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Blue Dog Diaries: A new trick

By Terry Roorda

Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? In short order a few months ago both of my old dogs learned to play dead without any coaching from me, and so convincing was their portrayal of that solemn state that they actually stopped breathing. So I dug holes in the backyard and interred the little fakers to call their bluff, but they’ve managed to stay in character and they’re still out there. Not a peep out of either one of them. Brilliant.

The downside of their bravura performance was that My Personal Nurse and I found ourselves suddenly, abjectly, dogless for the first time in 16 years. Gone now was the pitter-patter of toenails on the hardwood floor, to say nothing of the reassuring near-riot of the vigilant hounds whenever the UPS man rapped lightly on the front door to let us know he’d deposited a package on the porch. They barked and howled and attempted to claw a hole through the door to get a piece of him. That was the high point of the day for both the dogs and the UPS man, who knew damn well the comical pandemonium that would ensue with each rap.

We felt lonesome, is what it was, and despite the natural reluctance to dash right out and score a replacement mutt, feeling some proper mourning period was called for as a matter of respect, we waited only two days before buckling and heading over to the shelter to survey the strays. In those intervening days, though, we did have an opportunity to consider what manner of beast was called for under current circumstance, specifically as to the matter of size.

I’ve never been a small-dog man. I’ve even been guilty of trash-talking the toy breeds, referring to them as yappers, punting-dogs, baby surrogates for forlorn empty-nesters, and dress-up dolls for shut-ins. It was cruel of me. I knew better than that, of course, having frequently encountered ferocious teacup curs over the years including the murderous miniature Chihuahua that once backed my truly vicious—and momentarily perplexed—Blue Dog into a corner of a buddy’s garage. And yet the stereotypes and disregard for the pint-sized persisted.

Until now, that is, and there were several purely practical reasons to revisit my prejudices this time around starting, prosaically, with my new-found unwillingness to dig any more big holes in the yard. It hasn’t gotten any easier physically over time, let me tell you, and what’s more, there are so many large pets planted in the backyard of our 110-year-old house that the last grave I dug turned up the skeletal remains of some long-forgotten resident’s long-forgotten Fido. Which creeped me out.

So there’s that, and then there’s the advantage of having a dog that can be thoroughly exercised with a game of baby-fetch without ever leaving the house. The dramatically lower food budget and backyard dooky volume of a pooch a tenth the size of its predecessors is another big check mark in the plus column, but the most dispositive factor of all in taking the small-dog plunge was purely selfish on my part. I wanted, this time, to possess a biker dog.

I’ve always wanted one. Sure, any of our previous pets could have been biker-dogs, and my Blue Dog was certainly game for the gig, but his brilliant approach to the challenge was to fasten his jaws onto the front tire of my bike whenever it started rolling, which was not a sound tactic. Getting serious about the deal with a big dog would have required rigging a sidehack to my Glide and that ain’t—no disrespect—how I roll.

No, what was called for, I knew, was something more in the vein of Toto, who could fit in a basket on the back of Elmira Gulch’s bicycle. And so it was that we adopted Clementine—all eight pounds of her. Splendid choice, Clementine; she looks exactly like a real dog, only smaller, and is reputed to be a “papillon/mix.” Mixed with what, we don’t know. Could be a badger. A capuchin monkey, perhaps. We don’t know. What we do know is that she’s proven preternaturally bright—clearly college material. Clem’s also an alert and fearless watch dog, and a lot of fun to dress up.

Now I have but two remaining issues in adapting the dog to dedicated saddle duty. The first is a suitable perch, and I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve long admired the biker dogs who could grip a patch of carpet on a fuel tank and take the wind with the best of them, and that would be my preference except that there’s the other issue: My Personal Nurse would have my scalp if I tried that stunt.

So that leaves me with the Elmira Gulch approach: A comfortable receptacle of some sort secured to the Glide’s luggage rack. Fortunately for me, such ready-made receptacles are already available commercially, and I examined one at the V-Twin Expo last week that would serve nicely; a cozy enclosed bed with a hole on top for Clementine to pop up through like a prairie dog to take in the scenery, and handy storage pouches for food dishes, doggy provisions, and cute outfits. It seems like just the ticket, and even My Personal Nurse is tolerant of the arrangement.

There will be a learning curve involved, I realize, as I figure out the whole biker dog deal and learn the drills and subtleties of packing the pooch, but I figure if my sweet sorely-missed old dogs could learn a new trick at an advanced age, so can I.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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