After a couple of hundred miles of freeway riding, the slower pace and angled maneuvering let Duke know something was up, even if the neighborhood was unfamiliar.
He’d only been here once, and only for a day or two a couple of months or so before.
A leaner version of his “Mama” from their last encounter met her now four-year-old puppy, that unclipped tail of his whipping in love and glee nearly as rapidly as we’d been driving for several hours.
I’ve been hit by that tail a time or three, occasionally right after having been awakened late on a Friday night by a cold nose and wet tongue arriving for a weekend visit. It stings. He normally is aware of this.
After a brief romp, a little sniffing, and a couple of tinkles, Duke accompanied everybody inside. He was curious about the bundle of blankets that Grandma didn’t seem to want to let go of, but no more so than about other nooks and crannies in this only vaguely familiar house.
In time, the bundle of joy was gently settled in his bassinette next to a couch and viewable from the nearby kitchen table.
The object of Duke’s curiosity became more focused. He looked and sniffed around the bassinette, too tall for him to actually see its contents.
Ever so gently, his nearly 50 pounds nimbly hopped upon the couch, put his forepaws on its arm, leaned his head forward, and peered in. For what seemed a very long time, he just stood there and looked…other than twitching nose and unclipped ears, he didn’t move a muscle.
When he did reposition himself, this territorial “beast” camped out on the other side of the bassinette from which he’d peeped. This pretty much became Duke’s “turf” for the remainder of this visit.
A four- or five-week old Duke had first trod our turf shortly after his Mama returned home with a college degree—sort of a graduation gift to self. As a bonus, her folks got a small taste of grand-parenthood.
That genuine grandson turns six this very day and is now a kindergartener.
Duke took another of those long rides (in the other direction) three or four weeks after that first meeting, and has lived with Grandma and Grandpa ever since.
New parent and baby returned to the area several months later, toddler and pet quickly becoming fast friends.
A year or so later, and then again last summer, four additional puppy legs arrived and stayed.
Duke has certainly communicated to the newbies, “Hey, I was here first, I know more than you, and I do have privileges,” But he shows a similar kind of protective instinct towards them—he’s even chased down the older of the two when Blackjack got himself a case of wanderlust.
He’s also tried to let them know they get fed and treated darn well hereabouts, so they’d best not mess it up by getting somebody mad. He used a paws-on approach with Blackjack in the course of their play, even as his young companion became noticeably taller and stouter.
Perhaps in deference to doggy late middle-age, Duke has delegated to Blackjack the rough-house-play duties with the latest arrival. Maybe he just instinctively knew how big and how fast Roxie would grow…she’s already taller than the two boys.
Roxie, a gift from kindly neighbors, is the German Shepherd I’ve been craving since my Dad’s third and final Hans had to be put down at age three back in my college days.
Blackjack was one of a litter of four-month-old under-nourished Huskie pups abandoned on the doorstep of the colleague of a relative…in South Texas. No wonder my big baby has one very, very light blue eye and one brown eye. No wonder, and no kidding. He was and still is beautiful—but I digress.
At the time, the proximity (in some ways) in breed gave a good rub, though not an all-out scratch, to that itch from the past.
But—thirty-some-year craving be damned—Duke will always be my favorite. It all goes back to that first meeting with JJ. I’d love to have a snapshot of that pose by the bassinette. Actually I do, but it exists only in my mind…hope this little essay has captured a little of it.
Incidentally our Duke, except for his ears and tail, looks very much like the animal that adorns the cover of the Dec. 29, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated.