Ours was not a dog house originally, and I worried we might never have a dog when I was little, but it became a dog house over the years, not the proverbial one; the we live with dogs one. In the very early days of their marriage, our parents had a dog that was very bonded to our dad. They also had kids back to back to back to back, as you know, and for about a decade, they were no best friend of man in their house.
The dog drought began before I was born and extended until right after Dave was hurt. I brought one stray dog home when I was in Kindergarten that was rehomed immediately as in one day later, so like the five-second rule for food, having a dog for less than 24 hours does not in any way count as rain during our far too long family dog drought. My mom knew all too well how much work it was to have a big dog, which is what I likely brought home. With all of her other commitments besides caring for our house and family, booster club, sports mom, room mother etc, she was not going to fall for either he won’t get very big or I will take him lies of a child.
Our parents treated their dogs very well, so much so that Brian used to joke that if reincarnation is real, he wanted to return to this life as one of my mom’s dogs. I was an elementary-age kid, and in my ridiculous exaggeration of the difficulties of an overburdensome childhood, I briefly believed they were treated better than me because there were zero rules for the dogs, and what felt like nothing but rules, like stupid bedtime rules for me and wished I were a dog too.
Muffy, and Frankie, toy poodle puppies, were given to my mom not long after Dave was hurt. It seemed like a terrible idea taking on the care of two puppies with Dave in the hospital, but they were such cute little bundles of curly fur that she could not say no. She held them on her lap constantly.
As they grew, they were completely, painfully bonded to my mom. When she would leave to go grocery shopping, they barked and whined inconsolably, non-stop until she returned. They NEVER responded like this any other time, and the reason I mention them at all is that poor Dave was stuck listening to them, for an hour, for HOURS, however long our mom was out of the house, they were screaming at the door for her to return. It was a brutal experience for everyone, but especially for Dave. I could go upstairs and close my bedroom door and block out a bit of the pain, but the dogs stood at our dining room door, calling for my mom’s return one room away from Dave’s bedroom. I would always close his door, put music on, and turn it way up in an attempt to drown them out. It was truly an awful aspect of these dogs.
When she returned, they briefly barked a joyful, we are so happy to see you bark, which ceased as soon as she acknowledged them. This was her one-sided experience of their yappy barky behavior other than the warning bark when someone knocked at the door type of barks. When we emphatically conveyed our relief that she returned home, she could not and did not believe that her dogs had tortured us with their non-stop piercing equivalent of dog shouting the entire time she was gone. We tried explaining how bad it was to her, but she simply could not imagine her little dogs making that big of a dog stink in her absence.
Dave and Brian came up with a plan to record them in the throes of their standard OMG, mom may NEVER, E-V-E-R return, we are gonna die reactionary fit. It was a solid hour of unrefutable proof that it was painful when she was gone. We were as glad to have her home as the dogs were but for slightly different reasons, but really Dave was closest to that barky pain.
My mom ADORED those yappy little doggos, and when they were not in an all-out panic, “she’s gone” mode, I know they gave our mom that sort of extra cuddly special love that only dogs can provide that I am certain was exactly what she needed at that difficult time in her life. We all recognized it, and those dogs held a special place in everyone’s heart, albeit at times begrudgingly, for loving her so completely.
The irony of Jessie and her no-bark training was such a very pleasant contrast following the 13 or so painfully yappy poodle years. Jessie was not a lap dog, but her presence was so warm and pleasant, everyone gave her love and attention, everyone being my dad, mom and me as though she were OUR dog, but it wasn’t until I saw her private interactions with Dave that I understood, she was really Dave’s dog, and I adored her even more for being such a GOOD GIRRRRRRL!
