“Run, Eva!” I tell her in an excited voice once we’re safely inside the gate and I’ve taken off her leash. “Eva, run!” And off she goes, zero to warp speed in under three seconds, almost always on the same route around the yard, running, leaping, checking everything out, so happy she could burst.
Eva is my pandemic pet, a 5-year-old Australian cattle dog mix I adopted last August. Short snow-white coat, long pointed ears that miss nothing, dark brown eyes with heavy coffee-colored eyebrow markings, and a habit of tilting her head in puzzlement in that way dogs do: I was smitten at first sight.
Fostered in at least two homes since her family gave her up earlier this year, Eva would have been completely justified in being tentative and reluctant at yet another move. After I picked her up in Seattle she curled up in the passenger seat, but when we stopped at the light in Purdy she sat up, looked out the window, then turned towards me and gave the side of my face a thorough, slobbering lick. Of course she had also made sure the seat received a protective treatment of hard-to-remove white dog hair. But I didn’t care; the memory of that tongue facial had me smiling the rest of the drive home.
Eva quickly made herself at home. Couch? Check. Big fenced yard? Ooh, check and check. And a garden hose too? Score! Her foster owner had tipped me off about the hose; snapping at water spraying out of the hose is one of Eva’s favorite games.
And then there’s playing, something she can’t get enough of, as I was warned by friends familiar with the breed. She’s a working dog, they said. How bad can it be? I said. They were right. She could go after the squeaky toys that I send flying through the air, over shrubbery and flowerbeds, from sunup to sundown. But that’s not going to happen; I usually quit after 15 minutes, leaving her standing in the yard staring at me, toy in mouth, frozen in time, her dark eyes burning holes into my guilty conscience, clearly wondering what exactly it is I have to do that’s so important, really?
But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Eva is a lovable, playful, well-behaved pup at home, but soon I discovered that walking her was a problem. There wasn’t a dog we ran into that she didn’t want to go after. Leash aggression? Telling the other dogs that hell no, they couldn’t have me? Or maybe she was just an ornery pup? Then there were the deer of Herron Island, lumbering across the road or grazing nonchalantly, that clearly had to be rounded up — Daddy, they’re going to get away, let me at ‘em, now!
And my arm would almost part company with my shoulder.
Then there were her abandonment issues that made it impossible for me to leave her at home alone, something that could seriously get in the way. The first time I tried to go off on a bike ride, I came home to a dog deliriously happy to see me. It wasn’t until a few minutes later I saw the blinds torn off the windows, two ceramic pieces that until then had lived uneventful and perhaps boring lives on a shelf now lying shattered on the floor, and the words of fear and panic that she had scratched all over the front door.
And that’s when I started to panic as well. What had I done? I had come to love this dog, but as a first-time dog owner, was I in over my head? In theory I could send her back to the agency I got her from, and everyone assured me there was no shame in that, but she had stolen my heart. I wasn’t about to let her go.
Many of my dog-owning friends came to the rescue. Eva had stolen their hearts too, and in the end they saved the relationship. I got tips and suggestions, dog-proofed the house, read books and watched videos on dog and dog-owner behavior, and walked Eva with my friends and their dogs. I discovered that she was enormously food-motivated, which made it a whole lot easier to control her. I even modified my walking route around the island so as to avoid the gangs of blithely ambling ungulate vermin. Then a neighbor with a sweet, happy-go-lucky dog named Bear offered to watch Eva when I needed to be away, and after several visits Eva and Bear are now best pals. Miracles do happen.
I post photos of Eva obsessively; nothing like having a ready subject. A friend commented that in all those photos Eva looks placid. “But I’m glad that she’s more complex, and that your relationship with her is more deep and intense,” she added.
It certainly is that. And even though placid is the goal, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Joseph Pentheroudakis is an artist, historian and avid birder who writes from Herron Island.
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