Can I Get A Dog?
In which the D___ Subject is First Broached
“Can I get a dog?’
“A dog, mom.”
“You mean…I mean a real one?”
“Mike, for God’s sake, get ahold of yourself. You’re living in a dorm at college. And we have four cats. Anyway what do you need a dog for?”
What do I need a dog for?
“I’ve found a real dog adoption place.”
“Remember that fracas at the Humane Society? That dog you picked out. Jake. He acted more like a hit man than man’s best friend.
“They said he’d get over it.”
“They said he might get over it.”
“Then there’s our cats? They’re going to have a collective nervous breakdown.”
“They’ll just have to learn to share for a change. It’ll be good for them, build some character.”
“They don’t have to have character, they’re cats. Old, set in their ways, not little charmers even when things are going their way. Besides they might start peeing and pooping all over the place just to pay us back.”
“They won’t even see him. I’ll keep him in my room.”
“I don’t know Mike, after all you’re really not here any more.”
I sound so tentative. Where is that definitive tone?
“I’m going to be here all summer.”
“But between now and summer yawns a great gulf. Who takes care of the dog right now?”
“I’ll come home weekends and take care of him.”
Dummy!. Notice how the conversation has shifted. You’re supposed to be talking about whether you’re going to get a dog. Not who’s going to take care of it. Whatever happened to “free, free, free at last?” You’re on the brink of going from prison to a half-way house.
“Look, Mike, this really doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. I mean about the dog and all.”
Why can’t you just come out and say you don’t want the damned thing?
“All right, if that’s the way you feel, just forget it. Just because I’ve always wanted a dog… you’re probably right. Being older and all, you might find it hard to manage a dog.”
“I fail to see what my age has to do with it. I’m in better shape than women half my age.”
“But you said you couldn’t handle a dog,” he pointed out with the maddening logic of a crusader.
“That’s not exactly what I said, or at least now exactly what I meant,” ego finally replacing the last vestiges of logic. “If you can find a dog that won’t eat the cats, or me for that matter, then we’ll see.”
“Now, don’t take this as my final word on the subject or heaven forbid a yes, there are still a lot of questions that need to be…” but she was talking to an empty room matching the empty feeling in the pit of her stomach.
God is Dead
It had been an uncommonly pleasant day. Then the phone rang.
“Mom, I’m at this dog place, and I found one.”
“You remember what we were talking about,” his tone indicated he didn’t think she did, “the dog I’m going to get.”
“You mean, the dog we’re going to see about.”
“He’s adorable. I really love him. Can you come here and see him?”
At the Pound
The first thing she noticed when she got there was how doggy everything smelled. Not exactly offensive, but clearly what the aromatherapy folks had in mind when they charged $7.99 for a miniscule bottle of Tunisian Patchouli. She made a mental note to find out if they gave case discounts.
Mike was champing at the bit, looking remarkably like an overly-anxious adoptee himself. It was the most excited he had ever been to see her. She thought for a wild moment he might even kiss her. No dice.
They tramped down the stairway to what appeared to be the staging area for the momentous meets between dog and prospective owner. One thing she noticed right away. This shelter was no charity drawing big gulps from the tit of an effusively generous public. No humane society here with its plush interview rooms where dog and owner could size each other up. This was a pretty bare bones operation. A mournfully painted greenish room outfitted with a couch of dubious cleanliness faced an imposing door beyond which, she guessed, lay the DOGS.
While they were waiting, she tried to figure out how badly she was feeling. She seemed to be hanging out in some middle space where the rough edges of reality were sand-papered down to a gentle abrasion.
With Mike’s chosen dog scrabbling around behind the door, her son seemed poised on the edge of an announcement. She could tell because he was kind of rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet and trying to look portentous which, she decided, only made him look like one of those guys you’re sure are going to try to steal your purse.
“Mom, he’s deaf.”
Another voice broke in, “Mugsy is a special needs dog. He’s the runt of the litter. His owners didn’t know he was deaf, they thought he was stupid. So they dropped him off at a vet in the middle of the night. The vet called us to see if we would take him.”
She was a tall, attractive woman dressed in what looked like the uniform of the shelter – jeans, boots and a big man-tailored shirt. She didn’t look like one of those lunatics who stand in front of fur stores yelling “How would you like to be sacrificed for your fur?” It had gotten so bad she didn’t even take her fur coat out of storage any more. Even Mike curled his lips last time she wore it. He was about two then.
Without warning, Mugsy roared in, his big tongue going a mile a minute trying to slobber everyone and everything simultaneously. He was a big dog by her standards, a small one by his. White with pretty brown markings all over his body. But what really sealed the deal were his ears. Big, floppy and white with brown polka dots.
