VERNON COUNTY - I needed to make peace with Téte.
Téte (short for Zarate) is the black and tan mutt I refer to as my naughty dog. On good days, I also call her my nicest dog ever.
Téte can be exasperating, more so lately as the constant rain and mud, along with the need to batten down the hatches for winter, have kept us housebound.
Téte is sneaky. She can put her long nose into the recyclables bin without a sound and extract the empty tuna can swifter than a person could with two hands. From my office, I’ll hear her tongue swiping the sides of the can and jump up. Standing over her, I’ll give her my “What are you doing now?” look. She’ll just lie there, the can between her two front paws, and roll her eyes up at me, as if to say, “Who, me?”
I’ll snatch the can away, put it back in the recyclables, and get back to work—only to hear her tearing apart a cheese package that I threw out. Persistent is what Téte is. Merciless is another word I use to describe her. She tries my patience continually with back-to-back antics that make me want to pull out my hair and run screaming up the road.
When she thinks I can’t see her, she stretches up and plops her two front paws on top of the kitchen island counter, where I’ve been forced to put the cat food to keep it out of her reach. From there she extends her tongue so far out of the side of her mouth that it looks like an octopus tentacle. It glides across the counter until it reaches a stray morsel of cat food, then curls gently and pulls the tidbit back into her lopsided mouth, squashed against the counter, and tosses it down her gullet.
When I startle her with a hand clap and a sharp “Téte!” she casually jumps down and saunters away. Her body language clearly says “Whatever…”
But worse than any of Téte’s food search-and-destroy tactics is her constant need to bully Raime and Finnegan, my other two dogs.
When Raime comes into the house (like the good boy he is), Téte runs up and grabs his tail and pulls it just as he’s coming through the door. No amount of yelling, clapping my hands, or trying to get between her and Ramie seems to help. A doggy psychiatrist might be helpful to sort out their relationship.
Finnegan still looks up to her and seems to think she’s the next best thing to dog bones. But if he runs to the door when I call him to go outside, Téte will magically appear and grab his tiny neck, making Finnegan squeal like a preteen watching a horror film. Disturbing, controlling, and just plain awful are other words that have come to mind when I think of my dear Téte.
Fortunately, Téte has never caused an injury. She seems content to simply annoy the heck out of all of us.
And yet every time my temper is about to explode at her, it’s deflated by how nice this naughty dog can be.
One day I was transferring Benny and Joon, my parakeets, into a new birdcage and they escaped. Téte sat and watched as I slowly approached Benny on hands and knees, under my office desk. She dropped her head to see me better and observed my handling of Benny until he was safely inside the new cage. Satisfied after a few sniffs that Benny was okay, she then found Joon, who was clinging to the bedsheets in the spare bedroom, and sat down, keeping an eye on her until I came.
Téte has helped push baby ducklings who have fallen down the steep slope of the creek bank back up again, using her long nose like you would use your hand. Her sensitivity also becomes apparent whenever someone here is injured or not feeling well. When my cat Lorca came home from being neutered, Téte was the first to greet him. She smelled him, nosed his young body, and seemed to declare him okay before going about her business, but she checked back occasionally to see if Lorca was still sleeping soundly in his cat tower. And when Finn is rolling around on the couch, feeling miserable with a bellyache, Téte climbs up and, with a loud sigh, lies down right next to him.
It’s this reliable sweetness that made me want to make peace with Téte. I got my chance on Saturday when I had a workshop to attend. I asked Téte if she’d like to go with me to town. Her eyes started smiling and before she could even wag her tail she was standing at the door.
Sitting stick straight in the passenger seat, looking out the windshield, she’d occasionally glance over at me, showing me the whites of her eyes, looking positively angelic. The wipers were working overtime, with an occasional leaf stuck under the blade, but Téte radiated peacefulness, making the wet drive warm and cozy.
After taking care of my business in town, I told Téte it was our time to bond. As soon as I turned down Highway 56, she stood up on the seat and her whole body wiggled as she recognized the road leading to Sidie Hollow. “Hang on, girl,” I told her. “We’ll be there soon enough.” But it’s never soon enough for a dog like Téte.
Free of the car, Téte ran and leapt up the trail, waded in the water, and kept running back to me to check in. Each time her look and body language seemed to say, “Thank you, Mom, this is great. I love being here. I love being with you. I’m a good girl. Really I am. I just need to express myself daily with long stretches of hard play.”
As we drove back toward town. Téte, now content and happy, glanced over, her eyes asking, “Could I have a cheeseburger now, please?”
How could I say no to such sweetness? “Yes, my naughty and nice dog,” I answered, and we topped off our bonding time with a trip to the fast-food drive-thru, grateful that for now peace was restored.
Note from Jane: Tete can no longer bully Raime. May he RIP. I wrote this before Raime died.