Monday, January 12, 2015

Mr. Pickles

        A new baby coming into the house has a profound effect on everyone in the family. That's only natural. Every family, which are basically social organizations; has its own set of dynamics and relationships, its own hierarchy, or pecking order, that has been established over time through complex interactions between the various personalities in the group. Introduce a new personality and the whole thing is disrupted, the pecking order, so laboriously constructed, is reshuffled and rearranged. Years of vying for position within the group can be all for naught as the newest addition to the family displaces and discombobulates the whole thing. I'm not a psychiatrist but I have a feeling this process has the greatest effect on the youngest of the group. Everything that made the youngest special, everything about being the youngest, is taken from them and given to the baby, the new youngest. This can be trying under any circumstances but when the "youngest" is also not human it can be especially hard to cope with. The introduction of a baby to the household has a profound effect on everyone, including, and perhaps especially, the dog.

Mr. Pickles, "Himself", is a white shih-tzu, one of those little lap dogs from Tibet. He is eight years old, which means he's not a kid anymore, and weighs about fourteen pounds at this point. He has, I'm afraid, gained a little weight in the past couple of years, ever since he has entered middle age. He is a little touchy about the subject actually; the effects of aging have a worrisome impact on all of us, and is of the opinion that his recently expanding waistline is merely an aberration. He considers his true weight, his fighting weight, to be closer to twelve pounds (good luck getting back to that). Other than those couple extra pounds, he is in great shape and loves to run, jump, and tear the living hell out of the many stuffed toys he is in possession of.

        Mr. Pickles holds a unique position in the family, occupying a nebulous place between pet, child, and employee, and, therefore, is pampered as a pet, cherished as a child, and relied on as a biological security system. (With my husband working shift-work, I spend many nights alone and have done so all of my life.) His ability to loudly proclaim the existence of anything out of the ordinary, (his howl is piercing), can be quite aggravating when the "danger" he perceives is nothing more than the mail lady making her usual deliveries. On the other hand, I can rest assured that if a true threat were to ever arise, he would become aware of the intrusion far sooner than I would, and raise the appropriate alarm. Due to his size, and, I'm sorry to say, cowardly temperament, his function as a security system is limited to that of an alarm. His bark is not only bigger than, but is actually in lieu of, his bite. But that's okay. I only need his bark. I have something else that bites.

        We acquired Mr. Pickles as a puppy, when I was still caregiver to my granddaughter. She grew quickly, however and within a few years had matured to the point where the main function of her "Nan" was limited to seeing her safely on and off of the school bus every day. So, for the most part, it has been just me, my husband, and the dog for quite some time, and we had all become accustomed to our positions and roles within the household. The bottom line is, Mr. Pickles is a beloved, and integral part of the family, and for years occupied the enviable position of youngest, cutest, and most doted on member thereof. Enter Kiley.

        When Kiley came, Mr. Pickles was, at first, unaware of the import of the event. Mr. Pickles loves company and is endowed with a natural curiosity about anything that breaks up the ordinary pattern of his existence. He's the kind who welcomes every guest with a loud and menacing bark, but then wants to sit in their lap the entire time they are in the house. Kiley's initial arrival, therefore, was a welcome diversion from his routine.  He was all over her like a shot with a "what's going on here" air about him. Nose kicked into overdrive, insistent on being right in her face, refusing to back off or let up regardless of how many times he was held back and told to calm down. He loved Kiley! I'm sure her smell was strange and alluring to him. He wanted to be near her in the worst way. He was ecstatic, overjoyed at the presence of such new and intriguing company. Ah, if he had only known!

        It didn't take long for Mr. Pickles to become accustomed to the presence of a baby in the house. After several days of curiosity and investigation he discovered that this particular guest wasn't quite as fascinating as he originally assumed. The baby, in fact, was rather boring. It didn't do anything but eat, sleep, and cry, didn't interact with him and was, for the most part, inaccessible to him. Within a few days he become bored with the whole baby situation and basically ignored the new addition. He settled back into his normal routine, of eating, sleeping, and barking which, ironically, wasn't that much different than that of the baby.

        This period of peaceful co-existence, however, was doomed to be temporary. Infants are easy to ignore if you are a dog. They are someone else's problem and basically out of the way. Unfortunately, infants don't stay infants for long; a fact that soon made itself known to poor Mr. Pickles. As Kiley grew in size and ability she gradually became more and more intrusive as far as Mr. Pickles was concerned. What was once safely relegated to the baby bed, or blanket on the floor, leaving Mr. Pickles in possession of the rest of the house, started to become mobile. The more mobile she became the more of his territory Kiley was able to co-opt. He had previously been able to indulge in his favorite past time – sleeping - wherever he damn well pleased, under the table, on the sofa, on the chair. Once she was crawling, however, she became a nuisance and once she was walking she became dangerous. No place within her reach was safe. How can you fall asleep anywhere when there is someone or something that can fall upon you without a moment's notice, grabbing and pulling and squealing? To make things even worse, Mr. Pickles now fascinated Kiley in the same way that she had once fascinated him. She was all over him with a "what's going on here" air about her. Hands kicked into overdrive, insistent on being right in his face, refusing to back off or let up regardless of how many times she was held back and told to calm down. Eventually his position became untenable and he retreated to self-imposed exile upstairs where she could not intrude on his privacy.

I'm afraid hiding under a chair cannot save you now, Mr. Pickles...

        I feared that it was this unpleasant stand off that would define their relationship going forward, at least until she was old enough to control her zeal and take directions where Mr. Pickles was concerned. But all things change. Even the most distrusted adversary is sometimes found to have positive attributes, and any wall of separation can be breached by common interest. That common interest, in this instance, is lunchtime. Mr. Pickles discovered that, in spite of her many egregious faults and hazardous behavior, Kiley has one saving grace. She has one redeeming attribute that makes up for her many deficiencies and which is, as far Mr. Pickles is concerned, positively endearing. Kiley drops food. The floor beneath her highchair is a veritable cornucopia of scraps, morsels, and crumbs. The impact that this discovery has had on their relationship cannot be overstated. Kiley's tendency to drop food more than makes up for any deplorable behavior or heinous propensities she may exhibit. It far outweighs any fault, flaw, defect or crime that she may be capable of.

        So I am quite relieved to be able to say that Mr. Pickles loves Kiley. In fact I would go as far as to state that she is his favorite person. Yes, she pulls tails. Yes, she pulls ears. Yes, she pinches, stomps and gouges. But all of that is forgiven as long as crusts, crackers, cheerios, and the like continue to slip from her less than coordinated fingers. Mr. Pickles is soft, fuzzy, and infinitely adorable to Kiley, and Kiley drops food. What greater foundation for a deep and long lasting relationship could one ask for?


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