Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Doggie Style: A Story Of Canine Lust And Humor


          Watching dogs mate isn't my favorite activity.  But this was MY dog mating, my Bear, the surprise doggie love of my life.  We acquired Bear in a last-second rescue from a puppy mill.  I've told that story elsewhere.
            Sometimes Fox (that's my partner) takes Bear to the grocery, all eight pounds of him, snugged in a sling. Fox was putting items into her basket when she was approached by a husky woman in her late forties. 
            "He's male?" the woman asked, putting her face near to Bear so she could see his eyes.  She smiled and made kissy sounds.  Bear's lips rose to reveal his teeth, a sign that he did not appreciate being patronized. The stranger retreated a few steps.  "He's got to be male!" she said.
             Fox nodded.
            "Tell me he's still intact, please!", the woman implored.  " I have a female poodle just his size and I would love to put them together.  What do you think?"
            Fox liked the idea, so one thing led to another which led to this:  Fox was out of  town when the lady's dog came into heat. 
          The dog's name was Snickers.  I got  the job  of supervising the mating of Bear with Snickers. Solo .  The phone rang, the heat was on and I was designated the Master of Ceremonies. 
            Bear stands six inches from the ground at the shoulders.  He would never win a blue ribbon or Best Of anything unless it was a dog show run by old beatniks on Quaaludes.
            It's strangely deceiving to describe Bear as tiny.  He has short legs and a round powerful torso.  If I had four of him they could pull a sled through the snow.
               There was a knock at the door.  I pulled the screen back to open.  "Here she is, " said Tammy, our new friend,  and dropped a gangly brown creature at my feet. 
          There was no ceremony, no meeting and greeting as Snickers' owner left her bitch with me.  " Gotta run!  I'll see you tomorrow night around five," she said.  "Good luck." 
            Snickers and Bear had a whiff of each other and without foreplay or so much as a hello, Snickers lifted her tail and accepted Bear's pursuit.
            It was clear from the outset that we had a problem.  Snickers stood nine inches tall at the shoulder.  Bear looked like a sixth grader dancing with a girl who towers over him. 
Snickers and puppies
            So far Bear had been a masturbator.  He loyally and monogamously humped a stuffed toy dog named Greta.  He got it right; he knew Greta's business end.  He pulled at her ear, beat her up a little bit, jumped and humped for a while before dismounting.  Greta was the perfect size and she obeyed implicitly.  Bear would beat her up again, hop on and hump some more.  Bear's humping was so enthusiastic that he literally launched himself into the air.  All four feet left the ground as he banged away.
            When Bear went into this amatory activity, Fox and I had to look away.  Otherwise we would start laughing out loud, and Bear's sense of dignity would have been damaged.  I am not being facetious.  
            Snickers was not Greta.   She was alive. She moved.  She wagged her tail in the air, and the fug of pheromones filled the room with flirty invitation.  Snickers wasn't much to look at.  She was a stringy toy poodle, dark brown, with a long pointed nose.  She growled but we were told in advance that growling was her only means of vocal expression.  There was no explanation why this was so.  It was a simple fact.  It made Snickers seem as if she had a grievance with the world.
            Wonderful.  Bear didn't care.  Bear had the whiff and was panting as he followed Snickers around our front room. They didn't care about privacy. They weren't looking for a hiding place, a love nest or cozy nook where the two could go off and get acquainted.  That isn't the way dog mating works.  The act of copulation must be witnessed.  And, hopefully, repeated as often as possible. 
            Snickers' business end was a little bit too high for Bear.  He was game, oh yes.  He got up on his hind legs and tried to mount the tall girl.  Snickers kept walking in figure eights.  I had the feeling she'd done this before.  In fact, Snickers was a bit long in the tooth.  Snickers was pushing the dog equivalent of forty.  We hadn't known any of this.  Our deal was simple.  We would get one puppy from the litter. 

