Under The Same Roof: Gandy’s First Month on Goose Creek

Surveying her domain: so much to explore!

Gandy’s puppyhood under our roof had a certain beginning exactly one month ago. But when that life stage will have an end is anybody’s guess. It won’t be soon enough, if you know what I mean.

Yesterday, the walls of an old farm house, the pitched hillsides of Goose Creek Gorge echoed the desperate cry of a man at his wit’s end: “I. Want. My. Life. Back!” Then, he conceded servitude and got back to whatever it was that Gandy wanted to do.

Tsuga died December 5. Gandy joined us December 18. And we remain emotionally ambivalent, thankful for a new companionship that exists merely as an uncertain anticipation, while grieving for the low-maintenance, high-fidelity friendship we still remember so well. We try not to compare. Someday, she will measure up. We walk by faith.

Ambivalence. To be sure. I question both the sanity and the practical consequences of devoting one’s life time and energy to the bringing up of a more-or-less domesticated wild animal one chooses to bring under their roof, onto their carpets, under their legs, into their otherwise peaceful sleep, and front and center into a daily schedule that was complicated enough without another mouth to feed (and entertain and train and avoid.)

What imperative drives certain people to suffer this torment? No doubt, we are among those souls whose lives are incomplete without this particular kind of caregiving-and-receiving. And we have done it again, with a whole month behind us now, more dividends towards the credit side of the ledger of canine relations. Things are going well. And things are not going so well.

The history of channeling of Gandy’s diminishing inner wolf is written  in the epidermis of my hands. I am pleased to notice that most of these (mostly) little (mostly) inadvertent wounds are almost healed, and she is far less prone to mouth without thinking. Even so, from time to time, I have to exercise gentle “alpha litter mate” tactics, and hold her firmly to the floor with her head and jaws restrained, release her gradually and tenderly, and reinforce “no bite!” She responds visibly by constraining her bite or diverting that energy to an offered, acceptable alternative to flesh, shoes, bathrobe or boots. There is hope for sure.

That not-unanticipated negative out of the way, she makes us laugh with her antics and the games she creates. She seems to have some herding instincts, which we see especially when she has found 2 of the 3 tennis balls our neighbor-friend gave us. She corals them both under the small green desk chair and attempts to get under there with them, inevitably kicking one ball outside the “fence” and has to stalk it, then carry or push it back where it belongs.

Outside, she is in heaven. And there is so much OUTSIDE to be enjoyed here. This place just begs for a dog.

She loves chasing leaves blowing in the wind, climbing (or attempting to climb) impossibly steep banks along the “New Road” and slaloming down the leaves towards the pasture on the downhill side. Give her the occasional bug emerged from winter sleep into the warmth of an afternoon and she is entranced. Put her inside the garden fence, and watch her discover and destroy a small turnip!

And she can certainly be disarmingly sweet and charming. Thankfully, we see this angelic side more often, the demonic, less. “Be sweet!” I tell her if she forgets, and she goes from soft mouthing to gentle, affectionate licking. Then back to biting. Alas. She is not Tsuga. She is her own self. And we do not yet know who that will be. I think I’m going to survive her puppyhood and grow to cherish her presence in our lives. I really do, he said.

At 12 weeks, she has outgrown her borrowed crate, and we’ve temporarily borrowed a larger one (from Gandy’s generous Fairy Dog Mother) that the pup doesn’t have to duck to enter, and hope to heaven this will be sufficient to meet her dimensions for the long haul. Oh please. She weighs close to 20 pounds (the vet visit today should get us an exact weight.) She is getting hard to lift, hold and carry.

She is no sissy, and suffers the occasional bump, fall or other trauma in stride. She will be worthy opponent for a groundhog someday, and my guess is she’ll be as fond of mining for moles as her Uncle Tsuga always was.

So, there’s more than you wanted to know. I continue to consider weaving these stories with those of the three labs into at least a short photographically-illustrated digital book. The question is, can one write a book while being nibbled to death by mice.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. That was definitely not more than I wanted to know. Dog people can’t get enough of dog stories, at least when they are so well and amusingly told as yours.