The Punkster

A few weeks ago, I posted on Rem, the young Labrador-cross who guards this property; except, of course, when he takes off to molest other people’s property. Rem is around 16 months old, and full of post-puppyhood energy.

Punky is now around ten years old, maybe a little more. He was a street dog, a poodle-cross who one day followed my friend Lucero and her mom Estela as they came home. They’re both suckers for a cute, sad-looking dog, and Punky met those criteria easily. No-one’s ever called him a genius dog, but casually strolling into their house was one smart move. He’s too small to have lasted on the streets, and he’s poorly coordinated. I’ve never seen him bite anyone, human or canine, and street dog needs some nasty to make it through.

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Playing by sense of smell.

Still, when I shared a house with the others, after I first moved here, I noticed Punky always tried to challenge our larger dogs, and was constantly put in his place by them. So, when we constructed our own houses in Amatlan, both on the same piece of property where I now live again, I asked to have him move in with me. For three years he lived contentedly in my small house, interacting a little with the others, but preferring his solitude and his chosen role as king of the kitchen. He became the Punkster, the Punkmeister and other nicknames, but always fit the basic name Punky. His wool would grow out and he’d get scruffy, he’d hate being bathed and shaved, and he was fond of rummaging in wastebaskets for ‘toys,’ so I couldn’t leave any around.

After I returned to Canada in 2015 to fix my financial situation, he remained with his former owners, and became the guilt I took with me. Last week, I finally got him back again, wondering how it might work out. Dogs bear no grudges, but caring for an old one requires patience. He was always partly deaf and began developing cataracts four or five years back, so that now he’s largely blind. Like the Pinball Wizard, he plays by sense of smell.

He sleeps a lot, and I have to make sure I don’t trip over or bump into him in the dark, because he chooses odd places to snooze. He still barks aggressively at other dogs, especially when he’s fed … even though there aren’t any there to bark at. He can make out light and dark, but not a lot else. He can’t hear me if I call his name. He always made sequences of odd noises (“Punky noises”) that bore no relation to what appeared to be happening, and now they’re louder.

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It’s only an odd place if you’re a human.

But what he has is a familiar location where he half remembers the layout, and can sniff his way about. I saw him over Christmas, when he was in an unfamiliar place, and he seemed disoriented. Over the past few days he’s begun to build confidence. He’s occasionally started to seek me out, and responds to patting and having his head rubbed.

We always imagine we understand how pets think, or how they’re feeling. And they do have ways of communicating their moods, so it isn’t hard. Punky spends a lot of time just sitting still, as if trying to decide what to do, or where to go.

He must be in a lonely world, unable to play with Rem, but he’s managing. He’s operating according to a mental map of the kitchen and the patio outside, and he’s still reliably house-trained. Rem is jealous of the attention he gets, so I spend lot of my time assuring him he’s the alpha dog here. But it’s a different situation for him, after months of being the king.

I could just ignore both of them, and assume they’re fine on their own. Most people round here let dogs be dogs, and work things out for themselves. But I don’t.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed a dog, and I never did get one until Punky. For a small mutt, therefore, he carries a long time of emotional freight. Mexican poodle crosses like him sometimes do a kind of crossed-paws dance of greeting when they see you, which always charmed visitors, but he can’t manage that any more. I don’t expect a lot from him.

But I think he understands, in some way, that I’m glad he’s here. Lifting the old guilt, even if it dwindled over time, was helpful, and seeing him make slight excursions to extend his back-yard range encourages me. I’m already worrying about how I’ll be away for three weeks starting in late April, and how he’ll handle that.

Dogs are uncomplicated, though. Provide them with food, water and a dry place to sleep, and they don’t expect anything more. And as noted, they’re hugely forgiving.

Rem

“That’s funny,” people say. “Why on earth did you name your dog Rapid Eye Movement?”

I didn’t. I didn’t even name him, for one thing, but Rem’s name isn’t an acronym. My neighbour, V, is an architect, and a fan of the Dutch architectural philosopher Rem Koolhaas (below). So that’s how the name originated.

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No, not Rem the dog.

Rem was found on the street, and ended up here because … well, street dogs do that. He has a line of four or five previously homeless predecessors. He’s an amiable guy, apart from a tendency to bite visitors (he tried to bite me at first) and another tendency to escape and chase after the neighbours’ chickens. He shows me remarkable affection when it’s feeding time, though, and … sometimes a little attention at other times.

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Yes, Rem the dog.

The strange thing is, he’s a claustrophobe. If I say “Rem, come in,” he takes off like I’d said “Bath-time!” ┬áHe occasionally comes into the house that I rent for a few moments, but he won’t stay. At night, even when it goes down to nine degrees C, he wants to stay out and sleep in the grass, or maybe on the rubber mat that goes over the cement cover of our water cistern. I tried leaving the kitchen door open, but he showed no interest.

There are two houses on this property. One, where V now lives, I built for myself six years ago. My friend Lucero and her mom built the larger one, most of which I now rent. There is a dividing fence, but Rem has access to both parts of the property, as well as to a hillside backyard.

So, he can happily go up on V’s roof to watch cows and horses in the field outside. Or, he’ll sit on the dividing wall, waiting for me or V to come home, occasionally knocking over potted plants when he jumps down to greet one of us.

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No, I will not pose for a photo, thank you.

And if possible, he’ll find a garbage bag and rip it open, even if there’s no food in there. One time, I left my shoes outside for two minutes, and of course, one of them immediately became a chew-toy. Polite manners, I’m sure he’d explain, aren’t “street.” How he ended up homeless no-one knows, but he demands his independence even if he does like regular meals.

So, apart from deigning to come into the kitchen at mealtimes, outside is where he stays. What he’ll do when the downpours start in rainy season, I don’t know. And once or twice a year we get hailstorms, which won’t be fun for him. V has a porch that offers some protection, and the upper floor on this side has a partly covered area, but he’ll probably get his fur soaked.

My considered view of this dog is that we need to change his name, especially since he doesn’t seem to recognise it anyway. Conan, perhaps, since he’s a barbarian dog? Or maybe Lucky, since the neighbours who have the chickens haven’t killed him yet.

But I feel that a creature who’s so averse to any experience of built interiors shouldn’t be named after an architect. Most dogs want to insinuate themselves into the indoors, but this guy says a resolute “nope” to entering human structures. I admire his stand on principles, but I think he’s being unreasonably impractical.

Mind you, Mr. Koolhaas is a bit like that himself: he made his reputation breaking taboos, and having the stamina to follow through on that. So perhaps this dog isn’t that misnamed after all.