            Bear tried grabbing her around the waist with his front legs.  Snickers kept her tail up and her parts ready for action, but she wasn't helping poor Bear.  She kept walking figure eights, up and down, round and round.  She dragged the grappling Bear along with her, growling all the way.   
            Bear tried jumping.  He hopped on Snickers' back but the angle was all wrong.  He slid back to the ground without gaining purchase.
            I felt awful for Bear.  His eyes held a bewildered sorrow.  His tongue
hung out and vibrated in rhythm with his panting.  He tried grabbing one of Snicker's hind legs and climbing.  Snickers walked around the room with Bear attached to her svelte but aging body.  I tried not to laugh.  I have learned that Bear is capable of suffering acute embarrassment.
            Is that a stretch for you?  That dogs can be embarrassed?  I've learned that animals have complex emotional lives.  The best I can do is try to understand their feelings.
            Bear was caught between humiliation and lust.  In the hierarchy of instinct, lust wins out.  Bear wasn't going to quit until he reached his goal.
           I tried to help by putting phone books under Bear's legs.  I was crawling around thrusting books, cushions and boxes to elevate him to the action position, but of course nothing helped because the two dogs were in constant motion and weren't about to stop and think things through.  I believe Bear felt a little better, though, because I was making such a fool of myself. 
            It just didn't work.  Now and then Snickers would turn her head to look at Bear and growl.  That was the only sound she knew how to make.  Growl.  I might have hoped for a more supportive partner for my boy, but fate had brought the couple together and fate would determine the outcome.
            I sat at my computer while all this strenuous activity went on under and around my chair.  Bear's energy was faltering.  I was beginning to worry about him. I tried to encourage him to take a break and drink some water.  No deal.  He had been following and trying to mount Snickers for three hours and he wasn't about to quit. 
            That bitch was in HEAT! (Note: My use of the word Bitch is correct.  It's not a word I use, otherwise, not ever.  I think the word has acquired way too much currency in our culture. End of note.)
             I was thinking about ways to end the situation.  I was afraid Bear was dehydrating.  The only way I had to separate the dogs was to lock Bear in the bathroom. I looked down from my chair and noticed that Bear had adopted a new strategy.  He was hopping from foot to foot.  His front paws were on Snicker's flanks and she was still ceaselessly moving.  I wanted to scream at her, Stand still for god's sake!
            Bear's hippity hop from foot to foot had the effect of getting him some altitude.  I don't know how he worked it out but the next thing I knew the two dogs were locked together.
            Nature, clever nature, had designed the female dog's parts to close down on the male's penis and trap it there.  Snickers was still moving in her relentless figure eights but now Bear was being dragged along, fumbling over his own paws.
            Snickers growled.  Bear looked up at me in utter bewilderment.  His tongue hung halfway down his chest, his mouth dripped saliva.  He managed to get himself onto Snicker's back so he could match her strides with his rear legs.  I know he felt ridiculous.  Now and then he would lose his rhythm and drop into an ungainly sprawl.  He was dragged on his back, on his side, as he struggled to achieve a position that gave him a modicum of dignity.
            When Tammy arrived for Snickers around five the next day, the pair had successfully copulated twice.  The second time was easier.  Bear used his hippity hop move and was trapped by Snickers for another ride.
            I could swear, when the whole thing was finished, Bear's eyes pleaded with me to get him neutered as soon as possible.  
            "Listen to me, man," he was saying. "If you want my balls you can have 'em!  Get them off me.  If this is dog sex, I don't want anything to do with this business, ever again!"
            Snickers' litter consisted of two pups, a male and a female.  The girl pup,
Gabe in blue, Kioni in pink
named Kioni, was twice the size of the boy pup, Gabriel.  We didn't want a female, so runty little Gabe became a member of our family.
            At first we thought he might be a special needs dog.  We worried about his body and his mind, but Gabe turned out to be clever and resilient. 
            That, however, is another story.

Friday, October 12, 2012


An identity is an infinitely precious thing. Cheryl Strayed's best selling book, WILD, is about building an identity out of flawed raw materials. The book touches us in deep places because all of us are involved in the same struggle. All of us come from flawed raw materials.

In the past, in smaller, more coherent cultures, identity was imparted from that culture and its well-designed rites of passage. Walkabout, Vision Quest, the names are many but the concept, of moving from childhood to maturity, is the same. These passages into adulthood are achieved by ceremonial activity that could be dubbed Initiation By Ordeal. In WILD, Cheryl devises her own initiation, the Ordeal of walking alone for more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

When she began her long walk in the Mojave Desert, she was grieving the death of her mother from cancer. Cheryl's mother died at age forty five.

The spirit of Cheryl's mother inhabits this book. She isn't idealized, she isn't sainted, but Cheryl makes it clear that her mother provided the structure and the strength to enable her three children to cope and endure. This book, WILD, is Cheryl's love song to her mother. Its pages are Cheryl's way of working with her grief and giving it that alchemical fulfilment: turning pain into understanding.

Cheryl's father figures were at best shaky. The men with whom Cheryl's mother related were often negligent and sometimes brutal. They left Cheryl with a gaping hole in her heart. When her mother died, Cheryl was forced to wear the mantle of orphan-hood, too young. Far too young. Her childhood and adolescence were a confusion of conventional achievements and marginal lifestyles. She was a prom queen. She was dirt poor and lived on remote acreage in Minnesota. She straddled worlds. She was the popular high school girl who liked boys and was liked by boys. She was a thinker who struggled mightily with fundamental questions. Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life?

The kernel of her desire was to be a writer. She wandered from Minnesota to Oregon and back again. She fell in love and got married to a good man. You know what people say about good men: they're hard to find. Cheryl loved this man but couldn't tame her own WILD side. She cheated and felt ashamed. Then she cheated again. And again. In Portland she met a man who consorted with dangerous diseases. He became Cheryl's heroin partner.

After her mother's shattering death, Cheryl came to one of those fateful forks in the road. After making a string of bad decisions, Cheryl summoned strength from within herself. The shame of her addiction was in conflict with her desire to honor her mother. She made the right decision. She would break off the flirtation with heroin and she would create her own Ordeal By Initiation.

She bought a huge backpack that she nicknamed Monster. She over-packed, weighed herself down with too much of everything and set out on an epic walk. Her feet grew blistered, her toenails fell off, one after another. She fenced with pain, exhaustion, doubt and the desire to quit. She didn't quit. She met people on the trail who touched her most quickened instincts. On the Pacific Crest Trail, you may walk with a person for an hour or a day. That person will be embedded within your psyche forever.

I didn't want WILD to end. I didn't want to leave Cheryl's company. I love this book and though I'm sometimes goaded to envy the success of other writers, I have no such feeling for Cheryl Strayed. She deserves her success.

She's experiencing one of those overnight triumphs that takes twenty or thirty years to prepare. It's my belief that Cheryl blasted a few doors open for other writers. I hope I am one of them. I too have my story, my memoir of my Initiation by Ordeal. I have been hanging on the edge of resignation, just about to give up, heartbroken with discouragement.

WILD gave me courage. WILD pulled me back from the precipice of complete capitulation. If Cheryl can become one of those rare black swans who appear as if from nowhere, so can I.

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