John and I have a Wire Fox Terrier named Mac. We rescued her from a pet store where she had been languishing in a cage for six months, and she has turned into one of the most loving, motherly little creatures I have ever known.
Perhaps because I missed so much of her puppyhood, I am somewhat sensitive about her aging. She only turned four the other day, so it’s not like she’s in diapers or anything. But for several months now, I have been fixated on her coat.
When Wire Fox Terriers are young, they have a distinct color pattern. Their bodies are mostly white, with black or tan spots (sometimes both), and their heads are brown. Well, mostly brown. The color stops around the muzzle, leaving the beard white.
But these dogs have a peculiar coat. Since they don’t shed, it’s recommended that you “strip” them, meaning you have to actually pluck out the dead hair with your fingers.
When I first read this in a Wire Fox Terrier book, I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine pulling all of her hair out.
But the book stressed that this is not painful for the dog, and in fact, they can grow to like it. The author related her experience of sitting in front of the TV with her Wire Fox Terrier on her lap, pulling little tufts of hair out while the dog slept comfortably. So I thought I would give this a try.
It wasn’t good. It probably wasn’t painful, but Mac was not enjoying it. After every little pull, she would crane her head around and stare at me with wet eyes, imploring me to take up needlepoint.
I thought about doing this to her entire body, between her little toes and around her mouth and eyes, and finally I just said, the hell with this. If shaving is good enough for me, it’s good enough for her.
Then I discovered that while shaving is easier, it presents a whole new problem; the dog slowly loses its color. Stripping is the only method that allows them to keep their pretty brown heads.
I was in denial. I checked her after every groom, and comforted myself that the color was still there. This may happen to other dogs, but not Mac.
And then a few months ago, I was confronted with the inevitable. I had to face the fact that my golden girl had slowly become an oatmeal, dishwater head.
This has bothered me more than I expected. In fact, it bothered me almost every time I looked at her.
I decided to try to fix it. Not just for me, of course, but for her. Because surely, when she sees her reflection in the toilet bowl, she must feel it too. And she must wonder, is this all there is? Did I fritter away my youth foolishly pursuing the ball under the couch? Should I have been more interested in the world I’ll leave behind than licking the side of the trashcan?
So I started researching ways to restore her color. I figure they dye dogs for shows, so there must be some kind of color I can use to make her feel young and beautiful again.
I read a lot, and finally settled on a particular type of henna product that does not have metallic salts in it, nor does it use peroxide, ammonia or any other harsh chemicals. In fact, this stuff is so pure you can actually eat it, though I don’t recommend it unless your only other choice is The Olive Garden.
Yesterday, I went out on to the patio with Mac, and we sat in the sunshine together while I carefully applied henna to her head. I coated her whiskers with petroleum jelly so there would be no bleed on her white beard, and combed the mud through her face and ears.
After the proper time had passed, we both got into the shower together and I lovingly shampooed her (something she actually enjoys). The whole process was very pleasant for both of us.
Until her hair dried.
Yes, I’ve turned my dog into Chester Cheetoh, and I’m horrified.
The best part of course, is that these dogs don’t shed. So she’ll look like Lucille Ball for months.
Which gives me an idea for Halloween.