Sunday, June 13, 2010

Barley and Malbec

“Barley and Malbec” sounds like the title of an article extolling the virtues of grains and grapes. Indeed, without much pushing, I could wax eloquent on the topic - well, if not eloquent at least effusive. When it comes to red wine – something that I come to most every evening, Malbec is near at the top. I didn’t know about it until I met Micaiah, my son in law, and now I don’t know how I ever lived without it. I feel much the same way about Micaiah.

Barley is hands down my favorite grain. I like it in soup, as a side dish sautéed with onions and herbs, or for breakfast with a little brown sugar. But the Malbec and Barley of this particular piece refers to the two dogs who are presently my constant companions. As I write, Barley is sharing the ottoman with my feet and Malbec is on a large pillow beside my chair. We have just returned from a couple hour slog in the rain and the boys will be out for a good hour before they rouse me for a round of “three ball.”

It would difficult to find two dogs more different in appearance and temperament. Malbec has short hair the color of buttered toast. His face is classic boxer big sad eyes, wrinkled brow and black muzzle. He may look intimidating but in truth he is pretty much a scaredy cat until he gets to know you and then watch out for his tail – it can raise welts when he really gets excited. A formidable looking muscle dog, he has been Kate’s regular running companion in Albuquerque the past four years and anyone who might have considered doing her harm would have dropped the idea, once he got a good look at Malbec.

Barley is a golden retriever and small for his breed, with honey colored coat and lots of platinum feathers on his legs and tail. While one look at Malbec sitting on the front porch will keep most door to door salesmen at bay, Barley has the kind of sweet good looks that prompt folks to rush up, kneel down, and scratch his ear. I am not alone in thinking he is one of the cutest dogs around, one who could probably finance a post graduate degree by posing for calendars. When he and Fred travel together, he is a proven “chick magnet” inspiring attractive women to bend over, throw their arms around him, and mutter sweet nothings while he pokes his nose into their perfumed cleavage.

Both dogs are great people dogs which makes them easy to hang out with. They both like parties – both the socialization and the clean up. Nonetheless, as we all know, looks can be deceiving. For though Barley is well behaved with people of all ages and infirmities, when it comes to other dogs, his social skills are decidedly lacking. He can move from naughty to nice and back again in a tail wag. Though various professionals as well as other dog owners have told me that they don’t think he is truly aggressive, just a little full of himself, I am baffled. Maybe he has a split personality - Barley and Snarly.

Malbec is temporarily living with us until Kate and Micaiah finish their residencies in Albuquerque and move to Seattle. Selling a house with a dog in it poses challenges, not least of which is keeping the floor clean. I have known that Malbec would be moving in with us for the past couple of years and the prospect of how Barley would react to this has had me on the verge of cardiac arrest whenever I thought about it. I have devoured just about every book written on dog training, specifically those chapters devoted to “dog on dog aggression; I have watched countless segments of “The Dog Whisper” and even engaged the services of a “dog shrink.” Together, Barley and I have participated in multiple training classes, with provocative titles like, Reactive Rover and “Just Cool It.” Finally, we worked with a trainer who specializes in training German shepherds as protection dogs. From him I learned two very important things – the value of the command “down” and the reality that I might be able to control Barley’s behavior but I probably wasn’t going to cure him.

When I started on this piece a couple of days ago I intended to tell you at this point that all of my sleepless nights and fretting had been for naught. After a rather tense initial 24 hours where Fred and I kept Barley on leash and under “strict surveillance” things had really mellowed out quite nicely. The dogs walked side by side every day on leash for an hour or more, they rode in the backseat of my car with their heads next to each other. They played ball, ran on the beach and took turns with treats. In general they co-existed without incident. Regrettably, as is often the case, my smugness settled in a little too soon. On Monday night, when Fred arrived home from a Tacoma Rainiers game, the two dogs ran to the door to great him, taking their toys to show him and diving between his legs for attention and pets. All seemed to be proceeding normally, when out of the blue, Barley nailed Malbec on the ear.

I put Barley in a down and proceeded to mete out punishment in the way that only a mother can do when she is both angry and humiliated by the behavior of her child. Then I turned my attention to Malbec, who had not really reacted to the fracas, at least not vocally. Much to my horror, I discovered that Malbec was missing part of his ear – a small part, a sliver along the bottom corner, but still, his left ear was no longer a match for the right.

I will skip ahead and spare you the details that might only be of interest to a forensic pathologist. Suffice it to say that the computer room where Malbec spent the night looked as if it had been decorated by Jackson Pollock during a temper tantrum. Finally, I succeeded in getting enough duct tape around his ear to stanch the bleeding. Anyone who remembers the movie, Cat Balou and recalls the hired gun slinger with the silver nose played by Lee Marvin will appreciate that we dubbed Malbec, “Silver Ear” while he sported the duct tape bandage. Fred insists on calling him Evander Holyfield and Barley Mike Tyson – an appropriate but rather disconcerting reference, as far as I am concerned. He has since been to the vet and now has a much more pedestrian looking bandage, along with antibiotics and pain pills.

The clean up occupied me for a good three hours and I continue to find dark spots in the most unexpected places. Malbec appears to be unfazed by the whole thing. He is a real trooper about taking his medicine particularly since he “takes” it in a hot dog. Barley has finally “forgiven” me for punishing him. You read that right. At first I thought his chastened behavior was prompted by remorse – what a nice idea. Alas, I am a wiser woman than I wish I were.

Tomorrow, we are loading up the truck with dog crates, kibbles and the chucker and heading down to Sun River for the annual meeting of Fred’s investment club. When I thought about how complicated it would be to explain all of my house rules for the dogs to a house sitter, taking them along was by far the easiest choice. Besides, what on earth would I do with my time otherwise – sit around and read books and drink wine? Fred has golf and tennis to occupy him, but when you are a woman who “walks with dogs” well, that is what you need to do. Besides, they seem to enjoy my company and in that respect, they are unique. There is an outside possibility that this enforced socialization will have a salutary effect on Barley; that he will trade in a curled lip for friendly nudge. But as I said – I am a wiser woman now and am not holding my breath. I encourage you to exhale as well. Surely, you will be the first to know if there is a miraculous conversion.