A little more about Gumby, while he's fresh in people's minds.
On Saturdays, the clinic closes at two, and it's a lovely thing, on a tender, warm spring afternoon, to come home from work, feed your lamb, and then maybe lay on your bed and have a little read whilst the dogs and cats and diapered lamb all meander peacefully about your room. One such afternoon, I was laying head-to foot on my bed, my feet propped up on my pillows and the rest of me propped up on my elbows, belly-down and enjoying a good mystery story. My bedroom has one wall composed almost entirely of a sliding glass door (leading out onto a balcony and a spectacular view of the lake and the Chugach mountains). For the sake of privacy, but in service of letting in as much light as possible, I have a set of sheers hanging there. On pretty days, they let in abundant light and a somewhat misty version of my view, and the fabric of the sheers seems in some way to capture and magnify the light, so that there's a soft extra glow to them.
On this particular afternoon, I fell asleep over my book. I wake up a little while later, my face turned toward the light, and I think, in a dreamy, luxurious sort of way, how pleasant it is to have a little mid-day nap, and how pretty the light is coming in through the curtains, and how adorable and striking it is to see little black Gumby-goo silhouetted against the glowing white backdrop....
A tiny frown forms on my brow. What is it about Gumby's posture that is catching my eye? He's just standing there... but oh, crap, his back is hunched in the urination posture. I bolt up, preparing to snatch him up and shunt him, still peeing, out onto the easily-washed balcony - and then I realize: He's urinating directly into my shoe. I think: Which is easier, shampooing the carpet and washing the deck, or taking the liner out of my shoe and tossing it in the laundry? I subside, a wryly amused little smile taking hold of me as I watch Gumby finish urinating blissfully into my cross-trainer. Done with his task, he looks at me, essays a little bleat of contentment, and begins chewing meditatively on the curtain. Oh, well. I was going to replace those anyway.
At the time I had Gumby, I also had (amongst others) a dog named Buddy. Buddy was meant to be a Border collie, but he was (as the BF, from whom I inherited Buddy, liked to say) more of a BorderLINE collie. Buddy was strange and delightful and so not what a working dog is bred to be, but I loved him with all my heart - more because of his strangeness than in spite of it, to tell the truth. Buds was never in life going to approximate anything even remotely resembling a stockdog, but he was, bless his pointed little heart, perfectly content to share his world with an increasingly-bratty diaper-wearing lamb. Buddy was tall and narrow, built like a sight-hound, with a deep, deep chest and a tiny little wasp-waist, lean ropey arms and thighs fat with muscle. He was a tri-color merle, with long silky feathers disguising his race-car build, and chocolate eyes capable of the sultriest glance this side of Savannah. He was shy and coy and when stressed would panic to the mental shut-down point, where he simply ran out of thought about what to do next, and could only try to run away from it. But he was kind-hearted and gentle, and possessed of a silliness and joy of being that were irresistible. He was a charming dog, strange and unique, and I suppose (with him four years in his grave) that I will miss him forever.
One afternoon, not long after Gumby christened my shoe, I was again lounging head-to-foot on my bed with a book. Buddy, standing bedside, began to essay his peculiar high, scribbly growl.
"Knock it off, Buddy," I said, mildly, figuring he was defending his spot against encroaching dogs. But Buddy's growl ratcheted up a notch in pitch and volume, and began to take on an odd hitching effect, like if you went "Aaaaaaahhhhhh" whilst thumping yourself hard on the chest. Hmmm. I leaned over the side of the bed to see what was wrong, and I find two things: One, Buds is pinned against the side of the bed, with a look combined of alarm, annoyance and confusion on his pointed face. And two, the reason for all this is that Gumby - no doubt led by instinct - has his head tucked deep in Buddy's flank, butting vigorously in a search for food. What he was sucking on, I don't want to know.
Ack! Poor Buds. The book goes flying as I launch myself off the bed to Buddy's rescue. Gumby is in no danger, as the expression on Buddy's face is a lot closer to his "Panic/help me!" face than it is to a "Knock that off or I'll bite you, you brat!" face, but Buddy is approaching the melt-down point. I wonder in passing how long Gumby has been trying to nurse off him, and what indignities he may have inflicted on Buddy's person in the pursuit thereof. I scoop Gumby up and trot downstairs to make him a bottle. Buddy, mightily relieved, jumps up onto the refuge of the bed and curls up there, his head protectively over his flank and a weather eye on Diaper Boy.
Unfortunately for Buddy (not to mention my legs), not long after mastering the jump-on-couch maneuver, Gumby began attempting the same trick on my bed. The bed is quite high, and the first time he attempted it, Gumby hit the side of the bed and fell, landing pathetically on his little back, bleating with dismay. That was very sad, and I tried not to let Gumby make the attempt.... but the nature of life is that sooner or later something distracts you, and also that you can't be everywhere at once. It wasn't long before Gumby had judged his distance and learned to spring up onto the bed, with a panache that would have impressed a mountain goat. Thus commenced a short era of bruises on my legs that weren't that easy to explain.
I would, in the normal course of things, already have placed Gumby in an outdoor home, but I was due for a school program at one of the local elementary schools, and the teacher (a client of mine) had specifically requested that I bring Gumby to meet the second-graders. In the interest of keeping him as comfortable and pliable around people as possible, I let him continue to live as an indoor-outdoor lamb. Truth to tell, he was an excellent gardening companion, happily mowing down my dandelions - which are legion - but ignoring the tender leaves of my tomato plants. He would placidly follow me anywhere I cared to go, and if I should see a stray dog heading down the road in our direction, he would come when asked to and could be quickly stashed in the house. He was getting a bit heavy to be picked up, but it was still an option in those days. He would readily hop into the truck for a ride, and he had, at last, graduated from diapers (having finally mastered the knack of producing a normal stool). To some degree sheep have latrine areas, so he was even somewhat housebroken.
Eventually a day came when it was time to take Gumby to the rescue farm, where he could live in the sunny outdoors and enjoy the company of other sheep. The day I took him there, the owner's 12-year-old son asked me why I was giving Gumby to them.
"Because he's a sheep, sweetie, and sheep need to live in groups. He needs to live like a sheep and have sheep friends, and all I have is a bunch of dogs for him to play with. "
"But... he loves you," the boy said. Just like that, strait to the heart of the matter, all other considerations unimportant.
Twelve year old boys. They'll break you heart.
"He does," I allow, "and I love him, too. But I think he'll be happier in the long run, being a sheep. Besides, this is a good place to live, and I can come visit him, right?"
Gumby never did forget me, nor lose his love of people. At first he tended to hang around nearer the dog pen than the other sheep - dogs, after all, were what he was most used to - but after a while it dawned on him that he really had more in common with the other sheep. He gradually relaxed into life as part of a flock, although the moment I appeared on the scene he would detach himself from the group and come trotting over so I could scratch his favorite spot under his chin, and oh, by the way, did I have anything for him to eat? His days of scrawny, hunch-backed apathy were long behind him, and he grew into a robust, solid Shetland, thickly padded with fine silky wool. As he matured to adulthood his wool went silver, as is often the case with the black lambs, but his face has stayed the same.
And so has his sweet Shetland heart.