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Archive for April, 2012

Dogs that herd fish?  It hooked me. I wanted a Portuguese Water Dog.  Bred as working dogs for the Algarve fishermen of southern Portugal, the dogs’ muscular chests enabled them to set fishing nets and corral fish into them, haul out buoys, and deliver messages between boats and the shore.  Their loud bark functioned as fog horns.  In the off season, the fishermen leased their dogs for sheep herding. 

Possibly due to their constant contact with the fishermen in small boats, “Portys” prefer to keep their “peeps” close by.  For a botanist, this is an important trait in a companion field dog.  Unfortunately, on my botanical income, my future held no hope for a pure-bred with a high sticker price.  Realizing my dream would require winning the lottery, but impossible without playing. 

On May 4, 2001, an adorable puppy was born to Virgil and Gidget at Navio Portuguese Water Dogs in Chesapeake, Virginia. Chris Gallardo purchased the lively puppy, named him Pelé, and brought the little bundle of wavy hair home. Pelé and Chris enjoyed dog parties with friends and running on the greenway.  Life was good for Pelé, living with a single fellow, even with the same color hair as his, black. 

Puppy Pele (center) with friends

During one of those parties, Chris met a special lady.  Much to Pelé’s chagrin the lady lived with a dachshund named Jake that could run under his white-streaked chest and tummy.  This annoyed Pelé, along with sharing Chris’s attention with a lady and her dog. 

Soon, Chris married complicating Pelé’s life.  Trying to be nice to that long skinny dog proved difficult.  Life became even more interesting when twin boys arrived, and later a baby girl.

Pelé adores little children because they hug and love on him like a teddy bear.  With patience, those babies would walk and play with him.  However, until then, his share of Chris’s attention plummeted.

The last complexity arose when Chris’s travel schedule intensified.  His young wife worked part-time, raised babies, and managed two disagreeable dogs during Chris’s absence.  At age four, Pelé thrived on excessive exercise and attention.  Understandably, neither Chris nor his wife could provide either for Pelé.

Meanwhile, in Summerfield, North Carolina, my household moved in the opposite direction.  On Valentine’s Day and during my only child’s high school senior year, our family dog, Feathers, passed away from cancer at age eleven.  We had adopted Feathers, a stray dog, from the corner of Witty and Lake Brandt Roads on my son’s fifth birthday.  Through the years, Feathers and I ran together on the Lake Brandt trails while Chris and Pelé pounded the greenway pavement in Alexandria. 

Feathers

My son graduated and in August 2005, John, my husband, and I moved him to a dorm on the NC State campus.  We returned home to silence and emptiness – no son, no dog.  Even the chickens had been taken out to dinner by a fox, who partook in a six course meal.

Chris Gallardo struggled with his imminent decision; I struggled with how to afford a Porty: start playing the lottery, a second job, rob a bank.  I searched the web for rescue PWDs to no avail.  One sleepless night, I looked for breeders and found the Navio website http://www.naviopwd.com/.  In a dream world, I completed and submitted Navio’s puppy application which placed my email address in their directory.  The breeder sent email announcements when their bitch became pregnant and photographs after she whelped.  I frequently viewed the puppy photos and “rogues’ gallery” of past puppies and their new owners, which included several of Chris and Pelé. 

Pele and Chris Gallardo

My empty life continued, and thoughts of a PWD usually entered my mind during early morning hours.  John, clueless about my website surfing, wished for no dog, but if we acquired another dog, he suggested one from the animal shelter.  I didn’t like that plan.

One beautiful fall day, I returned home after working at the newly created Elk Knob State Park near Boone, NC.  As typical, I checked my emails and immediately noticed one from Navio with the subject line, “PWD needs good home.”   I clicked the mouse quicker than winning participants on Jeopardy and read the message faster than the top graduate from an Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course.  One of their former clients needed to find a loving home for his active 4 ½-year-old dog.  Here was my only legitimate opportunity to acquire a PWD.

