We’ve had the 7-year-old rescue mutt for a little over a month. Archie is getting comfortable with the house and with us. He’s learning our routines, and we’re learning his, both his behavioral quirks and his physical ones.
Physically, Archie is not classically handsome. He’s a bit yellow Lab, a bit hound. At first, I thought he had a skinny butt because he was malnourished. But after weeks of extra chow, he hasn’t filled out back there. With his big, barrel chest and narrow, little hips, Archie looks like two dogs grafted together at the midpoint.
And he seems hinged in the middle. This dog can make a right angle with his spine. It hurts to look at. “Archie,” I want to say when he rounds a corner, “your turning circle doesn’t need to be so tight.”
Archie’s weathered face is peppered with little scars where the hair doesn’t grow. There are some bare patches on his ears, too. And no wonder. Archie loves the underbrush, the bramblier the better. On our walks, he trots along at the end of the leash, porpoising through the bushes at the edge of the path. He uses his snout to flick branches aside, like an Olympic skier powering through the gates on a slalom course.
“Archie! Be careful,” I say. “You’re going to put an eye out.”
We’ve learned that Archie is a water dog, but not in the traditional sense of that term. I don’t mean that he likes to go swimming. I mean that after he drinks water, he spews it everywhere. He lifts his big, blocky head, and it’s like a summer cloudburst. I don’t know what’s going on anatomically inside that mouth of his, but it seems to be equipped with reservoirs.
We bought a little stand that’s supposed to help — it elevates the food and water bowls and has a little tray beneath it like on a fast-food soda machine — but it hasn’t had much effect. Archie still walks around the house dripping, turning every floor into a Slip ’N Slide. We’ve put runners on the hardwood to catch the drips, and we’ve taken to leaving an old hand towel on the floor to push around with our feet to soak up overspray. Classy!
Really, we don’t mind any of this. It all comes with having a big, goofy dog of unknown pedigree. What has been hard is confronting what we now realize is Archie’s separation anxiety.
With both My Lovely Wife and I working from home, there hasn’t been much separation. But what little there has been — my wife, Ruth, behind a closed door on a Zoom call; me in the basement on the elliptical — has caused whimpering and whining. The other day, Ruth and I went together to buy some wine, and the neighbors reported that Archie barked for most of the 30 minutes we were gone.
The same thing happened when we had some socially distant drinks with neighbors out in the street. When we came back in, Archie was panting wildly, as if emerging from a panic attack.
So that’s what we have to work on in the coming months. Eventually, life will return to normal, and Archie will have to get used to occasionally being alone.
Otherwise, he’s great to have around: A warm, pettable beast happy to curl up at our feet — or on them.
What I love most about Archie is throwing a ball for him, something we do in the backyard several times a day. He’s not very good at it. When the ball bounces over his head, he lunges at it but never manages to catch it in his mouth. Often, he bops it with his nose.
When Archie chases the ball along the ground, he overshoots it and has to hit the brakes. Then he’ll lose sight of it and spin around in circles looking for it.
Despite all this, Archie loves chasing a ball. He isn’t skilled or elegant. There is nothing balletic about his style. He’s not going to improve. He’s never going to go pro. But his enthusiasm never flags. Archie does it for the sheer joy.
I don’t want to be the person Archie thinks I am. I want to be the dog he is.