This column published Tuesday, July 23, 2013. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE COLUMNS.
Man's best friend, large or small
By JAMES GROB
Ottumwa Post Columnist
I've always been a big dog kind of guy.
Specifically, Labrador Retrievers have been my breed of choice -- none of them smaller than 80 pounds, most of them bigger than that. They are real dogs -- hunting dogs -- with real dog names like "Dakota" and "Chance" and "Spike." Tough guys, these dogs, but loyal and smart and hard-working. Also, very loving and caring and sometimes playful. And often protective. Yep, my Labradors looked out for me and looked out for my family and friends.
Once, when my oldest daughter was about seven years old, she came along pheasant hunting with me and the Big Dakota Dog. She just wanted to get outside and find out what it was all about. The Big Dakota Dog, all 140 pounds of him, was happy to have her along, he had become very attached to this little first-grade girl.
At one point, as we were walking across a picked cornfield, my daughter got very tired. It was tough walking where we were headed, so I advised her that there was an easy path, straight back to the truck which was parked along side of the road. We could see the truck from where we were hunting, and she could see that it was a much shorter, easier walk. I told her she could get in the truck, lock the doors, and help herself to some of the snacks and soda in the cooler while she waited for me and the Big Dakota Dog to finish the hunt.
She did just that. I could see her the entire time, and see the truck, and knew she would be safe.
The Big Dakota Dog, however, wasn't so sure. Normally an intense hunter -- driven and highly-trained with an excellent nose for pheasants -- Dakota became distracted from the task at hand. He kept looking up at my daughter, walking the path alone, then looking at me, wondering if I was really OK with the situation. I told him to keep hunting, and he would for a minute, then he would stop again and take a long look at my daughter, his little friend. walking farther away from us.
Finally, it was too much for him to take. In his mind, there was just too much danger in the world for that little girl to be walking the path alone. He completely ignored my commands and pleas -- one of the few times this outstanding hunting dog ever did that -- and took off toward my daughter. From where I was, I could see everything. He caught up to her very quickly, and through his body language, attempted to get her to come back to where we were hunting. When it became clear that she wasn't going to do that, he provided her with an escort back to the truck, never leaving her side. When she got back to the truck and did what she was told, locking herself inside, he paced around the truck a few times before finally settling down on the side of the road, right in front of the truck, sitting in an alert, protective stance.
He had decided that today, his job wasn't hunting. Today, his job was to protect that little girl. I pitied any person dumb enough to approach that truck on the 140-pound Big Dakota Dog's watch.
Of course, I no longer had a dog, so the pheasant hunting was pretty much over for the day. I returned to my truck, my daughter, and my rather overprotective Big Dakota Dog.
Dakota was just one -- the biggest one -- of a long line of many big dogs in my life, all of them outstanding in their own way, all of them now long since passed.
And so now, there's Little Miss Eva.
Miss Eva does not really seem like a dog to me, when compared to the Labradors. She is white and fluffy and weighs about five pounds. The Big Dakota Dog would have taken one look at Little Miss Eva and wondered if I could put her on a cracker for him, so that he may have a delicious snack.
I am told Miss Eva is a Malti-Poo. That's half Maltese and half Poodle. Everyone knows what a Poodle is. Miss Eva seems to be more Maltese than Poodle. Maltese -- also known as "Maltese Lion Dogs" -- are cute and spirited little animals who are quick to sound the alarm if there are suspicious noises. To Miss Eva, a suspicious noise is pretty much any noise that comes from a place she cannot see. There are lots of those, so Miss Eva tends to sound the alarm with her ferocious barking quite often. Then she will run around in circles, around and around and around, until everyone in the home is exhausted from just watching her. Miss Eva believes she is a goddess, and that it is our job to worship her.
Often times it is my job to take Miss Eva for a walk. I do not like this job very much, not because it is difficult -- it's really easy to walk Miss Eva when compared to walking a Big Dakota Dog. I do not like this job because it is kind of embarrassing.
I am a rather large man, in height and in girth. I often have to duck and sometimes have to turn sideways to get through small doorways. Little Miss Eva is a rather small dog. She could probably sleep in a coffee mug.
So when I take Miss Eva for a walk, it is difficult for the general public to not laugh at the sight of us. Here's this big fellow, walking a tiny little white ball of fluff. Other men, in particular, often burst into laughter when they see us together. Sometimes, when I look into their eyes, I can see a little sympathy and understanding there.
They laugh, but they give me a look as if to say, "Yep. Sometimes I have to walk my wife's dog, too."
And my thought is, "If I had the Big Dakota Dog right now, I would let him tear you to pieces for laughing at me."
But I don't, because the Big Dakota Dog is long gone, and Little Miss Eva is what I am left with.
So sometimes we take our walk late at night, when no one is around, so we don't get laughed at. And other times, we just endure the laughter. It's not her fault I'm so big, and it isn't my fault that she's so little. It's not our fault we look funny together.
And she's not just my wife's dog, she's my dog, too. I don't judge her for her size. She's shown me that she'll look out for me, and protect me and my family and friends from all the suspicious noises of the world.
And I will look out for her, because we are buds, Miss Eva and I. We are friends for life. That's what having a dog is all about, whether that dog is five pounds or five hundred. She's got my back, and I've got hers.
Because I'm a little dog kind of guy.