My mother’s dog was Sonny, a black toy poodle. Before the divorce he was groomed and be-ribboned bi-weekly. After Dad left, not so often. Sonny was very protective of my mother but I think that it was probably due more to my torment of him, then a perceived threat to Mom, that led him to snap at me and bite my hand. I must have been around four. My finger bled. Mom was very annoyed at me for making Sonny nervous.
I have never not had a pet. I had a dog and around five cats when I met Himself. One of my cocktail party standards is that he fell in love with me because I could identify most breeds of dog. His is that he wonders how many cats I’d have by now if he hadn’t married me. After twenty-five years we have amassed a number of other pithy expository statements with which we bore each other and ourselves. For the same quarter century we have always had three canine companions. The legal limit for dogs in Los Angeles is three. Often I wish that it were fewer.
We have a dog system by which we take turns choosing and naming dog number three when there is a vacancy. Himself read that in one’s lifetime you will have five good dogs. For once his nearly creepy photographic memory has let me down and he can’t remember where he read this and I am unable to locate the passage via Internet search. But it makes sense, even if Himself just made it up himself.
A few of our four foots have been so deranged, that while we still loved them, they don't count towards my five “good” ones. Andrew, the Airedale ran away and bit men who wore heavy shoes. As a last ditch effort the rescue lady and I schemed to have Himself take the dog to an animal psychic. We told him it was a behavior specialist. I don’t remember what Andrew communicated to her but we ended up having to put him down anyway.
My first “good” dog was Gladys, a toy poodle. I took her with me to my hippie college and we were sneered at because she wasn't a burly bandana-wearing mutt named Moonbeam or Shakti. I did let her go natural so her white Afro made it harder to pin her as a poodle. During breaks however my mother spirited the matted mess off to the Poodle Parlour. It was embarrassing for both of us when Gladys returned to school with shaved snout and a pom pom tail.
After college Gladys bounced back between my mom and me. I traveled and lived in pet verboten apartments. When the little dog was diagnosed with incurable cancer, my mom and I both sort of fell apart. When the time came, my friend Richard volunteered to accompany us to the vet. Before we left he insisted that my mother smoke a joint. I presume that it was her first time but my dad was a musician so she may have been hep to reefer. She was coy when I inquired. In the waiting room, Richard addressed the ailing poodle. “Gladys, I've got some good news for you and some bad news for you. The good news is, you're going to Griffith Park. The bad news is, you're going as fertilizer.” We had a good long cry when we got home. Mom polished off a two pound box of See's Candy.
Bowser , good dog #2, was a pit bull mix adopted as a tiny pup from the local pound. She had such a high retrieve drive that we diagnosed her as fetch obsessive. Bowser chased tennis balls until she could barely stand up and pestered you relentlessly to throw the slobber soaked thing again and again If you bounced a ball she would spin insanely, a dervish on speed. I carried in ten bags of groceries and Bowser immediately identified which one contained the can of tennis balls. She much preferred new balls to used ones. I pulled the tab on the can slowly. She'd inhale the air that was released. I'm not sure if dogs actually have orgasms but this is what it would look like. A smart dog, Bowser subsidized her tennis ball addiction with genuine labor. At my office she was trained to carry an invoice (rolled up and slid under her collar) back to the shipping clerk to fulfill orders.
Bowser lived to age twelve, the normal life span for a dog her size. Ultimately it became difficult for her move around and she stopped eating. A vet who specializes in in-home euthanasia was called. A butterfly flew low overhead as the injection was administered. Himself and I, a deluge of snot running down our faces, sobbed. Perhaps our level of anguish was beyond the pale because the veterinarian, who offs dogs and deals with grieving owners several times each day, indicated that she was worried about us.
The next time it was my turn to choose a dog, much to my terrier loving husband's displeasure, I picked a poodle. Well, half a poodle. Someone slipped under the fence at the standard poodle breeder's and we were never quite sure what the other half was. Fido, I presumed would be my dog but from the moment she arrived she made clear her exclusive devotion to the previously poodle poo-pooing Himself.
My boy Rover is now fifteen, much to the vet’s astonishment, two years or so of borrowed time. He, like Bowser is a pit bull mix from a rescue organization. I selected him from their website because he looks like Our Gang's Petey, with a circle around his eye. Rover was sprung by the rescue folks from an East L.A. shelter. He came with a very long jagged scar on his hind leg so I knew that we were improving his circumstances. He is very demonstrative in conveying his gratitude.
Rover immediately became my Secret Service man. A dog on the trail had the temerity to bark at me and Rover defended me rather aggressively. As further proof of my boy’s advanced age, he was sent for remediation to the Los Angeles Dog Psychology Center, which was operated by Cesar Millan long before his “Whisperer” fame. Rover spent three weeks with Millan. Cesar promised to make a home visit to teach me how to walk Rover properly but he never returned my calls. I just keep my boy away from other dogs. There was a cat episode but the evidence is 100% circumstantial and this is not something I discuss.
