Saturday, November 14, 2009

My younger child, Billie-Goat Bowie

WARNING – this posting contains some mush and goofiness – indicative of my open heart regarding Billie.

Older, grumpier Marley has a Facebook profile, but I have resisted creating one for Billie. It feels odd for a hyper-articulate person like me to say this, but Billie is hard to write about. The living beauty that is Billie is a bunch of disconnected things that it doesn’t matter if I can’t group neatly and assess with my usual degree of edginess.

It’s impossible not to slide into barely qualified mush when talking about her…she is a perfect warm temperature, has perfect hair – silky but not too fine, not too coarse. She loves my touch but doesn’t beg for it and doesn’t cling when I move away.

Billie is extremely attached to me and Craig and Marley and has done almost nothing naughty in the last 3 years. (Yes, I feel superstitious when I write this, as any dog owner would – knock on wood! She may be eating a piece of furniture right now…) She can be timid about strangers and noise and is definitely phobic about thunderstorms, but her whimpering and burrowing when things crash outside is more appealing than annoying (I wish I could say the same of my phobias, which annoy even me).
I have been taught that dogs push near us to dominate, but with Billie (Oh, here I go again with goofy overstatement) it feels like a delicate gift of the pressure of her presence. Although I’m not sure Craig feels that when he has to push her off his side of the bed and she leaves red hairs on his pillow – but not too horribly many, even in her shedding Billie is relatively delicate.

Billie’s hair has little oil and she has a naturally sweet smell – yes, I’m used to the smell of dogs after 13 years but I can still discern that some dogs on some days smell better or worse than others - and of course that our own dogs smell better than anybody’s. But it’s not just my opinion – other people have commented how clean she smells (yes, these particular people were dog lovers…not exactly a scientific sample).If not for her allergies – which, whew, is a blog series in itself, for a while I even had her on an $experimental$ Pfizer medicine (so my baby would not scratch herself, bleed and cry!) she would be an almost maintenance-free dog. Doesn’t throw her back out, doesn’t cut herself, etc. – matured into a little lady with of course a veneer of the greyhound inertia. I'm sure she is the product of many different dog breeds, but she has enough of the greyhound attribute of only hurrying when they are really chasing something.

She doesn’t seem to favor either Craig or me, so neither of us feel jealous. I am her comforting mother sun but Craig’s arrival home always makes her stretch and sigh in relief: Ah, Alpha Dog is back!

When we brought her home with us in 2002, she immediately attached herself to Marley, although that wasn’t necessarily mutual – he mostly ignored her but she didn’t seem to notice. She was less than 8 weeks old and it was like the children’s book where the little bird asks every creature she meets, “Are You My Mommy?” Billie looks to Marley for many things, of which he provides almost none, but other than occasional good-natured wrestling matches and very occasional teenagerish tricks – barking at the back door till he ran outside to check it out, then stealing his dog bed – she has always deferred to him. (That was several years ago – Marley no longer runs, or sleeps on a bed…only smooth, cool tiles for him.)

Years ago our vet was calling her “Silly Willy” and I said, “No, it’s Silly Billie!” He immediately agreed. She has had many nicknames since then, most related to her proprietary approach to sofas and beds and to the nasty gas one brand of dog food (whitefish and sweet potatoes – who could blame her) gave her.

The shelter people described Billie as a “shepherd mix,” which we later learned is a euphemism for medium-size dogs of completely uncertain parentage. I guess mystery small dogs are called “Chihuahua mix,” etc. It was a puzzle for months how big Billie might get, whether her ears would straighten, and what her adult stride would be – as a little puppy her long legs were so ungainly we worried she couldn’t learn to walk correctly. She cried to get up on the bed with us – we had a double mattress then and it was too high for a doubting puppy to jump…we usually scooped her up.

I can’t help wondering if my own lack of physical coordination, not to mention my lack of self-confidence in anything physical, has somehow rubbed off on my pet. Like me, when she doesn’t over-analyze, she does better. Unlike me, she has incredible reach with her legs – she doesn’t have to jump up on the couch, she can just do a Daddy Longlegs type step. Once she was chasing Marley and jumped all the way over the couch – and from the look on her face, she hadn’t planned that. Kind of like the cow jumping over the moon – she knew she was jumping but didn’t know where it could take her. The rare times that she runs she has an incredible, graceful greyhound stride, but I don’t think she sees herself as a sleek racer – she probably imagines herself more like a Marley clone, since she doesn’t look in mirrors and he’s the dog she sees every day.

