Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benjamin Franklin Broke my Alarm Dog

Tomorrow morning at 6:03, the invisible hand of Benjamin Franklin will reach to my bedside and wake me from a sound sleep.


I am in my office, the floor littered with books. I call it research. Next to me, flowing over the recliner is a wild dog.


I had no idea she was a wild dog when, a year and a half ago, we strolled the aisles at the pound. All we knew was, of all the cages and all the pens, of all the dogs, this small fawn-coloured pup, at eight months old, bread unidentified, was the only creature that was silent. She watched us as we walked up and back, as we inspected the dogs for the one that pulled at our hearts. We passed her by. She was too old.


But my son kept returning to her, staring at her through the kennel chain link. At that time it had not occurred to me she was the only silent pup there, the only dog not making an unholy racket. We had walked once through, looking at Corgies, Beagles, far too many Pits, Catahoula after Catahoula after Catahoula, and there was this one dog I could not identify and, still, second time through, silent, to which my son lingered closer and closer. Of course she was still eight months old so we walked again, fully planning, at least I was, on coming back to the pound once a week or so until the right dog arrived.


It was my birthday week. Forty-three. We were finally settled in our new old home, in a new practice, retired from an old job and marketing my new book. I wanted a dog.


It is never a good idea to get a dog. Never the perfect time. Just like a child, that perfect time does not exist, never comes. But the opportunity did, the timing was, my son and I were and my wife was not. So all the stars aligned in as perfect as it gets and we went to the pound.


And he kept going back to the fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified pup.


We grabbed a leash and opened the door. She sat there. We put the leash around her neck and she sat looking up at us. Silent. It seemed she wanted to be carried. She, already a bit too big for that, I, bending at the knees because I do love the sound of creaking so, we walked out to the yard - a father carrying his too-large child. Once there, once down, she walked by my side. When I ran she trotted right with me until I found myself on my back, staring at the sky, my leash-arm behind me, head slightly ringing. Fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified walked over and stared into my face. Apparently, she had decided to stop and have a liedown. At the door in from the yard, she stopped to be carried again and looked with disdain at the other dogs. Never a sound.


“What kind is the mute one?”


“We don’t know.” This was the Pound-mistress talking.


“The paper on the kennel says lab question mark. She’s not a lab.”


“Nope. But we have to write down something and we have no idea.”


“The paper also says she is untrainable, incorrigible, does not know her name and is an escape artist. Can you tell me anything good about the dog?”


Poundmistress explained to us they must, by law, write what the owners say when the dog is dropped off. But, and she moved close to my left ear, this family kept the dog out all day and let her in only late at night, never trained her, never called her by name. It was her opinion she was a good dog with no training that got stuck with a bum family.


We left, knowing what was going to happen. We should have pulled her papers and plunked the cash but I wanted my wife to see her.


And we looked back at her as we walked from her line of sight.


I planned on softselling the dog, working my wife up to a trip toward Eau Gallie and the pound with promise of old pottery and fresh fish. Instead, my son got to her first, with the pound open but one more hour after she got home from the practice. He told her we were going to the pound because it was only fair, daddy says, for her to see the dog we’re getting. This resulted in the need of much more in the way of promises.


Fine. In the car. Grab a Philly steak sub knockoff. On the way we talked about the description on the kennel door and what Poundmistress said about fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.


Get to the pound, walk in the second time that day, into the building and quickly past the cats at which my wife sneezes and itches, out to the dogs and to fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.


The noise was awful. The barking, whining, howling. All but her. All but fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified. She sat at the kennel-front and looked at my wife.


“She is eight months old,” says Lee.


“Yup.”


“At least she’s a mutt.” My wife insists on mutts.


“No idea what she’s made of. Just random dog.”


We opened the gate and repeated the carry-out to the yard. She behaved perfectly, silently. When Lee noticed fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified never made a sound, that was all it took. Sixty dollars on the counter, come back in two days, a sad look back from my son and an even sadder look at him from fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified.


The sign on the door said her name was Dusty. A common, non-descript name. Alek called “Dusty” and fawn-coloured eight-month-old unidentified perked her ears straight, sat at attention with the widest eyes I had yet seen on a dog.


Two days later we picked her up, groggy from the morning’s spaying, and she was cuddled home.


Within a week she was housetrained. With the help of Robert at Petsmart, we got training to train us to train her. Within a few weeks she walked with us, ran with us, leash or none. She sat, stayed, came and laid down. And in this time, she still did not bark.


I remember the day she did start making noises. It was late afternoon. Someone in the house was laughing. It did not sound familiar. I peeked into Lee’s office and nothing on Stargate seemed the least funny. No surprise there. I asked Alek but he said he’d heard it too and was looking for the source. He, too, thought it was his mother laughing. Dusty followed us.


Giving up, we each went back to what we were doing, Dusty in Alek’s room this time and I again heard it. Alek, running from his room, looked up at me and said, “That was her,” pointing to our dog, “and that is the strangest sound I have ever heard.”


When she is satisfied after a meal, and she eats sparingly, never gorging, she’ll spread flat on the floor and a low, guttural sound, not a growl in any way but from someplace deeper, more bass-rumbly, will resonate the room. When she wants something, she will open her mouth and high-pitched whistle talk to us. If she could manage to make it any louder I am sure the few remaining bits of household crystal I have not already broken myself would shatter. If we forget to feed her, she will stand by her bowl and whistle. If there is low water, she will nose it and whistle. When we come home with bags, she will not jump us but will instead back off, sit at the couch and, when the bags are down, lay back over the couch arm, belly up, and whistle for us to pet her.


