Art, dogs, essay

Guthrie the Dog

Guthrie the Dog_Illustration by Aileen Torres-Bennett

I’ve always wanted a dog. I didn’t have one growing up because my parents didn’t like the idea. Too much mess and more responsibility, they probably thought.

I’d been prepping for the last few years by watching Cesar Millan, a.k.a. the Dog Whisperer. I discovered his TV show while we were living in Vancouver, and it blew my mind. Millan makes house calls to address problematic dog behaviors, and he has three tenets for a healthy, balanced dog: exercise, discipline and affection.

I lapped up “Dog Whisperer” episodes, even DVRing the ones I couldn’t watch in real time. I annoyed hubby with my devotion to this show.

After all that “prep,” we finally got a dog around this time last year, marking our first half-year in Fiji. He was being fostered by an Australian expat family a few blocks down the road.

I wanted a “sausage dog” or “low rider,” the local terms for what looks like a short-haired corgi or oversized dachshund. Sausage dogs are adorable, and they have a lot of spunk.

Dogs are not commonly looked upon as pets in Fiji. They’re typically considered utilitarian creatures, to be used as guard dogs. There are a sizeable number of strays, so I thought we’d be able to find a sausage dog.

I didn’t hold out for one, though. After a few false leads, I decided on the dog being fostered down the street.

The photo of him that piqued our interest made him look like a sausage. He has short front legs, and he’s on the small side of medium. When we saw him at his foster home, we noticed his back legs are too long to be a true sausage. Perhaps he’s a hybrid with some low rider in him. We’ll never know.

I affectionately say that he lied on his resume (he’s not a true sausage!), but we took him in anyway. No more procrastinating, I decided. I was finally going to have a dog.

We named him Guthrie, after the legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie, who inspired another legend, Bob Dylan.

Our Guthrie was small enough back then to be carried easily, and I held him in my arms on the way back home. When I laid him gently on the ground in our yard, he had a look of pure trepidation. He seemed scared and confused. He didn’t know what our intentions were, so he kept running away from us. We left him alone in the yard until night time, when he started howling, and that’s when we let him into our house so he could sleep inside, off the living room.

In the morning, his tail wagged when he saw me. It was adorable.

I had been preparing to take on a large load of responsibility with a new dog, but integrating him into my daily life was pretty seamless. Except for one accident–he did his business on one of our lovely Afghan rugs because we misread his jumping up and down as mere cute puppy behavior–he was already potty trained, which spared me the work, and the mess. Having a yard also helps; he’s an active dog, and he loves to run around and explore, so he can burn off some energy outside.

That’s not to say there weren’t hiccups. Guthrie reacted defensively and aggressively toward hubby at first, and this behavior was common when he was around men. I figure he might have been abused previously by a male. He’s since grown out of this behavior and has become a healthy, playful dog over the last year. (He can be too playful; he tends to jump on people when he’s excited, and we need to work on that.) He’s curious to meet humans and dogs, and he’s become confident. We aim to walk him every day, and that gives him chances to explore the neighborhood. We also love taking him to the beach and on hikes. He can’t get enough of that. He looks so joyful when he runs around.

It’s funny how time flies and things happen right in front of your eyes that you don’t notice until a moment of sudden revelation. A few months ago, Guthrie was lying in his bed, and it struck me that he was bigger than he used to be. When we first got him, we thought he was a small dog that probably already had some years on him. We used to joke that he was an old man in a little body. But he was actually a puppy when we adopted him. He’s become heavier, longer and taller in the last year. I need both arms to carry him, and now it’s a workout compared to when he used to be so light in just one arm.

It gives me a sad-sweet feeling to realize the passing of time.

Then I get happy again when I see a big smile on his face, ready to play another day.