Boy and his dog
Went out looking for the rainbow.
You know, what did they learn
Since that very day?

Around four years ago, I was visiting a client of mine in a small town not far from here. She was an elderly lady in a small house and she had a new friend. It was a fuzzy puppy which was eagerly jumping up on my leg and bouncing off the walls. My client had a weary look on her face and a fly swatter in her hand. She made a move toward the dog and I realized there was about to be violence. I said, "No, that's OK. I don't mind. Really." We then began to discuss the circumstances of the puppy.

She'd had a dog before, same breed, which had died. She'd gotten this puppy to try and replace her lost friend. But she was getting on in years and didn't feel as if she had the patience to train a puppy. She worried that it would step on the heater grate (winter was coming on) while she slept or that it would get out and get run over or several other worrisome outcomes.

My daughter was around ten at the time, and we'd had a cat in the house during her childhood. She kept asking for a kitten (because cats are no fun; kittens are). I tried to persuade her that she'd be happier if we got a dog. I hadn't had a dog since I was a kid, but I treasured the fond memories. However, she was adamant that it was a kitten she wanted.

My overweight client sat there in that overstuffed chair, winded from the effort of getting up to swat the playful puppy with the fly swatter. I asked her, "Would you like for me to take this dog off your hands?" Sometimes I get "feelings" about things; like how the future is going to turn out. And I saw this dog in my future, strongly. I felt an immediate bond with this dog like I had never felt before with an animal. She said, "I paid a hundred dollars for it." I offered her a hundred dollars and a happy home.

She said, "Let me think about it." I left and tried to put it out of my mind. After all, it was her dog and I had no reason to think she was going to let me have it just because I wanted it. I didn't mention the incident to my wife or my daughter, until the next day when the lady called and said, "Do you still want this dog?"

A trip was arranged that Friday afternoon after school was out, and my daughter and I drove down to the small house. The little puppy was just as excited to see me as she'd been the first time. The lady still had the fly swatter in her hand. She handed me some of the toys the dog enjoyed and an old blanket and I reached out to hand her the hundred dollar bill. She did not reach to accept it. Instead, she got this funny look on her face and said, "I don't know if I can do this. I've had this one since it was six weeks old." What should have been a Hallmark moment turned into a Hitchcockian film noir. I steeled up inside and said, "Listen, this is a done deal. We drove down here and now my daughter (who was on the floor happily playing with the puppy and happily forgetting about the dreaded "kittens") has been promised this dog. Take the money, please." Actually, it was me who was not going to walk away without this mutt and my daughter now had little to do with it.

Mitzi is now a part of our family and I can't imagine life without her (or some other dog) around. She's a full-blooded Lhasa Apso, even though the old lady didn't have any papers on her. I've learned quite a bit about these dogs in the few years she's been living with us.

The first thing you notice about a Lhasa is how protective they are of their territory. They were first bred in Tibet and one of the names for the dog there is the Abso Seng Kye, or the Barking Lion Sentinel Dog. You can bet your sweet ass that there will be no one within thirty yards of this house without me knowing about it. She is particularly aroused by the UPS driver in his brown truck when he makes a delivery to my door. However, we can be out walking in the neighborhood (I don't keep her on a leash any more) and she'll walk right by the same UPS driver in the same truck as if he didn't exist.

That's where the "barking sentinel" part of the name comes from. As for the "lion," you would just have to see for yourself how fearless these little dogs are. They weigh about 20 pounds and are about 2 feet long and a foot high, but when they look in the mirror they must see the reflection of a very large beast. They are strong willed and fearless. I've seen mine attack other dogs four times her size without batting an eye. More often than not, the larger dog will think, "This little bitch is nuts!" and run away.

When her hair is long in the winter and I'm rolling around on the floor or playing on the bed with her, she will sometimes raise up on her hind legs to attack me. From an angle underneath, she looks quite like a lion in this pose.

These dogs never really become totally subservient to humans, and that's another thing I really like about them. Some dog owners enjoy breeds which need constant attention and which are always showing their undying adoration of their master. Lhasa's don't do this. They are not nervous, anxious, or worrisome and they don't cling to you. They do enjoy being around you, but it's often at arm's length. For instance, when this one sleeps on the bed, she always sleeps at the foot of the bed on my wife's side. If you nudge her to move, she acts as if this is her space, dammit, and she'll let you know that she's not happy about your decision. Sometimes when I'm playing a bit too rough with her, she will nip at me. She's never bitten me so badly that it drew blood, but she is willing to let me know when she thinks the game has gotten serious. I've seen her kill small animals without remorse. The long hair around her eyes and mouth help protect her when she chases a rodent into a hole and goes in after it. This is another function for which they have served in their native land for the farmers and landowners over the centuries. Their existence has been documented for at least 800 years. In fact, it has recently become the accepted theory that dogs were first domesticated in the Far East. Until recently, it was thought that the first domesticated dogs came from the Middle East, but genetic studies are throwing favor to the Far East origin.

Four dog breeds have come from Tibet: the Tibetan Terrier, the Tibetan Spaniel, the Lhasa Apso, and the Tibetan Mastiff. The Mastiff was used as an outside guard dog while the Lhasa was used primarily inside the house for the same purpose. All of these dogs have heavy coats and tails that curl up over the back. I like to keep mine trimmed fairly close due to the warm climate where I live. I have never let her coat grow to the lengths you would see in a dog show where their coats touch the ground. However, even when the coat is medium length, it's important to groom these dogs often. When you allow the hair to get matted up, there is little left to do except take the scissors out and whack it off. It is a hard, dense coat that is long, straight, and well-feathered on the legs, tail, and ears, and it must be very warm, indeed. The colors are not fixed. Mine is a sort of blonde color, but you can see most everything from white to black.

Everyone tells me that these dogs live to be anywhere from 12 to 18 years old and that they grow old very gracefully. I've seen some pretty ungraceful stuff from this one, such as missing a stair step and practically knocking herself out by ramming her head into the next step. After a long exhausting walk (her legs are pretty short) she'll flop down on the coolest floor in the house and throw her hind legs straight out behind her so that her belly is perfectly flat with the floor. This spread eagle position often brings chuckles from those who've never seen a dog lie down in this manner before.

I've read that Lhasas were kept in the monasteries and treated as sacred animals by the monks who owned them. In fact, it was believed that when a monk died, his soul would enter the body of the Lhasa. Thus, having the dog around was thought to be a good luck charm which would ward off evil. Another legend says that to be given a Lhasa Apso is a sign of great honor and good fortune.

This legend is correct. That was the best hundred dollars I ever spent. UPDATE: On 2/26/12 we had to have her put down due to a combination of blindness, deafness, senility and weight loss. She had a good 14-year run.

They did not bring him back.
He already had departed.
But look at everything they have learned
Since that, since that very day.

Redwood Tree by Van Morrison

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