She didn’t have time to study him as he hurled himself toward her lap – an open invitation, she guessed, to having his ears scratched. He was a whirling dervish in perpetual motion. So glad to be out of the kennel even the dogcatcher would have been warmly embraced.
One of the workers who had brought him out of the kennel was crouched on the floor playing with him and giving him hugs and kisses. As the floor didn’t seem to be the most congenial spot to park herself, she decided to hang tough on the sofa and try to participate in the general dog love-in from there.
She had to hand it to Mike. It might have taken him two trys, but this one was a winner. A little more energy than she would have ordered had he been in a catalog, but at least he wasn’t looking at her as a potential food source. He looked like he would be just as happy with the stuff that came out of boxes and cans.
Suddenly she realized they were all looking at her with that expectant look that meant they were waiting for an answer. What was the question? She had been so busy thinking about the impact of the dog on her newly-liberated life she had quite literally removed herself from the room. She wished she could remove herself from the building.
“He’s very cute,” she said hating herself for such a lame comment.
“How do you think he will get along with the cats?”
“They tried him on one of the cats they have here, and he was fine.”
When it was too late to do anything about it, she learned the cat they had selected for the test weighed 30 pounds, was 22 years old, and senile. Even Mugsy, the perpetual motion dog, who never saw a critter on two legs or four he didn’t try to play with, ceased and desisted with that one.
Only after she had disentangled Mike and Mugsy, and Mugsy had gone sorrowfully back to his kennel, and Mike was disconsolately following her up the stairs did she realize she wasn’t going to be able to escape the big decision.
“Can I get him Mom?” he asked.
“Well, he’s a very nice dog, but being deaf may be a problem.
“What does this that have to do with anything?”
“Well, I think it makes it harder, you know to get him to understand things like…” she trailed off not quite sure just what it did make harder.
The Devil Is In the Details
When they reached the main desk in the entry hall, the same woman asked them what they thought of the dog. “He’s very cute.”
“You realize this will be your dog?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Well, your son is away at college, and after college he’ll probably move away. Mugsy is a young dog and will probably live another 13 years or so.”
She had always hated being preached to, and the slightly condescending ring to the woman’s words irked her. “I am aware of that.”
Suddenly, unreasonably, she really wanted Mugsy. She hadn’t known how to take care of a kid either, but she hadn’t let that stand in her way. She’d learn. After all, how complicated could it be? Too late, she realized the answer to that question was “Quite complicated, indeed.
“I think Mugsy would be a nice addition to our … household.”
“Do you have a fenced-in yard?”
“Well, most of it is. There are a few places where the fence has caved in, but in the spring we’ll get it fixed.”
“Actually, we’ve made the decision that because Mugsy is deaf, he has to go to a family with a fenced-in yard.”
“We’ll put up a temporary fence to get us through the winter. Then in the spring, we can put in a new fence.”
Mugsy is Liberated
“Mom, they won’t let me have Mugsy.” Mike sounded hysterical.
He wasn’t even theirs yet, and he was already a pain in the ass. “Why?”
“They said they had a bad vet check on us.”
“What in the hell does that mean? For God sakes, Mike, I just spent $100 fixing the fence and God knows what to put in a new one, they’re talking about training lessons into perpetuity at $55 a shot and now A BAD VET CHECK.
“It’s just a lot of elitist bull. They don’t think we’re dog people, and they don’t like us, and they don’t want us to have Mugsy.”
“Let me handle this.”
“Mike tells me there’s some problem about our vet.”
“The woman I talked to says you don’t keep up with the shots for the cats. That sounds like neglect.”
“Our cats are senior citizens. Doc decided that since they don’t ever go outside, they could skip their shots.”
And Baby Makes Three
So, away you go, dog and all. Nice picture – mom, son, and dog. What’s wrong with this picture is that tomorrow it will have one less occupant. Human beings are so funny, and perennially guilty moms the most pathetic of all. How could I have thrown away my freedom so casually? What did that woman at the pound say…this is a lifetime commitment. Are you ready for that? Well, of course, you’re not. Poor fool, you haven’t the vaguest idea of what to do, and by this time tomorrow, it’s you baby and that poor hapless dog.
What did you do? Is this what they mean by pride going before a fall? Except this is no ordinary fall, it’s a leap from a very tall building. A defenestration. And now here I am sitting in the back seat of Mike’s car clutching the dog so he won’t try to sit on Mike’s lap while he’s driving, and the leash that cost me $30 lasted all of ten minutes before Mugsy ate most of it. I am starting to have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach I always get when something goes wrong big time.
