Over the years, I have adopted any number of strays, some for days, some weeks, and some, forever. These usually come with problems related to why they are strays in the first place.
Which brings me to Clark. Clark is a 15-year-old lab/pit mix who arrived in my neighborhood full of spit and vinegar about 13-14 years ago. He was so fast! And so destructive. He would tear up and down the street, rampaging through carefully tended gardens and delighting in finding newspapers on anyone’s front lawn. These he would toss high into the air, shredding them into black and white confetti, before loping off to the next yard. That is when I named him Clark, after the newspaperman, Clark Kent. Animal control was hot on his heels and he didn’t care. He was the fastest thing on the street.
I knew he would eventually be captured and probably killed so I trapped him myself thinking surely, he would warm up to me, to my airconditioned home, to my other dogs, and settle into being a pet. I was wrong.
Clark had and has a deep distrust of humans. It took me months just to pet him. In all that time he never came inside. Instead, he claimed my large backyard as his domain, carved out a home for himself under my pottery studio, and made it his mission in life to keep the yard free of all vermin. I picked up countless dead racoons, squirrels, rats, moles, even hapless cats. I did not enjoy this carnage, but I did appreciate his work ethic. He also kept my yard free of human interlopers as he is a big dog, black as night, with an intimidating pitty head and a ferocious bark.
Over the years I have tried to tame him, to get him inside on blisteringly hot days, away from the flies, and on bitter cold days. He would often come to the door, but would never walk through. I always thought he wanted to but just could not bring himself to take the first step. All efforts to collar him and drag him inside only proved his superior strength and served to frighten him.
As age crept up on both of us, he could no longer make his hips cooperate to go under my studio and he took to sleeping exposed under the overhang of my studio. He eschewed the magnificent dog house I got for him but would deign to lie upon a dog bed on the ground. My worry for him finally grew so great I resorted to creativity to keep him warm. Last winter, I cut the side out of the pack-n-play my grandchild no longer needed. I padded it well on all sides and put his dog bed in it. I stuffed insulation under it so no cold wind would find him that way. He was highly suspicious of this device and dragged his bed out a time or two, but eventually wound up using it. This winter I added a heavy blanket over the top to try to conserve his body heat.
Since then I have been going out each night with my mother’s old fur coat to cover him up and tuck him in. I know he has liked that but still, I worried. This bomb cyclone was sure to kill my aged dog. As he stood, flummoxed at his frozen water bowl trying to drink, I nabbed him! I pulled him into my back porch then forced him up the three steps into the house proper. Though confused, he wandered around and finally lay down heaving a deep sigh by the fire. That was four days ago, and finally, after all these years, I have gotten him to walk into the house on his own, sleep in my room (still on my mother’s coat) and let me tend to his cancerous leg.
Yes, he is old, half blind, more or less deft, a little lame, incontinent, and probably in some pain from his leg but this is a happy dog. He’s decided he loves hanging around with my other black lab, Elvis, even though Elvis can be a bit of a pill at times. Yesterday when I let him out with Elvis and Sweetie, he raced with joy to the back fence, leaping a little and looking around. After a spin around his domain, he trooped back in like he’d been doing it for years.
Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?