Soon after we reunited following our seven-month separation, we decided that we should have a dog and found a husky through a shelter that had families host dogs until they could find them a home. Rory a big, muscular dog. He was three years old and wasn’t well trained. We decided to take him on a trial basis. We soon found that we couldn’t let him run wild because he wouldn’t come when called. We tried taking him for walks, but he was pretty unmanageable and actually dragged me down the road one day. So, we set up a long run for him in the yard. This worked for a while until he took off chasing a squirrel one day. One end of the run was attached to the front porch, and he ripped it off the house, dragging it off behind him. We brought him back to the family we had gotten him from and, a week or so later, found Popsicle.
When we first went to meet him, he ran right up to us as if he known us his whole life. We fell in love instantly. His host family was calling him Bowser, but Justin insisted his name was Popsicle. He was a nine-month-old Great Dane/Golden Lab mix. He was the best dog ever. He was smart and lovable. He also loved to swim. I took him swimming as often as I could. His fur had an oily coating on it that made the water bead up on the surface. He would come out of the water and shake, drenching anyone nearby and end up being completely dry himself. We often went to Barberville Falls in Poestenkill, New York. There is no swimming allowed there anymore, but back then it was a popular swimming hole.
Unfortunately, Labs are bird dogs, and our neighbor had chickens. One day Popsicle came home with a dead chicken in his mouth, and we knew we were in trouble. The neighbor was understanding and, since it was only one chicken, he let us pay for it with as long as we agreed to not let it happen again. Things went along fine until one day, the neighbor came back over, shotgun in hand and dragging our dog along behind him. He had found Popsicle in the chicken coop surrounded by six dead chickens with one still in his mouth. Apparently, Pop, always friendly, even wagged his tail when he saw the neighbor. That was the only reason he didn’t shoot him immediately. He wanted to give us the chance to find him another home, but we were not willing to give him up yet.
Another neighbor, an old farmer, told us to tie a dead chicken around his neck and leave him tied outside for a week with the rotting chicken. It sounded too gruesome to me, but we were desperate to keep this member of our family, so we did it. That poor dog sat out there crying and howling. It was hard to go out even to feed him because the smell became so bad, but we managed somehow. He was so sad, and it was heart wrenching. He never went inside his shelter but just sat out in the yard looking miserable. At the end of the week, we buried the chicken carcass and gave him a bath. The neighbor had agreed that, if his chickens wandered into our yard, they were fair game, but I knew if he got the taste for it, it would be all over. Those chickens did come into our yard occasionally. It was as if they were purposely taunting him, and although he occasionally chased them, he never killed another bird. The neighbor also eventually secured his chicken yard better, keeping them out of his reach. He did also kill Jessie’s kitten later on, though. Now to be fair, the kitten was sitting in his food bowl, which I know is no excuse. He grabbed that tiny thing in his massive jaws and shook her, spraying droplets of blood everywhere. I cleaned that up for months afterwards. He didn’t actually kill her but had mangled her so badly that Paul ended up finishing the job. It was very traumatic for everyone that day.
The other bad habit he had was chasing cars. He loved to go for rides in the car, and I think he was looking for a ride. It was always easy to get him to come if he was being stubborn by just opening up the car door. I always made sure to take him for a short ride afterwards so it would continue to work. I never had another dog who loved to travel so much. But chasing cars was dangerous as well as being upsetting for the drivers. We had to come up with a plan, so we went to talk to the same man who had helped us out before. He told us about another unique solution. We got a bunch of people together and armed them with pots and pans, chains, basically anything that made a lot of noise. We all got in the car and drove down the road waiting for Popsicle to chase us. As soon as he did, we stopped the car and all hopped out, making the biggest racket we could. Paul had some heavy chains that he rattled and slammed on the ground. I had a cymbal and mallet. Poor Pop stopped in his tracks and ran back to the house with his tail between his legs. We had to do that a few times to finally break him of the habit, but once again, it worked. He never chased another car.
