When I was about, say, 21 years old, I had this sudden inexplicable urge to have a baby.
"Don't be an ass", I said to myself, and bought a puppy instead. Wise move, I think, especially since the whole "get a steady MAN and settle down" thing was not on my agenda at all. I meant to get a golden lab, a male. When I went to see the puppies, though, a small black female waddled over, peed on my foot, and lay down with her chin on my knee gazing into my eyes. We bonded. Two weeks later, I picked her up and we became a family. I was self-employed, with no major responsibilities, so Towser came to work with me and learned to behave like a lady. This took some time, as all lab owners will understand. I lost count of the number of shoes and books that were destroyed, before I figured out the number one lab management technique: Tire them out!
We began walking through the cane fields nearby every afternoon. As Towser grew, our walks became runs and I grew to love running. We got so fit together!
I bought a book that explained how to train a dog, and how to teach it words. I spent ages training, speaking, wrestling, until she could understand: "OH GOOD GRIEF, look at the state of you!! Where is your towel?" (she would go and bring her own towel from in the cupboard) BUT never "SIT!" ( at "sit" she would check my pockets for snacks). What is the point of "sit", anyway? "bring your dish?" check. "where's the ball?" okay. "don't eat mangoes, they will give you the runs" uh, no dice.
When Towser was about 9 months old, we went hiking in the forest to Salibea Waterfall with a group of friends. It was an easy hike, on a wide and well-cleared trail. We wore shorts, and my little sister Ailis, eight years younger than me, came along. She is not a big hiker, but I convinced her to come along on this easy, SAFE hike. In her shorts.
We had fun at the waterfall, and Towser gleefully leaped and swam and tried to catch fish. She rescued us, holding our hands firmly and leading us away from the scary deep water, and we laughed at her silliness. She laughed too, in her smiley, tongue-lolling way. We started back along the trail late in the afternoon.
Suddenly, Towser started to misbehave. She ran ahead, and stood across the trail. We pushed past, and she blocked us again, more strongly. She tripped us up and barked. I told her to "HEEL, dumb dog!" she wouldn't. I told her that she was a BAD DOG. My precious, beautiful little sister, who had been walking in front of the group all along in her excitement, pushed her way past the dog and I tried to grab Towser to put her leash on. Towser took off ahead of Ailis, and attacked a six-foot "Mappepire Zannana"- a deadly pit viper with cobra-like poison. It was just feet ahead of us on the trail.
These snakes occasionally get territorial, for whatever reason, and it was in attack mode. It was so well camoflaged that we would have walked right into it. Because Towser also attacked, and went for its head, the snake's fangs went in through her lip and some of the poison went into her mouth-she spat it out. Some went into her lip. In half an hour, her head and neck had swollen up like a ball and she couldn't breathe. I sat in the back of the car with her, massaging and willing her to breathe. My dear friend Sayeed drove like a maniac, and an hour later we found a vet, and woke him up from his afternoon siesta. He pumped syringes full of stuff into Towser's neck to bring down the swelling so that she could breathe. He said that he wanted to make her more comfortable, but that she would not survive. I insisted that she would. He gave me bags and bags of pills, and instructions to keep massaging her and give her plenty of fluids. He would not charge me anything, as he was certain that she could not survive. I was to keep giving her these various pills, and I have no idea what they were but I followed his directions faithfully.
Two weeks later, Towser stood up and ate solid food. There was a dead part of her mouth where the snake's fangs had entered for the rest of her life, and she never grew much more. The pit viper venom affects organs permanently, but she lived, and was healthy.
I would like to be able to say that I never ever called her "bad dog" ever again. I would love to say that I never got angry when she wallowed in mud and tracked it through the house. But I am imperfect, and she knew that. She forgave me everything with her knowing brown eyes.
The first time Towser met my future husband, they hugged and rolled about on the floor and kissed each other till I got jealous. He immediately became her Alpha Male, and she would give him a sideways look to double check that my orders were approved. It was very weird!
