Monday, April 2, 2007

GUS July 15, 1996 – March 30, 2007

We bought him for $40 from a guy in Kentucky. There were as many kids coming out of the house as there were puppies living under it. We zeroed in on him immediately—almost all black, he looked like a black bear cub. “We call that one Bear,” the guy said (pronouncing it “bar”). He was the only puppy who looked healthy, whose fur wasn’t chewed off his tail (no doubt because he was the one doing the chewing on his brothers and sisters and keeping all the food for himself—this didn’t occur to me until later when I realized that we’d chosen the alpha male of the litter).

He was six weeks old, and so little he couldn’t see out the truck window on the drive home. We debated the entire weekend about what to name him, and for no particular reason finally settled on Gus. He went by various nicknames over the years (Gussie, Schtinky, Schtinky Dog, Poopy, Stinker Pete, Gustav VonSchtinkenhoffer) and thought his name was “Gusdammit” for the first two years of his life while we attempted to train and socialize him.

We took him to puppy kindergarten—a near disaster. I think the instructor gave him a “diploma” just because she didn’t want him in her class again. He was much better than other dogs at some things (never freaked out or even flinched when she opened an umbrella in his face) but much worse at others (couldn’t sit still and keep quiet—ever).

He was a quick study when it came to house training, but until he figured it out, would quietly find his way under the dining room table to do his business (well, who doesn’t want a little privacy for such things?). The only way to the yard was a long flight of outdoor steps that we carried him down for the first several months of his life because he was too little, and then too afraid, to walk down them himself.

He never jumped up on the furniture without being invited, never stole food off the counter, never chewed up a pair of shoes or anything of value. His one weakness was paper products from the trash (particularly tissues and Q-Tips), so after several instances of coming home to find shredded tissues on the floor and a guilty-faced dog with his ears pinned back, we put all our trash cans in cabinets or closets (much to the dismay of guests). Like most dogs, he was prone to vomiting, but unlike most dogs, he never ate it. He never humped anyone’s leg—or anything else for that matter—except his “baby” (a fleece toy in the shape of a gingerbread man) when he was a baby himself.

He loved to play and invented his own version of “Fetch” that was more like “Keep-away.” He loved to retrieve whatever we tossed (ball, toy, old sock, stick) but then run past us with it, hoping we’d reach out and miss trying to grab it. Then he’d circle back around and do it again, almost grinning.

He was not particularly fond of getting a bath (whether inside or outside) or having his nails trimmed. He was regularly muzzled at the vet and given a tranquilizer once when he got his ears cleaned—after he got the shot all he could move was his lips to reveal his teeth, which he made sure to do, letting the vet knew he was still unhappy about the whole thing.

He loved people food, and was particularly fond of vegetables and fruit. As soon as he heard the sound of a knife on the cutting board, he’d come running and squeaking for a piece of carrot, potato, or pepper. He also liked apples. When I was finished eating one, I’d hold it by the ends and turn it for him. He’d eat daintily with just his front teeth, like he was eating an ear of corn. His absolute favorite food was bananas—he’d start to tremble and drool when I peeled one. I never could resist sharing one with him.

He probably would’ve made a good drug-sniffing dog. He was extremely tenacious—he once stood in front of the stove, staring, for who-knows-how-long making plaintive squeaking noises because a sausage link had rolled under it. I think he would’ve stayed there all night if we hadn’t retrieved it. He loved the hide-and-seek game where we’d tell him to stay in the kitchen, then hide a cookie in the living room and say “Okay” and he’d come running to sniff it out. He once caught a squirrel in his mouth but didn’t know what to do with it, so he just spit it out. It lay on the ground terrified and wet with dog slobber, then got up and ran away.

He learned words so quickly that we had to keep changing the word for “supper.” In addition to sit, stay and lay down, he knew so many words I can’t remember them all—squirrel, cat, chewie (compressed rawhide bone—his favorite and the only way to get rid of doggie breath), fishie (a toy), cookie, mommy, daddy, upstairs, bath, ride, treat, walk, outside and the phrases “trim your nails” and “they’re here.” (That last one would send him running to the front door barking before anyone even rang the bell.) He figured out that when I offered a cookie and said “Gentle” it meant not to take my fingers with the cookie. He would lift his head and—gently—take the cookie with just his front teeth. I think if he could’ve gotten his lips in the right position he would’ve spoken.

He was attuned to moods and facial expressions. He knew when I was sad. He’d stand near me, like a friend who listens without offering advice or trying to fix things, somehow knowing that his presence was enough. I could get him to lay down with just a look (the kind your mom gives you when you’ve done something wrong and you’re about to get it). If I ignored him and he wanted attention (or, more likely, for me to get up and get him a chewie), he’d lay his head on my lap or chest and look at me with his big, golden-brown eyes. Oh, he knew how to work it.

He was fairly healthy, and just had a few minor health issues throughout his life. Worms and fleas when he was young. A quick recovery from getting neutered (when he came home that night he made doggie circles and tried to lay down, but found it to be too painful, so he put his head on Bret’s lap and napped standing up). A tumor removed from his anus (which coincided with the release of “Borat” so we kept saying “His an-noose is broken.”).

He shed like crazy. There was no “shedding season” that I could determine; it was constant. I never did win the battle with dog hair in any house we lived in, or any car he’d been in, despite purchasing special pet vacuums, a Swiffer, and a sponge-like thing that was supposed to remove dog hair from the furniture (it didn’t). His hairs were long and black on one end, white on the other. Every day I carried some of him to work with me on my socks or pants and suspect that long after he’s been gone I’ll be doing the same.

He hated riding in the car. We had a disastrous drive to the in-laws for Thanksgiving one year—he whined during the entire three-hour trip there and most of the ride back. He loved going for walks. He hated being left at the kennel, wrapping himself around whoever dropped him off in an attempt at keeping us there with him.

Like most German shepherds, he was very attached to his people. We were his pack. He didn’t think he was a person, he thought we were the big dogs with access to the Prize Closet (pantry where his food, chewies and toys were kept). When I sat or lay on the floor at home, he’d park himself right beside me, and nothing made him happier than when both of his people sat on the floor so he could have the whole pack together in a puppy pile.

He loved us, but didn’t much like other people. He was fine around a couple of our friends, and a few family members, but that’s about it. He hated the mailman, of course, and anyone who rang the doorbell.

I always said if he had been human he’d have been Rain Man—highly intelligent with few social skills and unable to cope with changes to his routine or environment.

I’ll always be a girl who needs a dog, so I’m sure I’ll have others in my lifetime. I hope they’ll be more social, less headstrong, more easygoing, less crazy. I doubt that they’ll be smarter, or have more personality. His quirks were part of his charm, what made him Gus. I’ll miss having him around, especially when I finish an apple, or peel a banana.

1 comment:

Blobby said...

I'm so sorry!

I know how hard this must be for you. ...and the picture is so damn cute!