The Bean Blog (currently on hiatus)

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Lemon Strikes Again

As you might remember, my dog Chester, aka the Lemon, aka the Five Thousand Dollar Dog, has had knee surgery on both of his knees this past spring/summer. He's supposed to be getting certain amounts of exercise per day during the recovery process--all walking. As you may know, Chester lives to fetch. I cannot stress that enough. The dog lives for the ball, getting it, being with it, bringing it back, getting it again, the whole deal. That's one of the things that has been so hard during all this--knowing that Chester's true love has been taken away from him.

When Chester's cast got taken off this last time, I asked the vet if he could swim. I figured that this would be a way for him to fetch. The vet said that swimming was great and encouraged me to take Chester swimming. I thought, Good. I had every intention of getting right on that. Then I didn't. I'd been looking for a good place for him to swim--and by looking, I'm sure you all understand I mean thinking about it in my head but not actively doing anything. Then I heard my neighbor talking about taking her dog swimming. I found out where the swimming location was, and a mere three or four weeks later, Chester and I went. Today. That day was today.

It was a perfect swimming location. A little slow-moving river, about 30 feet wide. It didn't look too deep, but it was certainly deep enough for Chester to swim.

Let me back this story up a little bit. I spent a lot of time with Chester at the shelter I got him from. I would go and play fetch with him in one of the big fields they had. Each field had a little, round, plastic swimming pool. You know, the kind you might have had as a baby. They hold about 8-12 inches of water and have a diameter of about five feet. Anyway, this was during the summertime, and I would throw the ball and Chester would fetch it and then jump into the pool and lay down. He just loved being in that water. The shelter even let me take him out to the park (they knew me because I had adopted from them before and I was a volunteer). I would take Chester to this little park with a little creek in it--not really deep enough for Chester to swim. But he loved, loved being in the water. Have I mentioned that he is a lab? These dogs are bred for the water. Have you gotten the point by now? Do I have to relentlessly drill it into your head any further? All indications were that Chester knew how to handle himself in water.

I will now resume our originally scheduled program. I took Chester to the river, and I had a water kong with me. I hadn't used it much, but I'd always wanted to, and that's why I'd bought it. I had this vision of myself standing on the banks of a river, my feet being cooled by the water lapping against my ankles. As the sun sparkled off of the stream, my dog would look at me, lolling his tongue, his eyes happy. Joyfully, he would wait for me to throw a fetch toy. At my throw, he would smoothly enter the water and swim towards the toy, his tail wagging slightly in the water behind him. When he came back with the toy, he would pant happily around the toy in his mouth, feeling the exhileration of the exercise and the comfort of the cool water. He'd deposit the toy at me feet, waiting to repeat the cycle again.

So there we were at the river. Chester was being obnoxious, but in a way I chose to see as cute. He was flinging himself against the leash, eager to enter the water. I had a feeling that he had the same vision I just shared with you. Finally, I let him go, and he ran into the water. It deepened quickly, so that within five feet of the shore, he was swimming. He hovered near the shoreline. He knew that he would get to fetch, and it had been well over a month since he'd had this opportunity.

I threw the kong, but just about 10 feet in so that he'd get a feel for the game. I watched as he swam towards the toy. There seemed to be an awful lot of splashing going on. But I didn't think much of it. Before I knew it, the toy was at my feet again. I picked it up, and threw it into the water again, this time about 15 out. Chester started after it, and this time, the splashing was unmistakable. It was the flailing around of a dog (or any creature, really) that did not know how to swim.

Let me describe what I saw. Well, first I'll describe what I should have seen. A swimming dog basically has his entire body in the water with only his head showing. His legs paddle in the water, and by keeping his body submerged, he saves energy. As you know if you've ever swam, it takes a lot of energy to keep your shoulders or more above the surface of the water. The dog should be basically horizontal and move the way he would if he were on land.

Chester, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to climb on top of the water. His body was at a definite angle, with his head and shoulders above the water. His front legs came all the way out of the water, down to the elbow (the joint where the front leg joins the body). And then he slammed the leg back down into the water, creating a huge splash up into his face. To avoid the splashing water, he tried to pull his head back further and further, thereby tipping his body more and more vertical. I watched him and thought, What the hell is he doing? It really seemed as if he thought that if he pulled his front legs out of the water, he would put them down on a solid surface and climb on top. Maybe he has a Jesus complex that I don't know about, and he believed that he could, in fact, walk on water.

It looked iffy out there, I have to tell you. There were a few seconds when I thought I was going to have to go in after him. He had gotten himself perfectly vertical and he was sinking. I actually had my hands in my pockets, ready to pull out my wallet and keys and lay them on the river bank so that I could swim in there after him. Honestly, this was not something I wanted to do, so I waited to see if the dog would go completely under before I charged in. Luckily, he righted himself enough to flail his way back to the river bank.

He made it back to terra firma, and I watched as the kong, never retrieved, floated slowly down the river. I looked at Chester, hurt and confusion plain in my eyes. I was asking him, What about the dream? What about our dream? He looked from me to the river and back again, accusation plain in his eyes as if to say, "What dream, you crazy lady? You keep me from my true love for months at a time, and then you just throw it out there, of all places, where there's no ground, no floor, no nothing. Are you trying to kill me? Trying to kill my true love? It's all screwed up now, so tell me--what, exactly, are you going to do to fix this? IIIIIIIIIII'm waaaiiiiiiting...."


  • That last bit sounds just like a dog. Animals are so expressive, it's hard not to imagine that you know exactly what they're thinking. I have to wonder sometimes, though, if we don't go a little overboard with the deep thought processes that we attribute to our pets.

    By Blogger Newell, at 9:17 PM, September 03, 2004  

  • I don't think pet owners go overboard when describing their pet's thought process. In fact, I just read this entire post to Bogey (my dog), and he thought it hilarious, but a bit on the lenghty side. Although, says Bogart, the ending was well worth the wait. He's now telling me to go feed him, which I will probably do. Good bye.

    By Blogger Dan, at 3:26 PM, September 04, 2004  

  • Priceless! Pet owners are an amazing breed unto themselves: they'll spend untold amounts of money on their furry friends, all in exchange for....for what, I'm not sure. Certainly not a tangible response.

    Beyond the merely monetary, there's something timeless and priceless about what a pet returns to his/her owner's life. You captured it in this post, and Chester, knee-challenged, non-swimmer that he is, is a lucky pooch indeed.

    By Blogger Carmi, at 3:28 PM, September 04, 2004  

  • Newell, I don't think that Chester has a sense of humor or has the cognitive thought pattern I laid out in the post. However, I'm quite sure that he expects me to find and/or retrieve his ball/kong/whatever when it is somewhere he can't get to it. He looks at me, and it is VERY clear that he wants me to set things right.

    Dan, Wow, Bogey thought this post was long? I'm shocked! I thought he was used to the long posts from your blog! ;)

    Carmi, I think we get back unconditional love and true friendship from dogs. Of course, we are saddled with a lot of responsibility for their well being, but like you said, for dog owners, it's worth it.

    By Blogger Oz, at 6:20 PM, September 05, 2004  

  • Amen to that, Oz. My dog is deaf but it doesn't stop us from communicating. I don't know what if any thought processes go in that noggin of his but his expressions speak volumes. And he blows me away with how well he's learned to compensate. It may just be survival instinct but I think he's pretty darned clever...

    By Blogger foxymama, at 1:21 AM, September 06, 2004  

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