Munster the Intrepid Water Dog

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As if one horse, three ducks, and four cats weren’t enough, I recently decided to add a dog to the mix. Mind you, this wasn’t for any personal reason on my part; it was because the husband had been making fond reminisces about the dogs of his past. And when I got to thinking about the initial circumstances of our union, I realized that there was actually very little that hubs brought with him when he moved into Critter Cottage. Almost everything belonged to me.
There were some ill-fitting clothes, a few books and CD’s, and his guitars. And that was it. There was no furniture, no home decor, no nothing. It was as if he had no past at all, but had moved into my home after, apparently, bursting forth from some sort of stasis, a blank slate waiting to be written on. I’d never known anyone who didn’t have any stuff.
What he moved into, upon his arrival at said Critter Cottage, was a home filled with a lifetime of art and travel, accumulations of books and photographs, collections of mismatched furniture, and oddities of personal interest (abandoned bird nests of various sizes; the long, narrow jaw from an as-yet unidentified specie). And cats.
There were four of them: Buddy, Spanky, Junebug, and Gracie Ellen. And while none of them was particularly outgoing, they all warmed up to the hubs in surprisingly quick fashion. The details of their relationships with him can be read in greater detail in my second book, No Better Medicine. Suffice to say that the hubs injected a considerable amount of humor into his interactions with them.
In a relatively short span of time, the hubs and the cats became firm friends. And while the Mr. initially objected to the idea of adding ducks to the mix, they ended up charming him every bit as much as the cats did. Indeed, after Boyfriend Duck – an OAP with a limp that virtually invited predators to come and get him – was actually killed by a predator, the hubs sent me this text on the subject: “I’m sad.”
So it appeared that my husband was every bit as content with the menagerie at Critter Cottage as I was. At least until he started his wistful recollections of his dog-owning days. Which got me thinking about the fact that virtually everything in the hub’s life with me was mine. The furniture was mine. The art was mine. The animals were mine. Perhaps it was time for something to be his.
I went online, then, and looked over the offerings at our local critter rescue branch. There were a few possibilities, but none of them passed muster during my discussions with the kennel team, so I gave some thought to whether to stop searching. The hubs had no idea what I was up to, and therefore wouldn’t be disappointed if I quit looking. But something compelled me to try again a few days later, and that second time paid off: there on the website was a five-year old Shepherd mix named Munster. His wide smile practically dared you not to fall in love with him, which is exactly what happened to both the hubs and myself when we finally met him.
After all the i’s had been dotted and the t’s had been crossed, we happily welcomed Munster into our hearts and home. He seemed to settle in easily enough, although I, in particular (because the hubs doesn’t give these matters a great deal of thought), became aware that Munster had a history that we would never know about, and that history ight well have been, shall I say, less than stellar.
He was, for the most part, a cheerful, happy dog. The times I took him for long walks, and wanted to steer him in a different direction by calling, “Let’s go this way!” he would immediately bound off in the direction I indicated, the smile on his face growing wider still in anticipation of new adventures.
But there was something about him, something subtle. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Every once in a while, if I approached him from behind, he would inexplicably shy away from me. A couple of times, he growled as well. Mind you, he was not ordinarily a dog who growled. Or barked, for that matter. Indeed, apart from that mysterious response to my approach, we never had a spot of bother with him.
There was something else, too. Often, while he lay sleeping at our feet whilst we watched the telly, he appeared to have nightmares. Lots of them. I got into the habit of leaning over and giving his belly a rub, trying to wake him up and reassure him, as if to say, “It’s o.k. old fellow, you’re safe here.” I hadn’t realized that the hubs had noticed this same oddity until I mentioned it one day. “Yes,” he replied, “I thought the same thing.” That surprised me: it’s a rare day in the neighborhood when the hubs and I think alike on any subject!
If we could do nothing about his troubled past, we could make his present worth remembering for better reasons. We recently took our annual holiday to a family friend’s lakeside cottage. We looked keenly forward to taking Munster with us, although we weren’t at all sure whether he’d enjoy himself. The question was answered when we loaded him onto the boat with us and motored around the lake.
Before we embarked on our trip, I had found a canine life jacket on Amazon and bought it. When I showed it to the hubs, he favored me with the look he gives when he thinks I’ve been exceptionally ridiculous. I didn’t care: if Munster was going to ride in a boat, he was bloody well going to wear a life jacket, and that was that. As it happened, that jacket turned out to be a very wise investment.
Initially, Munster didn’t seem to know what to make of the boat. He climbed aboard willingly enough, and seemed to take it all in as the hubs whisked us away from shore. It was when the boat began to throw waves of water up from the bow that Munster decided that boating was a participation sport: he leaned over the edge and tried to bite them.
This wouldn’t have been a problem but for the fact that he clearly didn’t understand the laws of gravity. Thankfully, the life jacket I’d insisted that he wear came with two sturdy handles on the back. These were intended to facilitate a rescue, should your dog actually go overboard. I used them to keep Munster from doing so.
I had a flash in my mind’s eye of exactly how hard it would be to recover a large dog who’d gone overboard in deep water without a life jacket: it would’ve been almost impossible. I turned to the hubs, then, one hand firmly gripping the life jacket handle, and said, “I believe that the jacket has just paid for itself.” Hubs shrugged, indicating that while he agreed with me, he didn’t wish to admit it out loud.
While Munster seemed disinclined, at the beach, to go into the water over his head, to the considerable surprise of both of us, Munster loved boating. When he wasn’t biting at waves, he was standing tall on the seat, barking as if to say, “I’m king of the world!” And, when I tried my hand at paddle-boarding, a few days later, he joined me on that adventure as well.
I’d never been paddle-boarding, and quickly discovered that the only way I could remain upright was to sit on the board, rather than stand on it as is intended. Munster seemed to grasp immediately what the board was for, and rushed out to join me before I got too far out into the water. His balance was as shaky as mine, initially, but he seemed to mind not at all when I paddled him out into deep water. When I tried my hand at it again a day later, it became instantly clear that sometime between that day and the one before, Munster had worked out the balance issue: his second ride was noticeably less shaky than the first. And, he’d clearly enjoyed the first ride enough that he wanted to do it again.
So, while there have been some serious issues with Munster – I’ll get into them in another column – in many ways, he’s turned out to be the perfect dog for the hubs, and myself. His cheery nature, and willingness to dive right into whatever adventure we propose, make him the sort of dog that everyone dreams of having. And, rather than purchase from a breeder, we rescued an unwanted dog from our local shelter. Should you find yourself looking for a canine friend, I encourage you to visit your branch as well: they do great work!

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