Following Jessie, we lived a brief time with no dog because we were grieving the loss of her. One morning, Barbara drove around the corner to find a big scary looking dude with a pit bull on our porch, his face against our kitchen windows, clearly up to no good. She stopped, rolled down her window, and asked if she could help him? His response to her was menacing, threatening, but he did leave. Many of the houses in our neighborhood had been broken into, some of them more than once or twice. When Barb conveyed this to Dave, our parents’ response was to put bars on all our windows and enclose their porch with bars and a security gate as well. I should mention their side door was one long pane of glass; it was beautiful but also all glass. It was time to be open to considering another dog.
I had a friend who raised European German Shepards that were prized security dogs. He was very upset to hear about the guy with the pitbull, casing our house and gave our family one of his puppies. She grew to be a gorgeous hunk of an enormous, mostly black dog, five feet of muscle in length from chest to butt, and weighed in at 120 very svelte pounds. She was not trained to be aggressive, but visually, no one would think twice about entering our house or yard without invitation, ever, period.
When you have a dog like this, you cannot let them grow to be untrained for myriad obvious and unobvious reasons, but honestly, every dog should be trained, so you don’t spend it’s entire lifetime yelling at it for not behaving properly. I insisted on training classes for her, and between me, my mom and dad, but mostly me, we took her to classes so she would respond to each of us. We all had a very different relationship with her. For example, I would come into Dave’s room when my dad and Dave were watching sports and find her stretched out on the couch with my dad-my mom did not like her on the couch, but to my dad it was FINE. My dad would be sitting on the first cushion of the couch, she took up the rest of it with her head right next to my dad’s hand, getting pets the entire time. I would say DAD!!! Don’t let her up on the couch like he was a child. He was a child when it came to his doggos. They got away with everything. If my dad was not in the room, she was curled up on the floor.
She kept my mom company in the yard. She stood next to Dave when he was in his wheelchair and would place her head right under his hand as it hung down on the side of his wheelchair to pet herself with his paralyzed hand. I called it the petting machine. When it came to giving her certain commands, she really only listened to me because I don’t take shit from anyone man, beast or child. She was an incredibly smart dog, you could see her wheels turning as she evaluated her best play at getting away with what she wanted. She was tall enough to eat anything off the counter if she wanted to so she could not be in the kitchen when food was being prepared.
Much like our mom’s poodles and her disbelief that they barked like mad in her absence, our mom also failed to see Misha from the business end of the human to dog experience. Her nose was about 10” long, and those huge gleaming white teeth against her black muzzle REALLY stood out, frighteningly so. Even though she was never trained to be aggressive, her breed is known to be very protective of their family and territory. And Misha was. I ALSO had to train my mom to understand that Misha needed to be treated like a loaded gun around strangers in the house, that she should be put outside if a repairman or other stranger came over. My mom scoffed at me when I made these comparisons. She had not acknowledged that the dog was as frightening as she was because my mom had never been on the receiving end of a bad look from this dog…until the first Halloween when Misha was a full-grown dog.
My mom handed out candy on Halloween through the bars of their enclosed porch without having to unlock the security gate. I suggested my mom put Misha outside or closed in the other room, but she scoffed at me. Misha loved children. Correction, Misha LOVED Steven, which in my mom’s mind equated to her loving all children. Anyone who knocked on our door was going to get some dog scrutiny at a minimum. She was bred to protect and maybe to kill spiders, and there is no doubt in my mind that she could.
The very first darling Spiderman trick-or-treater of the evening was approaching our door. We knew this because there was a wrought iron gate at the edge of the porch’s step-up entrance then another two steps up to the wrought iron security door of the enclosed covered portion of the porch closest to the door. The gate made a metallic screeching sound every time it was opened, which alerted not only the dog but everyone in the house could hear the gate open, know someone was on the porch, and we needed to answer the door. My mom and I happened to be right by the door and heard the gate open. She opened the door. Right behind her was Misha because a dog’s self-imposed duty is to go to the door when someone comes to the door. Small dogs bark. She didn’t usually bark at the door which was good; I think she knew just showing her face was enough to ward off evildoers. This time, she had to have been thrown off by the small unidentifiable creature in a strange mask, and she barked but not like a hey guys, woof, woof someone is at the door bark, it was like a rabid dog gone wild possibly a fear of spiders bark.
