Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Babies

Graham and I own two purebred Belgian Shepherd dogs. They look like this:

I say Graham and I, but I really only came into the picture 3 years ago. Graham's dogs have been around much longer. He adopted both of them from the local pound while he was still in highschool. We think Bungo must be around 11 years old, while Samurai (or Sam, as we normally call him) is a year or two younger. While it is the pound policy to never give out information on the dog's previous history, Graham's sister, who works for the council, had given us some idea of their background. Bungo, our girl, was given up for adoption by a breeder as a puppy, while Sam was abandoned by his owners and spent several months wandering the streets of Perth before he ended up at the pound.

They are magnificent dogs - pure black, with deep brown eyes and white patches on their chests. It is hard to believe they could have been in the pound, they look so good. We often get stopped while walking them, with people curious to know what breed they are. Even the vet admires them!

Of course, every dog owner knows that a dog's behaviour can completely contradict their outward appearance. And while Bungo and Sam look majestic and poised, their behaviour is anything but that. They can be noisy, affectionate, playful and frustrating - but never calm and relaxing!

People often can't tell the difference between our two dogs, but it is obvious to us. Both their appearance and behaviour is so markedly different, we have never had trouble identifying them - except perhaps at night, if one of us happens to stumble on a dog in the dark. Bungo is slim to the point of emaciated. She is like this, no matter how much we feed her, and it has led to some awkward conversations with the vet and dog groomer where we try to explain that, yes she eats often and well, but never seems to put weight on. She is going grey around the muzzle and has marked white eyebrows from age. And, even if we can't see that from a distance, we can always tell Bungo from her gait. At the ripe old age of 11, she is developing arthritis in her hips, which leads her to trot stiff-legged. We feed her fish-oil to help combat the condition, and she is as active as ever, but the stiffness remains.

Bungo's personality is also unique. She was probably the runt of her litter, being small and slim, and also markedly nervous. She hates loud noises, particularly the sound of metal on metal. It took Bungo over a year of me living in the same house as her for her to fully accept me. She is also a bit of a princess, and has been known to turn up her nose at food she doesn't like. Bungo is especially picky when it comes to dry dog food. She tends to hide it in places where she can eat it later, before sorting it by order of colour, and finally eating it in order of most tasty first. 

This became a problem, as Sam has no such compulsions, and follows her in order to steal her food. We eventually gave up on feeding them dry food altogether, and Graham teases me when I put together meals for the dogs consisting of selected left-overs, specially bought kangaroo mince and other oddments to make sure they get a balanced diet!

Sam is in some ways the polar opposite to Bungo. Noisy, brash and greedy, he is still very affectionate and will do anything for a treat and praise. He is bigger than Bungo, with a thicker coat and less grey hairs. He is very territorial, and a real headache when he tries to outbark the neighbours' dogs. For all his noise, he is a sook, and terrified of other dogs.

Sam is insatiable, and has been known to chew on anything, from DVDs, to dishcloths, to my father-in-law's work ID. We haven't been able to break him from stealing food, something we think he started while lost on the streets. As soon as everyone's backs are turned, he will audaciously jump up and take whatever food is sitting out. In this way he's gotten steak, whole loaves of bread, and even a full kilo block of cheese!

I write all this, and I realise it may sound like we have two monsters to care for. I can't emphasis enough how much I love the dogs, bad behaviour and all. When I am feeling terrible, their unconditional love comforts me, and it is good to feel like one never needs to be alone in the house.

Graham, I know, cares for the dogs even more than I do. He has so much patience with them, and is willing to do or pay whatever it takes to make sure they are healthy and happy. Are the dogs too hot in the summer? Graham will gladly take time off in order to get them clipped, and will also sacrifice a chunk of his pay on getting the best groomer. Do the dogs need exercise? Then he will put aside his computer games and walk them, swim with them, or take them to the local dog beach. Do they need arthritis treatment or a biopsy or have they torn their pads? Graham notices immediately and will drop everything to get them to a vet.

It is for these reasons I have titled this post "Our Babies". For, even though we have no children yet, caring for two needy dogs has shown me the fatherly side of Graham. I know when we have children, Graham will be a wonderful father. In the meantime, we look after our affectionate furry babies, dealing with all frustrations for the joy of their love and loyalty.

And, if you are ever looking for a dog, get a Belgian Shepherd - they are beautiful. The Complete Dog Book For Kids © 1996, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. praises their intelligence, saying:

Belgian Sheepdogs have proved their smarts many times over. They perform well in sports like obedience, herding, and tracking. They work as search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, and therapy dogs. Most heroically, they performed valuable services during World Wars I and II. They carried messages, pulled ambulance wagons and machine guns, and guarded military sites.

While ours aren't quite that heroic, it's nice to know they could be trained to do such wonderful things!

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