Grumpy dogs need love, too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 12, 2014

love mutts, and so it follows that I love shelter dogs, who are often of gloriously uncertain ancestry. All three of the dogs we’ve had since moving to Salisbury have come from the Rowan County Animal Shelter. Unfortunately, two of them fell sick within a week of coming home with us.
That’s a common problem that’s now being addressed by a group called Shelter Guardians. (See story on this page to learn how Shelter Guardians is working to keep shelter animals healthy.)
One of our shelter dogs, Edy, joined our family as the fulfillment of a promise to a very sick kid. But after only a few days with us, Edy was sick, too — with parvovirus. Things looked bleak, but she rebounded and became a member of our pack.
Post-parvo Edy was a hardy little critter, the perfect dog for a family who needed something in their lives to be low-maintenance. She’s still a rugged little survivor, like one of those pioneer dogs loping tirelessly beside the covered wagon — but age has crept up. She naps a lot, and the squirrels she used to terrorize now taunt her brazenly.
These days, it’s the Walk she lives for. With a clink of the dog biscuit canister and the rustling of the plastic bags that identify us as dog walkers who respect neighbors’ yards, Edy and William fall all over each other as they skid and scramble for the door.
Our two-mile route that winds through Chestnut Hill Cemetery has become challenging to our old girl. On the hottest days of summer, she lags well behind, but she never opts out. She’s prone to distractions these days, pausing frequently for what must be epic smells. She sniffs so long and hard it’s like she’s trying to crack some aromatic code.
Unless I’m in a hurry, I give the leash some slack and indulge her. She’s 13, for heaven’s sake. Who am I to deny her the pleasure of stopping to smell … whatever it is she’s smelling?
Edy deserves to be indulged a little. She’s always been our second-string dog, playing back seat first to Seamus, black dog number one, and then to William, black dog number two. Top billing has always eluded her.
It’s hard to exactly say why. Most dogs are pretty easy to love. Edy isn’t one of them. She’s never been exuberant or cheerful. She’s a bit of a surly girl. When she does show happiness, she seems almost embarrassed, like it’s somehow undignified. She often has a furtive look, as though she’s guilty of something.
And back in the day, she was guilty, at least sometimes. As a limber young dog she’d hop soundlessly over the doggy gate after we’d gone to bed and sleep on the living room couch, which she knew was off-limits to her. She’d return to the kitchen when she heard us stirring in the morning. We never caught her. She was so good at this maneuver the only way we ever knew was the telltale dog hair on the couch. I admired her sneaky resourcefulness.
When William showed up as a puppy a few months after Seamus died, Edy was incredulous that we would visit such an indignity on her. For a while, she was surlier than usual and we worried that she was going to snap William’s little head off, because he simply refused to back off when she growled “get-out-of-my-space” warnings at him. He still annoys the heck out of her, with his incessant face-licking and inexplicable human-worshiping, but she’s accepted him nonetheless.
Her need for human attention is modest. She’s just not all that into homo sapiens. Compared to William, the biggest snuggle bunny of a dog imaginable, she’s standoffish.
And yet.
As I typed that last sentence — and I am not making this up — Edy padded into the living room to where I was sitting, her tail wagging gently, keeping her usual respectful distance, and looked at me as if in gentle protest. Her eyes said, “I need you to come over here and pet me.”
Grumpy old dogs need love, too.