Imagine if you will, being a child not much taller than the dog, and being outweighed by probably a hundred pounds. We can all hear in our head what sort of bark accompanies a dog body that size, yes, a very appropriately weighted bark. That poor little Spiderman! While there was never any possibility that she could have bitten anyone because the security gate was never going to be opened, and there was more than 10 feet between the dog (and her teeth) inside the house and the child standing outside the enclosed porch. None of that makes a difference when you are a child, almost face-to-face with a dog that evokes what one envisions a hell hound to look like, feeling the full weight of her bark.
Not surprisingly, she scared the SHIT out of the little kid who was trick or treating all alone. She scared the shit of US with this outburst, and she was our dog! The child was very small, somewhere between five and maybe seven, shouted “MO-THEEEEEER FU-CKER!!!!” as he instinctively turned to run, in fear for his life. He ran like the Santa Ana winds off our porch, up Arrowhead Avenue and out of sight. That poor little Spiderman!
I repeat to calm everyone down, the security gate was between Misha and him; she was inside the house barking at him from a distance of at least ten feet; he was never in any actual danger of her, but still, she was so imposing before she ever opened her mouth, and was at the same eye-to-eye level with this cute little boy, all those teeth and that vicious bark reserved for whom I had no idea. I was horrified. My mom stood there shocked; she and Misha both looked out the open door trying to figure out what just happened. My mom turned to look at me, her eyes wide and mouth still hanging open, stunned, I said, “I think we should put the dog away.” Our stunned moment of silence was broken by Dave’s barking seal of a laugh coming from the nearby kitchen as he repeated the spidey-words “MO-THEEEEEER FU-CKER!” He agreed with me, “Ya, put her out.” My mom no longer lived in the fantasyland of my bigass dog, bred primarily for killing, is an innocent little angel.
After putting Misha in the garage, I returned to the kitchen for dinner that was happening soon. Dave and I repeated the little Spiderman’s words all night, and God, we laughed. Not at how terrified our sweet little trick or treater was, that was not funny at all; we wanted to find that kid and give him ALL of our candy. I don’t think Dave or I had ever cursed like that in front of our parents before then, and I was well into my thirties, Dave, in his forties. It was as if the floodgates of permission were opened by the little superhero on the porch, and we were now allowed to say it. Such a big mouthful of well placed, perfectly executed, and appropriate words coming out of such a tiny little Spidey-body-mouth. MO-THEEEEER FU-CKER! And then we laughed some more. Clearly, I have taken this permission to the limit since then.
Misha was so big that in our decent-sized backyard, she could take three big bounding leaps and fly from corner to corner. When she was pretty young, a pup to roughly two years old, she loved to chase a ball, but it was not any way for her to stretch out and get a full-out run in our backyard. The catholic school I attended as a child had a fenced-in playground. After a certain time of day, no one was there, so I decided to take her to the playfields so she could really run after the ball in a full sprint and get some good exercise. The only gate from the east side of the playground is where we entered on Arrowhead. The entire property extended to the next north-south street, D street, is visible from this vantage point. As predicted, no one was on the playground or fields. I walked her on her leash across the blacktop playgrounds, which had a couple of volleyball courts, three basketball courts in as big an area as the two baseball diamonds, and larger than necessary outfields beyond.
Once we reached the fields, I took off her leash and threw a tennis ball for her to chase and fetch. It was amazing seeing her take a full stride a hundred yards out and trot back with her ball triumphantly slobbery with spit in her mouth. We were there for probably twenty minutes throwing, her chasing at a burst of probably 20 miles an hour, capturing her prey and returning to me. A runner had entered the playground from the gate about a hundred yards behind me. He obviously had run there before. Without me hearing or seeing him approach us, he quickly ran past me along the first baseline side of the field in a brisk sprint.
