. But more about their school days later.

Naturally, as any pet-owners, we had to deal with the question of poo-poo, not in terms of it landing square in the middle of the kitchen floor, but when it actually happened outside as intended. In the beginning, I stuck a stick in the ground next to the pile, to signal Benedetto who would once a week shovel it into the bushes. No one else followed this system, of course, it’s the walk-at-your-own-peril system, which backfires on the guys who regularly step in it, but refuse to see the errors of their ways.

However, it’s the dog’s pee-pee that really amazes me. Never causes a yellow spot on the grass, which I imagine means they are well-hydrated or something like that. And, neither one of the little fellows ever lifts a leg. They squat low to the ground, tail straight up, and let the river flow. I tend to believe that they do this in deference to me, the little lady of the house, who appreciates manners.

But I have other doggy issues with which to deal. They love to lunge at rabbits, lizards, squirrels, or birds when out on their constitutionals. If I walk both at the same time, I keep them on short leashes. The one on the right always wants to be on the left and vice-versa, twisting me as I turn and spin and walk under the leash being passed over my head. These square-dancing moves across the backyard no doubt amuse any neighbors who may be peering through our dense foliage at any given time.

They have learned how to softly cry or nudge me if “It’s Time”. I usually take them out every couple of hours or so, but am thankful for this heads-up whenever else they need to go. I become busy and can forget. Yet they have the uncanny ability to feel the urge at odd times and when I immediately respond, standing at attention outside while they squat and squirt, sweat dripping down my face on a sultry day while being bitten by mosquitoes, inevitably it’s then that the faulty automatic sprinklers flip to the “on” position.

There is sibling rivalry among dogs, that’s for sure. Whomever goes for a walk, the other has to follow. If Misha has a chew bone, Grisha wants it. Give one a bite of apple, and his brother’s mouth is already open.

As any younger sibling, Grisha loves to get on Misha’s nerves. He will run around the living room and just when Misha follows hot on his trail, or should I say tail, Grisha darts underneath a low-lying couch. The two growl and wrestle underneath, the couch rising up like a clairvoyant’s magic trick.

Inevitably, we have to split them up. When we left them in a kennel overnight, one of the special services was to put “siblings” together in the same kennel. Thanks, but no thanks. We had no idea who would still be living the next day.

It’s not that they’re always fighting, or chasing, or barking. Their positive affirmation each day is that they are Genteel Gentlemen. Sometimes, they can be positively wonderful together, such as when the whole family is watching a DVD on our bed, and the doggies come to join us. Everyone is curled up and cuddly. I feel like inviting Norman Rockwell over to chronicle the event.

They are so much a part of the family that I call them “the boys”. Now that we have bigger boys around, the dogs are the “little boys”. I realized that I had to stop with this liberal language when Pasha arrived home and pointed to a dog on his Rosetta Stone English tutorial and said, “Boy”.

“No, Pasha, you are a boy, that is a dog,” I elucidate for him, enunciating very clearly as though he has misunderstood.

“Nyet, yah dog. Etah boy,” (No, I am a dog. That is a boy,) he insisted.

He didn’t misunderstand anything. He had heard me refer over and over to “the boys”, i.e., the dogs. I was the problem, the reason why our new son thought he was a dog! It wouldn’t be the first time I messed up. I thought back to the excellent work written by child psychiatrist, Bruce Perry, on children of trauma, “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”. Great. Now my son could have his own chapter.

It took a while, but we think that Pasha knows he’s a boy, and Misha and Grisha know that they are dogs. Well, they’ll always be arguing that point, but they’re loveable enough. I know plenty of people with identity crises, why not a dog. No, I am not hiring any doggy psychiatrist to help them sort it out, either. They are well-adjusted. If only I could get them to be well-behaved.

Misha and Grisha are the kinds of dogs you dream about going with on a nice, leisurely walk. That’s my goal. Preferably with their sweaters and maybe a tam-o-shanter. The kids dress them in dark sunglasses to keep the papparazzi at bay, but that’s negotiable. A nice, normal walk is all I’m asking for. No more pulling on the leash, as though they were bloodhounds on the trail of a burglar.

There’s something in their blood that craves the type of excitement that would come with any type of law enforcement work. Tracking vermin in the Highlands of Scotland must have inbred that love of the chase, and that pride of protecting their loved ones. For now, Misha stands sentry at the front door, peering through narrow sidewindows to catch any unwary delivery man doubling as a bandit. Grisha sleeps near the back door, jumping at any wayward leaf in masquerade. The lawn service, the trash truck, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, we are safe from all.

Which reminds me of a beautiful prayer: “Lord, make me the person my dog imagines me to be.”

Amen. And let them learn to heel, too.

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