This is my old man, my Gillie Boy, my Gilligan. I guess if I had to choose which one of my dogs was my heart dog, it would be him. He’s 13 now and slowing down, a bit tattered and worn. He used to be quite regal. His beautiful white coat has yellowed some and is brown in spots. His eyes are clouded and the fur around them is stained. He had eyes like black olives once. He’s missing quite a few teeth. That’s why his tongue sticks out when he sleeps. Makes him look a little silly. And he’s pretty much deaf. Oh my sweet Ginger was my love too, but she was always that – sweet. I used to call Gilligan Devil Dog. He was on a kill-list for nipping a child when the rescue group pulled him out. I believe they saved him because he was so beautiful – pure white with a coat like spun silk. I got him to be a companion for Ginger. When I took her to meet him at the shelter, it was like they had grown up together and I knew I had found the right dog. Until I got him home. He barked, he ignored me, ran around like a crazy man. He terrorized the cats. When he would finally settle, it would be with his back to me. I was used to Ginger, who came when I called, who was my shadow and who always kept her eyes on me. I thought “What have I done? I can’t handle this dog. He’s a demon.” I asked a friend who was a dog trainer to assess him. “He’s very intelligent”, she told me. “And he’s going to be a lot of work. He doesn’t trust you yet and his attitude is ‘What’s in it for me?’ You’re going to need an awful lot of patience with him but if you can get him to come around, he’ll be a wonderful dog.”
Gilligan is an American Eskimo, an Eskie. His breed were circus dogs in the 18oo’s. He was an acrobat, a magician, an escape artist, and a clown. I lived in Arizona at the time and my backyard was surrounded by a five foot cinder block wall. In the year Ginger had been with me, I never had to watch her when she was out back. The first day I put him in the yard, he figured out how to get on top of the wall. I found him walking the perimeter, five feet up. I had to devise a series of cactus plantings to keep him from jumping from the kiva to the barbeque to the wall. He learned to steal pizza from the box and close the lid so I wouldn’t miss it. I had to change all the door handles to knobs because if it didn’t need opposable thumbs to open, he could open any closed door in a blink. But he also knew to put his head on my knee and give me the sad eye when he wanted some of my Chinese food. And while Ginger slept on the floor, Gillie would climb into bed with me and snuggle under the covers. He was intelligent alright, and he knew just how to work me.
By the time I moved back East to marry my husband, Gilligan had become somewhat manageable. He responded to my requests much better. (And it was always a request with him, never a command.) He still didn’t do well with strangers He was never one of those dogs that loves everyone. But if he knew you and trusted you, he could be so playful. He is a good judge of character though. He took to my husband right away. Or maybe it was just that intelligence thing. He knew a Top Dog when he saw one.
Sometimes it’s really hard to see him jump for the sofa and miss. Or watch his back legs give out when he climbs the stairs. He used to bark every time a car went up the hill. He’d hear it long before it got to our house. Now if he doesn’t see it, he won’t even lift his head. But the trade off is that he is much sweeter. Often, he’ll just walk up to me and wag his tail and wait for me to scratch his head and kiss his nose. And after a little initial tough guy attitude, he’s friends with everyone he meets. Although my puppy Maggie is 12 years younger and 50 pounds heavier, Gillie does his best to keep up with her and gives as good as he gets. He still has more spirit and personality than any other dog I’ve known.
My friend was right. It took a lot of work and tons of patience to get Gilligan to trust me and learn that what was in it for him was being loved. I guess the harder something is, the more you value it. That’s why no matter how raggedy he gets, no matter how stiff his legs become, no matter how much his eyes cloud over, he’ll always be my beautiful boy.