Monday, August 29, 2011
My sister Karla recently had some of out childhood photos restored by my friend Alan, and it's great to see them all. I put up the picture of my mom, Karla and me, and then the one of Karla and me on the rocker. The one I have been saving is of Johann, my childhood dog.
A lot of the family will tell you Johann was their dog, but technically, Dad and I brought him home, taking him from his family in Berkeley, and I was the one who chose him. His brothers and sisters were locked behind a short wall in a pantry and all the other pups were making one heck of a racket when we came to see them, but Johann was asleep. I picked him up, he woke up for a moment and licked my nose, then fell back to sleep as I held him in my arms, close against my chest.
As you can guess, my decision was made because I was in love. My dad was worried that he was the runt, and he likely was. But still, I had done what my dad asked of me reading all the books, so he let me choose Johann, soon known to nearly everybody as Yoyo.
It ranks among the best choices of my life.
Johann was a stunningly clever dog. When we walked across the street, he would show his sheepdog instincts and push at the heels of the youngsters, especially my younger sisters. His mom was obviously a Corgi, but dad may have been a hound that climbed over the backyard fence. Besides herding skills, Johann loved to play fetch like a retriever. It was my brother Michael who taught Johann to fetch a tennis ball, bring it back and drop it so it could be thrown again. He loved playing fetch so much, he would play until he was exhausted, and after exhaustion, he would chew the tennis ball until the cover was off. We used to joke that like the Native Americans used all parts of the buffalo, Johann used all parts of the tennis ball. As I recall, as much as he loved to chew stuff, he chewed tennis balls almost exclusively. He wasn't a chewer of shoes or baseball gloves or any of the other stuff we left lying around, as children are likely to do.
He also like playing with a soccer ball, but he was not big enough to get it in his mouth, so instead he pushed it around with his snout and shoulders. Once at the park, some kids had a soccer ball and Johann decided it would be fun to play, so he went and stole it. Well, he didn't really steal it, because once the kids started chasing him, he stayed in the general area, circling back towards them so they could keep up. He even decided to go straight back at the mob, so he nuzzled under the ball, flipped it up in the air, turned 180° caught the ball on his nose like a seal and plowed back through the crowd of screaming kids.
I have seen dogs that do more behaviors than Johann did, but in his defense I must say we didn't know much about training dogs. We never gave him any treat greater than our praise when we taught him something new to do, and trusting, loving soul that he was, he never knew about the whole "do something cool, get a tasty treat" racket.
He learned some amazing games with very strange rules. One was Sand Monster. Karla, Jenny and I would start screaming "Sand Monster! Sand Monster!" while we ran around the front room, and Johann understood he was this previously undescribed Sand Monster. It was a game of Tag and he was not allowed up on furniture for the duration of the game, though we did jump on the furniture, which was behavior we were not usually allowed. As we ran from couch to couch, he would chase us and growl, and if he bit our pant leg, we had to fall down and crawl to the nearest base, dramatically fearing for our lives. (You should be able to tell from the picture that Johann was a little dog, and even if he grabbed a pant leg as hard as he could, he did not have the stopping power to down the smallest of us. It was part of the game.)
When we stopped screaming and we petted him and told him he was a good dog - and he most certainly was - the game was over and his ferocious Sand Monster persona was forgotten as quickly as it was put on.
Now that I think of it, screaming kids were exciting and fun for him.
His worst habit was probably barking, but my dad recalls that once he came home, Johann would stop, since the Alpha of our pack had returned and our safety was in his hands.
I could reminisce about Yoyo for days on end, but let me close here with something I said hundreds of times, and I meant it every time.
Good, dog, Johann. Good dog.