I grew up with dogs and I absolutely love them. But I also have no tolerance for their misbehavior. I always realized that because dogs are pack animals, I needed to be the leader of the pack. I need to have my dogs listen to and respect me. I’ve always made sure to deepen my voice when giving commands and have always tried to be consistent. I feel as though the pets in the house have a responsibility as members of the family just like everyone else. In addition to being our companions, our cats were responsible for keeping the mice at bay, and our dogs protected us. I figured that if the cats stopped catching mice, they must be overfed, so I cut back or even sometimes withheld their food, if they were being stubborn about it. I was never cruel to any of our animals, but I have occasionally been called hard-hearted. I just have certain expectations that are important to me. For example, I don’t like being harassed by a dog while I’m eating, so I never give them scraps at the table. When I was cooking or we were eating, Popsicle was not allowed in the room. I patiently worked with him until he understood. I would snap my fingers and point saying, “Out,” and he would back up to the edge of the linoleum. He was incredibly smart. After a while, all I had to do was look at him, and he would start doing a belly crawl backwards until his nails were right on the line. He was also sneaky, though. He would wait for me to relax my guard and start slowly inching his way in until I turned around. Then he would do his backwards crawl again and wait for the next opportunity. Once dinner was over, he was always welcome to come in and clean up the scraps on the floor.
At the end of 1989, Paul and I were fighting again pretty constantly, and I had decided not to engage in it anymore. Both kids were getting older. Jessie was in high school already, and I figured I could wait it out until they were out of the house before striking out on my own. I think that Paul was addicted to the adrenaline he got when fighting because once I stopped fighting back, we didn’t engage in much of anything except our music. He didn’t talk to me anymore except for necessary logistics. It didn’t stop him from yelling though. It seemed as though he yelled even more than before, so I often took the kids out of the house early in the morning before he woke up so we could avoid the drama. But, in spite of it all, we had one romantic night and, even with the birth control I used, I became pregnant with our third child.
Although Popsicle was officially Justin’s dog, he was my buddy. I was the one who had trained him and who took him on outings, usually swimming and hiking or car rides. He often curled up with me on the couch in the evenings if he wasn’t with Justin on the floor. He laid with his head on my pregnant belly just like Topaz had done with my first pregnancy. And, like him, I also loved being in the water especially when I’m pregnant. But ever since I almost drowned as a child, I’ve also been a little afraid of the water. As a result, I’m not a strong swimmer. Pop must have instinctively known that. While I was pregnant and tried to take him swimming, he barked at me and tried to herd me back to shore.
We often spent a week in the summer staying on an island in the middle of a large lake in Maine with a bunch of our friends. Because we were in the middle of a lake, we had to bring everything we needed to the island by boat, so the first and last days were usually taken up with multiple trips back and forth transporting everyone and their stuff. There was a small cabin on the land that was used for cooking with a small space for sleeping, so everyone brought their own tents. That first year of the party, we all decided to go into town one day, leaving the dogs behind. We’d had to tie Pop up outside the tent so he wouldn’t follow us across the lake. While we were gone, there was a thunderstorm. We knew Popsicle was afraid of thunder and rushed back as soon as we could. When we got there, we found him sitting inside the tent. He’d gotten scared and jumped through the screened window tearing a huge rip in it. Ugh! This was the borrowed tent. Luckily, my friend was understanding and let me repair it rather than buy a new one. After that we left him inside the cabin when we went to town.
I always looked forward to this week of partying, canoeing and swimming. Pop was in heaven practically living in the water, swimming across the lake with Justin and following along in the water next to the boats when we went out. But the year I was pregnant, he was constantly nervous, following me around and growling if I went near the water. He would swim out ahead of me and keep pushing at me until I finally got up on the shore. One day, my friend and I decided to canoe around the perimeter of the island. We’d done this in years past but this year, we made sure to wait until Pop wasn’t in sight. Then we quickly launched the canoe and started our circuit. Popsicle soon noticed us out on the lake and quickly swam out to the outside of the canoe trying to push it towards shore. He bumped up against it repeatedly as we slapped the paddles on the water trying to shoo him away. He even grabbed the paddles in his teeth.
My friend’s dog, Ti which was short for Titanium, was a white Malamute. She and Pop were best friends. They were always together. But, unlike Popsicle, whose fur repelled the water, Ty’s fur was like a sponge. She kept swimming out into that deep water to be with her friend. Pop was torn. He would take the time to swim her back, trying to leave her on shore, but she would keep following him out. Finally, she started to sink from her weighted down fur. We didn’t know what to do. She was quite a distance from the boat. We watched in horror as her snout started to dip below the surface. We would never get to her in time, but we didn’t need to. Popsicle swam over, grabbed the scruff of her neck, lifted her head out of the water and swam her back to shore. Then he stayed along the shoreline with his buddy, keeping her safe while frantically barking at the canoe until we finally gave in and landed. Everyone was amazed by his heroic deed. I stayed out of the water for the rest of the trip because it upset him so much. I figured he deserved that courtesy. However, he also never left my side, making sure I wouldn’t sneak off without him.