Since this is the 4th of July weekend, you are probably not reading this column. You are probably visiting relatives, tending a barbecue or enjoying A/C at the mall while saving 30 percent on a selection of must-have summer fashions at Bloomingdale’s at Sherman Oaks Fashion Square (according to another L.A. Times display ad, this also could be your only chance to pick up “patriotic popsicle makers” in red, white and blue at our local 99-Cents Only stores. Run, don’t walk).
In fact, Heidi probably isn’t reading this either, because she is getting ready to go to a barbecue-and-pool party this afternoon. My husband and I are invited too, but frankly I’m not sure we’d be on the guest list without the dog.
Heidi loves a good party—although, being a working breed, she sometimes assigns herself to unnecessary tasks, such as escorting surprised guests to the bathroom, or guarding the meat. She took on this job at one dinner we hosted, posting herself at the buffet table and growling at anyone who reached for a sausage or chicken breast without her permission. She also tends to follow visitors to the kitchen trashcan, which she sees not as a place to throw things away, but as an important food storage unit that is constantly under siege.
But one thing we don’t have to worry about during this party weekend is Heidi jumping into anyone’s swimming pool. True to her German-Belgian shepherd roots, she’s a mountain dog, not a water dog. Yodeling, maybe. Swimming, no. She loves to play on the beach, so enthusiastically rescuing her toys or sticks that she comes home pooping sand. She’ll even deign to get her toes wet if her ball or Frisbee is imperiled by mild waves close to shore. But there’s no way this one is diving in.
My husband the kayaker has tried taking her with him to the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center in Marina Del Rey, encouraging her to play with an ocean-loving Labrador there. Like the Lab, Heidi would charge down the dock after a ball thrown into the water. But, as the other dog sailed off the edge, Heidi would stop dead at the end of the dock. Then our landlocked Valley Girl would sit down and wait for the Lab to fetch her the ball. I have to say I approve of this plan.
Not giving up, Alan also tried taking Heidi out in a two-person kayak. She insisted on sitting not alone in front, but with Alan in back – and my understanding is it is difficult to paddle with a freaked-out, 72-pound shepherd on your lap.
I recently took Heidi to visit a longtime friend, artists’ representative Suzanne Zada of Gallery Z and her husband, writer Tibor Zada. They have always allowed our big, hairy pet to wander free among their exquisite artworks. Suzanne is currently tending Houdini, a sweet 14-year-old Maltese who has become blind and deaf but still loves sunshine and chicken strips from Trader Joe’s.
As we all sat in the garden, I asked Heidi to do her “speak” – one trick she is very good at. We were shocked when little Houdini, supposedly deaf, started barking back. Communication! I felt like Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan. I signaled Heidi to “speak” some more. The two of them kept up the conversation for quite awhile.
Then Houdini, happily prowling the garden, wandered toward the pool. He was moving so slowly that we figured there was plenty of time for him to decide to toddle in another direction. But suddenly Houdini was in the water. Suzanne ran to find the big net she had used to rescue Houdini in the past—and I prepared to go in fully dressed to rescue the aging dog. But it quickly became clear that Houdini was swimming—very happily in fact. He soon paddled his way close enough to the edge for me to reach in and fish him out to be toweled and air-dried in the sun. Rather than appearing traumatized, an energized Houdini seemed to have found the whole thing rather exciting.
Of course, it would have been nice to end the story with Heidi diving in to rescue Houdini, proving both that she’s a heroine and she can swim, after all. Instead, my guess is that Heidi’s “speak” for Houdini probably included a dare: “Hey, betcha can’t jump in the pool. Betcha can’t do it. Go on, try it…” Well, Houdini, if you ever get stuck at the top of an Alp, Heidi will be there pronto. And, no matter how large the party, she’d be happy to protect your chicken strips from harm.