Dogged: Why This Past Year Felt Like Seven

Adorable photo taken by the dog trainer/boarder just before Millie was kicked out.

As a die-hard cat person, I was surprised and confused to find myself adopting a dog. Not just any dog, mind you: an adult rescue dog with junkyard genes and a sordid past. How did this happen? Granted, there had been ten years of ceaseless begging, topped off with a couple of family crises, a PowerPoint presentation by household teens, and a stream of seemingly sincere promises to love, walk, and care for said canine.

All lies.

But somehow Millie and I have successfully co-existed for an entire calendar year. Proof: we are both still alive. Millie still rolls in dirt and dead things. She still scares the bejeezus out of the UPS guy. She’s been kicked out of dog parks and behavior classes and boarding. Though we’ve made a little progress, I don’t have any successful training tips to share. All I can offer is a little help navigating expectations during the first year of adoption.

What follows is a sneak peek from my upcoming imaginary book: Why This Past Year Felt Like Seven.

Chapter One: The Honeymoon

What a pleasure to be greeted at the door with tail wags instead of the eye rolls and requests for money to which I’ve grown accustomed. For forty-eight hours straight, I was promoted from uber-driving ATM into a beloved human comrade.

Chapter Two: Grieving the Dog You Thought You Had

Rescue dogs know just how to act in order to get adopted. Then—once you and your progeny are completely besotted—many, many other facets of the dog’s vivid personality become apparent. Diarrhea, destruction, and unexplained maniacal barking ensue.

Chapter Three: The Mighty, Mighty Prey Drive

Bad news. Prey drive is a thing. The first time the new pet met the incumbent, the cat’s hindquarters wound up in the dog’s jaws in three second flat. Millie would not, could not let go. Our beleaguered Elsie endures, but she is quarantined in the basement for eternity. If and when the two beasts catch sight of each other in the yard, I end up on a rickety ladder, begging and lurching precariously in the treetops for the neighbors’ entertainment.

Elsie, recalling the Golden Age of the Felinarchy—when the world revolved around her needs.

Chapter Four: When and Where to Walk Your Barmy Dog

Short answer: at night, wherever mortals fear to tread. The good news is, those lurky back alleys don’t seem so intimidating when you’re walking Cujo. To prevent shoulder dislocation, keep constant vigilance for the following: brooms, hoodies, hats, men, garage doors, shadows, ominous-looking recycling bins, and the existence of all other mammals. Be especially wary of the quadruple threat: mammals wearing hoodies while sweeping the garage. Helpful tools: two fingers of scotch for post-walk therapy.

Chapter Five: Predatory Drift, or Why Your Dog Should Never, Ever Play with Snack-Sized Dogs Named Doris

Doris lived—and nobody sued—but our dog’s name and photo were shared amongst dog walkers and owners. Millie was a community pariah for the majority of the past year.

Me too, for that matter.

Chapter Six: Welcome to the World.

Having a dog like Millie means getting to know the city from new perspectives. Where are the best places to find poop and gophers? What’s under those dumpsters behind the grocery store? Do squirrels scream? (Yes. Yes, they do.) Bonus! Get up close and personal with raccoons, skunks, a dead seal, half a rabbit. It’s like living on the friggin’ nature channel.

Image of dog playing at the beach.
Be grateful I chose this photo, and not one of the large severed head Millie tried to drag home that day.

Surprise upside: Since I can’t sip lattes and tootle around the neighborhood like a normal dog owner, my hiking boots are in heavy rotation. During the past twelve months, I’ve walked well over 1,200 miles in some of the most beautiful places in the Bay Area: parks, woods, canyons, beaches.

Plus dark alleys. Don’t forget dark alleys.

Chapter Seven: Sleep, or The Lack Thereof.

The plan was to crate the dog at night. I won’t bore you with the details surrounding the rapid demise of my principles. Suffice it to say that after a number of unforeseen circumstances, Millie wound up crying outside our bedroom door until I caved in.

Someone got a great night’s sleep, but it wasn’t me.

Now imagine sleeping with a fifty-five-pound starfish who hogs the covers and insists on pushing against a human in all five directions.

On the bright side, unlike the majority of household residents, Millie is a morning creature. The moment I open my eyes, her tail starts thumping against that pillow she stole out from under my head. Such behavior stands in marked contrast to customary morning greetings from household teens.

Chapter Eight: Dances with Coyotes

Guess who wins? On her first run-in, Millie got a bite on the ass and—despite my attempts to convince her otherwise—went back for seconds. Since then, I’ve lost count of our coyote encounters, but luckily only the first rendezvous required a trip to the vet. Side note: it doesn’t hurt to carry bits of steak in your pocket and clear the waiting room of all mammals—especially those who look litigious.

Chapter Nine: Hot Spots: Dogs Who Self-Harm

That’s right. Crazy dogs can fixate on all sorts of behaviors: not only lunging, barking, and digging, but also fussing, licking, and nibbling on themselves until they need medical attention. Whoops. Should have hung onto that cone after the coyote wounds healed.

Chapter Ten: Less is More.

