VIOLA - When I adopted Ruben, my inquisitive year-old puppy, his foster mom noted that he liked cats, food and belly rubs. She also mentioned he didn’t like water.
Ruben arrived here from Mexico last February. The drive to the airport to meet him was slow going, with snow falling and headlights glaring off wet roads. I worried he’d be freezing, coming from the warm climate of Isla Mujeres. But Ruben never seemed to mind the cold or the snow, although he likes sleeping on top of the heat vents once back inside the house.
It turns out that Ruben does like cats and food—and cat food. He made fast friends with Salvador, a black and white kitten. Unfortunately, all cat food had to be moved to the kitchen counter where Ruben couldn't reach it. Outside, the cat food had to go on top of my car hood.
When spring rolled around, Ruben delighted in rolling in the grass and wallowing in the mud. Soon he learned, with a little coaching, how to jump the small streams and creeks we’d cross while hiking. When he leaps, he looks like he’s soaring, his ears sticking up like the Flying Nun’s hat, his mouth turned up in a smile.
By the time summer filled the valley, Ruben was splashing through the creek in the backyard and running into the ponds in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve to cool off.
Often, we’d hear a splash followed by a kerplunk. Ruben would emerge from whatever water source he found, soaking wet from his paws to the top of his head. Never deterred, he’d shake himself off, iridescent drops of water flying off his black coat and catching the sunlight.
Ruben loved water!
It wasn’t until midsummer, when I tried to rinse him off with the hose, that I discovered what his foster mom had been referring to. No way, no how was that hose ever going to come within five feet of his squirming body. Finnegan and Tete, his half-siblings, would stand stoic and still, while I’d rinse their coats with the hose. Ruben would only watch from a safe distance.
The bathtub is a whole different story. Bath person that I am, I’ve had to become tricky since Ruben joined the family. When I start to run the water, he hops in. I drag him out by the collar and have to hustle to plop myself in before he can jump in again.
Once I lie back and close my eyes to relax, I can feel his breath on my face or hear him lapping up the water from whatever body part is near enough to reach. Opening my eyes to his dark serious face looming over my tranquility makes me giggle, but it isn’t fun when he decides to join me in the water.
This fall, Ruben and I stayed at a friend’s home in Cable, Wisconsin. The property includes three lakes and many hiking trails. On the first day, Ruben discovered a wobbly pier on one of the lakes. He ran full blast down the pier and skidded off. He popped up, looking confused, about the time I made it to the end of the pier. Ruben found his way back to land, only to repeat his surprise dunking twice more.
Recently, I took the pups for a walk around the lake at Sidie Hollow. Keeping my eyes on all three of the dogs romping and playing close to the water's edge made me weary. Usually, the dogs will take a dip but, with the weather turning unseasonably cold, the lake was partially frozen. I pictured one of them breaking through the ice and not being able to get out. I was certain it would be Ruben. Sure enough, I heard a kerplunk and turned just in time to see Ruben disappear.
Moments later Ruben came flying through the tall grass like his tail had caught fire. He ran down the trail one way, stopped dead, and charged back the other way. The top of his head and back were soaked from the freezing water. Racing back and forth, his tail wagging like a flag on a windy day, Ruben didn’t slow down until he exhausted himself, or maybe warmed himself up.
When we got back to the car I had a good chuckle. The cats must have dumped their bowl of kibble on my car hood that morning but, since it was covered in snow and frozen in place, I hadn’t noticed. While the dogs and I were on our hike, the day had warmed up and the melted snow revealed a neat pile of cat food heating up on the hood. Ruben smelled it and was mighty disappointed he couldn't have a cat food snack.
After putting the dogs in the back seat, I headed for home with kibble flying in all directions. Ruben hung his wet head out the window trying to catch some. When we pulled into the driveway, Ruben got out of the car and went right to the hood. I swear he pouted when he found that the kibble had all disappeared.Later, after Ruben spent some time roughhousing with Salvador, I found him sound asleep on the heating vent. Maybe he was dreaming of a belly rub.