Many HoofPrints customers will remember Paws’ face from previous catalogs, paired with the Plato quote:
“A dog has the soul of a philosopher”
Like many of our dogs, Paws was unwanted by someone else. The customary procedure in our area is known as “dumping” – folks get tired of a dog (or cat) for whatever reason, take them to the country and drop them off to fend for themselves. After several days of watching this lovely black and white dog waiting faithfully at the corner of our road – for his people to come back for him – it became obvious that he’d been dumped. We didn’t need another dog… but we walked the quarter mile across our hay field to meet him. He followed us back to the house, and never left. He was home.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that Paws was no ordinary dog. As time went on, we weren’t sure he was even a dog. It seemed he was some mystic in canine form – sent here to teach us, to test us, to observe us… Plato was right…
We’d often see him in the yard – in a sphinx-like pose – he appeared to be meditating… Then there were the occasional nights where he’d wake us – sitting outside under the bedroom window – with a long, low howl that would stand the hair up on your neck. He was a complex, mysterious dog.
It became obvious that he possessed above average intelligence when I attempted to teach him to lead. I could tell he’d never worn a collar – even though he was an adult dog. At first he didn’t have a clue how it worked, and hit the end of the leash like a wild animal. I hoped that in that first session I could at least teach him to not be so frantic. Boy, was I surprised – he figured it out quickly – and immediately mastered up every command that I showed him. Once he understood that the leash connected the two of us – and that it meant I was going to ask him to do things, the light bulb came on. In just a couple short training sessions, he learned all the stuff we need dogs to know at our house – heel, sit, lie down, stay. After that, he never needed a refresher – he remembered it all. I never knew a dog could learn so quickly.
Paws had an obsessive habit of burying his leftover food. Now most dogs will readily bury a bone or dead animal carcass – we surmise to allow it to ripen for later consumption AND to conceal it from other dogs, but Paws would bury his dry dog food – dish and all. He did it with great ceremony and ritual; the covering / surrounding mounds of dirt and debris were always intricately constructed – even and round – perfect. He had a weird, rhythmic way of pushing the dirt with his nose – it almost looked like a dance. One day I noticed him outside the back door doing his “dance”. I went out and found a perfect, tiny little round mound of dried grass and bits of leaves. I carefully parted it – to reveal one kibble of dog food. The food bowl stayed on the patio outside our back door. Sometimes his “creations” would include the landscape rock next to the sidewalk.
Nearly all the photos I have of Paws show telltale mud residue on his nose; you could always tell when he’d been burying something – the nose knows (ha). For such a hairy outside dog, he rarely got dirty. Except his nose. Paws had heartworms when he came here, and the treatment required he be kept quiet; not be allowed to run around. I chained him in the yard, with food, water and his dog house. When I went out that night to feed him, I could NOT find the dog food bowl. It had vanished – I knew he couldn’t have carried it off – he was tied up. Finally, I located it beneath a perfectly camouflaged round pile of leaves. As he got older, we let him sleep in the laundry room on cold nights. There was no dirt or leaves to bury the leftover food with in the laundry room, so he used what he had to work with: shoes. I’d go out the next morning to find the whole family’s shoes and boots, along with the available throw rugs, neatly arranged on top of the food bowl – in a round mound.
He also tested the patience and mettle of my husband Rob, and at times, our marriage. Rob had quite enough to do around here in the way of chores – so repairing damage done by stray dogs did not sit well with him. And when Paws did damage, it was spectacular. Paws was an avid hunter of rabbits. Often they’d hide from him in the black corrugated plastic tile that we had buried at the end of our warehouse downspouts. When we did the landscaping, we carefully buried about 10 feet of this stuff – so that it carried the rainwater a distance away from the building. About the time the new grass got filled in nicely – Paws was after a rabbit – and dug it ALL up. He didn’t just dig around it – he ripped it off – one section of corrugation at a time – until it was in smithereens all over the yard. Rob was furious. I, on the other hand, was amazed that he was able to rip up that hard plastic – and impressed at his tenacity. Rob was not impressed that I was impressed. I don’t know what happened to the rabbit.
Another time, we awoke one morning to find him below our bedroom window – pushing a piece of aluminum downspout around the yard, with his head half in it. Of course there was a rabbit in the middle. This particular time, he’d dug up the entire stretch of tile (again), and pulled the downspout off the side of the building. When a stray dog executes damage that requires the use of a 14′ extension ladder to repair, you can bet that there will be a bit of tension about the house. He nearly lost his life over that stunt – and Rob and I got a good lesson in conflict resolution as we negotiated his fate.
Paws could also be devious. When we first got Zack the German Shepherd, he was a puppy and rapidly got bigger than Paws. Paws was starting to get old and arthritic and he didn’t appreciate being mauled all the time.
As I said before, Paws rarely got dirty. He was hairy, however, and left clumps of dog hair scattered all over HoofPrints’ warehouse floor. In preschool, Jordan had learned about dreamcatchers – a Native American legend / device thought to protect a sleeping individual from negative dreams. Around that time, I saw an article about a gal who collected dog hair and spins it into yarn for sweaters, etc. On a whim I checked her website and saw that one of the things that she made was a dreamcatcher! What a fun, goofy thing to surprise Jordan with… So, I made the decree to my employees that the dog hair “tumbleweeds” be collected and saved in a small box in my office. (If anyone has ever had a kooky boss – I challenge you to come up with something more kooky than being made to collect and save dog hair)
Sadly, in June of 2007, Paws long life ended. He was at least 14, and the years of exterminating vermin and rabbits had caught up with him. So the collecting of hair stopped. Fortunately, there was just enough to make a dream catcher. The dreamcatcher surprise was not quite the big hit that I expected it would be; Jordan thought that having a creation made from the hair of a dead dog was just a little on the weird side – so it hangs in my office now. As a reminder of the spiritual, quirky, tenacious Paws – unwanted by someone else, and so special to us.
Stay tuned for the next chapter. For now, you can read the rest of my dog stories here.