Friday, September 5, 2014

Oh My Dog! Canine Companionship and the Road

Having spent so much of my life on the road, I found it’s influenced my life at home in some unexpected ways. I always loved dogs, for instance, but frequent travel is not always conducive to caring for pets, but somehow I’ve managed to do it. I grew up with dogs and, though my parents’ preference was chihuahuas, I preferred larger breeds.
A dog walker on the streets of Palermo
Occasionally, the two subjects come together – in Buenos Aires, the presence of dogs is unavoidable, and there’s a whole industry of paseaperros (professional dog walkers, pictured above) for apartment dwellers. Some years ago, I wrote a magazine piece on dog walkers who shuttled their clients’ pets to the Atlantic beach resort of Mar del Plata for families without their own vehicles (as pictured below).
Some dog walkers even take your pet from Buenos Aires to the beach.
All the dogs of my adulthood have been rescues, even before that word became fashionable. I grew to admire Alaskan malamutes when one of my Berkeley housemates had one and, when visiting my parents in Seattle, I adopted a four-month-old puppy from the animal shelter there – luckily, just ahead of a couple who would have chosen the same animal.
Bronski relaxes after a day's hiking in California's Sierra Nevada.
After adopting, I faced the question of what to name him, and I didn’t want to settle for a trite name like “King” or “Spot” or the like. At the time, I spoke German well and had traveled in that country, so I chose “Bronski” after the main character in Günter Grass’s satirical novel The Tin Drum – even though this Bronski (pictured above) rarely barked, let alone shattered glass with high-pitched shrieks. Still, it was a name – and a remarkable dog - that nobody ever forgot.
Clouseau poses for a portrait.
Bronski, sadly, died a few months before I married my Argentine wife, who liked dogs but leaned toward a golden retriever (I like goldens, but they’re a little too needy for my taste). Instead, I managed to contact a breeder with a purebred malamute that, unfortunately from her point of view, suffered from a genetic defect that made him unshowable.  We named him “Clouseau,” after the character Peter Sellers made so memorable in the Pink Panther movies – his gaze perhaps suggests the character’s cluelessness – and Clouseau (pictured above) was always amusing, even when he shredded a large stuffed pillow that left the living room covered in foam. After that early puppy trauma, though, he was an exemplary companion, especially when our toddler daughter would drop food on the floor.
Gardel at attention.
After Clouseau died, I used Malamute Rescue to find the dog who became “Gardel” (pictured above) whom we named after the legendary Argentine tango singer who died in a Colombian plane crash in 1935. Gardel is still the voice of tango, and his devotees insist that “Gardel sings better every day.” For our part, we always claimed that “Gardel barks better every day” even though he, like most malamutes, was rarely vocal. In personality, though, he was more needy than suave - something of golden retriever trapped in a malamute’s body.
Sandro takes a seat.
With Gardel nearing the end, my wife found and adopted an Akita at the Berkeley Animal Shelter, whom we named “Sandro” after the rock singer and balladeer who was Argentina’s counterpart to Elvis. Sandro (pictured above) was a placid animal who, unlike his Argentine namesake, was a low-key presence in the household even as he aged surprisingly rapidly – perhaps he was older than we originally thought.
Malbec relaxes in the garden.

As Sandro declined, we again resorted to Malamute Rescue and found a young adult whose family was expecting a new baby and decided they couldn’t devote the time he deserved to him. They instead kept the family pug, more of a house dog, and we drove home with the dog who became “Malbec” (pictured above). He is now ten years old and, like his namesake Argentine wine, aging smoothly.

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