Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dogs and Cats

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

When I first met my vintner, he had a wonderful hairy mutt with a lot of German Shepherd in her. Sally would bark intimidatingly at any intruder, or simply at the arrival of anyone on the property. Over the years of my visits with clients, I came to know Sally, and was able to reassure her quickly of my presence, my good intentions, my calm. She had an intimidating presence, but in fact, was a loving and gentle dog once you got to know her. Long before Jean Paul and I got together as a couple, I had a great relationship with Sally. She welcomed me, accompanied me when I walked through the vineyards, leaned against me, sat on my lap (a rather awkward position, but I was nicely settled on the grass when she came over and decided that my lap was a better surface than cool grass). Or was she simply holding me in place till her owner arrived? I preferred the alternative possibility: when you're feeling romantic, it is an easy extrapolation to say, if your dog likes me, you could too...

Before I divorced, but on the road to it, I got a dog myself, Filou. A small, fluffy cross between a poodle and a bichon. Living in the city of Arles, with no grass out our door, and with the prospect of flying back to the US frequently, a small being seemed the best choice. Not to mention, I was raised in a family of poodle owners, so I had a sense of how he would be in our home and with the kids.

Filou, though nominally joining our family closer to Leo's birthday than mine, became my dog and my responsibility, and accompanied me everywhere. This being France, that includes all cafes, elegant restaurants, the hair-dresser's, and yes, to all the artisans' homes and workplaces, be they grape vines or potter's studios. Filou, if you want to take a psychological/Freudian tack, was also my replacement for affection in my life. My marriage was pretty dismal at this point, I wasn't misbehaving nor taking a lover in any way, and my children were old enough to not be in my arms all day long. So, for warmth, devotion, affection, cuddling, I had my puppy.

My dog-loving clients were in heaven with this sweet fluffy being on their laps -- as were my au pairs. But when a non-dog lover was along, I tried to oblige by leaving him at home. Being with me all the time, he grew into a calm and pretty well behaved beast. However, that said, those poodle genes bred true, and he does have moments of yapping, at a particularly horrible high pitch that brings on head-aches. Nobody's perfect.

Thus Filou met all my artisans' dogs, the sheep dogs, the dogs at the potter, and Sally when he was still a puppy. You could say I socialized him early. He got along with everyone, yipping and jumping all over the older more sedate canines, who tolerated these intrusions of a pert child kindly.

Jean Paul wasn't duped, he saw the role Filou had in my life, and, quite familiar with animals himself, he set about letting Filou know that he was top dog, not Filou, and, that he was also a source of affection, food, water, etc., So, though you would think my children were more part of the package of me than my dog, at this point, it is my dog who has been welcomed/tolerated in Jean Paul's home with the most ease. But we have our moments. Back in my maternal life in Avignon, Filou sleeps at my feet, keeping me warm in my minimally heated house, and follows me from room to room, knowing his place is at my side. When Jean Paul is there, or when I'm in his house, Filou has learned that his place is on the floor, and, he'll often stay in a room that I've left, if Jean Paul is still there.

Last year, just before a trip to Japan, Sally being clearly very sick, Jean Paul had to put her down. The mas has changed personalities. Sally was in many ways his soul-mate, joining him in the vineyards while he worked, greeting him with joy, protecting his home and his family. Her loss was deeply felt, and perhaps surprisingly, also very strongly by me. I felt supported and appreciated by her, welcomed and warm. Her departure saddened us all.

Over the year that has passed since, Filou has taken his place as the announcer of approaching cars. He doesn't scare anyone, but he is efficient as a look-out. He has his bed in the living room, his bowl by the wood stove, his blanket on the floor of the bedroom. This is in contrast with Sally, who, in the fashion of many a farm animal, had never been an indoor dog, never been brushed, nor clipped. She ate and slept in the garage, coming into the warmth of the house only the last months of her life, as her illness rendered her feeble.

All this said, Filou and I are only here at the winery on weekends and over certain vacations. So, in the meantime, a former renter's cat has come into Jean Paul's life. Just to keep things lively, Filou goes tearing after her, sending her into hiding at his ferocious (not) barking. In the house, she sits on the couch and glares. She smells Filou's food and tears into the bag, no longer content with her bowl down in the garage. More often, I find Filou tries to be mellow and discreet, sitting at our feet while we eat, etc., and the cat simply takes umbrage at his existence. But, with time, they seem to have come to somewhat mutually tolerate each other. At this moment, I've the cat curled up against my thigh while I write, and Filou is in his bed across the room under the piano. The wood stove is burning brightly, warming us all. A pretty happy domestic scene. Though I've yet to completely adopt the cat -- I'm being a bit resistant, annoyed that her hissing takes precedence over Filou's desire to play. But, slowly, I'll be won over.

T'will be interesting if Jean Paul gets a new puppy one of these days...


the american frog said...

I like knowing that I am not the only one who lets my dog/dogs sleep on my bed!! I went thru a horrible, no good, terrible divorce too. I didn't realise that I was looking for affection until I read your post. MY daughters, like your children, were out of the "hug me, mommy" age also.

But at what point did I need affection!! I now have 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 rabbit, 1 ferret, 2 turtles and 10 gold fish. But, I promise you, they do not ALL sleep on my bed.
Will be catching up on your other post now that I have found your blog.

Madeleine Vedel said...

Goodness! that's a lot of animals. I had two cats at one point, but being gone most weekends I wasn't able to properly care for them. Filou, happily, is transportable. By the way, the new puppy, more than 18 mos later, has now arrived. Things are shifting... I'll have to write an update. Take care