Purposefully avoiding a call to John, I grabbed the phone and dialed Navio’s number. 

“Hello,” answered the lady.

“This is Moni Bates.  I just read your email about a PWD needing a home.”

Fully aware of the activity level of PWDs, I knew my life style was a perfect match.  Attempting to stay cool as a cucumber, I calmly spoke, “Let me explain my life and see if you think my home is appropriate for this dog.  I’m a field botanist.  I work in my home office and spend two to three days a week hiking in the woods.  I’d like a field companion who will stay close to me and come when called.  For recreation, I mountain bike and ride four to five times per week.  I’d like a dog to join me.  About ten months ago our family dog passed away, and this fall my only son went to college.  My husband and I are ready for another dog.”  Well, at least half of the last sentence was correct.

After more conversation, the Navio lady finally said, “I’ll call the owner, give him your phone number, and he’ll give you a ring.”

Shortly after hanging up, John arrived home from work and, thankfully, a lovely dinner waited at the dining room table.  We poured glasses of wine as I internally formulated how to present the PWD idea.  The phone rang.  John waited patiently, viewing the fall color in our “South Lawn” through the living room windows.

John welcomes pets, but with our cats, Socks and Pinot, he was content without the responsibility of a canine.  Cats are easy; they eat, sleep, and purr.  Daily, Pinot walked to greet John at his car when he returned from work and slept on his chest.  Nearly inseparable, that feline was bonded to John.

Sprinting to the telephone, on the second ring my hand clasped the receiver.  “Hello,” I answered out of breath.

“Hi, this is Chris Gallardo, the owner of the PWD who needs a home,” the soft-spoken man began.

I decided to ignore John’s presence in order to win Chris’s acceptance and began a lengthy conversation.  John listened carefully.  I repeated my life situation, this time with a bit of nervousness.  Once in a lifetime opportunity, I had to convince Chris that my life and home met his requirements for his precious and loved Pelé.  The conversation concluded with a date and time to visit Pelé in his Alexandria home, a six hour drive to the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The disrupted dinner discussion commenced, “Dear, may I pour you another glass of wine?”  Then, a pause, “How would you like to go to Alexandria this weekend?” 

The following Saturday, we drove my small Toyota RAV4 with the backseat removed to make space for Pelé and his crate.  My excitement and John’s hesitation filled the vehicle.  After the long drive, we located Chris’s street and slowly inched along searching for the house number.  John spotted them first, Chris and Pelé sitting on the porch and peering through the handrail.  “Oh, Moni, look at him, he is so cute,” John spoke with a warm heart that instantly fell in love with Pelé.  Just as I hoped.

Pelé sat adjacent to Chris.  My eyes met those beautiful brown eyes with the longest lashes I’d ever seen on a dog.  He looked just like all those photos I’d observed on the web, wavy black hair streaked with gray and a white chest.   As a bonus, Pelé exhibited well-trained behavior.  Still, Chris wanted us to know the good, the bad, and the ugly before accepting him. 

“Pelé has a loud bark” Chris warned. 

Holding the leash, he commanded, “Heel.”  We walked past the neighbor’s fenced yard containing Pelé’s nemesis.  Both dogs commenced wild barking and Pelé, paws down, won the decibel contest. 

I reassured Chris, “We live in the middle of twenty acres of woods.  Pelé’s bark will not be an issue.”   

We continued our walk along the greenway where Chris and Pelé had logged thousands of miles.  I asked, “I need a dog who when off-leash will return to me when called.  How is Pelé with the “come” command?”

Near a stream with forested banks, Chris reached down and released Pelé.  Pelé bounced toward the woods, a city dog’s precious moments of off-leash freedom.  John and I noticed Pelé’s elegant profile as he leapt over logs.  After several minutes, Chris called, “Come, Pe-Boy.”

