When a puppy is three to four weeks old their dormant senses wake up, and they become aware of their surroundings. The puppy realizes it is alive. These are the tender weeks that would never be known to me if my dogs continued to come as rescue dogs or were purchased from a reputable breeder. The first week was the toughest of my life. Not all of the pups born lived. There is a pair of boxes buried on a hill with names and a short span of days.
“We’re not breeders,” I told my hunting partner.
We were lovers of dogs. More specifically, hunting dogs. They came to us with breeding or without much of it, but each of them strived toward the kind of manners a dog needs afield. It was as if the dog, in a striving to abide by human conventions, was striving to overcome its breeding. Yet, in possessing the manners of a gentleman, a dog is ahead of most precisely by what he is not. By virtue of human surroundings, he constantly aims to rise the way we might in a higher culture. They are incapable of the deadly sins, do not strive for false effects, create scandals, or tell sad stories. Sometimes, in the cock of their head, they want to understand the universe.
If I was not a breeder, why did I want my dog to have puppies? Did my reasons fall into one of the polarized categories (reputable breeder or backyard breeder)? Did anyone else have my reasons? Where had this person or persons written about these reasons? Did they first have to announce to the judgment of the categorical tribes that yes, their dog passed conformation, temperament, health and genetic tests? And if I truly valued the reputation of the breed, only then, and perhaps out of a sense of service, would I seek to improve it?
There were more interesting questions, and they came in the form of symptoms, denials, and confessions that always end with “am I the worst?” The first of which was: did I want my dog to have puppies to experience the closest thing I would know to having children (which I would never have)? Was this a reason as badly expressed as “for the sake of it” or “because I could”? Was I as reckless as any mother who wanted a child no matter her circumstances? Or, any man who wanted a woman without a thought of children? These miserable comparisons would not suffice.
The puppies all sat like dogs and peered up at me with their veiled eyes. Their world had not happened yet. They were a delight. They would yield to the tyranny of manners and they would act according to their breeding, which, despite my own contribution, was on footing as sure and sanctioned as any other great line. They would look heavenward for birds in the air, for things I can’t see or smell. And, there would be no apology for why we ended exactly in the place we found ourselves. Somewhere I’d read that dogs are striving to be human the way humans are striving to be gods. Where we fall short of our striving, we wonder. And in wondering we strive again to be something that is merely what we are. Alive.
What I wanted most was a chance to be a part of the life of my hunting dog at its earliest beginnings when its character develops. We were going to keep two pups from the litter. That was decided before they were born. Which to keep was the trouble. There was three spot, the sole female, a tri-color with spirit enough to pounce her littermates; two spot, a black and white who looked a miniature version of his father with one spot extra; orange spot, the biggest and calmest; side spot, a pup who looked upward more than any other; and no spot, a shy and sleepy pup that wanted most to be held.
The five dwarves slept in a pile and they were named, as we promised not, when we agreed to the spot-method: Purdey, Colt, Boss, Cogswell, and Hugo. We would keep them all.