The Tao of Franny

When I first laid eyes on Franny she was a petite, light red, silky smooth- coat puppy with long ears, a black nose, and a mouth with a slightly disapproving downturn at the corners. Her eyes were huge. She looked like a tiny doe. Unlike her sister, who came prancing out to greet me in the breeder’s small enclosure, Franny parked herself in the corner as far from me as she could get, head low, eyes looking up at me suspiciously, making it pretty clear I wasn’t going to qualify as her sun, her moon and her stars any time soon. I mentally got ready to check the ” fearful or unfriendly” box and continued to play with her sister, waiting to see if Franny would scootch over to investigate things. Eventually she did, but she didn’t approach me so much as circle me , sniffing for flaws. Obviously I wasn’t ringing her bell, but then she wasn’t exactly ringing mine, either, partly because she had a kink in her tail, and partly because rejection by a Weiner puppy is the kind of personal cut that reminds you of high school.

Both the puppies had the same gorgeous looks, but it turned out her sister was already spoken for, so I was left having to decide about Franny. She allowed me, with a huge quavering sigh, to pick her up and hold her. I asked about the bend in her tail and the breeder explained that sometimes the tail wraps around the hind leg in utero, and so developes a kink. (It can be hereditary, too, and is so common in Dachshunds that although undesirable, it is not considered a fault.) Sometimes, she said, you can smooth out the kink with your fingers, and she suggested I try that. So I ran my fingers firmly down the soft baby bones of Frannys diminutive tail until she gave a yelp and an affronted look that made it pretty clear nothing was going to get smoothed out, except maybe my face. I don’t know if the fact of me hurting her or the fact that one tiny yelp could stop me from continuing made the most impression on our Fran. Suffice it to say she had my number either way. At any rate, I was set on getting a purebred puppy that would grow up to breed with Fritz, assuming he ever got off the teddy bears long enough to accomplish that feat, and she was extremely pretty, so I bought her, attitude and all.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a puppy with attitude, and the puppy that runs to greet you right off the git go isn’t necessarily your best choice. The pup that holds back a few moments to assess you and the situation is the one you want, as long as they decide they like you and come up ready to play and lick your hands. Eternal optimist that I am, I hoped the attempt to unkink her tail had a lot to do with her skipping the lick-your-hand stage, so I put her in a little crate and began the long drive home.

We were about 3 minutes into the drive when Franny started shivering, whining and puking. By the time we got home and into the house, both our nerves were shot and she had bloody diarrhia, so a trip to the vet was in order the next day. The vet prescribed medication for parasites and a regimen of cooked chicken and rice in place of puppy chow. So that very afternoon there I was boiling a nice chicken breast and a pot of brown rice for my new puppy, humming happily in my Eternal Maternal Mom mindset, while Franny looked on with what I must have noted somewhere in my subconscious as a calculating sort of interest eerily reminiscent of Fritz.
Franny was pretty happy to eat her chicken and rice for a couple of days, but on day three she showed no interest in her food. Alarmed, I added a little cottage cheese to the mixture, and she daintily consumed a portion of that. Two days later, she stopped eating again. A little rich unsalted chicken broth added to the mixture brought her back to the bowl. By the end of the two weeks, as her bowels became normal, I was offering her not just chicken, rice, broth and cottage cheese, but lean cooked hamburger and eggs as well. My husband drew the line when I started to fork up some of his filet mignon one night, because only he, as the son of a Midwest veterinarian and therefore with special powers, realized that at this rate we would soon be making reservations for her at Chez Marcel.

Having raised Fritz for two years actively thwarting his every move towards dominance, it may seem odd that I didn’t send the same clear signals to Franny. But you see, there was something different about her, a kind of head- down persistence you would expect to see in a Texa Longhorn bull, not a tiny Weiner dog. She got Fritz, who was clearly affronted that she even breathed the same air as him, to let her sleep with him after only a few nights of begging. She threatened to happily starve if she didn’t get the same kind of food we were eating, foreshadowing a whole new industry of human grade food preparation that would spoil an entire generation of canine moochers. That trick gained Fritz the consolation prize of a few bites, too, which may explain his tolerance for her over time. She also looked at me all the time, as if she had an urgent need to impart great tidings which I would receive intact and be grateful for if I just stared deep into her eyes. My natural reaction was laughter, which she took for submission. This, I realized years too late, was a behavioral feedback loop that guaranteed she would rise in her own estimation to great, unassailable heights of importance and grandeur.

Franny, need it be pointed out, is extremely smart. If intelligence is the ability to adapt to one’s invironment in such a way as to maximize one’s well being, then our Fran is a little Weiner genious, earning the respect even of The Cat which is, as I write, sitting in pride of place on my lap effectively keeping 6 Weiners off to the inglorious side. But I digress. As I soon learned, once Franny figured out there was something she wanted and I could and would get it for her, it was game, match, set. I could have stopped it at any time just by ignoring her, but curiosity to see what she would do next always won out.

A special diet, as it turned out, was just the beginning. For example, the first time I happened to throw her some warm blankets out of the dryer, she jumped in them with exuburant delight and burrowed happily around for several minutes until she had constructed the perfect Franny nest. Charmed by the sheer joy she exhibited, I got into the habit of giving her warm blankets, and so now that’s one of those little services she’s come to expect. She also expects to be fed Franny Food. This is what we call the occasional $2.79 can of high grade dog food she gets when it looks like her weight is dropping. The other dogs just have to hear the words “Franny Food!” and they come running for their pathetic one-bite-off-the-fork share. The rest of it is for Her Franniness, and she expects me to park her butt upstairs away from the others to spare her nerves while she eats. Franny’s nerves are one of those things to which she and I pay great attention.

Similarily, if there’s a squirrel stupid enough to run into a pipe and squeak hysterically because, let’s face it, successful fight or flight is no longer an option, Franny will let the other dogs lather the squirrel and each other up while she runs back to the house to bounce on my chest and compel me to follow her outdoors. It is a great measure of her need to control me that she never runs full tilt to the hunt or looks fully back to make sure I’m coming, but paces herself only slightly ahead and at an angle to me to ensure I won’t get distracted and veer off on some other, less Franny- friendly errand. Arriving, she will look pointedly at me and then at the end of the pipe, for I am to understand that a completely flipped out squirrel is trapped in there, and my job is to tilt the pipe up in the air until the squirrel conveniently falls out at her feet like a snack in a vending machine. I have only done that once in her lifetime, and the squirrel did get away to drive the Weiners to madness another day, but Franny never forgets, and lives to see me do it again. The other dogs are not so dim that they do not know a good thing when they see it, too, so now when the clarion bark is sounded and they all go rushing out the door to see what needs rending and tearing, (do get over right now the Disney myth of the “killing blow”), one dog will always assume the rear guard position and sit in the center of the drive looking back and barking at the house. That would be my cue to come and assist. I mostly ignore it now.

At eleven years, Franny has taught me just about everything she feels I need to know to make her a happy dog. Of course, she is looking at me now out of the corner of one eye, having arrived at some point next to where I am sitting and typing. They all do that, suddenly appearing on the couch like guest ghosts that I neither see nor feel until they are all present and the air is suffused with a sonomulent heaviness that makes everyone, including me, decide to take a nap. Except Franny. Franny may appear to be sleeping, but she knows if I turn to look at her. Her dark brown eyes will slowly open and she will squint at me, as if testing for soundness the chains she has forged between her heart and mine, making sure they are still intact and indestructible.

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