When I had children, she became their nanny and protector. Occasionally, I would leave a sleeping baby at home with a long-distance monitor radio, and walk over to my parents' house. Towser would start off with me, and then STOP. She would give me a look that said, "YOU LEFT THE BABY!" I would say "Baby is fine, Tao." and she would roll her eyes and say "Never mind. I will stay." When I got back home, she would be sitting at attention by the sleeping baby, and would sigh and mutter to herself. Then she would look pointedly at me and say, "Please WATCH THE BABY while I go out for a moment!" then she would go and pee. It was as if she wanted to say "See? I don't even leave him for a MINUTE!"
When the boys started to walk, she became a baby-herder. Any child she saw who stepped away from their parent was firmly herded back. We lived for a few years on the beach, and "Constant Vigilance!" was her watchword.
The boys would play games where they would bang on her head with heavy objects, stretch out her lip till it snapped back, tickle her sleeping nostrils with tickly things, and she would sigh and say "kids".
Sometimes I think that really, my dog raised my children.
Towser once ran down a lady who had a baby in a stroller on the beach. She was CONVINCED that that was our baby... A blonde baby. The only other blonde baby she had ever seen was Sam, and she stood in front of the stroller and blocked until I brought Sam out of the house and let her sniff him.
The lady was very good natured about it, I was just so glad that Towser didn't bite her or anything! She could be pretty fierce when she felt that her people were threatened!
Towser could climb up a mango tree, but not down. She LOVED mangoes!
She also loved chasing chickens, and had to be locked in the house if we left her home alone.
She would chase four-eyed fish in the shallows, for hours, and one day she caught one. She was SO PLEASED, and rightly so! Towser is the only person I know EVER to catch one.
She would lie on her back in the sand and wriggle her whole body, then slide along sideways with her face plowing sand, then ROLL in it, until she was completely caked in sand. Then she would swim and surf in the waves and do it again. Coming into the house completely caked with sand and SHAKING was her specialty.
I always locked our gate carefully, so that Towser would not get onto the road and get into trouble. She never got out until one day a cat raced through the yard and over the 6-foot wall. Towser cleared the wall in one jump.
Towser did not like guns. She knew about guns from seeing hunters in the bush, and always refused to let me get near to a guy with a gun. One day a VIP came to the Pottery, with a "driver". Tao refused to let them in. I berated and comforted her, but that guy was not allowed in. Finally I said "Sir, I am so sorry about this. I think that if you lock your firearm in the car, she will behave." He said he wasn't packing. "She says you are." He went to the car, unholstered, and Towser licked his hand and invited him in. "How much do you want for that dog?" he asked. I laughed!
The police also asked for the dog. She would have made a great working dog, and if we lived in a more civilized place, I would have let her work. She would have loved that. But in Trinidad, she would have been a gimmick, and perhaps mistreated.
Towser went on many more hikes with us, and was allowed to walk in front. Or anywhere she wanted. She loved hiking, getting into a state of excitement the moment she saw shoes or a backpack.
When she was about seven years old, six years after her bite, Towser's organs started to pack up. Kidneys, liver, digestion... She slowed down a lot, and then had trouble walking. An X-ray showed that she had hip dysplasia, which had never been a problem before as she had been so fit. Suddenly, she was slow, in pain, and having every problem in the book. Any drug we tried to ease one symptom exaggerated another. The vet said that he was surprised that she had lasted so long, and that organ failure was expected in snakebite cases like hers.
She lasted about another year of ups and downs, and my determination that she would "get better". Finally, we took her to the beach house one Easter weekend. I carried her down to the beach where she spent the day lying in the shade in the sand watching children play in the sea. She worried about them, so instead of sitting with her I stood in the sea and made the kids stay close. We carried her back up the hill to the house that evening, and the vet came. She drifted off, her head on my lap, looking at me the way she did as a tiny puppy, and breathing her last breaths in her favorite place. We buried her overlooking the sea and the playing kids, with her ball.
She was the best dog in the world.