Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My First Furball

Wow, what an intro! After reading Jamie’s excellent buildup to my official entry into the furball field, I spent a few minutes thinking about who in the world I am and what I might have to offer here. A few minutes is pretty much all I’ve allotted for that part of the project. Time to get on with getting on with it, don’t you think?

So, during that few minutes of reflection, what did I come up with? Nothing profound, that’s for sure.

I guess you could say that I know a little bit about this and that. Now and again, when this or that pushes my interest button, I look into learning some more about whatever it is. That pretty much defines me as the work in progress that I suppose I will always be. I do have an old university degree in “broadcasting and the cinematic arts”. Or I guess you’d have to say that I used to have one. The diploma got ruined years back in a storage shed flood along with high school year books and a bunch of other memories that I’ve either virtually cataloged somewhere or virtually forgotten.

But let’s wander along the path a bit further. Since leaving the broadcast industry, way back when radio stations were still housed in caves forged from rock, everything I’ve put my hand to has been pretty much self-taught.

As Jamie mentioned, I’ve written a bit and now here I am writing a bit more. I’ve also learned how to restore audio from old recordings and launched a media transfer business based on that knowledge. Then we have the bits and pieces of experience that I’ve collected as a true gift from a lifetime of living with dogs. For me, the house isn’t quite complete until there is at least one canine companion around the place. Personally I prefer the company of two, and would happily explore living with three, to compliment our pair of cats, but that’s just my own personal and perhaps excessive preference.

These days I work with an exceptionally brilliant guide dog who I helped train, but I didn’t start out with a pup who stood proudly on the top rung of the intelligence ladder.

Jingles moved into my kidhood home when I was 7. On Christmas morning my sister and I awoke to hear her yapping and yowling puppy protest over being confined in a large cardboard box. “We got a dog!” I shouted before hurling the covers aside and racing downstairs to meet my new friend. Thus began eleven inseparable years spent with my very first dog, Jingles the cocker spaniel.

It wasn’t long after moving into our house that Jingles set about teaching us who she was and how she looked at life. As winter gave way to spring, she took to jumping up on the screen door for a peek at the outside world. “Bark bark,” she would comment, before cocking her head in a listening pose. “Bark bark bark!” More listening, then a growl, high pitched and really more comical than fierce. A renewed volley of frenzied barks invariably arrived on the tail of what passed for her ferocious roar, accompanied by a kind of doggy dance. My folks hated this aspect of the performance as it was punctuated by claws digging into the screen while the din grew deafening.

It was my Dad who finally figured out what all the shouting was about. Jingles, our new puppy for whom we had such high hopes, was barking at her own echo. When her shrill voice bounced off the house across the street, Jingles seemed certain that an invisible dog was challenging her, calling her out as it were. So it seemed only reasonable to answer the challenge. That is precisely what Jingles did... again and again and again. We figured that when puppyhood gave way to Jingles the grown up dog, she would leave her ear splitting habit behind, but she never did.
My point here is that if you have a dog, cat, ferret, or whatever else goes through life with you as your own special furball, feathered friend or whatever else, intelligence is not a required ingredient for love. Jingles the cocker spaniel proved it.

I’ll never forget the hot summer night nearly eleven years following that super special Christmas morning when Jingles was the star of a seven year old kid’s Christmas dream come true. Now the kid was eighteen. It was one of those nights when heat pressed down on the world, promising rain but never quite delivering.

I couldn’t sleep for contemplating the next day when I would begin training with my first guide dog. Excitement held sleep at bay, but sadness left its own mark. Jingles, by then elderly and in failing health hated other dogs in all shapes and sizes. I knew this for the fact that it was. Jingles was my dog, for eleven years, my only dog. But I was a blind kid who needed to be able to find my way around a large university campus. I knew that a white cane was a fine option for many, but I also knew that the cane and I would never get along all that well.

The hot summer night droned on and sleep was still a far away non-visitor. I knew why. But as I lay there, listening to train whistles sound their call, followed by the rhythmic rumble of wheels that rolled around a distant corner of the night, I hadn’t a clue as to how to square things with my conscience and more importantly with a dog who had given all she had to a kid who sometimes took her for granted.

Finally, I crept out of bed and slipped down to the kitchen where Jingles slept. That night I had a long talk with my long time companion. I explained to her why I needed to start building a life with a new dog and why it just couldn’t wait until she moved beyond a life that was, for her, already clouded with too much pain.

I don’t know how much of that night was spent in talking with my friend and I’ve long since forgotten exactly what I said, but one image is clear - her cocker spaniel head with the ears that probably heard less than half of what was said to her remained raised for the entire conversation. To this day, I believe she understood every word. To this day, I still smile when I think of Jingles, my very first furball.

Contributed by Larry Naessens

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