Three Minus One Leaves Two
“Are you sure we’ll make the train?”
“Of course, we would have been a half hour earlier if Mugsy had shown a little restraint. There’s nothing more splendid than beginning the morning by cleaning dog poop out of a crate. I have to hand it to you Mike. This dog idea was nifty. Just a little addition to the morning routine. Get up, feed cats, change litter, herd cats into the den so dog won’t eat them, go down to get dog, clean poop out of dog’s crate ….”
“He was just a little nervous. He’ll be okay as soon as he gets comfortable with us and the house.”
“The problem is, Mike, the more comfortable he gets, the more uncomfortable I get. You promise you’ll come home next weekend?
The Longest Week
“How do I take care of him?” she hoped the note of hysteria in her voice was not noticeable to her friend.
“I think you need to consult a professional.”
Easy for her this dispensing advice business. All she has is a bunny and a cat. Does my uneasy relationship with sanity show as much as that?
“You mean a shrink?”
“No, of course not. I mean someone who knows something about dogs. I’ll call my sister. She has a dog. She’ll know what to do.”
“A schedule, that’s what you need.”
“What kind of schedule?
“When you take him out to do his business, and when you walk him, and stuff like that. Then you’ll know what to do with him, and you won’t worry about him so much.”
I’m not really listening to her. He keeps jumping all over me to show me he loves me. At least, I think that’s why he’s always airborne when he comes within reach of me. There’s nothing like forty pounds of sinew, muscle, and bone trying to drop kick you. In desperation, I confided in the woman who owns the pet store. She told me to get a trainer. So I called the woman she recommended. But she was a whack job. Talking about how only one of us – me or Mugsy – could be the alpha dog (whatever that is), and how I had to make sure the dog knows who’s in charge. He does.
Another brainstorm hit me. The ad I had seen in a Whole Earth magazine in my acupuncturist’s waiting room. She called herself Dawn, the animal communicator. At the time I wondered why people would hire her to find out what their pets were thinking. Without even a by-your-leave, people tell me what they’re thinking, and most of the time I’d be better off not knowing. It’s different with Mugsy. If I could find out what Mugsy was thinking, if I knew he liked me, maybe I’d feel better. Fortunately, she does her communing long distance. Her prices aren’t exactly calculated to put me in a new age nirvana – I mean $30 for a half hour. I certainly hoped Mugsy was feeling talkative.
We were going to be communing two days hence at 1:30. My first thought had been to get the biggest bang for my buck and include the cats. This proved too strategically difficult (they haven’t met Mugsy, first glimpses have not been encouraging on either side) and in the end, I was counting, heart and soul, on Mugsy’s coming clean with Dawn.
The Animal Communicator Comes Calling
Hi, Dawn,” I was feeling unaccountably nervous. It isn’t everyday one gets to talk to a pet psychic.
“Hello. How’s everything going?”
When does she turn the timer on? We need to get past the small talk, pronto. This is costing me $1.00 a minute.
“About Mugsy… I think he’s ready.”
“Is he there with you now?”
“Yes, what do I do put the phone to his ear?”
A long pause.
“You hold the phone. Talking to Mugsy is a thought process, not an actual conversation.”
“I guess that makes sense. Besides, stupid me, Mugsy wouldn’t hear you anyway. He’s deaf. Did I tell you that?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. In order for me to find out about Mugsy, I need to get inside his head. Could you give me a brief physical description of him? It helps me know I have the right dog.”
How the hell many dogs are out there in cyberspace, or wherever this spiritual meeting ground is, waiting for an interview? I hope this woman isn’t mentally ill.
Her very brief description centered on his polka dot ears.
“What exactly do you want to find out about Mugsy?”
“Well, I’d like to know what he thinks of his new home. Why he jumps on me so much? Maybe you could just mention to him that I don’t like it. Does he like me?
“Maybe I can make a deal with him to stop jumping on you, in return for some concession from you.”
This sounds like the same negotiations I have with Mike. Now I’m negotiating with the dog? It just occurred to me that dog backwards is God. Figures.
“I won’t be saying anything for the next several minutes while I talk to Mugsy. Then I’ll tell you what he says.”
For God’s sakes, what’s taking so long? Is she reading War and Peace to him? What happens if she spends all her time talking to the damn dog and can’t tell me what he said? Maybe this is the way she makes $60. She’s barking up the wrong tree if she thinks I’ll fall for that one. Anyway, the dog doesn’t look very interested. Maybe he needs to pee. He keeps pulling on his leash. I suppose his brain could be engaged even if the rest of him isn’t. Shit, now he’s barking. I hope she’s not talking to the wrong dog. I suppose I could have screwed up the description. I wonder if she has any way of verifying she’s talking to the right dog. Too bad dogs don’t have social security numbers.
