Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Problem with Dogs

Recently, my wife and kids convinced me to adopt a puppy, a mixed breed, Jack Russell Terrier and possibly Black Labrador. In my defense, it was Christmas, and I was filled with the feeling of goodness and giving that often accompanies that time of year. I regretted my decision, but as a father, once you have said yes, there is no going back.

In that moment of fatherly benevolence, I forgot several things I did not like about dogs.

1. Dogs can be insane whiners and barkers. My adopted puppy whined constantly although her favorite time to whine was between midnight and sunrise. When I dragged myself out of bed to yell at her, she stopped, wagged her tail, and looked at me with penitent, loyal, liquid eyes. I shot a few choice curse words in her direction and returned to my bed—the whining began again. I lay in the dark, stared at the ceiling, and wondered why my wife and children were not awake. I fell out of bed in the morning, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, and dragged myself to the dog food and fed the very animal that was the source of all my misery and discomfort. There was something inherently cruel in that. The puppy devoured the food, oblivious to my suffering.

"Take comfort," someone, who obviously never owned a dog, told me. "Your dog will mature and stop whining.

My puppy did stop whining, of course, only to start barking. She barked in the morning. She barked during the day. She barked at night. She barked at people, cars, and imaginary bogeymen. She barked at any sound—a rustle in the tree would elicit a wild cacophony of yaps, yelps, and woofs up and down the block.

"Conspiratorial barks," my friend Will called them—he believed that dogs were conspiring to drive him mad. The barking drove him to the point of near insanity. One dark night, I found him roaming the neighborhood, wearing only his pajamas and carrying a baseball bat. "I thought hard for us all," he muttered repeatedly. He was going to kill every dog in the neighborhood. I suggested that the authorities might lock him up if he did that. He seemed to relish the idea—"I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down." I placed an arm around his shoulders and led him back to his garage apartment.

Dogs were a mixed blessing for Will. He was a poet. The dogs kept him awake. With little else to do, he wrote poetry. The longer he went without sleep, the more angst, pain, and suffering appeared in his poetry. Will moved to Ohio and then to England, I believe, searching, I suppose, for that dog-free environment; a place where the muse speaks, and does not bark.

2. Dogs bite. They have vicious fangs designed to pierce and tear flesh apart, and the smaller the dog, it seems, the sharper, and more dangerous the fangs. I am deathly afraid of Chihuahuas, for example. I find them much more dangerous than Pit Bulls.

When I lived in Massachusetts years ago, I was out walking my puppy, a Dalmatian/American Foxhound mix, along the beach on a sunny spring day when from out of nowhere appeared a nasty little brown Chihuahua. He barked at me, his protruding eyes flashing angrily. Then he mounted my puppy. I pointed out to him, in a very reasonable tone, I thought, that they were both males and that he would get very little accomplished if he persisted, but he would not stop. I yelled at him. He growled at me and humped faster. I yanked my dog out from under him. He growled and remounted my puppy wrapping his forelegs tighter around him. I tried shooing him. He growled and pumped faster. I placed my foot under him and tried to lift him off my puppy. I knew better than try to grab him. I propelled both he and my puppy into the air. The leash stopped my dog who uttered a tiny umph. The Chihuahua sailed on at least three feet further. I figured he would tuck his tail under and run back to his owner.

I underestimated the little devil. He leaped to his feet, his eyes protruding even further, and remounted my puppy, leaping onto him from three feet away. I was shocked and amazed. I raised my foot to kick him. (A quick note here: I am normally a very compassionate person. I would not intentionally hurt an animal, but you must understand, I had reached my limit.) He growled and sank his vicious pointy little teeth through my jeans, my socks, and into my skin. I screamed out in pain, fell sitting, clutching my bleeding limb. The Chihuahua never stopped humping.

A man and a boy appeared, running down the beach toward our strange pack.

"Stop, Chi Chi," the man yelled, still considerably far away.

I searched the beach for a weapon. I saw a piece of driftwood about ten feet away. I dragged my puppy with the Chihuahua attached to him until I reached it. I hefted it. It felt heavy enough. I raised it in the air.

"Wait," the man said, out of breath. He looked like an executive, nice suit, tie, and dark shoes. "Don't kill it."

"Give me three reasons why I shouldn't?" I am normally a very calm man, a very fair man, but at that moment, I would not have given that dog much chance for survival.

The Chihuahua was still attached to my dog. The man slowly and gently reached over and pulled it off. He handed the dog, still humping in his hands, to the child next to him. The kid was crying. Snot, mixed with tears, ran into the corners of his mouth.

"Hold on to him, Jimmy," the man told him. Then he turned to me. "That is the most worthless dog I have every owned," he said, as if I did not know that already. "My wife gave him to my boy, and if something happened to the dog, I don't know what she would do."

"The dog is horny," I said angrily, only now, lowering the driftwood. "Find him a suitable partner."

"He's fixed," the man said. "I don't understand it either. He mounts everything that moves, cats, chickens, and legs. It's a real problem. We have to lock him up whenever we have visitors."

"Look what he did to my ankle," I whined. I pulled up my pants leg and pulled down my blood-soaked sock. Four nasty holes, two on each side of the ankle, slowly oozed blood.

