Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Why do dogs, who love splashing in puddles and ponds and who love nothing more than rolling in mud, hate baths? There is nothing more predictable than mention of the word "bath" to make your dog cower and cringe as though you have brought out a billyclub. One would think you were sentencing him to death by torture. Nothing makes it easier, other than shelling out fifty bucks or so and paying someone else to do the dastardly deed!

Jedi had the sad misfortune of being highly allergic to fleas, which she picked up during a trip to Florida despite being doused with every flea medication known to veterinarians. After the fleas were disposed of, she then developed a skin reaction. She was flaking as though she had dandruff, but the Vet said each flake came from a tiny sore.

So, I went home from the veterinary office laden with pills and potions, including a medicated shampoo. The Vet said I was to bathe her three times a week until the flakes disappeared.

This was akin to a session in a torture chamber for me. I have no laundry tub or large container with which one could easily bathe a dog, even a medium-sized one like Jedi, who only weighs 25 pounds. There was nothing to be done but to bathe her in my bathtub, which I was then forced to decontaminate, removing stray doghair and other debris....grass, straw, bits of fluff, etc.

The thrice-weekly bath routine became a battle strategy between myself and Jedi, and she was winning. I would run the bath water, pretending to be taking a bath myself. But I could not fool her. When the water was ready, Jedi was nowhere to be seen. Then, I had to retrieve her from under the bed or in the closet or in whatever hiding place she had selected for that day. Then I had to manually carry her into the bathroom and plunk her into the water.

What is it about a dog's fur? Their coats just don't want to get wet, even as you pour cup after cup of water over their backs. Then, when the fur finally absorbs the water, they become sodden. Their hair holds quarts of water which you cannot wring out and with which they are going to douse you as soon as you get them out of the tub. You can count on it! You will be drenched, the bathroom will be drenched, the curtains will be dripping. You practically have to renovate the bathroom after each drenching.

The medicated shampoo refused to suds up the way I thought a shampoo should. Then, when I tried to rinse it off, suddenly these suds would appear, refusing to budge. I rinsed and rinsed, as Jedi stood miserably awaiting the end of the torture. Notice that I said "stood". Jedi stood up through each bath. She literally refused to sit down in the water, which would have helped matters a great deal. Her legs were steel bands, holding up her rump. I would push on her back and forcefully bend those legs and make her sit, but after a short moment, she was back up again. There was nothing to do but surrender, or run enough water in the tub to cover her completely, because Jedi was standing firm against this injustice.

How do you wash a dog's face? I tried, wiping off each whisker and each pesky little eyebrow, paying special attention to her beard. Somehow, it still looked ratty, so I gave up on it. Then I discovered a strange clump. Yes, it was a pile of burrs, tangled with the hair near her lip. The burrs had turned to mush in the water, but still clung with stubborn tenacity to the hair. So I pinched and pulled and struggled, the flesh on her lip pulling outward to bare her teeth, the poor little dog struggling to escape. It was a terrible task, but I finally freed the clump, mixed with a little hair and probably a smidgeon of flesh. Then I turned my attention to the tail, also filled with burrs.

Jedi hates to have anyone touch her tail. You can tweak her nose, scratch her belly, pull her ears and she is good-natured about it. But if you touch her tail, she has even been known to swing around with a bad attitude. Getting burrs from her tail involved a great deal of splashing and shouting, but I did it.

Once out of the tub, and after that tremendous shake, Jedi likes the warmth of the hairdryer. By this time, I am wet and tired. I feel as though I have gone over Niagara Falls without a barrel, but I am forced to sit on the floor and aim my hairdryer at Jedi's soggy body. Then I comb out her whiskers and beard and tell her how beautiful she looks.

The look in her eye tells me that flattery will get me nowhere. Jedi doesn't give a damn about her looks. She is happiest when she smells the worst and she obviously doesn't have a high opinion of medicated shampoo. So, combed and preened, she is ready for a couple of days of pleasure before it is time for the next bath.

Strange how it is about dogs. The descendants of wolves, they have been forced into a lifestyle that is unnatural for them. They are powdered and perfumed and taught little tricks. They are forced to wear coats and eat food that isn't ripped off the haunches of their prey. They are given a diet of tasteless food that is NOT raw meat, any way you try to make it look like it.

Jedi would prefer the lifestyle of a stray. Rummaging through garbage cans, exploring bushes, picking up clumps of burrs, and enjoying the fragrances of odd footprints along the way....this would be her idea of Doggie Heaven. Instead, she lives her life at the side of this Person of hers, listening for doorbells, alarm clocks and smoke alarms. No self-respecting dog should have to sink to this, not to mention being subjected to three weekly baths.

But, she endures it all, because she has a love-hate relationship with me. When I keep her from running into the woods, I am sure she resents my authority. But, when we snuggle up at night, the love oozes from her little body as she begs for attention.

If you have ever loved a dog, you know the sacrifices. You know you have to remember to buy dogfood, and treats. You know that you will have a house upholstered in hair, hair on the couches, the chairs, drifting through the air and probably infiltrating your lungs. And there are always those visits to the Vet, where you drag that trembling body into the little chamber and place it, like a sacrificial lamb, on that steel table. You know that the day will eventually come when this creature, given a scant twenty years, if that, to live, will leave you behind with your grief. The future holds heartbreak, but all of this doesn't stop you. You pour out love like shampoo and rub it in, battling fleas, allergies, mange or whatever. Your heart is not your own any more. You have given it to a dog.