“He’s a sweet dog.”
“Would you like him?”
“Excuse me, I couldn’t hear you.”
“I was just clearing my throat.”
“Well, on the whole he is very satisfied with his treatment. He thinks you are a nice mommy”
Well, that certainly makes my day. I’ve spent about $600 on him in three weeks. Mommy? For God’s sakes, I own him. We’re not biologically connected. On the whole…what does she mean by that? Do I hear the far-away echo of another shoe dropping?”
“But he does have some complaints.”
That makes two of us. This doesn’t look too promising. What do I try next? Exorcism?
“Let’s hear them.”
“First of all, he knows there are others who live in the house, and he is upset he can’t bond with them.”
“That’s what he said?”
“Not in so many words, but that was the gist of his thoughts on the subject.”
“Did you explain to him that we’re talking about four cats with nasty dispositions and nastier claws who don’t exactly think of themselves as the welcome wagon?”
“And he’d like some better toys. He says the reason he jumps on you so much is that his toys are not very interesting, and he thinks maybe if you spent a little more money, you could get more elevating toys.”
“Oh, he also said he was bored. When your son, I guess that’s Mike, is home, a lot more happens, and he feels better.”
“Is there anything about his new home that he likes? I’d imagine the shelter wasn’t exactly a beehive of activity.”
“Oh, yes. He looks forward to that gentleman who picks him up and lets him play with other dogs. And he likes Mike very much.”
What about me? Does he like me? Does he know that the ‘ gentleman’ who picks him up every day cost me $60 a week? And what about all the stuff I do? All those 6:30 A.M. walks with my flashlight for God’s sake, evenings on the deck, and all he thinks about is cheap toys and how boring his life is. I’ve heard enough. I want this woman out of my life. God knows what she advised Mugsy to do. Frankly, I think she has some seriously loose screws.
“Well, this has been a revelation, Dawn, and I appreciate the effort you have made. So, if there isn’t anything else…”
“I hope this has helped. Mugsy is a very nice guy who wants a little more of your time and attention. He’s bored in the crate and figures if he’s man’s best friend, he should be allowed a little more freedom.”
End At the Beginning
“How’s my dog”
What’s wrong with this picture? How’s my dog? What about your mother? She’s contemplating a nervous breakdown, if only to break the monotony of her days spent contemplating Mugsy and trying to figure out why he’s barking. The same way she tried to figure out why you were crying. Neither attempt has yielded much success.
“The important thing for you to remember is that as of this very second, I am off-duty. I have now officially gone into my pre-dog mode, and do not intend to have anything to do with Mugsy, except perhaps a friendly wave from afar.”
“Other than that Mugsy is fine.”
In better shape than I am, not surprisingly. Having one’s every need catered to does amazingly good things for one’s psyche, I am told. I wonder if I would get any better treatment if I were a dog. Probably not. If I came back as a dog, I would no doubt be a mother dog and have five or six little puppies to care for. Talk about cosmic irony — that would just about take the cake.
“Mom, I really appreciate your taking care of Mugsy for me.”
I don’t like the sound of that. What does he want now? A horse?
“Don’t mention it.” Please.
“I really can’t wait to see him.”
He’s looks good. Is that what loving a dog is all about? I should go back and look at the notes I took when that damned communicator was listing Mugsy’s beefs. If he can make such a welcome change in Mike, maybe I could at least spend a little money on some toys, or do something about some of those other complaints he had. I never have been chintzy with him, despite what he thinks. Why that Kong toy I bought him costs almost $10. And he ate half of it.
I guess that’s how it goes. He’s been with the dog all weekend. I hope Mugsy is satisfied. Just when I thought I was on the final lap, and blessed independence was within reach, God proved she has a real sense of humor. Another critter to bend my schedule around, another mouth to feed, psyche to keep engaged. The thing about it is I don’t mind as much as I thought I would. Monday morning when we were leaving for the train, I saw him saying goodbye to Mugsy. All 6’4” of him was wrapped around the dog, and he was hugging and kissing him. Even a no-nonsense dame like me knew it was a special moment. How special was not clear until later when we got to the train, and I hurried around to his side of the car and stood up as tall as I could on my tiptoes only to wind up kissing the back side of his left shoulder. I’m not exactly jealous of Mugsy but…
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