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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY The not-so-perfect search for the perfect dog



Published: Thu, August 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



I'm 45. So when the good-looking guy in the pickup truck slowed down to shout out the window, I was, I admit it, pleased. The driver, as he curved round the bend, leaned toward me.

"Nice," he began.

"Dog," he ended, then drove off.

I won't give a treatise on the psychology of what THAT felt like. I will give a treatise on my dog.

Zeke was best characterized by the little boy who gasped, "That is one hairy dog!"

Zeke was the culmination of a one-year hunt by my husband to find the perfect lap dog. We had tried out two other dogs and learned all sorts of neat things in our trial of error. First, if you don't want a dog that slams its head into the window, don't live in a neighborhood overrun by squirrels or don't own a hunting breed. We placed Maggie in another home.

Secondly, if you have no clue how to train animals, don't get a herding dog that nips people in the behinds. We placed Duffy on a farm with a horse shoer.

And so, after reading copious dog books -- it's my way -- we settled on finding a lovely little lap dog, preferably female, and John started hunting. I had long since given up on the idea; dogs were great when you were a kid but a real pain when you grew up. John was undeterred.

Almost weekly, he visited pounds. If he found something desirable, he'd take me to see it. I became the executioner. If I didn't like the animal, we left it behind. Sleepless nights ensued.

Jackpot: Then Z-Day came. "I found one!" John said. "The shelter says it's a full- grown cockapoo."

I stood outside the kennel run as John carried out this black and white mop, cradled in his arms, tummy up, with gigantic feet curled around to either side of floppy ears. He was no more than 15 pounds, but those feet . . . those big feet.

We took him home, cleaned him up, and found protruding ribs beneath all that hair. He had horrible dandruff. Poor thing. We scheduled a vet appointment.

I sat petting Zeke a day later. "Hon, you know what these white flakes ... look ... like? LICE!!!!"

We called the vet again and arrived shortly thereafter. Not only was our full-grown cockapoo covered in lice (animal version, not a problem for humans, thank heaven), he turned out to be 6 months old, still growing, and a bearded collie mix. A 50 pounder someday. Our lap dog!

But Zeke, don't ask me why, was the keeper -- probably because we knew good looking young men in trucks would one day admire him.

He looks like a mini-sheep dog. He has a beard and a white chest that's as soft as cotton. He's got a lot of good points. He's a good watch dog. He doesn't run out open doors or nip behinds (we trained him not to). He doesn't slam his head into windows. He has a wonderful sense of humor -- he steals my daughter's stuffed animals and leaves them around the house so we will "scold" him. He goes into wild, insane, dances where he runs into every room in the house until we finally succumb to playing with him.

He's patient. He's the most patient creature I've ever been lucky enough to meet. He waits to be asked to go outside. He's amazing.

The bad: Of course, many a day I wish the hairy dog would run away. He's awful with other dogs -- wants to jump and annoy. And he's put a real damper on vacations. But, he's a dog. What did I expect? (Actually I DID expect all that, which is why I didn't want one ... so who loves the thing now? Me, of course.)

James Herriot, a famous veterinarian from Great Britain, wrote of an old country woman who rescued a miserable, emaciated pup. Each time he saw her and the well-loved pooch, she would grin and say, "Weren't I good for that dog?"

Well, there you go. "Weren't we good for that dog?" And he for us?

murphy@vindy.com




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