There is the sound of thunder. I think that is what wakes me. Or perhaps it was the quick flash of lightning that came before the roll of thunder. Maybe both, the one-two punch of summer storm, the “if the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” Or a third possibility; my dog Thor.
Thor stands in the darkness of the bedroom and whimpers. The storm woke him, and he does not like storms. His half sister, Riika, has grown accustomed to storms, but when she was a puppy she’d tremble and quake and try to burrow under the covers. She did that until she was well into doggie middle age. Now she mostly ignores it, save for the times when she goes to the door to be let out into the rain, as if she has found a new adventure.
Thor, though, has none of it. Storms make him nervous and now, in the darkness, he is agitated. Strange, in a sense, for his name is all about storm and thunder. He was born, as was Riika, into a kennel that honored the German tradition for he, as Riika, is of German lineage. They are of a little known breed, Wachtelhund, which, while having some popularity in Germany, is mostly unknown in the States. In Germany, so I understand (and I am no expert on this, so I may be off base,) each successive litter in a given kennel is named with a name starting with the same letter, those letters being consecutive letters of the alphabet. Thus the first litter in a kennel would all be named starting with “A” the second “B”‘ and so on.
Riika, being of the second litter in this American kennel, has an official name starting with the letter B. Her “real name” is Bella; we changed it to Riika. Thor, a couple generations later, was of the D litter. His name is Donner, and Donner in German is a loosely translated to “Thunder” or similar. I, with a Scandinavian heritage, changed it to Thor, God of Thunder in Norse mythology. Or something such as that. Bottom line, no matter how you cut it, or no matter what the language, my dog is all about thunder. Or should be.
Turns out that Thor is a child of Thunder in name only. When big weather comes and the sky darkens and the thunder rumbles, Thor is an anxiety ridden pup. So it was on the morning this week when I woke to the mixed sounds of thunder and Thor, the boom of one and the whine of the other, punctuated by the flash of lightning that lit up the darkness.
I told Thor that he was a good dog, that things were OK, and I coaxed him up on the bed where I could pat him and rub his ears and calm him down. I could feel his heart beat, fast-paced. He did not calm down, and after a few minutes I got out of bed and took him downstairs and sent him into the yard, where he checked things out enough to satisfy himself that, yes, it was raining and it was thundering and it was, in his doggie mind, a scary place to be.
Then he ran back inside to track mud and water all over the kitchen. I made coffee, he brought me his food dish from wherever he’d left it (he and Riika both carry their dishes into the living room to dine,) I fed him and the two of us sat as the storm blew itself out and he finally relaxed.
He is, Thor, a strange dog in many ways. He is long-legged and built for speed, yet runs in a clumsy, heavy-footed gait. When he runs, his upper lip curls back and he looks very foolish. For years I have taken photos of the dogs as they sprint toward me. Riika photographs well, in full stride with eyes focused and alive. Thor invariably has a goofy look, with his lip curled back and his eyes vacant. I have a file of photos of Riika on the run; very few of Thor.
Thor loves bread, and will come from all over the house when he hears us unwrap a loaf. He, somehow, can distinguish bread bags from normal grocery bags. He will (for we have tested this) take bread ahead of meat if given the choice. He also eats vegetables with gusto, and lurks near our compost pile hoping for not-so-fresh greens.
He will chase doves and chipmunks in the backyard, climb the fence to get out and chase rabbits all over the neighborhood, and will repeatedly mouth toads, which causes him to drool copiously and, coupled with his clueless look, make him appear even more foolish.
He is smart enough to learn how to scale the fence. I have had to raise my 4 foot high fences to 6 feet high to keep him in. He figured out how to open our refrigerator and help himself to leftovers. We had to install a child lock on the door and, finally, got rid of it altogether. He knows how to open the pantry door (another lock for that, but we occasionally forget to lock it and then come home to a kitchen with garbage mixed with dog food strewn across the floor.) He recognizes a leash, and when we pick it up, even to move it, he sprints across the house, for he thinks that means we are taking him for a walk.
For as smart as he is, at 8 years old, he rarely obeys the “come” command, giving a look when he hears it that suggests he has never heard that word before, or perhaps that we are using a foreign language.
That is our boy Thor, and I think of all that on the rainy morning this week when he is nervous and frightened of the sound and the fury, and I need to comfort him.
The storm passes as they all do. The day warms to high heat, too hot for me, too hot for the dogs. After work I ride the bike for an hour, push it hard in the heat of the evening and come home weary-legged. Thor is at the window and sees me ride up. He turns from the window, and I know that he will be at the door, wanting to come out.
I let him out, hang the bike up, then sit in a chair in the backyard and put my feet up and relax. I take long pulls on a bottle of cold water. Thor is on the far side of the yard looking for toads. He sees me and our eyes meet and he leaves the toads for another time, pads across the grass and lies at my feet. We sit, the two of us, as the sun slides below the tree line. There is no sign of storm. There is no sound of distant thunder. Thor rests easy. I do the same. It is as it should be for me and the Dog of Thunder.