Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Making Frienemies

Our neighbors have a new dog. To be more specific, they are caring for a cousin's dog for a few months. The dog is just four months old, fluffy and playful, drooly and energetic, and full of puppy exuberance for, well, everything. His misnomer is "Mellow", for he is anything but. He is a Saint Bernard.

Mellow has been introduced to most of the neighborhood, been cooed over and played with, laughed at and enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Everyone is happy to have him on the block.

Everyone, that is, except Bailey.

One of the things we've always loved about Bailey is how much he loves to play. He will dig through his basket of balls, ropes and bones to find just the right squeaky toy and drop it in your lap to let you know he wants to tangle with you. He was even open to wrestling with Flash when Flash moved in a few years ago, even though Flash is half Bailey's size, and neither dog seemed to know what he was doing.

Whenever Mellow sees Bailey, his head goes down to the ground, his butt goes up in the air and his tail starts wagging. They are just about the same size, and Mellow seems excited to have found a 'peer'; he makes it very clear to Bailey that he wants to play. But Bailey growls, backs off, and seems only to want to sniff, to get the lowdown on the new guy, and then be left alone.

We suspect it may be Bailey's age. He is 12 now; his muzzle is lightening and his movements are slowing. Perhaps Mellow's exuberance makes him jealous (he barks at us when we pet Mellow), or perhaps, like the rest of us old folks, he's just afraid this kid is going to make him throw his back out.

There is one other explanation I can imagine, but it would require Bailey's intelligence to be far higher than we already know it to be. Perhaps Bailey sees a new dog living in Flash's old house, sees us being friendly to the dog and spending time with him, and in his mind, that can only mean one thing: that the dog will ultimately come and live with us as Flash did, forcing Bailey to share his family with yet another dog.

Some might think this a bit of a stretch, but it is only now, five years after we got Bailey, that he has come to semi-accept my friend who brought us together.

Bailey had been raised from a pup by a young woman in her 20s. When she became sick with cancer, she had friends--a family of kids, cats and dogs--who took Bailey in while she underwent treatment. It was expected to be a temporary situation, but the woman did not recover.

The family had watched Bailey for a year, but couldn't keep him long term. They mentioned to my friend, who is a physical therapist and had been making weekly trips to the house, that they were looking for new owners for Bailey. She thought of us. We met them, loved Bailey, and took him home.

The first time my friend came to our house once Bailey had moved in, and for many months after, Bailey would growl, back away from her, put his tail between his legs and tremble. He had never done this at the other family's house when she came to visit. My theory is that he made a connection between being forced to leave his other family and coming to live with us, and the common denominator was my friend. As a result, any time she showed up, he was afraid he'd be taken away again. In this light, the idea of Mellow coming to live with us as Flash had done is not a great stretch.

Growing old is hard. Insecurity can be paralyzing. Bailey seems to be fighting both as best he can. All any of us can hope for as we age is a loving circle of family and friends to stick by us through the hard parts, and our pets deserve no less.

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