Pe-Boy bee-lined to Chris’s side.  All humans, silently in agreement, even John, that our home and lifestyle matched Pelé needs.

Sadness replaced my excitement as I watched Chris say goodbye to his “man’s best friend.”  After a long hug and reassuring words, Chris encouraged Pelé to jump into the back of my RAV4.  Chris’s only request to us was an occasional photo and update.  Tears filled my eyes as bittersweet joy filled my heart.

Pelé’s new life in Summerfield fulfilled Chris’s wishes, while Pelé fulfilled my dream of living with a PWD.  My son, botanical colleagues, and mountain biking friends met and adored Pelé.  As my shadow, he and I worked and played as the gray in our hair became more prominent together. 

Moni & Pele Hammocking at Lake Brandt

To some degree, Pelé reduced the void left by our college boy.  Months passed until the presidential race between Barak Obama and John McCain.  President Obama won the election and moved his family to the White House.  Once they settled, the nation learned that Malia and Sasha, the Obama daughters, wanted a dog.  Due to allergies in their family, they shared my dream.  President Obama announced to the nation their interest in acquiring a rescue PWD.

After hearing the news, I called my mother, “Mom, did you hear that the Obama family is looking for a rescue Porty?”

My mother questioned, “You think they’ll find one?”

 “We’ll soon see if I am the only person in the nation to locate a rescue PWD.”

Shortly thereafter, the Obama’s introduced their PWD puppy named Bo.

Again, I rang my mother, “Mom, Edward Kennedy gifted a Porty puppy to the Obama Family.  Even the President of the United States couldn’t find a rescue PWD.  I’m thankful I got Pelé, as he may have wound up in the White House with secret service agents on his tail.”

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My Dad’s Boots

The race to untie my father’s boots replaced hugs and kisses. Most days, Dad worked on our farm wearing worn-down work boots and thick socks to pad his feet, walking miles traveling between the house, barns, outbuildings, and fields.  During the early spring, Dad walked from our house to his tractor, often accompanied by a peg-legged duck. The farm fowl hunkered down on cold winter days and their fluffy down usually kept them warm. Unfortunately, this duck’s foot froze, along with a puddle of water. As the duck walked off, its foot remained in the ice. Dad, with his long slender legs, took giant strides as the duck bobbled back and forth from webbed foot to stump.

With boots resting on the floor boards, Dad drove the John Deere tractor and planter back and forth across the field. Imagining playing the drums on a Saturday night, he tapped his boots to songs, such as Woody Herman’s Woodchopper Ball, while seeds passed through the openings and dropped into the black soil.

Come fall, Dad climbed each metal step to the high perch of his combine and harvested the corn and soybeans. Sometimes, the combine broke and needed a fixing session in his machine shop in downtown Farnhamville. At that time of the year, neighbors often knocked on our door, seeking help to repair their machinery. The heavy boots protected Dad’s feet from sparks flying off his welder.

At the end of a long day, the screech of the side porch screen door caught the attention of my siblings and me. Foot steps entered the house, paused while Dad hung up his jacket and hat on the hooks mounted on the wall opposite the large chest freezer full of beef from our cows and vegetables put up by our mother from her bountiful garden. The sound of foot steps amplified on the linoleum kitchen floor, softened across the wooden dining room floors, and muted on the living room carpet. The boots remaining on his feet, Becky, Bobby, and I were poised and ready for action.

Exhausted, Dad flopped down into a lounge chair and stretched out his tired legs, a form of farmer’s yoga. A smile erupted across his exhausted face as he said, “Okay, kids, who can remove a boot the fastest?”

With excitement, we raced to his leathery, farm-scented boots and scrambled with the ties. Sounding like Red Barber announcing sports, Dad teased and egged us on, “Hurry, Moni. Becki is winning.” Laughter erupted. As I was the youngest child with less developed motor skills, Becky or Bobby usually beat me. But little did I care, because this was my time for closeness to my dad and to feel our love.

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