The dog’s life: From attention-getter to second banana

Posted by GT on October 10th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns

Originally published in July 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Poor Effie. She’s our dog and for more than three years she and our cat, Garp, were the No. 1 subjects of attention from my wife and me. These days, Effie does no better than No. 4 and I suspect she knows it.

Effie is a smart dog, half Australian shepherd and half something we never saw. Lisa and I celebrated our first anniversary in late 1996 by pursuing a “puppies for sale” listing in the classifieds and picked Effie from a litter displayed for us on a cold garage floor. She buried her nose in Lisa’s coat on the way home and kept it there most of that evening.

We dealt with all the predictable frustrations that come with puppies – yelping when she should be sleeping, messes on the carpet, etc. – and enjoyed the playful eruptions between her and our cat, who was about 8 years old. Effie learned quickly that Garp was boss and allowed him to be in charge the rest of his life.

During one of their fights, Garp somehow managed to grab hold of Effie’s neck and start biting her on the side of her face. Effie outweighed him by 30 pounds by then and she was strong. She could have thrown Garp across the room with practically no effort, but instead she held still, watching out of the corner of her eye and waiting for him to finish chewing on her.

Showing off Effie was a standard part of any visit to the Powell household. Watch Effie sit up. Listen to Effie howl at sirens. See Effie catch ice chips in her mouth when we spit them at her.

In early 2000, Lisa and I knew there would be a new Powell before year’s end. Watching Effie pound around the yard, biting holes in tennis balls while trying to bully us into playing fetch, we knew we had to get our dog used to the idea that she had to be extra-careful about babies.

We started coddling a Raggedy Ann doll, saying “Baby, baby” over and over and making sure Effie knew to keep her mouth off it. She learned the doll was a paws-off object and she pointed her mouth to the ground every time we put Raggedy Ann near her face.

Her one offense happened when we tempted her too much. We put a piece of licorice on the doll’s tummy and left it alone in our bedroom. Effie carefully picked off the treat and started chewing; when we entered and gasped at her, Effie tried to spit out the candy, but it was caught in her teeth. Lisa and I shook our heads and fingers at her, trying to say “Baby, baby!” But it probably sounded more “Bu-huh-ay-bee!” because we were laughing so hard.

In a couple of weeks in October 2000, two big events changed the lives of everyone in our house, including Effie. First, our daughter was born. Second, Garp died.

In the months to follow, Effie got used to not being the center of attention. When company came by, we showed off the baby and put Effie outside. Part of me felt a little sorry for our dog, but no part of me ever questioned whether we were right to put the baby first.

It wasn’t too long before Effie and our daughter were friends; Lisa and I even started to feel the child was safer with the dog around. The same was true when our second daughter arrived in 2003, and I suspect it will be true again when the third girl arrives in a couple of months.

As an “always” part of their lives, our girls love Effie in ways I never could, and they’ve got energy to play with her when all I want to do is crash. Our 2-year-old occasionally drapes herself over the dog, giving her big hugs.

In the end, I suspect Effie cares more about getting attention from my daughters than from me.

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