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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Puppy Love

While Mat and I practiced the arts of cohabitation, cooperation, and pesticide-free cockroach control, another love was blossoming. Paisley, my gawky adolescent Australian Shepherd, was falling fast and hard for his new master.

Paisley had joined my little family a year earlier as a congenitally deaf, unwanted seven week-old puppy. His breeder saw occasional deaf puppies as a natural byproduct of otherwise profitable merle-to-merle breedings, and took her chances with every litter. Biting back my criticism of her breeding program, I asked for and was granted custody of her latest cull, adding an unneeded puppy to an already busy family life.

Finding myself the proud owner of a young Garth (his earliest given name), son of the bitch Tanya Tucker and the dog Travis Tritt, nephew of the bitch Shania Twain, I strove to free him from the oppression of the country music theme. Granting him the name Paisley, I felt at ease. It was several weeks before someone broke the bad news—Brad Paisley, it turns out, was a rising Nashville star. Paisley (Brad), as it happens, has grown on me, and I no longer object to the association.

Our white puppy joined the family at a time when toddler M and I were already living with Mirri, my beloved, then middle-aged Australian Cattle Dog. Mirri was a dog of strong character and long establishment, having had guardianship over me since I'd turned 12. Mirri had seen me through middle school, high school, college, parenthood, and now onto the path towards marriage, and she was not about to relinquish her responsibility for my wellbeing to some fluffy white upstart. Paisley, from day one, was pushed out.

Living in a verdant suburb dotted with dog parks, M and I got our canines out for daily exercise and ample socialization. It is not that Paisley lacked any particular resource in his early months; we saw that he was trained and played with; we availed him of puppy playgroups and woodsy romps; we cuddled him and indulged his fetching urges. In everything he did, however, the shadow of Mirri fell upon him. In my eyes, Mirri could do no wrong. In Mirri's eyes, Paisley was a pest and a nuisance to be tolerated, not enjoyed. Looking back, young Paisley was missing something important—a person of his own.

Mirri and Paisley, both being of herding ancestry, shared an instinctive and intense desire to please their human master. Considering their high intelligence (slightly obscured, in Paisley's case, by a severe case of overenthusiasm), and their biddability, attentiveness, and high drive, and it is to Paisley's credit that he was so easily convinced to give up the shotgun seat. Still, he was a good puppy, and it wasn't until Mat came along that I really saw what he had been missing.

 . . . to be continued . . .

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