What on earth could have led to this frigid afternoon on Lucy Vincent Beach? Four human beings chasing a litter of 8-week old, out-of-control German shepherd pups?
It began with movie-style “meet cute” scenarios, in this case two of them.
First meet cute: It was the spring of 2006 when Lisa Vanderhoop of Aquinnah arrived at my bookstore in Oak Bluffs to show me her Martha’s Vineyard Sea Dogs calendar. The cover blew me away — eight yellow Labrador puppies on the beach, lined up so straight, it looked as if they might break into a can-can.
Lisa groaned, “It took us hours to get them to stand still, face forward. Each one had a handler to hold it in place. I’d shout ‘Run!’ and the people scattered. The pups split too, in every direction, but finally we had one perfect shot.”
The moment Lisa decided to produce a calendar devoted to dogs on boats and beaches, the first order of business was to become her own publisher. If she farmed out the work, each calendar would cost as much as a Prius. Well, almost.
And so she acquired a tutorial CD for Adobe Photoshop. “I spent a month in my room, glued to my computer. I didn’t shower, I barely ate or slept, I wore the same grey sweats. I neglected Buddy [Lisa's husband, the iconic charter fisherman, Capt. Buddy Vanderhoop]. If he stumbled into the room where I was working, I’d yell at him, ‘Get out!’ It’s a miracle our marriage survived.”
For me, as a bookseller, a dog lover, and an on-the-spot admirer of Lisa Vanderhoop, it was kismet: The day she walked into my gin joint, er, book shop, I asked her to please! please! please! let me come along one day a doggy shoot.
Second meet cute: This one had a different, darker vibe, at least in the beginning. This past November, I and my unruly Boston terrier, Huxley, were invited to dinner at a friend’s comfy old farmhouse on Chappaquiddick. Hux and I arrived first, followed by a tall, attractive woman named Rose. Huxley ran to greet her in his “Yay! Company!” mode that only I find adorable. Rose kneed him in his over-sized chest, then barked orders at him in German. This may have hurt his feelings. Huxley Nadler is a Jewish dog. He growled at her.
Not off to a great start.
Rose redeemed herself, however, when she invited me over (Huxley was explicitly not included) to meet seven 9-day old German shepherd puppies, delivered by Rose’s purebred, top-tier aristocrat, Enga Radovana.
The pups were charcoal-colored lumps the size of pine cones, eyes still sealed shut. They made little grunting noises. All they wanted was to snuggle with any creature heated to a mammalian temperature. Three of them roosted in my lap. Another two canoodled with my feet. I have never been so happy.
It was only a matter of time before I put Rose in touch with Lisa, with myself in the middle of the action where I’d always longed to be — we’re talking bucket list fulfillment.
The upshot was a recent 25-degree day in January on Lucy Vincent Beach. At least the sun was out, but it shed as much warmth as a strand of Christmas lights.
Lisa brought Capt. Buddy along for backup. He’s handy with a camera, and he does a killer woof! woof! that gets the pups’ attention. Rose assured us the babies would follow Enga and us anywhere we led them, which ill-prepared us for the dash they made for the wetlands and the frozen saltwater inlet.
One of the pups fell headlong through the ice. Crack! Splash! Lisa, dressed for any exigency in orange waders, handed her camera off to Rose, charged in after the popsicle pup, and pulled him out. He looked unshaken, albeit frosty. Lisa, wasting no time, shooed the whole litter towards the ocean.
The next two hours streaked past in a blaze of Rose and me running towards the surf, puppies tagging more gingerly behind, Lisa crouching, camera going snap! snap! snap!
For me, running on the beach in January, I felt the full albatross of my fourteen layers of winter clothing. It would have been easier to pick up a tractor and lug it to the Ag Hall.
Lisa called for Buddy to woof! woof! Her Nikon clicked away like the shutterbug sound-track in ‘Blow Up.’ The pups, however, had never seen the movie. They had no interest in posing. Mostly they wanted to nose into caves and creep around boulders.
Rose and I herded, chased, coaxed, counted heads, and carried the wriggling, squealing little creatures who demanded to be put down NOW!
At one point, I sank down on the sand, and Rose stacked all the cuties on my lap. I struggled to keep hold, but they wrestled away. I told Lisa, “This is my usual experience with males.”
Actually, three of the pups were girls, and one of those remained perched on my knee, sweet little Mytoi who knows a nice lady when she’s plopped on top of her. If I had the disposable income to buy one of Enga’s pups, Mytoi would be my pick of the litter.
We finished up as shadows lengthened. The air became more golden and gorgeous by the moment, the outgoing waves leaving a pale turquoise mirror on the sand.
When at last the puppies and their mama were placed in the back of Rose’s Suburu, they applied themselves hungrily — even though they were fully weaned — to Enga’s defunct teats, for relief after the whacky hours they’d endured.
You may see a memento of this day in the 2015 Sea Dogs calendar.
Meanwhile, I’m adding “dog-wrangler” to my resume. It’s the kind of job you learn in the baptism-by-fire method, all in single frenetic afternoon, too exciting to even realize for a moment how ridiculously cold it is.