Rover accompanies me to work daily. Although he has a very short coat, Rover is a heavy shedder. Our weekend cleaning lady stops by the office. “That’s the dog? That? I can’t believe it Mrs. Layne. I was expecting a really hairy dog.” So abundant is the fur fall that Rover had a designated vehicle, an ancient Volvo wagon. Even the headliner was thick with white fluff. To my amazement, Rover outlasted his car. After the donation of the wagon to KCRW I commandeered Himself’s car for Rover purposes, exchanging with him my cute little sports car. If I weren’t lacking the manual dexterity, I could knit a blanket with what’s accumulated in the back seat. It’s a mystery that the dog isn’t bald.
It grows more difficult for Rover to get up into the car. Sometimes I have to hoist his hind quarters which humiliates him terribly. While he still manages quite well at home and office, often he gets confused and poops in the car. I conceal this (until he reads it here after which I’ll have to lay low for a couple of hours) from Himself. I do however demand that Rover be fed only dry food and no table snacks. I keep the backseat covered with towels, carry plastic bags, stain remover, rags and hand sanitizer. I no longer take the freeway when he’s in the car. I know the location of every trashcan between office and home.
When it’s time to go to work Rover gets so excited he approximates a prance and nearly topples over. He has a bed in the office. These days he logs more time sacked out than patrolling. If he is hungry he sits next to me and pats my leg persistantly with his rough paw until I issue a dog treat. At 10:30 every morning it is time for his walk. It takes him about a week to adjust when the clocks change twice a year. He sits by the door impatiently until I grab his leash. We used to walk a couple of miles but now it is a painfully slow trip around the block.
His gait grows more and more unsteady and his eyes are rheumy. He still follows me through the house and grunts with irritation if I close the bathroom door. I wake up several times each night to make sure he’s still breathing. When the kids come home they kiss him goodbye, always expecting it to be the last time. And I know that soon it will be.
Rover’s decrepitude is partially responsible for our current plagued by pets predicament. The half breed poodle Fido was stricken with leukemia and her replacement is yet another pit bull mix, the uber alpha, Opie. So the current line-up is the two pittys and Taffy, a little barrel of a corgi. Dogs are triggered by body language and also have the natural instinct to thin the herd. Opie, a number of times, misinterprets Rover’s wobbliness as aggression or maybe she senses that it is his time and she attacks him. The only muzzle the smart girl can’t slip out of looks like something out of a B&D catalog and causes visitors to raise an eyebrow.
Taffy develops a limp and is diagnosed with hip dysplasia. The fat thing is also food aggressive and often sits next to his bowl, growling at nothing. I’m not sure what precipitates it but somehow there is food involved and all three dogs start to scuffle. Opie chomps clean through Taffy’s ear. We deport her to Redlands where a friend of Joe College is happy to take her in until the misinterpretation of Rover’s signals is no longer an issue. Absent Opie, Taffy is bereft and now, even after a month, still sits by the window waiting for her to return.
While the number of dogs is quite static, the cat population has been more fluid. For over a decade though we’ve had littermates, Mary and Gary. Brother Larry was alluded to earlier but again, there is no direct evidence and I don’t want to talk about it. Nevertheless, felines and canines are separated. Himself refers to the upstairs as “Catland…the land of cats.” Mary grows thin and weak. The vet discovers a huge growth in her abdomen and brother Gary is now an only cat. I know I am guilty of ascribing human characteristics to cats, but truly, Gary seems lonely. The gimpy little corgi continues his vigil, waiting for Opie to return. As a kitten. Gary had nursed on Fido so he has experience with dogs, the separation policy is only in effect since Rover’s arrival. I think the lonely pair might enjoy each other’s company. This is not the case. Taffy has no interest in Gary when placed on the bed next to him. It is only when Gary determines to retreat that Taffy perks up and gives chase. It is amazing how fast the little fellow can run on three legs. Gary takes exception to my intimation that a fat crippled dog might prove an apt substitute for his sister. He demonstrates his disdain by spraying on our bed.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Gary is now locked outside unless he is supervised. We have purchased all manner of stain removers, air fresheners and pheromones, which are said to help cats relax. I’ve done as much laundry as the washerwoman at a busy high-end whorehouse. Scouring Google for “spraying male cat,” I hit upon a site called Canna-Pet, that sells a THC product, which according to testimonials, has had good results. I wait for the delivery. In the meantime, I conduct some off-market clinical trials of my own and am happy to report that apparently the effect of second hand smoke is that I haven’t had to strip the bed for four days.
College admissions counselors say that the worst possible topic for an essay is the loss of a pet. I presume this is because it makes the perspective student appear trivial and insubstantial. I guess that has merit but even if this weren’t the case it would also be unbearably sad. I would rather read a kid’s essay about the loss of a parent than the loss of a pet. Ditto, I can watch pretty intense violence in films but cover my eyes if a dog is shown walking on the sidewalk and there are engine noises. Whenever I see an old movie with a dog or a cat in it, I get sad that the animal is inevitably dead although it doesn’t bother me a bit that the actors are too. Gertrude Stein was also a poodle lover. She had a white standard named Basket. When the dog grew long of tooth, Stein’s staff would discreetly replace Basket with a younger model. Alas, I have no staff and it would be hard to find a dog that could be passed off as Rover. No, I would not give up the time I’ve had with him in order to avoid the inevitability of his death. At least I get to continue my pharmacological research on the cat.