The Dog Who Could Sneeze

My first dog was Frisky. When my sister and I turned five, my parents said we could each have a cat.  While my sister was satisfied with this and got her kitten, I didn't want a cat -- I wanted a dog.  My persistence paid off, too, as my mom, sister and I ended up at the pound.  Before we went in my mother cautioned me, "No big dogs and no dogs with long hair!"

Inside were too many dogs.  I couldn't decide on just one, but suddenly there was this terrible howling.   I looked down the pathway and spied a little brown mop pressed tightly against the wire of the cage.  He kept up his crescendo of heart wrenching yips and although I really didn't exactly want him, it felt like he was the one that needed us the most.

My mom didn't argue, probably because, as she later confessed, despite his long hair she'd fallen in love with him.  The pound said he was a puli, but we'd never heard of that breed and, besides, to us he look suspiciously like a mixed poodle. Then when we got home he refused to get out of the car and bit my mom.  This set a precedent.  From then on he was ever obedient to my sister and me but would occasionally bare his teeth to adults.

We named him Frisky, not realizing that in everyone else's mind this was the name of a cat, but he had a lot of energy so the name stuck.  He would genuflect on his front legs and run in circles at breakneck speed. When my sister and I shouted, "Get 'em, Frisky," he'd tear around the yard barking ferociously at an invisible adversary. And he had his own way of demanding attention. He would constantly shove his wet nose under your hand to remind you to pet him.

His long hair turned out not to be a problem because the only shedding he ever did was a rare few tufts of hair.  Anyway, he got a complete clipping every summer.  Also, he was perfectly housebroken having made a "mistake" only once in all the years we had him.  We had left him alone for too many hours and instead of his greeting us when we came home there were two little pristine turds neatly deposited on the rug.  He had gone to hide, appropriately ashamed.

Puli's are herding dogs and very protective. One time my sister and I had an argument with some neighborhood kids, about eight of them. Voices were escalating. We had Frisky on a leash and suddenly, without warning, he lunged snarling at the group. They bolted as one across the street, crying out for their parents. Ultimately their parents complained to our parents, but it was okay. After all, Frisky hadn't bitten anyone.

Another time a male friend of my folks, who was probably over 6' tall, walked into the room to say hi to my sister and me. To Frisky he was somehow threatening because Frisky jumped up growling and didn't back down until my mother came into the room.

There was a foolish side to that dog.  He loved to chase the big trucks which rolled by our house. I suppose this validated his prowess. The moment he heard and felt a rumbling he would rush with gusto into the street. My sister and I watched in horror as our 30-pound puli pursued and snapped within inches at the back tires of a huge 18-wheeler semi. We could never break him of this awful habit.

But Frisky was no bluff.  Once my sister got two baby ducks for her birthday.  Frisky loved those ducklings and herded them all over the yard. Then one day while my sister was out walking Frisky, a big dog broke into our yard. Three times the size of Frisky, it went after the ducklings and slaughtered them before my eyes. After cleaning up the carnage, my mom and I hurried out to get replacements before my sister returned home. Unfortunately, the original ducks had been yellow and black and the new ducks were all yellow. When my sister came home she stopped and stared at the ducks a moment before asking, "Did you give them a bath?" Two weeks later that same dog was back. It squeezed through the gate and went right for the ducklings. But this time Frisky was home. He shot past me, a blur of snarling, snapping fury. He bolted in front and beneath that big dog, putting himself between it and the ducklings. Surprised, the invader stopped his attack, turned tail, and ran. He must have thought the hound of hell was after him, because he couldn't get out of our yard fast enough. And he never returned.

When our cat had kittens in the garage, Frisky was there. We retrieved the mother and her four kittens into the house. I went out to the garage a few hours later, and there was Frisky vigorously licking the last overlooked kitten as it tried to nurse him. It was warm and well, although sopping wet from his paternal attention.

Finally, my father got it into his head to teach Frisky to sneeze. My dad sneezed and then gave Frisky some food. After 10 tries, Frisky gave a little snort. Thrilled, my dad instantly fed him again. In just a few more tries Frisky understood. From then on he sneezed on demand. For that matter of fact he figured if sneezing made us happy, he should do it all the time. He sneezed when we can home, he sneezed when he was excited, and he sneezed just to show us he was happy. It became his language.

We had Frisky 14 years -- until he developed a tumor in his throat. I was away at college when my dad took Frisky to the vet to be put to asleep. That was 30 years ago.  My mom said my dad cried afterwards.