Saturday, November 24, 2007

Springtime for Zoe


A Siberian husky came bounding across the deck. She was leashed to Mom and pulled her forward with each step. She was little and cute and black and white. She had a black stripe down her nose. She had a blue eye and a brown eye surrounded by dark goggles. She never stopped grinning as she leaped toward me.

“I’m Zoe, I’m Zoe, my name is Zoe and I’m a Siberian husky. Who are you? Wanna play? Huh? Huh?” she sounded hoarse from being half strangled by her collar.

Mom unclipped her leash and Zoe dashed over to me, sniffing and pawing and poking me with her nose. She moved so fast I had trouble sniffing her back.

“I told you, I’m Sailor,” I answered, astonished. “Do all Siberians act this way?”

“Just me, just me,” Zoe sniffed and panted, bouncing on her little white feet. “Let’s run! I’ll be lead sled dog and you follow next to me. We can pretend we’re pulling a dogsled across the tundra!”

I looked at her feet. They were a white blur against the brick patio. “Do you have springs on your toes?” I asked.

“Springtime! Springtime!” chanted Zoe. “Let’s run!”

I wasn’t sure about this game. I am a herding breed, not a Northern breed. I herd.

“Come on, Sailor!” Zoe barked a high-pitched woof. “Are you a working dog or a slacker?”

She bounced deer-like to the lawn.

“I’m a HERDER!” I yelped. “Some herding dogs can pull sleds, too!”

I ran with Zoe across the lawn and down the fence line and across the rose garden to the side
yard. We stopped at a chain link fence.

“This is the dog run,” Zoe explained, bouncing up on the fence. “I live in here when Mom’s at work. I also live in here when I get into trouble. Let’s run!”

We galloped back across the lawn in large sweeping loops.

“My turn, now,” I panted. “You be a flock of sheep and I will herd you into a small circle.”

“What, are you kidding?” Zoe asked. “You have to follow me and do everything I say. I am the alpha dog around here.”

“I do?” I came to an abrupt halt. “And what do you mean by alpha?”

“I am the lead dog. I get to eat first and go through the door first and choose toys first and decide what games we play,” Zoe told me, jumping into the air to snap her jaws at a passing butterfly.

I trotted over to Mom. “Mom, is this true?”

“I will let you and Zoe work out your own arrangement,” Mom said. “I’ll help out, though, if Zoe gets too pushy. Sometimes she can be bossy, but she’s usually nice about it.”

I turned back to Zoe.

“So, you’re the boss of me, then?” I asked.

“Yup, I am, yup, yup, but it’ll be fun, you’ll see,” was her reply. “Let’s run!”

Zoe dashed off across the lawn.

“Okay, Zoe,” I called to her. “You can say hello to Mom first and have the best treats. You can choose where you want to nap.” I didn’t tell her that I’d figure out a way to out-cookie her.

I heard a rustling in the oak tree behind me. I turned and looked into its branches. Hiss-Spit shook her head back and forth.

“Why let her lead, Sailor?” she asked. “You’d make a great lead dog, better than that moth-eaten cat chaser.”

“I learned all about this when I was a puppy,” I explained. “My doggy mom taught me. She said that keeping the pack order is the most important thing. She said that not everyone could be the leader. Most of us are followers and that’s much more important.”

Hiss-Spit snorted and shook her head. “Just don’t come to me when Zoe takes all your toys,” she said and turned around on the branch, ignoring me.

“After all, if it weren’t for me,” I called out to her, “Zoe would have no one to lead.”

I was happy to go along with Zoe. And when Zoe and I knew each other better, I would find a way to trade places. Or at least to take turns.

“Who’re you talking to?” Zoe ran up to me.

“Nobody,” I said. “Let’s run!” Zoe was easily distracted.

Zoe and I galloped under the oak tree nearest the house and Zoe came to a skidding stop on the dead leaves. She leaped up the trunk and huffed wildly.

“What in Dog’s name are you doing, Zoe?” I asked.

