Ping snored. He was small, just a pug, but noisy. And of course, our bed was his bed.
I'm told that I snore, but I haven't heard it, although I've heard a lot about it from Moll. I think maybe I used to snore, I'll give her that, but I got over it. Most of the noise came from Ping.
Sometimes when I woke during the night, I found him half under the covers with just his forepaws and mashed mug sticking out, snorkeling away inches from my face. I rolled him, but he didn't miss a beat. Moll didn't mind his rumbling.
With Ping, there was more than snoring. He also chewed bones on the bed every chance he got, squeaked his weasel toy, ran in muddy from the backyard and jumped immediately onto the sheets, pushed me off the side of the bed if I was not anchored in the middle, and insisted on going out in the middle of the night to attend to the sometimes troubled inner workings of his digestive system. He wore a raincoat when the weather was inclement. What sort of dog does that?
Ping spent a lot of time snuffling in the underbrush near the house, and he attracted ticks. In bed together, I watched the ticks climb his stubby legs to the vicinity of his neck, or what would have been his neck if he'd had one. There, I intervened in what was certainly a hopeless effort to delay the onset of Lyme disease.
Mankind's friendship with dogs flourishes because of the canine's teaching ability. It is not he who learns to do better. It is not he who adapts. We do. We learn treats, throw the tire, and take me for a walk, plus loyalty, helpfulness, even life-saving. Witness Maui, who, on Sunday evening, January 29, attracted rescuers to his endangered trainee, Leonard Fogg, who had fallen into mortal danger in Edgartown Harbor.
Dogs, I believe, have also benefited from their ceaseless struggle with cats. That is a two-front war that has honed their fiercest combat skills but also sharpened their natural talents for observation and ingratiation. Dogs invented détente, which they define as the enforced acceptance of and feigned affection for cats when the nasty things can't be driven from the house. The truth is that dogs have practiced on cats, using those self-involved felines as stepping stones to a secure place on the bed.
Ping's capacity for behavior modification - not his, of course - was astonishing. For instance, say you were someone who had vowed early in life that you wouldn't have a dog because it would just tie you down. To get away for a weekend, you need a dog sitter. To spend a week away, you need someone to live in your house and look after the dog. Or say you vowed never to let the dog sleep on the bed, or eat at the dinner table. The dog understands these reservations and knows just how to teach acceptance and flexibility. All he needs is to get in the door, set up housekeeping, roll around on his back a few times, sit up for a treat, chase the ball - and he's in.
Pretty soon, who can leave the dog at home? You need to find a crummy motel which accepts dogs, maybe one that has a with-pets wing out back for the likes of you. Pretty soon, you're sharing the bed in the dog motel with the dog. Pretty soon, the dog is sitting in your lap at the table cleaning off the scraps from your plate.
Ping was an especially artful and patient teacher who might have had Moll and me walking on all fours and barking if he'd had enough time. But time ran out for him one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago. He jumped from the sofa in the bedroom, trotted hopefully to the kitchen, coughed once or twice, collapsed, and died. Maybe his heart gave out, though such a thing seems impossible. He was just seven, but his teaching was done. Diesel, the mastiff, knew it was over immediately. He had been trained by Ping to accept his role as the hulking servant of the pixie master. Moll and I were not as well prepared to acquiesce.
Ping's plot in the increasingly populous pet cemetery up the hill from the house is nearest the driveway, and it is marked as befits its owner. Radnor, Copper, and Nano (the cat who, along with her mother, took her first chance at an early exit from a dog-ridden household), prepared the ground for Ping's departure.
A week after the burial, we got Zee, a tiny, fluffy female pug, just six months old. The way she moves, maybe her name ought to be Zing. Anyway, we thought she might take Ping's place, but it hasn't worked out that way. She's come with a whole new curriculum, and she scolds us mercilessly when we struggle to grasp our lessons. Diesel, perceptive and amiable as he is, adapted immediately to the new leadership in his life. Moll and I, hung over a bit after our long studies under Ping's steady guidance, have struggled to get with the new program, but eventually, I'm sure we will. Zee is a lively and determined instructor.