He was headed down the foul line toward the end of the field to do a lap around both fields…probably. He passed me right as I had thrown Misha’s ball down the same sideline. He and Misha were almost side by side, both in full sprint form, he slightly ahead of her. I am sure there are those among you readers who understand how close this guy was to death; everyone can see this from my view but the runner. He was oblivious to the lady with the huge ass black dog playing fetch. Just so everyone can take a breath, remember, she had had obedience training, and if there was anyone she was going to listen to, it was me. But then there are extenuating circumstances that cannot be accounted for, animal instinct kicked in. I suppose Misha had decided that anywhere she was was HER territory, and her job was to defend all of it from whomever.
She kept her focus and caught her ball on a bounce, but the sprinter continued running after she caught her entertaining toy. I saw something in her click into killer instinct. I have never seen her or any other dog spit out their ball once engaged, but she spat her ball out with a weird snap of her head, and I thought she ran fast already, but she kicked it into previously unseen afterburner high gear, her ears flattened, and she went after this guy who was now nothing more than prey.
I realized what I was witnessing from several hundred feet away; I started running after them, shouted at the top of my lungs to avert certain doom, “MISHA COME!” but for the first time ever, she was beyond hearing me; she was in another mode I had never seen in any dog before, the wild animal of prey mode and she no longer knew who I was.
The guy was wearing the kind of super-soft, short nylon jogging shorts that reveal the runner’s ass cheeks a bit as they run. I could see his sinewy ass cheeks, and so could Misha, and apparently, they either looked really dangerous or very delicious. She caught up to him in a frightening flash of speed; I saw her nose reaching for the very fleshiest part of his round, perky ass; I just knew she was going to rip his ass and hamstring right off his body in the next second. I am getting all wound-up thinking about this again as I write. Whew.
I shouted at the top of my lungs, “STOOOOOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The runner had no idea she was behind him. But he heard me shout STOP and at least he had had some obedience classes, and HE stopped. In doing so, the threat Misha perceived disappeared. She stopped so abruptly it was like she had ABS brakes. I could not believe any of the athleticism and wild animal behavior I was seeing. The runner turned to look at me and found Misha directly behind him; as he turned, he bumped her nose with his hand, and he jumped in surprise at the big ass dog right on his heels.
At that point, Misha was completely disinterested in him; her obedient brain resumed normal operation, she turned to acknowledge me with all the shouting. I had run part of the way toward them by then; I didn’t call her to me; I don’t usually yell at dogs; like children, they hate being yelled at, but I ORDERED her, “MISHA, COME!!!” She knew I was upset with her and trotted back my direction like the mannerly dog I recognized. She remembered to pick up her previously abandoned, spit out ball along the way, conveying the attitude, “Aren’t I a cute doggo with my spitty ball?” I almost fainted from the rush of adrenaline coursing through my body. I was so grateful that what I thought I was going to witness was averted. I put her leash on, cut across the field to intercept the guy who had resumed running to apologize for scaring the shit out of him. He was oblivious to how close to death he had come or at least how close to spending the rest of his life on one cheek he had been. He was only startled that he turned around and she was right there. Misha was never off-leash out in the world again. Ever.
There was one time when Misha was much older; my dad was mowing the lawn, and because other than the one time she almost ate that runner, which was years before, she was well behaved and would, if told to stay, stay. He didn’t mind that the world could see the badass dog in the yard either as a type of home security window sticker advertising. He left the gate open as he always had to be able to easily access both the front and back yard, trash cans, tools, his beer; this was their Sunday afternoon, just a man, his beer, mower, and his best friend. She was there while he worked both in and out of her sight; she stayed because she was a pretty good girl, mostly, until…one of our neighbors touched my dad in a way that she deemed threatening.
Our neighbor Joe stopped to talk to my dad about nothing other than a neighborly hello. They stood in our driveway, enjoying a friendly chat about nothing for a few minutes. In the discussion, well, at the end of the discussion, Joe jokingly responded to something my dad said by patting my dad on the shoulder a little too enthusiastically. WELL! That was all it took for Misha to believe there was an all-out threat level midnight against my dad. She came flying out of the yard, like a jet being launched off an aircraft carrier, in the equivalent of slingshot dog guns blazing mode at poor Joe.