I have written many stories – well, more like essays…not fiction, they are all true! – about Marley, especially in his younger years. It’s not that Billie has not been naughty, or naughty in a funny way, or otherwise leaves me without inspiration – but I have written less than 10 Billie stories compared to about 50 Marley stories. (I could probably have listed that statistic instead of writing the whole rest of this posting – those numbers say a lot.)

Several people have asked why only Marley is on Facebook, and a friend recently suggested I position Billie’s Facebook persona as a defender of me, as opposed to Marley’s negativity. At the time it made perfect Sarah-support sense but on reflection…

Yes, cyber-Marley is critical, but I feel relieved, not jabbed, when I post his alleged thoughts online. I think that speaking for Marley helps me work through the guilt I feel when he glares at me. He is my main experience as a parent, with hard experiences like the tough love of giving him only a carrot when I know he wants so many other, softer, greasier things. He does have his sweet moments (convincingly suggesting that he wants nothing but me to rub his belly) but in general Craig and I are there to serve him, and usually found wanting in this regard.

Despite the broadsides Marley levels at Billie on Facebook, he doesn’t have anything specifically negative against her – he just has never seemed to see the point of her. She doesn’t have access to the treat jar, and she is not a sexual mate – sorry to be so blunt but I believe Marley processes in those terms. However…I think he does act much more obliging toward Billie when Craig and I are not at home, giving Billie friendly sniffs and maybe even laying next to her for naps. Beneath the surly, disdainful, overbred parts of him lurks a pack animal.

When Marley follows me around after breakfast, I’m almost positive it’s food – or specific scratching attention for some body part (sometimes he gets a carrot stuck in his teeth and wants me to massage his jaw) he’s after. When Billie follows me, she doesn’t have a specific gimme agenda, but…so…she’s the one it is harder to leave. After early breakfast she is so sleepy her eyes drift shut within minutes after she eats. When I pet her she gazes at me only briefly – I’m almost bothering her, but I can’t resist touching her soft, sweet self anyway.

Billie has helped me tremendously with accepting my need for naps, and early bedtime. She often goes to bed even before I do – curls up in a bedroom that’s dark and empty, not waiting for the rest of us, in respect for her body clock…something out-of-whack humans like me should emulate.

On days I’m home, she entreats me to take naps – if I even walk through the bedroom to get something out of a drawer, she jumps up on the bed and gives me the look I want to interpret as, “Is it nap time now?”

No, Billie is not selfless – my cousin/sister-friend/petsitter Amy christened Billie the Love Magnet, because Billie can apparently sense from dozens of feet away, even through a brick wall, that you are petting Marley…and she zooms in from outside the room, and tries to dog-elbow him out of the path of your hand and position herself optimally. But who could be mad at her for wanting love, and being so open about it – heck, we should all follow her example.

I know that humans’ interpretation of anything to do with dogs is questionable, but it seems to me that Billie watches to see whether and when I will sit down near her, or sit down anywhere she can joins me – because she finds me interesting, and likes to be with me. As compared to Marley, who only wonders what I’m doing because he is hungry…

I guess that writing about unconditional love/acceptance/affection (I’m trying to find a term I feel more comfortable with in this list, and it’s not really working) is not exactly in my tool kit. But…having Billie in the house, in my life, bolsters me in not always conscious ways. For example, when I have my blood pressure checked I try to visualize both dogs sprawled out for cuddling, but really it is more Billie that I see and sense – warm, red, smooth, relaxing under my touch, my breathing slowing to hers. Aaahhh…

And part of that relaxing image is the way Billie relaxes, especially how she sleeps – in 2 varieties: sprawled out as big as a continent, or curled up in a tiny red ball. The continent is funny but I find the ball adorable. She is literally wound into herself as tight as a tortellini and barely responds when I carefully stroke her, since she is in ball-mode. Marley snored even as a puppy – he is deep-chested and has mucus and God knows what else going on – but the loudest thing Billie does is breathe deeply, sometimes, and other times grunt slightly during her dreams.

How can I not adore a creature who has not only pretty sleep but such sweet dreams. And adores me, even though I am larger and clumsier and don't have silky hair.


Anonymous said...

I have a whole new appreciation for Billie! - Zan

Nicole Smith said...

they are so sweet! great post;)