“Cats!” she cried. “Cats are fun to chase. Let’s chase Hiss Spit and pretend she’s a lemming!”

“What’s a lemming?” I asked, picturing sour round fruit.

“A lemming is what Siberian huskies eat on the tundra,” Zoe explained. “They smell like large
mice.”

“Do they taste like large mice?” I asked.

“She’s never eaten a mouse in her life,” Hiss-Spit growled from the safety of the tree.

Zoe pretended she didn’t hear.

“Mice taste like no other rodent in the world,” Hiss Spit went on. “They are especially good at the end of summer.”

She then climbed higher on her tree branch, watching Zoe as she climbed. She bared her front teeth and spat silently. Her ears turned backwards. She lashed her tail.

Zoe was more interested in finding a way up the tree trunk than talking about lunch. “The heck
with lemmings!” Zoe cried. “Let’s play with Hiss-Spit!”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m not getting close to her feet. They’re covered with thorns.”
I sneezed twice when I remembered another cat at another time.

“Zoe, forget the cat. She won’t come down while you’re here and you can’t climb trees. Let’s run!”

Hearing the magic word, Zoe left Hiss-Spit snarling and waving her tail back and forth. As soon as we galloped away, the kitty settled down. She tucked her paws under her chest. But she kept us in sight just in case.

“If anyone needs me,” Hiss Spit said, trying to sound bored, “I’ll be up here the rest of the afternoon counting birds.”

Zoe wheeled around, punched me in the neck and play-bowed. Then we took off across the lawn, pulling that darn dogsled for all we were worth. Suddenly, Zoe halted, skidded across the mud by the daffodils. She punched me in the neck again with her nose.

“Stay with me! Pretend you are harnessed to me and to the gang line.”

“What’s a gang line?” By now, I was a panting mess.

“It’s the line that connects the dogsled to the dogs. We pull on the gang line and the sled follows us wherever we decide to go.”

“Don’t dogsleds usually have a human on the back to do the driving?” I had grown up in the North and knew a little about dog sledding. “I thought having a person on board kept you safe.”

“No, silly,” Zoe snorted. “The human is there to put on our harnesses and hook us up to the sled. Then we get to run and pull. If the human wants to come with us, that’s okay, but he’d better hang on and not fall off.”

“What about the snow brake? Who uses that?” I asked, ready for a break myself.

Zoe paused for half a second, then sprang away, crying, “Hike! Let’s go! Careful! We have to dodge that fallen tree!”

“Tree, my kinky tail,” droned in a voice from high in the oak tree. “Zoe is good at dodging answers, not trees. Why, only yesterday --”

“Don’t let your tug line go slack!” Zoe cut Hiss-Spit off in mid-sentence.

The husky leaped in front of me and looked back. She waited for me to take up the slack.

“Tug line?” I asked, stalling for time. I wasn’t quite ready to follow Zoe down the Iditarod trail.

But Zoe didn’t answer. She was trying to keep the dogsled on the trail. She pretended to lead the team down an icy stretch to the river below.

“When do we get to stop and cool off?” I asked. “If I get any hotter, the bottoms of my feet will start panting and dripping like my tongue.”

“You can cool off at the next icy patch,” Zoe said. “I’ll run us through some water, and it will cool our feet. You’ll be surprised how fast the rest of you will cool off, too.”

When we arrived at the imaginary ice patch, I had had it. I mutinied. I lay down in my harness. My mouth was hanging open. My sides were heaving.

“Oh-oh,” Zoe said to the rest of her team, “It looks like Sailor’s pulled a muscle in his shoulder. I bet our human will have to carry him in the sled bag. How embarrassing.”

“I’m actually quite happy here on the sled,” I called, going along with her. Now maybe I could rest.

“Well, okay, Sailor,” Zoe called, prancing over the snow. “Sometime you just gotta have that ride home. Hike!”

Zoe continued to navigate the Dalzell Gorge while my eyes slowly closed.

I heard nothing more until Mom open the back door and call, “Sailor! Zoeeeee!”

