There is no question that dogs are mans’ best friend. I recently experienced a bout of pneumonia. Feeling neglected in the guest bedroom where I’d been banished from all human contact, I gratefully welcomed the attentions of my collie, a tri-color named Mopsy, who silently assured me, speaking with her soulful amber eyes, that I would feel so much better if only if I allowed her to jump up on the bed to keep me company. She didn’t mind if my lungs were fluidly rattling in my throat with death-knell vibrations, or that my body temperature was alternating between zoological visits to penguins in the Antarctic and roadrunners in Death Valley, and that I periodically experienced visions of both species cavorting together under my eyelids. No, she assured me with those beautiful eyes, she was there for me, to care for me, to curl up in a ball on the pillow next to my head, tail tucked, nose on my shoulder.
So, I let her come up. Please don’t tell Dr. K. I’d be in so much trouble.
It was lovely, having that warm furry body snuggled up next to mine, communicating in the best way possible, nonverbally, how much she cared and that she wasn’t going to give up. I remembered our first dog, a large hairy mutt we named Molly, whose murky parentage, according to the Denver Humane Society, was a delicately-designed balance of Collie, Siberian Husky and Weimaraner. Oh, and wolf. I was certain that they had to be just kidding about the wolf part, but wasn’t of a mindset to worry about it much. After all, I reasoned, dogs are a subspecies of wolves, Canis lupus familiaris, you know. I wasn’t sure at the time what a Weimaraner looked like; all I cared about was that we were bringing home a puppy!
I was certain the blonde and black ball of fuzz would grow up to look like Balto, the miraculous sled dog, who, back in 1925 during an outbreak of diphtheria, saved Nome, Alaska by leading his team of dogs pulling a sled loaded down with a serum to combat the disease. They calmly looked sub-zero temperatures and freezing blizzards in the eye, and they barked! That is, of course, what dogs do best.
I was taking time off from work at the law firm to study for the bar exam, going at it full blast, but took a break from the books to adopt a puppy. Dr. K. and I had finally finished school, and were tired of not living like real people. We saw people “out there”, out in yards playing frisbie, on golf courses, going up to the mountains to ski, riding bikes, going out for dinner, having fun. All we knew how to do at that time was study. Attending law school and medical school full-time, commuting between two cities, was grueling, and a bit of a drag. We were finally finished with school, mortar boards tossed up in the air, and all that jazz. Granted, I was a low-level law clerk, soon to be new associate attorney, and Dr. K. was revving up for more post-graduate training, but we wanted to live a little. So, we got a dog. Oh boy. Were we ever naive.
Molly was a great addition to our family, and while I studied, she sat on my feet. If I needed a rest, I plopped her down on my stomach; she was very talented at calming the butterflies that fluttered relentlessly in there with her own warm tummy.
I took the bar exam, and returned back to the law firm, where we generally worked twelve-hour days, if we were lucky. Which was interesting, because Molly spent that time penned up in her crate in the lower level of our townhouse. She was very well-behaved, and had Herculean bladder and bowel control, poor thing. She was always so glad to see us when we got home! Whichever one of us managed to get there first had the obligation of letting her out of the crate and getting her outside before she exploded.
This went well, but unfortunately, she also ate dog food. Which, in case you haven’t noticed, makes animals grow. This is something that you’d think would be a positive development, unless you and your spouse each work an endless amount of hours a day, and that crate, no matter how large it seemed when we bought it at Pet World, just wouldn’t contain the animal any longer.
So, we let her out.
We let her out into our rented condo, two stories with two bathrooms, two bedrooms and a washer and dryer. It was our own 950 square foot cathedral, with tall ceilings upstairs, and expanses of beautiful light gray carpet. It housed butcher block furniture (it was the late ’80’s, after all), hand-me-downs from our parents, and a few mauve and teal accents scattered here and there. I’m sure you can sympathize with our euphoria in those days, after having spent years in dorms, student rentals, and yes, nine months in my grandmother’s basement, which was interesting, but that’s another story. We could actually get out in the real world, and, wait for it, go to work!
We assured the condo rental company, as we begged them to allow us to board a pet, that Molly would be a small dog, really small. The genetic combination of Husky/Collie/Weimaraner/Wolf never entered into the discussion, or into our thoughts. Because, quite truthfully, we believed this. The Humane Society believed, and most likely with all good intentions, that the puppy we adopted would only weigh 25 pounds. Not so. Molly grew to a whopping 70 pounds of coarse yellow-brown fur. Fully-grown, she remarkably resembled an overly large coyote, with a bit of Weimaraner thrown in for good measure, and in fact, a hunter friend of ours gave us a coyote skin, which never failed to scare the hell out of Molly. I guess the family resemblance was just too close for comfort.
We paid a large damage deposit, and released her into our cathedral.
