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July 28, 2014

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A Suburban View:

Free at last from behind the fence

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

When I joined this company a decade ago, I soon acted out the American dream. I bought a house, a new car and a new dog.

Close to our new office, the house turned out to be a good decision. The car gave way to smaller and faster models to better accommodate midlife transportation needs. And the dog — well, I suppose I should have known it would be a handful from the get-go.

A couple years earlier, some friends who lived on the edge of a Tahoe forest had a dog I’d become taken with. It roamed independently, only occasionally checking in at their home. And before that, I’d had other friends who lived on a wild river with a lovable version of the same breed.

Still, I did not know at the time what it would truly mean to own an Airedale, which is a member of the terrier family.

I should clarify. The Airedale is a large and impressive physical specimen, a free thinker, as well, and actually, you never really own one. You merely rent it, the way we leased Suzu, who was named by my daughter after the cute little girl in the classic film “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Though Suzu was cute and little for only a brief period of time.

Books and articles on the breed describe Airedales as difficult to train but also fun loving. I found both to be true, although in Las Vegas, we know that “fun loving” can mean a lot of different things. Down through the years, Airedales found most of their fun in hunting otters and working with British police to find criminals.

Theirs is a tough love. A warm greeting from an affectionate Airedale can knock down the unexpecting person. Playful tug-of-war games escalate into survival challenges. And should you need to grab an Airedale or hold it down against its will, you won’t.

When confined to the suburban backyard, an Airedale becomes an enterprising creature and a test in patience. It barks at fireworks, as many dogs do because of sensitive ears, but Suzu also barked at the wind, simply because the wind was annoying.

She was clever, happy to wait hours for a door opening that might trigger a brief escape. When it happened, she would run with abandon, back for a moment in the woods or on the river on which she belonged. Walking her was always its own test of leashed drama, and not something I very often looked forward to.

She was ever on the prowl for a snack, a consequence of having too much energy, and became an omnivore who enjoyed whatever foods were available. Her appetite knew no bounds, but then, neither did her sense of risk. Doorframes, chairs, wall corners and even plaster were popular chewables. But it was the plastic and rubber pieces of lawn watering systems that tasted the best.

This habit is not uncommon among adolescent dogs, and fortunately there are products to discourage chewing — sprays made of pepper or bitter apples, things like that. So I purchased a few. I do not know if they were humane enough, but it hardly mattered, since Suzu even loved the way these sprays tasted and licked them voraciously. In the end, the only solution was to keep a large inventory of plastic and rubber drip-system pieces.

It was all such a bother to deal with, as I complained too often to whoever would listen.

Suzu was a rebel who was meant to live large. She was not interested in subordination or compliance. She was fenced but free.

And so I suppose I should not have been surprised when, after falling ill with a sudden stomach ailment, she did not awaken from a Saturday afternoon nap. I should have known that the dog who came into this world so aggressively would leave it quietly, the way most of us will.

Bending down to pick her up, I wrenched my back. She’d have found some joy in that, the way she did with all the wrong things.

Such trouble. Such a handful. So high maintenance. Why do I miss her so?

Bruce Spotleson is general manager of the Home News.

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