Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a whiskery face

Nyima and Milo - especially the Liddaboy - are eager to earn their cowboy hats. Some weeks ago, while on our morning walk in the back meadow, we came across 2 large cows (one with impressive horns), a calf and a small bull, who had transgressed the fence. Joyfully, my pair raced up barking and chasing and manouvered the cows across that field, and then the next one, to a small gate bedecked with prayer flags, in the far corner. All of us were somewhat astonished by this turn of events, but, not wanting to miss an opportunity, I crawled under the fence and opened the gate from the other side. Naturally the cows backed away, towards Milo. He held his ground (despite those big horns on a large, reluctant cow), so there they were, nowhere to go except forward. He helped me move them through, as Nyima barked and ran up and down as back-up; i was very proud.
Well, the other day we encountered horses. On our morning run, beyond the gate, Gypsy and I both still in the truck, I spied a pick-up ahead, coming our way, so I pulled over next to the small dam. Then I heard Nyima, out of sight, barking with her "there is a big animal here", voice (different from her javalina or rabbit bark). I started calling, as Letha Cline - our friend from Young who owns the cows and horses we encounter - crawled along in her pick-up, bales of alfalfa in the back. Quite unexpectedly, she had found the horses way past our gate and, fortunately, she had their feed , so they were plodding happily behind.
Milo saw his chance to prove to Letha what a hero he is (Letha has taken a shine to the Liddaboy), and decided to help, herding them along, snapping at their heels, but keeping a safe distance. I called in my most authoritative voice, to which Nyima responded and jumped in the truck, but Milo had a more important job to accomplish. So the procession continued the 1/2 mile to the gate - 4 horses trotting, Milo in the middle of the road, barking, Letha in her pick-up, and the girls and I (Nyima beside herself with excitement that she couldn't be part of the fun) at the rear. Milo and the horses passed through our opened gate, at which point Letha and I stopped; enough was enough! I called even more ferociously, and this time, a proud Liddaboy turned back to our truck.
He is a joyful, not-so-little, dog. He paddles rather than walks, but always with an electric charge of happiness in his step; it makes me laugh to watch him paddle on his long legs towards me. His full formal name is actually Miles (Edward) O'Brien, a moniker rarely used (in honour not of the cable TV reporter, but Chief of Operations, Deep Space Nine). He has a couple of odd quirky habits, however. He is peculiar about breakfast - often stepping back as if I were offering him a repugnant dish, and sitting at a distance, only eating 5 minutes later.
And he hates to get in the car.
I have never known a dog to be so consistently reluctant - fearful - of getting in a vehicle. Nyima was like that at first, I am sure due to some bitter experience, but she quickly learned that cars are fun - open windows, travel, new sights and smells - and now is as eager as Gypsy for the gate to open so they can leap inside.
Not our Milo. He dances with them at the outset, but when the gate is opened he runs away. Every day the same. I call, plead, offer treats, we side-step back and forth around the broad oak trunk next to the gate. I point out to him the girls are in the car, we are going for a walk, but even, after 10 months of rides that only have pleasant outcomes, he somehow associates getting in the car with something bad.
It's no easier when the walk is finished. There we go round and round the car, or sometimes he sits underneath and won't come out, even gently snapping at me. Of course, eventually, somehow I win and cuddle him, lift him in, and tell him what a good boy he is. But nothing has yet changed his mind about that moment of choice to get inside of his own free will.
He has decided to shift his place in the pack - a move not supported by me; Nyima, however, is such a precious, gracious being she doesn't really care, as long as no-one is hurt or upset. Milo has been working at winning Gypsy over - not to challenge her, I think (that would be most unacceptable, all around), but because he knows she is the top dog. This morning I was so happy to watch Gypsy and he have a rough and tumble chasing game, she most vocal. Of course Nyima, always ready for play - joined in, but I have never seen Gypsy so directly interact with Miles.
My family - what can I say! They are an important part of my life, teach me, liven me up, ground me, make me laugh. Without Gypsy I would never have survived those early months here on my own, so to her i owe an immeasurable amount. Perhaps I wish I had trained them better, so they would always listen to me, not just at their own discretion. Then, without a doubt, Milo would earn his cowboy hat. As it is, well, I am not so sure. Not that it really matters to him or me, chasing cows and horses is fun, but better still is sitting on the couch leaning close, his whiskery face being stroked, his eyes growing heavy, until final collapse into a not-so-big ball of contentment.

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