Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Odd Couple

For those that don't know, I actually have two dogs. Bastas, of course, and a shepherd/elkhound mix named Grendel. I've had Grendel for going on 8 years now - she was a birthday present from my friends when I was in high school and has been a constant feature in my life ever since. If you're wondering why I don't have a blog for her, it's because Grendel is, bless her heart, a colossal grouch and every single blog entry would be reiterations of "What is Grendel pissed off at today?"

Her grouchiness posed a serious problem when trying to introduce Bast into my family. Bast, although subdued and skittish, was still only a 9 month old puppy when I got him, full of playfulness and joie de vivre. Grendel, on the other hand, does not do "play". She does not like fetch or tug of war. She doesn't like chase or tag or any of that nonsense. Grendel is extremely territorial - one of those dogs that has to stop and pee on every other blade of grass when we're out walking. She carefully sniffs other dogs' leavings before adding her own on top of it: in doggy language, a clear "fuck you" to any other dogs in the neighborhood. When we're approaching the end of our walks and she's all out of pee, she just squats or hikes over whatever spot she's claiming and pretends to pee on it.

When you think of Grendel, think of those squadrons of elderly ladies who go power-walking at the mall. You know the ones I'm talking about. They move in platoons of 3 or 4, elbows swinging at precise angles, sensible, thick-soled sneakers that match their zip-up track suits striking the ground with deliberate vigor. They scoot about at a swift 5 miles-an-hour, weaving through the shopping crowd with a stiff-legged gait that could be most accurately labeled as "goose-stepping". Getting in their way earns you a disdainful huff at best, at worst a passive-aggressive smack on the hip from one of their 40 pound handbags.

You get the idea. That's Grendel on walks - tail curled over her back, straining into her harness with a barely contained eagerness to reinforce her dominion over the neighborhood via urine stains.


For Grendel, life is about one thing and one thing only: defending her empire of peed-upon territories. Her manifesto would sound a lot like the text from "Green Eggs and Ham":

Would you like to chase this ball?
Would you like to play at all?

I would not like to chase that ball.
I do not want to play at all.
I do not want to meet new friends;
I've an empire to defend.

I do not like to joke and sing.
I only like to piss on things.

So, introducing an exuberant puppy did not go over well. Bastas harassed Grendel tirelessly, and at 8 years old and used to being an only-dog, Grendel was not inclined to be gracious to our new manically happy pack member. So ungracious, in fact, that I couldn't keep them in the room together without fear of one or the other being injured.

My best friend Cait provided an elegant solution; moving into a new neighborhood, Cait needed an alert but sedate companion to keep an eye on her place but not destroy things when left unattended. Since Grendel spends most of her time lazing, in between bouts of snarling viciously at UPS guys, this seemed like a great temporary arrangement while we got Bast healthy and he settled down a bit.

Grendel moved in with Cait and got a new territory to defend, and we bring Bast over for carefully supervised socialization visits to teach him some manners. Everyone is much happier with this arrangement, and it seems to be working so far: Bast is learning to play more gently with Grendel, and Grendel tolerates him to an extent that I don't have to worry as much about her ripping him a new bunghole.

For this week, though, Cait is out of town, giving me both dogs in my place. In theory, this is not a huge problem - I already walk Bast 3 or 4 times a day, and Grendel's part slug and spends most of her day sleeping anyway. Should be fine for a week, right?

The devil's in the details, of course. Bast and Grendel are diametrically opposed in almost every aspect. A few examples include:
  • A noise outside the door brings Grendel instantly to her feet, barking and ready to face any challenger. Bast usually slinks into the kitchen and peers mistrustfully around the fridge until the scary sound goes away.
  • Despite never having gone hungry in 8 years, Grendel gobbles down every bit of kibble like it could her last. Bast, who came to me emaciated and malnourished, sometimes decides he's not that hungry for a couple days at a time and would rather just not eat, kthx.
  • Grendel knows some basic English and in proper, loyal dog-fashion is slavishly obedient. Even being lightly scolded for something crushes her soul until she is quite literally debilitated and rolling on the ground in shame. When Bast gets shouted at, however, he calmly looks over at you, assesses how mad you are, and then decides whether to continue what he's doing or take off running. He knows when he's doing wrong - he just doesn't care.
  • Grendel pees on everything outside of our den to mark it as her own. It took me forever to break Bast of peeing inside to mark it as ours, and then to quit eating his own turds outside to prevent predators from swooping out of the sky to kill us and take our home.
If I'd just let the leashes go, my life would be much simpler. 
Their differences are at their worst when going for walks. Taking them both for walks at the same time is a lesson in patience. Grendel charges forward every step of the way, tugging and straining to reach the next pissing check-point. She always has and I've never been able to correct her leash manners despite working on it for years. The best we can come to is a sullen truce where she just propels me forward at a pace slightly faster than I'm comfortable walking. Her business cannot wait for my puny two-legged walking speed.

Walking Bast is like walking a well-trained kitten. For the most part, he pads calmly at my side until something distracts him - a leaf to chase, a smell to roll in, a grasshopper to pounce on, the voices in his head say "go this way!" He dances around me, occasionally remembering that he's supposed to stay at my side and go at my pace before his mind is completely captivated by something new. Our walks together usually involve him rolling on something horrid that he's found, such as this episode where he found the remains of a decapitated duck and had to grind its putrescent funk into his fur:
I will never know such bliss.
Alone, I can deal with each of their walking quirks. Together, their combined craziness is almost too much. Grendel spearheads our dysfunctional little pack while Bast stays by my side for the start. We look like this until we reach our usual walking area:
Behold the power of MS Paint

Grendel's tugging is obnoxious at this point, but our little solar system is more-or-less functional until we cross the street and get to the museum where we walk. At this point, Bast's psychotic little mind enters the first stages of sensory overload and he starts to peel off to investigate things:
They both have 6 foot leads, so they can orbit up to 12 feet around me. Bast will get distracted by things and then remember he's out on a walk with his SUPER BESTEST FRIEND GRENDEL and go join her for a few minutes:
As Bast becomes more and more distracted by the wondrous world around him, order begins to break down.
Attempts to reinstate order at this point involve me tugging sharply on Grendel's leash to signal a halt, pirouetting through the stranglehold of leashes around me, and then threatening to drop both dogs off at the night deposit box at the pound. The dogs, blithely unaware of how close they're getting to being dropped off in a field somewhere, resume their prior activities as if I hadn't interfered at all. 

I stumble along behind them, wondering why I even like these animals and what choices in my life lead me to this point before announcing that I'm tired and we're turning back. Grendel will do an immediate about-face and continue chugging back the way we came, but Bast instantly begins pouting at having to go home and starts to lag behind me, all 6 feet of his leash extended, so that my arms look like crazy pinwheels as I hold onto Grendel surging ahead and drag the ornery sulkbeast along behind us.

I need to invest in obedience classes.


  1. Grendel is too funny.

  2. I love reading about Bast. I miss my boy every day, and nothing will ever heal my spirit, but reading about your quirky fellow never fails to bring a smile to my face, even on the harder days. He reminds me of Sherlock in some ways; Sherlock wasn't fretful, but he had many of the same goofy traits. While I read about Bast, it feels like I'm reading about my boy, and it's almost like my boy is alive again, even if it's for such a short time. Your blog brightens my life.

    I'm so glad I had a role to play in connecting you with a support system that can help you work through Bast's insecurities. Enjoy the coming year with him, and never take even one moment for granted... - Chris

  3. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog so much you have no idea the laughter it brings!