When I told one of my friends that I was going to write about one of our dogs, she looked at me with great pity in her eyes. “Are you out of ideas to write about? Your family and your journey is so interesting. That was such a great story about your uncle, you should definitely write more about them.”
But I am endlessly fascinated by dogs. I have photographic proof of my dog obsession — in any photo that I share with a dog, I am staring at said dog.
As a kid, when people used to ask me if I wanted a little brother or a little sister, I would say that I wanted a puppy. As a teenager, I finally did get a dog, in fact, I had two.
Now, our oldest dog, Toffee Bear Tucker, is about 4 and a half years old, and has fur so soft, it must be made of velvet, especially her ears. When people ask what breed she is, we usually say “brown.” In truth, we had a DNA mark-up done on her -like the 23&Me for dogs. We learned she is part Vizsla, a Hungarian breed not known for its niceness. She is also part German Shepherd — another guarding and protective breed. She also has a miniature poodle and Chow in her, and some other breeds — basically making her an all-American mutt … uhh, I mean “mixed breed.”
Toffee is not always a “nice doggie” to strangers, and strange dogs, and sometimes barks and growls at people not even so strange to our family. My parents, to whose house we first brought her to as a 4-month-old puppy straight from Denver’s Maxfund Shelter, have suffered her nervous barking and nips several times throughout the years. Once, as we were walking Toffee, a young couple with a toddler in a stroller, had veered towards us, the mom happily exclaiming, “Our baby just wants to say ‘Hi’ to your doggie.’” Toffee perceived this as a direct threat and began to bark and snarl at the completely innocent child, who stopped smiling, and began to look deeply concerned. The parents very, very quickly veered away, as we also pulled Toffee away, gently warning the parents (who believed us), “Uhh, she’s NOT so friendly.”
Another reason Toffee is so barky and growly is that she is scared of everything. (I almost wrote scaredy-cat, but most cats are hell of a lot braver that this dog.) This makes her bark, and growl, and get that ridge of hair stand up on her back.
And yet, when I snuggle with this beast, and she licks my face (yes, I do know where that tongue has been, and no, I do not care), and I rub those velveteen ears, Toffee lives up to her sweet, sweet name. Like Nemo the fish and his “special fin,” Toffee has a “special paw” — a twisted and flattened right front paw — probably something she was born with; and her tongue has a little divot in it, not quite in the middle, not something she was born with, but from a puppyhood trauma. These little individual quirks just make Toffee more endearing to us.
Contrary to her weird nature, Toffee is actually fairly well-trained, and we have consciously worked on her attitude using both treats and a squirt bottle of water. We have taken her to Puppy I and II, Good Citizenship class, even Agility Training. She runs the agility course well, provided there are no other dogs also running around. The trainer, Jill, who is now our dogsitter, noted, “She has an attitude!”
As a precaution, we now put a soft muzzle on Toffee whenever we take her to the vet’s or a special outing such as a trip to PetCo or PetSmart. This week’s outing was a visit to the vet — bringing us to the name of this blog. As we were driving down the street, Toffee’s muzzled head sticking out the window like an escapee from the Silence of the Lambs, I promised her that after the ordeal at the V-E-T, I was going to get her a puppuccino at Starbuck’s — a small cup of whipped cream that Starbuck’s gives to accompanied dogs for free. As a puppuccino is free, and I get caffeinated as well, everybody wins.
At the vet, Toffee tried first to hide from behind my husband, then behind me, then under the chairs or in the nearest corner and when none of those worked, and she got yelled at for growling at the doctor. And no one understood the humiliation of having one’s temperature taken (“Did you see where they stuck that long thermometer? Did you? Oh, the indignity of it all!”).
After all the prodding, poking, shots and embarrassments, my 44-pound dog pulled me across the parking lot as if she never had an obedience lesson in her life and I was the 99-pound weakling from the “before” ads of Jack LeLanne’s fitness program. Now without her muzzle, Toffee felt free to focus on me, standing in the CRV’s middle console, and she heard “coffee,” “Toffee,” and “pupuccino,” all words well known and loved by her. And before any dog lovers protest — do not worry, I never give dogs coffee. I simply like the way it rhymes with Toffee. And she knows that there is sweet, creamy yumminess coming.
She waited, ever so impatiently, staring with her large, intelligent brown eyes, unblinking, at the barista in the drive-thru window, shrugging off compliments coming her way. “Yeah, yeah, I’m a good girl, so cute, whatever. Where’s my puppuccino?” she seems to say. In my mind, Toffee’s voice sounds goofy, kind of like Scooby Doo’s.
Then, she finally got her reward, and greedily licked up the whipped cream, looking at me once she was done, as if to ask, “Why do they serve it in narrow little cups instead of little bowls? This was so inconvenient.”
“I know, Toffee,” I told her, since we were away from the drive-through window. “I have no idea why they do it. They obviously didn’t consult you when they decided. But, beggars can’t be choosers …. and you’re welcome.” I sipped my latte, which Toffee closely eyed, but was denied, as usual. Like Scooby Doo, she, too, would do anything for a Scooby snack. Her focus was laser sharp. Her love for us is absolute, yet when we have food, it somehow increases. Toffee’s face is very expressive, showing everything — excitement, joy, disappointment, contentment, and especially love.
That is not the case with our other dog, Bella Luna Tucker. But that is the subject of another blog.