Writer’s block: ‘Dog days’ all year long

Sweltering heat and air as thick as pea soup make these the “dog days of summer.”

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

But for my husband and I, dog days aren’t reserved just for the hot weeks of summer. The dog days I’m talking about are the tail wagging-fetching-digging-chewing-let’s go for a walk kind of days.

We don’t have a dog, but you see, our children – all grown and gone and leading busy lives of their own – each have welcomed a dog as part of the family. And there comes a time when plans are made that can’t include a canine companion. And so, we provide doggy day care.

Now, each of these pups has his own personality.  A.J. was a rescue dog, a German shepherd-lab mix abandoned on the side of the road and left to fend for himself when he was just a puppy. Judging from his frequent terror tantrums and lack of social skills, he’s still working through some separation anxiety.

Leo is a pampered pooch of the high-maintenance variety. Why, this little pup even has a standing appointment at the doggy spa and when he is groomed and clipped and washed, he is as pleased with himself as is a man with a good tailor. If manners maketh the man, then manner and grooming maketh the lhasa-poo they call Leo.

But watch out for stormy weather, for Leo’s polished and poised manner comes completely apart at the first crack of thunder. He’ll tremble and pant and crawl up in your lap, abandoning all sense of pride and pleading to be held tight and assured no harm will come.

There are times, however, when even the tightest hug can’t calm the frantic pup and then artificial calm is employed, i.e. a tiny tablet of Benadryl taken as he snuggles into his Thundershirt.

Now, Gunner on the other hand is a scar-faced, carefree, ready-for-anything, always-eager-to-please labrador retriever.  He likes to get up early and when he wakes up, Gunner’s game ready and eager to play. This crafty canine has developed a number of innocent-looking ways to wake up a playmate. He can shake himself and his collar loud enough to wake the dead. If that doesn’t work, he gets a sneezing fit.

But perhaps most effective is his early-morning practice of sitting quietly beside the bed, staring into my face with a sweet and forgiving look on his face – it always startles me, waking me out of a deep sleep with the feeling of being looked at.

Once he’s got me up, Gunner explodes out into the yard, saluting bushes and trees and introducing himself to fence poles while I lace up my running shoes.  And then it’s off to the races, Gunner grinning and nodding a hurried hello at a family of skittish squirrels as he sweeps through the tall grasses and explores the boulevard while I run along the road beside him.

Of course, Gunner’s greatest  joy is seeing the look of pride on his master’s face when he chases down and retrieves a tennis ball thrown for him.

Oh, what a prize, to feel the pat and relish the ear rub his master gives him when he presents that felt-covered rubber ball. You can tell by the sloppy grin spread across his face, this labrador loves to retrieve – and he’s good at it.

He’ll sit at your feet, leaning forward, his eyes tracking the ball as it sails through the air.

Then, after watching it fall, he’ll turn to you, then to the ball, then to you, his eyes growing wider and wider as he waits to hear “Go get it.”

And hearing that golden command, Gunner will plow through chest-deep snow, paddle through the river’s racing current, nose through stacked kindling, crawl under barbed wire (hence his scarred face) – whatever it takes to retrieve that ball and bring it back to you.

Good boy, Gunner. Panting and drooling, and nodding in agreement, all he wants is to do it again.

And then there’s Carl. We’re still getting to know that little pomeranian because Carl is the newest pup to join the family. He’s just a few months old, cute as a button and smaller than a bread basket.

Due to his diminutive size, I expect Carl will be something of a diplomat, preferring negotiation to fighting, and properly so since he probably won’t be very good at fighting.