*Note: I’ll upload pictures of my moodle later, when I get the chance!
I first met Tangles, my Maltese-Poodle, one fine afternoon after school. I was in grade six, and totally unaware that my mum had even been considering a pet. I’ll never forget approaching the passenger side and seeing a tiny bundle of fur sitting in my seat, looking up at me over his shoulder. He was the cutest puppy I had ever seen… but little did I know, he was also the most evil dog I had ever seen!
A few weeks later we learned that Tangles was still blind, as the crystals in his eyes had not yet dissolved. Mum asked us if we wanted to take him back to the pet store, swap him for a sighted dog; of course, we’d already fallen in love with him. Ah, fate! In time he gained his sight, and all the hard work we had put into training him to sit, stay, come, began to lose effect.
A Moodle is a wilful creature, full of energy and a sense of adventure. I’ve heard various tips on how to train a dog to be properly obedient. Perhaps it was our age, the little we knew about training dogs, but I like to think it was equal parts his nature that made him so difficult. He’s clever, you see – was always easy to train if you had the right (tasty) motivation for him. That is, until you let him out of the yard.
Off-leash days down at the park always followed the same pattern: take him to a place that was nice and big, let him off, watch him run around like he was on ecstasy, chasing after other dogs. See his tiny white form head for the horizon. Make a token attempt at following him, basically just trying to keep in him in eyesight. He was a speedy creature, and never seemed to run out of puff. Soon enough, he’d disappear under someone’s back fence, and that’s when the fun would begin.
Tangles was never satisfied keeping to the confines of the park. He needed to explore all the yards, all the surrounding streets, any schools (a favourite of his – so many smells and dry bread crusts!). Going down to the park necessarily took a few hours – perhaps a good hour dedicated to the usual round trip between home and park, and some regular off-leash time, then a couple of hours spent chasing him and attempting to get him back on the leash.
We both became sneaky over the years. He learned to maintain a certain distance as I stalked him, keeping within range but moving as I did. I learned to use his stranger-fascination to my advantage (he’d come up to say hello, but often would dart away again as I called out, “GRAB HIM!” while the stranger remained confused, then facepalmed their slow understanding of the situation), and used fenced-in yards to trap and corner him.
It was a dance we played at for a good 8 or 9 years. Some days he’d get caught up in a loud stand-off with a dog whose owner thought I was irresponsible and should “get that dog on a lead!” Other days he’d disappear into suburbia, me listening intently for his shrill bark but finding myself disappointed – and frustrated – by the resounding silence, broken only by irritatingly merry bird song. He was a wily one.
At home he was independent, but curious, interested. He liked a good pet or a scratch behind the ears, but was never very clingy, never enjoyed sitting on one’s lap, preferred a spot by your feet where he’d be ready to spring to action should some excitement eventuate. He would much rather play games than cuddle.
Now he is getting on in years – last month was his eleventh birthday. I first noticed him starting to slow down a couple of years ago, when I no longer had to chase after him when we went to the park; he ha started to come back, short of breath, more content to lie in the grass and watch the action around him than take part. At home he started to become a little more moody than playful, more inclined to sit and stare into space or crawl onto the couch and snuggle in.
I still get a call probably every other week from a stranger who has caught him wandering the neighbourhood (I did forget to mention that he is an ingenious escape artist, and spent a good 5 or so years tethered; nearly two week’s worth of time in the pound or sheltering at a benevolent stranger’s house) but his roaming has become more sedate. These days he’s more likely to consider coming back when you call to him (though you’ll still rue the other half of the time, when he gives a mischievous look and saunters off down the street just a little too quickly for you to keep up).
He is slowing down, but his spirit remains the same: a dog with a sense of adventure and keen curiosity, and a beautiful – if not quite evil – nature, who’ll easily put a smile on your face.