Once, on a morning walk, Dusty and I passed a student of mine. I had been out of teaching for some months then and my neighbourhood is full or ex and barely-ex students.


“Mr. Tritt. “ I can’t get them to stop calling me that. “Is that your dog?”

“Sure is.”


“You have a Dingo?”


“I do?”


Apparently she had been studying Australia and was more than a little surprised to see a dingo walking with last-year’s English teacher. More and more people asked us the same thing. A bit of research, a check with people who should know and, sure enough, we have ourselves a wild dog. Once upon a time I wanted a wolf. I’ll take my dingo dog any day.


Far from being a baby-eater, she is the most gentle of creatures. She will instinctively sit with the infirmed, laying her head on a lap, patiently allows little ones to pet or pull or poke. She seems to have no preference for any particular member of the household and will become mopey if any one of us is away for too long. If one of us is not feeling well, she is nearly impossible to move from the sick one’s feet. When Lee had a week-long flu, Dusty was in the bedroom doorway all day and slept next to her, half under her, under the bed, all night.


She will walk through a crowd with ease and not give other dogs the time of day no matter how much they bark. She has barked on occasion but rare enough that, when she does, we listen, we get up, we see what’s there.


Dusty the Dingo Doggy went from being a good dog to great dog to wonderful companion we look forward to coming home to, one that can stay in the house by herself, will walk out the back yard when the gate is left open only to sit on the front porch and wait for us to remember we had forgotten to let her in. She plays ball with herself, tossing it into the air and catching it again on the way down.


And there is one more thing she does - Dusty wakes us each morning. As the sun rises, as it starts to colour our south windows, she walks into our room, whistles, puts her front paws on the bed and jostles Lee’s hand with her nose.


Neither of us has ever been a fan of alarm clocks. This is perfect for us. Up with the sun, more day in each day, awake in plenty of time to eat, shower, dress, do what needs to be done and get what needs to be got. No jingles, jangles, bells or chimes. A whistle and a paw.


Each day, slipping slightly more than thirty seconds later toward the Summer Solstice and back as the Winter Solstice approaches.


And then came Benjamin Franklin and he screwed it up.


We are big fans of Franklin. My wife from Philly and I from his quotes, quips and scientific queries. There is more to Franklin than most know. Sure, he was a notorious womanizer but, as seen for the times and locations he lived, that seems to detract little from establishing libraries, the Postal Service and newspapers as cultural standards. It does not detract from the creation of bifocals, which I steadfastly refuse every time I get my eye checked (The ophthalmologist checks them both but I’m not sure why he bothers. I think just look to see the other one is still there.), the flexible catheter (which I also have no experience with) the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, odometer and more and more. He invented the Glass Harmonica, an instrument of ethereal aural beauty (which, in the early days gave off lead dust but I accept we all suffer for our art).


As people who would be happy if our televisions got only Discovery, History and the Science Channels, that means quite a bit. “Well done is better than well said.” Ben, I agree.


But one thing he did that is fully, forever unforgivable was the creation of daylight savings time.


To be fair to Franklin, he did not really invent it. He suggested though, while living in Paris, Parisians should be woken each morning by bells and cannonfire so the stay-ups would tire earlier in the evening and conserve candles. He published this suggestion anonymously.


But the idea was taken up again, later, by William Willett who started pushing the idea in London in 1905. While good for local business that feed from late-shoppers, the original idea of saving candlewax is no longer quite as valid as once was. Electrical savings are found to be nonexistent with usage simply shifted to the dark morning hours in summer and dark night hours in winter in an economy that does not work simply dawn to dusk. And international commerce certainly suffers though not as much as agrarian economies still tied to daylight.


In the past, clocks were simply adjusted through the year to divide the day into twenty-four equal parts. The hours got a little longer or a little shorter and things ran quite fine that way.


We think with all our technology we can’t run that way now, but with some areas on DST and others not, we still become fully fowled up. Even in areas that do use DST, there are pockets that do not and time zones that opt out which, this month, are an hour behind and next month are not. Some US counties even opt out.


I say make six am the time when the sun comes up. We can certainly make clocks that can handle that. If the day is a bit longer, we have a few extra inter-hour minutes between five and six am. If shorter, fewer, but six comes when does the sun.


That way my dog would not be broken.


She was waking us at 7:16, then 7:15, 7:15, 7:14 and, the next day, gently, whistly, at 6:13. Daylight savings time had ended. This morning, as the sun peaked in through the windows, it was 6:04. Next week it will be before 6:00. Come DST again our dog alarm will move ahead one hour and, try as we might, we can find no dial or button to adjust her.




8 comments:

Sewa Yoleme said...

One of your very best, Adam. Just beautiful.

Lee said...

I love it! But you forgot to mention that Dusty was also the name of my childhood dog and that made me a bit reluctant to get her.

I'm over it. Love her.

Love the story.

Sewa Yoleme said...

I love your idea of calling dawn 6 a.m. and dividing the rest of the day into even segments, though I fear that would create havoc on the television schedule, and we can't have that.

Indigo Bunting said...

This is wonderful, Adam. I'm trying to think of something clever to say before I sign off and hit the sack (to be woken at 5:30 by the BBC), and yet I cannot. So bravo! Fabulous! Deliciously dingo!

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

IB,

What a beautifully large smile that leaves me with.

Daisy said...

Awesome! That is a great story about Dusty!

Mali said...

I'm a cat person, but with writing like this, you could convert me!

myrafly said...

We have a part dingo Austrailian Cattle dog here in the house and I just love her vocalizations. She also barks like a fool at all thing (including my arrival at home - Are you embarrassed now? that you barked at me?) I have a bird waker uper. I think it's a mocking bird. The bird could use adjusting too.