"I'm sorry," the man said. He handed me a card. "Here's my card. Go see a doctor and have them send me the bill." I took the card and stuffed it in my back pocket, hoping the doctor would order the little diablo shot.

"I'm sorry," the man said again, and he and the boy left, the Chihuahua struggling to jump out of the boy's arm. I half wished he would—I had not dropped the driftwood, yet.

To this day, my ankle aches every time I see a small dog.

3. Dogs have another annoying habit. They multiply at the drop of a dog bone. When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I adopted a little bitch, a cute orange thing that looked almost exactly like a fox, down to the bushy tail, so I called her Foxy.

When Foxy first turned up pregnant and dropped a litter of five puppies, I was ecstatic. I found homes for all but two—Momma said I could keep them if I cared for them. The dogs were barely weaned when Foxy turned up pregnant again. This was the sixties, and we were extremely poor. Fixing Foxy was not an option.

"Get rid of the dog," Momma told me.

I tried giving her away, but nobody wanted a pregnant dog. I convinced a neighbor to drop her off as far as he could from our house. The next day, she showed up at our front door acting as if nothing had happened.

"Get rid of that dog," Momma said.

I posted flyers all over my community, hoping that someone would take her. Nothing happened.

"Get rid of that dog," Momma said.

"How?" I asked. "Nobody wants her."

"Shoot her," Momma said.

"I can't do that."

"Just get rid of that dog," Momma said.

I thought about hiring a hit man, but where was I going to find such a person in Chataignier?

I finally solved the dilemma when a neighbor told me about an elderly woman who lived just out town. She had no one and was lonely. I took Foxy to her, and the two immediately bonded. She agreed to take Foxy and the future puppies. I breathed a sigh of relief.

4. I suppose I could forgive dogs if all they did was whine, bark, bite, and propagate, but dogs have another disgusting habit. They urinate and defecate whenever and wherever the urge hits.

They do this mostly in the house, on the floor, on the carpet, behind furniture, in hard to reach places, and in secret hiding places where the stench is noticeable, but the source is not. They do this in the yard, at the bottom of the steps, on top of the steps, near the garden patch, where I kneel to tend the crops, or in the garden patch, where I reach in to let the "good" earth slip through my fingers. Unlike cats, dogs do not use a litter box. They do not find a corner of the yard to do their business. They carefully place their piles of feces where they do the most harm.

Dogs defecate whenever they get the urge, which is usually at the most inopportune time—such as when I am walking them and someone walks by. The dog will squat, his derriere swinging two or three inches from the ground, a look of profound concentration on his face, and just as the person looks down, he does the nefarious deed. I can only cringe and jerk on the leash, "defecation-interruptus" my only revenge.

Often is the time I have been provoked beyond reason by dogs—the time I hurried to class along a cobbled-stone street on Beacon Hill, and I stepped in a carefully placed turd. Even after carefully cleaning my sneaker in the school bathroom, I could still smell the stench. I wanted that dog. I wanted my hands around its throat. Or the time I walked along Dollison Street, and a nasty Pekinese, second only to the Chihuahua for ferocity, appeared, from out of nowhere, and yapped and nipped at my ankles. I wanted to kill that dog. I wanted my hands around its throat. Or the time I dozed through a batch of student papers, and my neighbor's dogs barked me awake—they are huge wolf-looking mutts with deep bloodcurdling woofs that awaken all sorts of dormant primordial defensive reactions—the hairs on the back of my neck and arms stand up when I hear them and my ankle throbs. I wanted to kill those dogs. I wanted my hands around their throats.

Or the time I lay in my bed at midnight, listening to our new puppy's obnoxious whine. I slipped out of bed, forced my sluggish body to the back door, and in a stupor opened the door.

"Shut up, you stupid dog," I yelled into the night air. The puppy slipped by me, and in her delight at being rescued, promptly peed on the floor and my bare feet. In a fit of passion, I clenched a fist and gave her a death stare. She dropped to the floor, lifted her leg in submission, and gazed at me with those dark liquid eyes of hers. You are my master, they seemed to say. See how I degrade myself for your love and attention.

"Damn," I said and cleaned up her mess. Then I gave her a doggie treat and threw her back outside.

I spent most of the night lying in my bed, listening to her whine, wondering why my wife and kids did not hear her. At some point, I remembered something my father told me long ago: "A dog is a reflection of his owner." I bolted upright with the force of those words. Maybe the problem was not the dog, but the master.

I dragged myself out of bed, opened the back door, and called out to the puppy. She slipped by me and peed on the floor again.

"Okay," I said. "I'll wipe it up, if you promise not to do it again." She looked up at me with those liquid eyes of hers. I'll try, they said. I returned to bed, and she found a spot at the foot. I shrugged and settled down for a peaceful night's sleep when I felt my wife's hand shaking my shoulder.

"What's that damn dog doing in the bed?" she asked, and I knew the problem was not going to be settled that easily.

(I wrote this a while back (the mid 90s perhaps) and decided to revisit it recently. Before you report me to the SPCA, I must tell you that I am a devoted caretaker to two wonderful dogs, a grouchy old cat, and a rabbit, and I love them all.)

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