Chapter 2: A Polish Year (continued from Ben the Foody)
By November, Ben had settled into our expanded life that now included him. Routines were being rewritten … and so were my values. For the first time in my life, I now had to think of “someone” else’s needs – another living creature was now dependent on me. My life became my teaching and training Ben. And my writing, which I had been working at for ten hours or more a week, took a backseat for a while.
The days and weeks were moving along – and within a month, Ben had learned his name. This astounded me. Heck in terms of comparing the development of a dog to a child, it was amazing how fast this little dog progressed. He was learning at what seemed a ridiculous clip and each week brought with it new commands and behaviours. I figured at this rate, I’d have him in med-school in a couple of years. Dr. Braddock had a nice ring to it.
In the first few days of his new life, Ben also came into his inheritance: a few chew toys and a blanket, smelling of Aida, that Magda assumed would give him sense of matronly comfort while he settled into his new home. Ben would curl up on the blanket go to town on this little rubber donut, chewing and gnawing.
This was greatly encouraged over his potential gnawing of the furniture that came with the apartment that we were leasing from a crotchety, retired civil servant named Zbigniew who was a veteran of Poland’s former foreign service; and took me a while to learn how to pronounce this mouthful of strangely organized consonants that made up this very traditional Slavic name. The apartment had transferred to him when his mother had passed away a few years earlier. Before the fall of the Wall, property like these apartments had belonged to the State and workers were provided them as part of their employment. Better jobs came with better apartments. After the wall came down, the State chose to dispossess itself of this “property” and the titles, in most cases, were transferred to the occupants. Many Poles possessed very little else of value and real-estate, like in many European countries, was a prized commodity that more often was willed to family members (and held) than sold on the open market. Thus it was that Zbigniew came to possess his mother’s home which he was then able to rent out to supplement his meager pension.
Zbigniew was a man of few words: most of my interaction with him occurred once a month when he came to collect the rent, in cash, and read the electric meter which he would then additionally charge us for. This was our second year renting from him and everything was going fine – and so, with little convincing, he consented to our keeping Ben when he met him the next month when collecting the rent. While not thrilled at the idea of Ben, he was clear: we were responsible for any damage the dog would do. He was especially concerned of Ben ruining the carpets and hardwood if he were to pee in the house.
“What?” I said. “No, Ben’s perfectly trained. He would never pee in the house,” I lied, avoiding eye contact with the hallway that frowned at me.
To further mitigate things, we chose to “kennel” Ben by keeping him closed in the front hallway of the apartment – kind of a paneled dog-run. It seemed a practical way to provide him a secure “den” and also keep him separated from the rest of the apartment and any damage he might be inspired to wreak. So of course, I was none too impressed when I returned home one day to find wood chips scattered along the runner of the hallway; I knew we didn’t have a beaver in the house, but a quick scan revealed that Ben had used his new teeth to chew the corner off the wooden panel that was the front hall closet and storage.
“Hmm …” I said under breath, “Zbigniew isn’t going to like this.”
Ultimately I did my best to repair it and cover up the damage with a visit to the hardware store. I would slowly – too slowly – learn the direct relationship between Ben’s exercise and his proclivity for doing damage.
Rubber donut aside, Ben was entering a stage, a stage that most dogs enter. It was at this point I became thankful that Ben was a 15 pound terrier-cross and not a 30 pound golden retriever puppy that thought the world was his chew toy.
While I had missed his first steps and his first ‘words’ (now it was a question how we were going to limit his ‘words’), I was about to experience him losing his baby teeth … and a period of destruction that would ensue as he experimented with the power of these new pearly white fangs.
As mentioned, we had a pretty good sense of his age because he came to us with two baby teeth still in his mouth. After a few weeks, he had only one left and this one was getting wobbly. I discovered the first one he’d lost when one day I stepped on the carpet and it pricked my foot. As I picked it up, I stared at him and he cocked his head to one side and looked me while licking his nose. Creative pooch that he is, he had found a new way to bite me.
Anyway, nowhere in any of my reading did it say what I should do about the wobbly tooth in Ben’s mouth. Yes, I was behaving like an over-protective parent with his first child, but there you have it. Was I supposed to ignore it and wait for him to lose it in his eating or playing? What would happen if it broke instead of falling out? Was I supposed to grab it with my fingers and pull? The idea of pulling a tooth out of this fanged little beast seemed a foolish idea. Andrea and I talked and in the end we concluded that I’d try to tie a string around it and pull it out. I know you’re all probably laughing at this point, but no, I didn’t imagine tying it to a doorknob: give me some credit. So, step-one, I got a piece of butcher twine from the kitchen, recalled my Boy Scout training from the recesses of my memory, and tied a slip-knot. Ok, that wasn’t so hard, but trying to get this in Ben’s mouth and over his canine fang, this was going to be interesting. Thankfully, Ben didn’t bite me, but he did think we were playing, so there was a lot of wrestling, sneezing, and sputtering as Ben put forth his best efforts to be tough and smile through his gapped grin. Eventually I got the loop on the tooth, but with all the slobber Ben was forming, it immediately slipped off before I could do anything more. After more wresting, my second attempt was unexpectedly successful. I looped the tooth and string grew taught and stayed – bingo – and then, without doing anything, the tooth, still tied to the string, fell out of his mouth. Just like that. I didn’t even need to pull. It felt rather anticlimactic, but there it was: his tooth hanging on a string, which Ben then sniffed before bounding at me and licking my face. I wasn’t sure what to do with the tooth – put it under a pillow, give him a złoty, … toss it? In the end, recalling that my mother had kept the teeth she had bartered from my sister and I, I figured, what the heck: so I wrapped it up in foil and put in a drawer with my other bobbles and pieces of jewelry. And yes, I still have it to this day – a fact that has freaked out more than one person, that I’m Ben’s tooth fairy.
Continued next … Chapter 2: A Polish Year – The Ball Warrior