Lael Smith is a writer living in Los Angeles. Meet her dog, Blue:
My husband and I drove out to the Santa Clarita hills one bright late-May morning eleven years ago when the Jacaranda trees were in a purple riot of bloom (I’d never noticed them before but always think of Blue when they bloom now) to a home where Blue was one puppy in a litter of nine.
We had fallen for a Rhodesian Ridgeback in our neighborhood and wanted one of our own. We thought them to be the most exotic, beautiful and noble of dogs. We thought one would make a good running partner. We were told they didn’t bark, unless they meant business and they didn’t shed.
We took Big Boy, as he was then named, home when he was eight weeks old. None of us had any idea what we were getting into but I held the little eleven-pound warm lump that smelled like popcorn the whole way home and promised to care for him and so I have.
He is sweet and silly and loving and stubborn as a mule. He sheds like crazy and refuses to run unless he feels like it, which is not often as he’d rather smell every square inch of ground, but only barks when someone knocks on the front door (which is handy as we have no doorbell).
You can feel his African roots — his eyes, nose and immense speed made for the safari. I read recently, in one of Alexandra Fuller’s books about growing up in Africa that of her immense pack of dogs, it was only her Ridgeback who could defend himself against the baboons. And I believe it. I’ve never once seen a hint of ferocity from Blue, quite the opposite — I’ve seen other, smaller dogs, abuse him.
There was one time when I was pregnant and hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and a mountain lion in a bush growled at me and Blue, obliviously smelling some other dog’s pee down the trail, missed his one opportunity to do what his breed was made for, treeing lions, and I had to run for my life. And another time we were hiking in the mountains, he got heat stroke (it was Memorial Day and only 80 degrees) and my husband and our friend and I had to carry him down the mountain, slung between us on a beach blanket. So, maybe he’s not exactly African safari material...
Blue used to be possessive of me and quite passive-agressive when his pack left him behind. He ate my wedding shoes before I could wear them again. He ate my wedding earrings (diamond studs). He ate a new pair of lovely designer heels before I could wear them at all when I came home once to dump my things and go back out without spending any time with him. He’s eaten my hats and underwear and plenty of meals meant for me. But he’s mellowed in his maturity. Of course this past Christmas he got ahold of the Gingerbread before I could serve it.
He was hit once, accidentally, with a Chuckit in the park (by the mayor of Santa Monica, no less) and pushed over by a much smaller bulldog (the fall snapped his young leg in half) and Blue avoids both still, more than ten years later. He understands more English than seems possible. I’m quite sure I’ll see him in the afterlife and he’ll have some things to say to me — mostly about his bland, vet-mandated Low-fat GI diet. He has a great party trick too — he likes to unwrap presents delicately with his teeth and paws. It’s pretty remarkable. He dazzled my husband’s entire town with this trick at my first son’s baptism party there. I have no idea how that trick got started; he must have watched us to it and taught himself?