A month ago, Lucy and I picked up our new puppy in Massachusetts. He is a black standard poodle, and at that time was eight weeks old. We named him Stash. (At the school where we have lived for over thirty years, candy is not allowed. Therefore, it is a prime commodity for smuggling by the children, and these carefully hidden troves of illicit sweet treats have always been known as “stash.” The last name of our puppy’s breeder is Cande, so…)
A standard poodle as a farm dog? Yes. After thirty years of wonderful labrador retrievers, I am done with dog hair. To stay on top of a lab’s shedding, one must vacuum every single day. I do not vacuum every day.
Besides, though I love labradors, I also love the personality of standard poodles: not stolid and forgiving and child-proof, like a lab, but charming, quick, and responsive. It feels right for this stage of my life.
At eight weeks Stash was small and extremely fuzzy. He seemed weightless for his size. Walking him on a leash was like walking black dandelion fluff. Here he is investigating my gardening glove.
He was also a complete infant. Not only did he not signal when he needed to empty his bladder, he did not always appear to realize when he was emptying it. Moreover, unlike the many lab puppies I have raised over the years, Stash did not pee a lake and then stay dry successfully for up to an hour. He peed a little here and there every ten or fifteen minutes. In the early days he even peed in his crate. Despite my vigilance, it was a week before I could get him through a day without an accident. This did not make me feel successful.
Still, I assumed he would outgrow it and tried to remain patient, washing loads and loads of farm towels, and investing in a gallon of Nature’s Miracle odor remover. Now, though he has improved tremendously, he is still not reliably dry if not constantly watched. Thus he has been confined to the big kitchen and dining area with its scrubbable floor. At night he sleeps in his crate on my side of the bed.
In my effort to train him to his future job, I try to take him along with me to farm chores for several hours every day. He already rides in the truck like a pro, stretching out on the bench seat with his head on my thigh. (I was thinking of my future dog when I put “bench seat” on my list of desirable features while I was looking for an old truck last year.) It is very satisfying.
Stash accompanies me when I weed the gardens.
(The damp earth is so comfy.)
He kindly gnaws on a geranium, keeping it trimmed back.
When I refill my nail belt, he teethes on my hammer to make sure it is sound.
He walks out to the pasture to help me call in the cows.
Together we check on the pond water level.
Every morning he roams the barn while I muck the cow stalls. He enjoys trying to get the chickens to play — something I discourage — and has taste-tested cow, goose, and chicken manure. (Just as I warned him, none of them are appealing.) He comes with me when I drive to Betty’s to water the sheep.
Meanwhile, Lucy’s little cairn terrier mutt, Toby, is almost ten years old. He has been lonely since our sweet lab, Tess, died. He was excited to meet Stash, but quickly became overwhelmed by puppy energy and puppy teeth. At first he took refuge by jumping over the barricade out of the kitchen or otherwise staying out of reach. Here is Toby with his mama, inspecting the new addition.
When I walked them together, Toby stayed well out in front, ignoring the cavorting child.
As the weeks have gone by, however, Toby has softened. Maybe a little mock-fighting would be fun.
Soon they were wrestling on their own.
Stash was so happy he sometimes fell out of the chair in his enthusiasm.
Stash has now doubled in size and is bigger than Toby. They are on their way to being good friends. Housebreaking is coming along. When he’s not in a deep baby sleep, Stash is invariably cheerful and prancing. We can see that he is going to be a great addition to the family.
Oh, yes — Why, you ask, when I am trying to simplify my life, did I ever take on a puppy?
The answer is very simple. For the kisses.
He is a love.