Yesterday was 10/07/10, and Ella turned 7 * . Using the common yardstick of seven dog years to one human year, she's now older than either Laura or I, which makes me sad. (Good thing Ella is immortal, and will outlive us both.)
Ella was six months old when we rescued her in April 2004. Well, really it was Laura who rescued her. We still lived in Queens at the time. I was on a week-long trip to the west coastbusiness in San Francisco, seeing my son in Portland, and hitting the Nebula banquet in Seattle. While I was gone, Laura spent a few days visiting her parents in the Chicago suburbs. Her parents' neighbors had a six-month-old, 18-pound soft-coated wheaten terrier puppy they couldn't care for anymore. They had heard from Laura's mother that Laura wanted a wheatie, and asked Laura if she would like to take the puppy home with her. She called me.
"Do you want a six-month-old wheaten terrier puppy?" she asked.
"Sure," I said. And thus our lives changed.
But first there were the practical considerations of getting Ella home to New York. Laura bought a pet carrier and booked Ella home as cargo on her flight. I'm glad I wasn't there to see her little caged and doped-up body disappearing down a conveyor belt at the airport. (It was bad enough one time at the bad vet in Queens, tending Ella as she came down from a hallucinogenic trip when no one told me at first that she'd been given a hallucinogen.) I'm sorry I wasn't there when Laura and our friends Andrew and Stephanie picked Ella up at the Laguardia end of the trip only to find that her former owners had fed her within the previous 24 hours, and Ella had shat all over the inside of her carrier. Our friends very patiently drove Laura and our stinky dog home in the back of their car, and helped bathe the poor little beast. Welcome to New York.
I didn't get home for a couple more days, but it was love at first sight, and from the very start I couldn't stop taking pictures of her. We've been amazed to watch her pick up on the meanings of words we haven't deliberately taught her (like "inside" and "squirrel"), and to invent her own games, like the one where she chases a basketball then pushes it around the yard with her face.
But Ella's favorite thing to do in the world is chase squirrels. Sure, it's what she was bred for, but the curious thing is that she has never once caught one, even when she ends up right on top of one. I doubt she ever will. Chasing squirrels seems to be what she likes best, not clamping squirrels in her jaws and shaking them to death. Maybe one day she'll prove that sunny assessment wrong, but I'm not betting on it.
I wanted to do something special for her yesterday for her birthday. (Not that she would understand, but I would understand.) As it happened, that special something fell practically in her lap. A short walk from our house there's a long, triangular block lined with townhouses on all three sides. There are also about a million trees on the block, many of them young, and most every townhouse has a tiny lawn and flower garden out front. This is one of Ella's favorite places to hunt squirrels, and if you let her she would just circle the block endlessly.
I took her for an early afternoon walk to the townhouses. On our second circuit of the block, Ella spotted a squirrel on someone's porch. She ran along the sidewalk (me racing to keep up) while the squirrel tore through a couple of adjacent flower beds and up a young sapling. Ella jumped up and put her front paws on the narrow trunk, watching the squirrel edge out along a branch eight feet up. As the squirrel progressed, Ella danced backward on her rear legs to keep an eye on it. Finally she couldn't keep her balance any longer and dropped to all fours with a frustrated little yowl.
I'm not sure what happened next. I don't know if the branch broke or the squirrel somehow lost its footing or it had a deathwish or what. But suddenly it crashed flat to the ground, barely missing Ella's nose as it fell. The chase that followed was brief but intense. The squirrel made it to a bigger tree twenty feet away in about two seconds flat, its tail swatting the air behind it like a cartoon dust plume. Ella stayed hot on its trail for most of the distance but thank goodness stopped the moment the squirrel hit the tree. If she hadn't, I would either have dropped the leash or hit the sapling, because Ella and I were on opposite sides of it when she took off.
Anyway, close calls like that one seem to make Ella's day, so I'm considering that the squirrel's birthday present to her. And it only meant we had to circle the block about four more times before going back home where she cleaned her dish of all its uneaten breakfast kibble and asked for more. Of course I gave her another scoop. It was her birthday.
* I joked to Laura that we should have celebrated Ella's birthday with a pair of banana splits. Why? Because she turned 7 on 10/7/10. That's 7-10 and 7-10, two wicked splits when you bowl. She punched me so you wouldn't have to.