Friday, March 31, 2006

The Dog Blanket

By the time his ashes and collar came unceremoniously in a box most of the crying was done. All that was felt was the hole that he left behind. The vet came by to drop them off. I thanked the Vet for all of her care and concern. Placing his ashes and collar on the mantle had just ended a 10-year friendship. Though he is gone I still think about him everyday.

My dog didn't shed, he’d molt. His fur came out in small feather like tufts.
My father was always against having pets and much like the father in the original story " Cheaper by the Dozen" my father thought that pets were useless because they did not produce eggs, milk or meat.

I have heard of people vacuuming their dogs. I have one of those stand-up one-piece vacuums with the rotating brush action on the bottom. My dog would see the beast and always keeps a weary eye on it. While lying on the carpet he’d try to maintain his composure as the Hoover whirred its way back and forth in front of him. As soon as he saw it changing course in the slightest degree toward him he would move out quickly at a brisk pace looking indignant.

I had pretty much given up on trying to keep up with the mess. I would pull out the vacuum right at the point where I couldn’t stand it any more and the house looked like a poultry facility with minions of Sterling's tufts of fur looking like chicken feathers coating the carpet.

I wished that the molt would happen all at once. Sterling would shed in phases. First his back, then his rear haunches, then his chest and tail, until finally his sides slowly began to yield.
The dog shedded twice a year. The first "coat blow" was slow and insidious. His straw-like guard hairs were the first to go. Shortly after his undercoat began to become unglued. This would usually happen just after we gave him a bath. I guess that the dog shampoo washes away the dog hair glue that kept him all together
You can tell where he has walked before because you'll find chunks of dog hair stuck in bushes, lawns & shrubs like breadcrumbs that lead to a gingerbread house in the Bavarian forest. One time we took him to a groomer. While he was being blow-dried so much fur was flying off of him that the groomer had to take him out to the back alley to finish drying him. It was a surreal site to see the voluminous amount of fur flying around. He looked like one of those snowmaking machines coating all of the streets of Burbank.
Sterling’s fur would get everywhere. On a windy day about a mile away from the house a bird’s nest was blowing down the street. I decided to pick it up and show it to my daughter. When I did I discovered that the nest was made from grass, twigs and Sterling’s fur. A few years back I had to rebuild our deck out back. We had lived in the house for five years and I was making some repairs in preparation to sell it. Upon taking apart the deck I had found that dog’s fir was entangled in between the deck planks and serews.

Charlene LaBelle, Malamute breeder and author brought it to our attention that Malamute fur can be collected and that it can be spun into yarn. She pulled off the stocking cap that she was wearing. The cap was soft and pliable. Softer than lambs wool not scratchy like the sweaters that your mom made you wear to school. Malamute undercoat is white or more of a cream color. Sometimes it can be sable or gray in color.
Sterling would know when it was time to be harvested. The brush and zip-lock bag were kept in the same drawer as the dog walking paraphernalia. The drawer pull would make a familiar ka-clink whenever the drawer was opened. For Sterling that either meant a walk or a brushing, and he would scurry over to see. When he saw the brush he’d snap his teeth like an alligator. Sometimes he’d try to nibble on the brush. Jill would sit and brush him for as long as he allowed her to.

If she was wearing a black pair of pants when she was done her pants (and everything else for that matter) would be coated in dog fur. When she stood up she would look like she was wearing a pair of those furry chaps from the black & white cowboy movies. She would stiffly make her way to the trashcan looking like something out of a Tom Nix movie.
My mother-in-law who is an avid knitter knew and recommended a friend of hers from the Coast Guard Auxiliary who spun her own yarn from the traditional sort of beasts like sheep and rabbit. She had never spun dog before and took to the challenge with out hesitation.
I think that she was a bit surprised when she was given 9 bags of dog fur that were bursting at the seams. Over the first two years my wife and I collected and turned in at least 20 bags worth of fur. She called us to tell us to stop collecting.
It didn't take long for all of the fur to get spun. Just like lambs wool Sterling's fur had to be washed and dried. She would put the freshly washed hair into a salad spinner and spin the fur until most of the water was removed. I always wondered if she used her salad spinner to make salad afterwards.

I am a napper from way back. As an infantry solider the military taught me to get sleep whenever and where ever I could. Back then I would sleep lightly like a treed caveman constantly being jostled awake by the slightest crackle of leaves fearing for my life reaching out for my rifle. Now that I am a civilian I have take the art of napping to a new height. I sleep just as deeply during the day as I do at night, no fear or guilt involved. Upon returning to school during the day and working full time at night and after the birth of my daughter, napping had become a survival tactic. I have since gravitated from using a camouflaged poncho liner to a any small soft comfortable blanket I can get my hands on.
Over the years my mother in law has knitted a couple of different throws for me. The first was plain and simple. Blue, with a simple repetitive pattern. The second was a rust colored calico design and the third was made with what ever left over yarn that she had. Each time I reminded her that I already have an afghan that she had made for me. Each time she claims that she does not remember ever making anything for me. Since my marriage to my wife for the last fourteen years I have received three Afghans or .21 per year.

With no fanfare or announcement the dog blanket came in the mail in a simple white box with no note. It was a quiet surprise. My wife and I looked at it with a silent awe. Not only at the color and texture of it but at the intricacy that Louise had put into knitting it. I had seen many an afghan knitted by her, but this by far was the best. Sterling took an immediate curiosity to it. He nosed and sniffed and sneezed at it, then retuned to his eight-hour nap.
The dog blanket sits prominently at the end of our bed. We recently purchased a large Mission style bed. Sterling's blanket hangs over the side much like a tapestry or a coat of arms. Every once and awhile my daughter will take a nap on the bed. I like to cover her with the blanket. Inside I feel as if Sterling is watching over her, protecting her.

The blanket is a sort of connection with my dog, a physical momento of my friend of ten years and the skill, craftsmanship and care of my mother in law.

It’s been three years since he has left us . His departure was a long and difficult one. But occasionally I see the blanket and I am caught off guard and I stare deeply into it and remember.


OKDad said...


Our familly dog, the dog of my childhood, Bucky, was an imperfect example of the malamute breed -- his tail wouldn't curl up to touch his back.

Yet, he holds a special place in my heart, never to be touched by another animal.

You never forget your first malamute.

George Forgan-Smith said...

I never thought of that. Hey did I mention I finally got my new pup from Darksky Alaskan Malamutes? He is soooo cute!


George Forgan-Smith said...

Lol, why does that always happen? Hey did you hear about my new pup from Darksky Alaskan Malamutes? The little guy is so cute!


Gef said...

In the day and age where people are so secretive I really appreciate you sharing your true thoughts.

Sean Cody