I am a good dog. I leaped up and came running.

“Is it morning already?” I asked, blinking the sleep from my eyes.

“Sailor, you’ve only been asleep for ten minutes,” Mom laughed. “And it’s suppertime!”

Mom said the magic word! I pranced on my little white feet. Oboy!

Zoe heard Mom call, too, but trotted out to the lilac bushes and pawed the ground.

“Oooh, what a great smell. Maybe it’s a lemming.” She began to dig.

“Zoeeee!” Mom called louder.

“Nyah, nyah,” she said under her breath. “Can’t catch me! I’m a Siberian and don’t have to do anything anyone says.”

Mom brought my food dish out on the porch and put it down.

“Your favorite, Sailor,” she said. “Chicken wings. Too bad Zoe doesn’t want to eat.”

“Eat?” Zoe pricked up her ears and came running. She danced around Mom and looking for her supper dish.

“What? Do you want supper, too?” Mom laughed. “You’ll just have to come inside, then, and calm down. I won’t feed you until you’ve rested your tummy.”

Zoe frowned at me and scowled.

“Hey, I’m supposed to be fed first,” she complained. She lunged at my bowl.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Mom said, grabbing her collar. “Let Sailor eat in peace. Next time you can come the first time I call.”

Mom dragged Zoe inside.

“Go ahead and eat, Sailor,” instructed Hiss-Spit, slowly climbing down from the tree and jumping onto the porch. She chuckled to herself. “I love to see Zoe get her comeuppance.”

I glanced at Hiss-Sit around the tip of a chicken wing. “Are you going to try to steal my supper, too?”

“Yuk, Sailor, no. Raw meat is disgusting; I much prefer mice.”

Mom came back outside and sat down by my side. She reached out to scratch Hiss-Spit behind the ears.

“Why does Zoe have to rest before supper?” I asked to Mom between crunchings.

“A dog can have dangerous things happen to her insides if she runs too much before eating,” Mom explained. “Her stomach can bloat up and she can get very sick very fast. This is even more dangerous after eating. That’s why you and Zoe will have to rest for at least an hour before you can run and play Dogsled again.”

“Can’t make me,” Zoe mumbled from her place on the kitchen doormat.

“Bloat is a particular hazard to collies and other deep-chested breeds,” Mom explained. “But don’t worry; you rested enough before suppertime. And anyway, it’s my job to keep you healthy. I won’t let your tummies get sick.”

“Good,” I said. “I’d hate to have Zoe get sick. Or me,” I added when I thought about running and eating.

Zoe scratched on the door, hoping it would swing open, but Mom had latched it closed. Zoe pressed her nose against the screen. She watched me finish my supper.

“I hope you don’t get anything extra,” she said to me.

I was too busy chewing to answer.

I gulped down the last chicken wing. I rubbed my mouth across Mom’s back and down her pant leg in thanks. I licked my lips and rubbed again in the opposite direction.

“Are you going to take Zoe to obedience school?” I asked.

“I’m going to do a lot of driveway obedience with her,” Mom answered, checking her pants for grease marks. “She certainly needs some direction and has to learn that she may be top dog, but in this family, I am at the very top.”

“Good idea,” I agreed.

Mom went back inside to clean herself up. I lay down on the porch and licked my front paws.

“A tongue makes a mighty good napkin,” I told Hiss-Spit, who was having an ear-wash herself.

She licked her front paws. Then she rubbed them over the top of her head and down each ear.
“Just don’t lick me,” Hiss-Spit said. “I don’t like chicken.”

And with that, she shook her head rapidly six times in a row, jumped down from the railing and trotted off toward the back fence.

“I can hardly wait for Zoe’s training to start,” I mumbled into the bricks. “I bet there are lots of things I can help teach her so we won’t always have to play dogsled.”

I sighed. “I hope obedience training doesn’t calm her down too much, though. Zoe may be pushy, but she’s fun. She knows some wild games and makes me laugh. And I especially like it when she jumps all the way over me.”

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