By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
We brought Riika home at seven weeks. She was about the prettiest puppy anyone had seen; a German brindle coat of gray and white and eyes of blue. Those eyes; they’d stop you in your tracks. She’d meet your gaze and not turn her head; the blue eyes met yours, held, never wavered.
She was wild from the get go, defiant, and smart as a whip to boot. It took two years for her to begin to behave. Up til then she’d bolt through the open door and take off for the next zip code. She’d be gone for hours then come back, tattered and dirty and her belly torn by blackberry brambles.
She ate Christmas fudge, chewed up a box of wood-stick matches, and one time ripped apart a pillow because she was upset about being locked in my hunting shack.
At two years she changed. Some. She’d wait at the door for us; meet our eyes as if to assess what we wanted to do. She was loving and loyal and still smart. She’d still run wild. And she was a hunter, so pure and passionate and full of joy that to be in her company was special. Still is.
But I am digressing. This is about the early days. Which is at seven weeks old when we brought her home. We fawned over her; she mostly ignored us. Sally taught her to sit; took about a day is all. Sally would hold up her first finger, say “sit,” and, Bang; Riika’s little butt would hit the floor and stay.
Sally had always had collies and Riika was about as different as night and day. Sal always said, “Look at a collie cross-eyed and they’ll roll over and die.” Look at Riika cross-eyed? She’d match your glance, sneer at you and then run away.
Sally and I were dating then and we shared the pup. The first night or two Sally put Riika in a kennel and slept on the floor next to it. Riika was fine. My turn.
My first night with Riika she cried all night. A plaintive, pitiful little puppy cry. I was up for hours and the next day was tired and ornery and out of sorts.
Next night, more of the same. And in the dark of that fitful night I stumbled from bed, opened the kennel door, lifted Riika out and set her on the bed. She curled up and slept til daybreak. I slept the sleep of a peaceful man and woke refreshed and recharged.
Called Sally: “I found the way to keep Riika quiet!” I was pretty impressed with myself. Sally was less enthused: “That might be a mistake.” There was a silence on the phone as I wondered what she meant.
Riika was on the bed again after that. Gosh, she was so cute! She weighed about nine pounds and curled up to about the size of a pie plate. We both slept peacefully.
It was, looking back, arguably the biggest mistake of my adult life. Nine pound Riika became 20 pound Riika became 30 pounds, became 40. She learned to bound from floor to bed. She no longer was the size of a pie plate, now she took up some real estate on the bed. If a nine pound dog snuggles up to you it is not a big deal. A 50 pounder has some consequence.
She loved to sleep where she could look out the window and should she see a rabbit in the early dawn or under the moonlight she would rush the window and bark her shrill hunting bark. In the woods that bark is notable at a 100 yards and bearable. At arm’s length it is another story.
Riika on the bed encouraged Thor to take to the bed when he came along 2 years later and that in turn showed Fenway how things are done two years ago. One dog on the bed is doable; two dogs an issue; three dogs near impossible. I have, in the past dozen years, lost more nights of good sleep with the dogs on the bed. There have been more nights than I care to count that I feel a great thrashing in the darkness and hear Sally say, “I’m outta here” and head off for the spare bed.
There have been more mornings than I care to remember that one or both of us wake achy and weary having spent the full night fighting for bed space with the trio. A large bed makes no difference; we know, we’ve bought several, each larger. We could sleep in the middle of Lambeau Field and the dogs would pressure us.
Riika is now 13 years old and she is a treasure to us still. A year ago, maybe two, she aged dramatically. Now she sleeps on the floor most of the time. Thor and Fenway still prefer the bed and both of them want to sleep in close contact, Fenway in the cooler nights of winter burrows under the blankets; I feel him at my knees where he curls up tight. In winter the heat of the dogs is not a problem.
Which brings me, after an admittedly long and circuitous route, to the heat of summertime. And an upstairs bedroom that holds the heat and humidity like a cloud. And two dogs, Thor and Fenway, who like to sleep close.
Two hot-bodied dogs in winter can bring comfort. The same cannot be said for the heat of July that will build to the heat, real heat, of August. So this week as I lie in the upstairs bedroom with a puny window air conditioner laboring in the darkness my two dogs lie on the bed, one on each side. Sally says, “I’m outta here.” I stay and pay penance for the time, all those years ago, when I set Riika on the bed and she curled up and I stretched out. And slept. Oh how well I slept back then.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.