Besides your cat, your time, and your bed, you may need to give up your social life in order to accommodate a rescue dog’s special needs. We learned the hard way—after Millie cornered a thirteen-year-old boy, bit a hole in a man’s shorts, and caused multiple guests to flee through the basement window. We’re slow learners, I guess. Apologies if you visited before we knew better.

Chapter Eleven: Those Oddly Charming Behaviors May Indicate Medical Issues

It seems obvious now, but dogs don’t usually combat crawl around the house. And yes, they can get poison oak. Which reminds me…

Chapter Twelve: Advanced Lessons in Poison Oak: Swabbing Your Weeping Rash While Driving, Sleeping, and Cooking

Once Millie moved in, I started sporting a little poison oak at all times. Since we’re constantly out in nature, I suppose that’s no big surprise, and usually a little Tecnu does the trick. But recently I got a doozy of a rash that swelled and oozed through mountains of laundry. This rash required medical attention as well as some interesting fashion decisions. For the home office, I wore hoodies sideways, with the “bad” arm—i.e., the one swollen to thigh-size—zipped out the neck hole. If I had to leave the house, I wrapped my arm in a towel with binder clips, and brought spare towels to swap out when the previous one was soaked through. My advice: get whatever pharmaceuticals your doctor is willing to prescribe.

Epilogue. Why She Still Lives with Us

Excellent question. With all of the crazed barking, I’m having trouble formulating a coherent answer. Still, there are a few benefits of having a dog that come to my muddled mind.

  • For starters, no one could possibly break into our house and survive.
  • I’ve gotten to the beaches, trails, and forests more in the past year than in the past twenty combined.
  • The cat is a lot more sociable now that she is half neglected.
  • Even on the 366th day, a Millie greeting is pretty spectacular. It’s like getting a standing ovation every time I come in the door.

Besides, it’s hard to hold a grudge when she is just sitting there looking adorable.

Or playing with a squeaky toy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dog for Sale

Somehow still ridiculously adorable.

Name: Millie.

Also known as: Knucklehead, Cujo.

Breed: Catahoula Cur + Junkyard Special

  • Diverse palate. Eats everything except brussels sprouts and dog food.
  • Frequently sleeps through the night without losing control of bowels. Special bonus: generously offers her humans four inches of the mattress plus all surrounding floor space.*
  • Knows the location of every dumpster and dead rat in a five-mile radius.
  • Rigorously enforces ambitious exercise routine. Great for New Year’s resolutions!
  • Is well-behaved on walks unless provoked by the existence of other mammals.
  • Will enthusiastically protect home from other household pets, the ice-maker, packages, brooms, the garage door, nearby pedestrians, that weird clang the oven makes, and Grandma.

Price: 50 pounds draped across your bladder every morning.

*Sorry. Blankets unavailable.

 

Why I am a Cat Person

Not Sasha. From www.rantlifestyle.com.
Not Sasha. From www.rantlifestyle.com.

Sasha, we called her, not knowing it was usually the name of a Russian man.

Now the name has broadened for me. There are poets and Presidential daughters and even a pop star alter ego who bear the name. But as a child, the only Sasha in my world was our very bad dog.

My teenaged sister had endlessly begged for her, and sworn to train and care for her every need. Big surprise: I only recall seeing her once or twice with an empty milk carton and the ‘pooper scooper’ in hand.

Sasha was (of course) adorable as an incontinent mutt puppy. Puppies are charming. As she grew, however–unfettered by discipline and authority–she hardened my heart toward nearly every drooling crotch sniffer I would meet for the next couple of decades.

Sasha scratched our back door until the bottom right corner was worn thin, and flapped loudly with every paw nudge: her own relentless doorbell.

And if the door opened for any reason, that dog shot out like Usain Bolt after a case of Red Bull. The next 30 minutes were spent trying to find in which neighbor’s yard she was digging or defecating.

Since my sister was busy dating boys my mother disapproved of, I was often saddled with the job of dog walking. Sasha had a choke collar and what seemed at the time to be a twenty-pound chain. I would occasionally wrap it around my hand in an attempt to maintain grip on the wild beast, forgetting that this was the quickest way to crush my hand into a temporarily useless hunk of flesh. Sasha would lurch from the house, dragging me past a couple of houses before leaving me behind to nurse my fingers and hope she turned up shortly.

She had many other talents:

  • Stealing fresh-baked items from the dining room table. Sometimes whole cakes. Especially during parties, while people were distracted.
  • Vomiting.
  • Eating vomit.
  • Repeating cycle.
  • Bad breath.
  • Finding porcupines.
  • Lying in motor oil.
  • Eating frogs.
  • Getting unsightly mats in her fur from rolling in trash and dirt.
  • Hearing scissors open from 100 yards away–even when sleeping.

Due to the combined result of the last two, she once had a soup can lid stuck to her belly for a couple of weeks.

I have heard worse. I have heard of a dog that–during a time out in the garage–broke the car window and chewed through the dashboard to get to half a Power Bar in the glove compartment. Shenanigans like that are way out of Sasha’s league. To be honest, she did have some sweet moments now and then, and her shortcomings were the fault of her owners. Sasha was a part of my childhood and a member of our family, and it was a sad day when she succumbed to liver failure.

I just don’t need another one. Ever.