Molly uncaged became a wild, uncontrollable animal. She ate everything in sight. Walls, carpets, rugs, cassette tapes (remember those?), books, and even our university diplomas. She was ruthless, pulling items off book shelves and coffee tables with a keen inward knowledge that she ate that which we prized most. We tried everything. We bought Molly chewy dog toys, rawhides, and in desperation, sprinkled most of everything within her reach with Tabasco sauce. She must have liked spicy foods, because this shot of pepper didn’t slow her down. In hindsight, she was terrifically bored, obviously. We’d brought her home to live with us, to keep us company, to provide us with a feeling that we were a family, and how did we repay her? We left her alone all day, and sometimes into the night.
The worst item into which Molly sunk her canines was a five-foot tall Ficus tree that Dr. K. and his freshman roommate had nursed from seedlinghood as a 4-inch high plant in their dorm room back in Libby Hall at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Even college students need something alive and green to keep them resembling something human. Carbon dioxide, remember? Photosynthesis. Breathe. Now go take that Biochemistry test.
Oh, that poor Ficus tree. One day we returned home to find a few shredded nibbles of Ficus strewn around the base of its mauve planter. This didn’t even create a radar blip; it was possible one of us had brushed against it too brusquely with our briefcases.
Day Two: Attack on Ficus tree accelerated to two-foot wide swath of leafy shrapnel surrounding planter.
Day Three: We returned home to find Ficus lying on its side, out of the planter, surrounded by dirt and detritus. You’d think we’d begin to get the message, but no. Dr. K. lovingly replanted the tree, scolded Molly (after which I hugged her), and we left for work early the next morning.
Day Four, aka Battle of the Ficus: Returning home from a long day of arguing attorneys and a plethora of sick people, we entered the condo from the basement level garage with great trepidation. What would she have done today? There was silence. That very bad sort of silence, the kind that broods, that carries messages on the wind, telling us that she was oh-so-very-sorry, but she just couldn’t help herself any longer. There was no Ficus. Simply shredded greenery and dirt. If you looked closely enough, you might have been able to detect bits of tree trunk strewn here and there. I was impressed. She’d done a very thorough job.
After that, we gave up and bought Molly a house with a fenced yard.
We had a brief interlude with Lucy and Ethel, two collie sisters. We’d decided that of the mix variety that made up Molly, we probably would like to have collies join our family the most. Part of the decision was that we still weren’t quite sure what a Weimaraner looked like, and we certainly didn’t want a wolf. We’d heard that Huskies could have nasty personalities, and bite. So, we settled on collies. I mean, who doesn’t love Lassie?
The purpose of getting two puppies at the same time is that there is this faint hope that they will stop eating your house and personal property, and concentrate on just eating each other. Amazingly enough, this philosophy worked well with Lucy and Ethel. They’d eat a bit of a Persian rug, here and there, but after what we’d been through with Molly, that was nothing.
When we lost Ethel, we added two more collie puppies to our brood. As I’ve said, two works better than one; they keep each other busy. Sort of.
Flopsy and Mopsy started out as our diminutive collies, or so we thought. We called them the “bunny collies”, due to their petite build, at least until Flopsy started eating her weight in squirrels. They are adorable, and yet, they are still dogs. They love to lick the dishes in the dishwasher (pre-wash, mind you). Most dogs, when offered a “treat”, come running to receive a rawhide bone or some other sort of disgusting chewy offering that smells of salt and chemicals. Mine prefer used Kleenex. So much so that they’ll grab it off of my desk or stick their very long collie noses into my pockets to see if one of these delectable goodies is hidden there. They search for all sorts of chew toys: feminine products are high on the list, but the best seems to be our daughter’s underwear. Completely gross. The bunny collies are the most destructive dogs we’ve allowed into our family, to date. They’ve eaten most of the drip tubing in our gardens, and at last count, twelve pairs of shoes. Every time I walk into my local shoe repair shop, they look up as the door tinkles its greeting, and say, “what did they eat this week?” Luckily, Prada seems to use unappetizing leather, or is sprayed with some sort of dog repellent, so they’ve stayed away from those.
We all know that dogs eat their own. . . well, you know. My friend John told me a story one night, posing one of those questions that, as he put it, “try men’s souls.” Evidently a dog owner went to the vet to try to get some advice to prevent his dog from eating “that” sort of product out in the yard. The vet advised him to sprinkle a powder on the dog’s food; this would make any sort of end product taste bad. I’m sorry. What did it taste like in the first place?
Dogs are so cute. And they provide unconditional love. I don’t know what I would do without them. Except for the time when Dr. K. asked me if I’d allowed Flopsy to take an inside toy outside to play with. That’s strictly prohibited, and I knew that. We both stood on the front porch, watching her carry the toy proudly around the yard. It had to be a toy, because it squeaked.
That’s about the time we realized that dogs and humans interpret the meanings of things differently. The baby squirrel was definitely a squeaky toy.
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