She was barking, big teeth snapping as she lunged at him in an aggressive single bound. My dad, with his Olympiad athlete reflexes, instinctively caught her by the scruff of her neck and used her momentum to spin her away from Joe. She snapped in an arc as she was swept away but didn’t latch on to anything more than his pant leg. She managed to leave a two-hole-punched warning for his edification. My dad redirected her back to the yard and closed the gate, apologizing profusely to Joe, who was ok and also apologizing because he should not have slapped my dad demonstrably in front of our dog as he had.
My dad could not believe the burst of speed at which she launched after Joe as he described it to us later that afternoon. I envisioned the holes in Joe’s pants reminiscent of the dinosaur that bit the time cards for Fred and Barney when they punched in on the flintstones. That purple brachiosaurus was way more friendly that our hole punch for sure. We were all thankful she had not hurt him, no one more than Joe. He never walked on our side of the street after that. And, my dad never left the gate open with her in the yard.
Every dog needs exercise. Like our good girrrrl Jessie, Dave took Misha on long runs too. He loved having big dogs that he could interact with, take on runs much like some people do with a bike with their dogs. He, like my dad also didn’t mind the world seeing what a badass dog we had. Jessie was a gorgeous Golden Retriever but Misha was an extraordinary specimen of dog flesh. People approached Dave to pet Jessie. People stopped their cars to comment about Misha from a distance. Dave didn’t mind either interaction and loved both of these very different dogs thoroughly.
I had moved out, and Dave was the only one taking her for runs and took her anytime he was up in his wheelchair. He was good about paying attention to her energy; when she needed a break, he would stop, especially as she got older. He had a frequent path he traveled, which included a stop in the shade of the memorial park around the corner from our house before coming home. This is the same park next to the Fire Station (4) were Brian, and his other friends worked for years.
The park has very gentle mounds like three-foot swells in the grass and huge old trees. The mounds were probably meant to dissuade anyone from holding any kind of organized sports practice or play there. It was a nice green space to spend a warm afternoon moment.
Dave went there hundreds of times, but on this occasion, as he attempted to move around in the slightly overgrown, soggy grass, his wheelchair blew a fuse, and he was stuck immobilized. He had his cell phone but somehow it was bumped out of his reach, and he could not call home. He was just around the corner but not exactly within shouting distance.
He sat there for a time before anyone came along. Eventually, someone walked by, he called to them for some help. The person walked toward him, but as they came close, Misha, attached to his wheelchair on her leash, went ape-shit with her guard dog shtick. Again, I cannot convey in terms quite frightening enough as to how badass this dog was when she went threat level midnight. I mentioned that her nose was almost a foot long and loaded with enormous gleaming white teeth, her body was almost 5 feet long. Mission definitely accomplished keeping our house safe from quote bad guys, but there was no mid-level take it easy girl with her; she was always on threat level-midnight guard when out in the world.
Dave was trying to figure out how to calm Misha down enough to allow the stranger close enough to him touse his cell phone to call home. He realized he had to give the person the our number instead to call on their own phone rather than have them come close to him (and the dog with all the teeth). The call was made.
My dad showed up and put Misha in the van first thing because even with my dad there to take charge of this neutral territory, she would not chill out. He needed help pushing Dave off the grass because, as I have mentioned, maybe not enough times yet, that Dave and his heavy beast of a wheelchair were over 300 unbudging pounds of dead weight. The gentleman helped push Dave off the grass, and everyone agreed the dog was a great guard dog, probably the best, but maybe not a very helpful dog in this situation. Misha was the dog we needed at the time. She was a lovely and faithful overprotective big-toothed best friend and the last dog Dave enjoyed the pleasure of keeping some company. Another good girrrrrl. XO
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