Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bath

I spent 4 hours today grooming Maudie: dematting, untangling, combing, raking, wetting, soaping, rinsing, drying, brushing. M helped me, lifted her up onto the table, held up her tail while I cleaned, gingerly cut out the mats under her arms, took turns with me working on her pants, broke up the dry stuff stuck there, and then loosed the ropey streams of water over her while I soaped, and worked the dryer hose over her while I brushed. The whole time, she rocked back and forth on the grooming table, toying with the idea of launching herself, and pushing her bulk up against the wall where the comb couldn’t go. Miraculously, when we did finally get to the bath part, she jumped right in…last time I had to heave 60 lbs of No I Don’t Want To up into the tub.

I don’t know why I held the notion that it would be easy. Maybe I have a sentimental attachment to the idea that this is a coat for the hard weather and thistle of the Highlands. It was a massive job to get it into form. When I was done cleaning out the tools, spitting the stray hair out of my mouth, and standing back to look at her I didn’t even dare try the comb test. That’s the one in which you put a comb anywhere in the coat and pray it slides through without hitting a snag. No sir. What I don’t know today won’t get me until next week…

Winter. Her crowning glory, her mahogany sable is thick, dense with wooly undercoat that sticks together like a sweater. The mats that worked themselves into the overlooked places.…inside the thighs, under her arms, deep in her culottes, like papillon mats times 500, are either knitted or felted. The knit ones can be combed out; you hold them in your fingers between the comb and the skin so as not to hurt your dog by pulling on her fur and gently try to work the knot out, moving from the end of the hair inwards. The felted masses, the thick airless mats, have to be cut. Carefully. Nothing looks worse than lopsided chopped off pants.

At 1am she is still damp in places near the skin. And fluffy.

There is something so dog like, so large and beastly about a collie that I hadn’t checked under her tail as often as I should, at least as often as I check the paps; I will not make that mistake again. My fingers ache, my hands are dry…and I can still hear the ping of the comb teeth as they caught on a snag that would not untie.

Whereas the paps look their best in the 24 hours--make that 12--- hours after a bath, I found the corgis, and now the collie, to look best after 24 hours. I brush A LOT in those hours, to bring the oils back into the coat, but until then they have unruly fluff. I’m certain someone can tell me a secret about getting it right without waiting…and I will have to investigate because The Bath will be a monthly ritual now that we are about to start our therapy work. Certainly I will be staying more current on the affairs of the undercoat, under the tail and in all those nooks and crannies where fur goes feral…

My friend DW and I were once talking about AP Terhune’s stories. She thought it was hilarious that the collies who found their way into the wilderness through misfortune or escape always came out of the woods one day in glorious coat, burnished by the wind, clean from the snow and clear rivers, thick and full over muscles developed through hunting and senses honed by survival. I suspend disbelief for Terhune, and take the stories as mythical, metaphoric…in the wild we are made whole… But today, praising the creator of the Little Dog Without an Undercoat Who Can Be Washed in the Sink…. I saw her point.

Anyway. Yes…Our first gig is in the library for an hour, once a month in the evening as a R.E.A.D team…Starting this week, we’re in the schedule through April.
As we move towards Spring..and the challenge becomes wrestling that sweater of an undercoat off…and making bags and bags of That Which Could Be Spun on the Wheel, I’m sure the ritualization of cleaning will become easier. It was easier in the fall.

Maudie just glided into the room where I am writing, shuffling her back feet like my grandfather in his leather slippers. When she lies down I listen for the groan of pleasure that always comes from lying down. She’s tired. She had a long day. And I can get back to wondering what our first visit will be like.

1 comment:

  1. I have wondered how rough collies could possibly survive with decent coats herding sheep in the highlands! Smoothies would do much better. :) I love grooming roughs. However, I don't do it unless I get a foster through, as I have four smooths. :)