VIOLA - There is no middle ground: Either you don’t have a clue there’s a five-month-old puppy in the house, or you’re made fully aware of his presence.
Ruben is a mutt from Mexico, who found his way to my home and heart over a month ago. There is no turning back for Ruben or for me.
The first week, Ruben had to adjust to the snow, cold and car rides. The base of his life before Wisconsin was sand; the surroundING sunshine with warm rains. Ruben’s mid-sized brown- and black-streaked paws also had to adjust to ice. His favorite place to sleep in the house was over the heating vents.
Car rides to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve for hiking with his new friends, Téte and Finnegan, were full of adventure. Not big enough to jump into the car like his buddies, he’d stand with his front paws inside the car, waiting for a lift. Once in the backseat he’d copy Finn and stand gazing forward out the front window, wondering, I suppose, How are we moving and where are we going?
Ruben has had three vet appointments for an overall wellness check and subsequent vaccinations. He’s slowly starting to recognize Dr. Bass and Terri as the dog-bone/peanut-butter-on-a-spoon people. Not a bad way to know your doctor and her associate. The fact that Ruben had to have all his shots again in the United States was a bit frustrating. But now, he’s been declared a healthy puppy with strong back legs. He’s already gained five pounds of pure muscle and at least two inches in height for a lean, not-so-mean, still-in-that-floppy-stage puppy.
Since day one, Ruben has slept in his box straight through the night, not waking the family until morning. His appetite is bigger than that of any dog I’ve ever known, so much that I thought about naming him Hoover. He goes around the house like a powerful vacuum cleaner, sucking anything edible into his mouth. It’s not becoming, but it does save me housekeeping time.
When Ruben and Finnegan, rat terror extraordinaire, decide to play, everyone this side of Highway SS knows it. They race back and forth, leaping onto the couch, Ruben using the fireplace mantel as his personal launching pad, tearing around a trunk I use as a coffee table, then up into a chair, over its back, and around again. Their squeals and growls proclaim a type of happiness only true dog lovers can appreciate.
Téte, big ol’ hound dog gal, takes a different approach to playing. She lies down and tolerates Ruben biting her tail, her legs, her ears, anything he can fit partly into his mouth, until she starts a low, playful guttural noise and starts to bite back. It looks like a version of ‘Jaws.’ Both of them snap and clack their teeth and occasionally startle me when I hear a real cry ring out. All this time, Téte barely moves, lying there on her back or side and just using her paws and mouth. Ruben already idolizes Téte—which, if you remember how naughty Téte can be, is frightening.
Gone are my days of tranquil Epsom salt and lavender oil baths. Ruben comes in and stands on his hind legs, his two front paws hanging over the edge of the tub, and obsessively licks any body part he can reach. Téte seems to egg him on in this disturbing game, while good-boy Finnegan uses the opportunity to take a nap on the couch. Closing the bathroom door isn’t an option because Ruben is too young yet to understand my deep low “No” through the door as his paws scratch on the wood, trying to get in.
Nevertheless, the other evening I managed to drift off in the tub for a moment, until I heard the sound of water being slurped. When I opened my eyes, Ruben’s and Téte’s velvety black ears were hanging forward, their tongues in the water, and Monkey Butt—world’s greatest all-black cat adopted from the Driftless Humane Society—was perched on the ledge, maneuvering to get his tongue close enough to the water’s edge for his own drink. The sight of six eyes and three different-sized pink tongues was too stimulating for me to return to my tubby-time nirvana, and out I got—only to have all three animals start licking my legs as I hopped from foot to foot, swatting at them and yelping “No!” through my laughter.
Puppyhood is full of rewards, such as late-night and early-morning cuddles, when Ruben snuggles into my chest, lays his head on my shoulder, and falls deeply asleep; or when he gets the zoomies when we’re all out hiking and makes us all giggle at his crazy antics. But maybe the best reward ever is when I’m typing a story while the three mutts are playing hard, and then it gets so quiet I worry they are into something—and I find them all fast asleep on the couch.
Like I was saying, you either know you have a new puppy in the house or you don’t. But either way, Ruben is here to stay.