Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Dog With No Name

When we can’t think of a name for an animal, it’s a sign. This has never happened before. Names come easy to us. We’re kind of famous for our cool and creative names—Motley (the dog), Mojo, Hobbes (cats), Lowdown, Harley, Spirit (horses), Black Betty (all my black chickens), Penny (all the white chickens), Helen (all the red ones), Redeye (my albino ferret) for example, and when people are stuck, they ask us for ideas. We’ve named the dogs of four friends and quite a few of their horses as well as a goat and a hamster. But we could not come up with a name for this Doberman we got shanghaied into taking. Nothing sounded right. They were all too obvious or common or just plain stupid.

I think it was because we weren’t supposed to have her. I knew she was not the right dog for us from the get-go but I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings who found her for us so I inquired just to be polite. Then I found out the owner had died and the family sent her back to the breeder who unloaded her on someone who didn’t really want her. He was keeping her outside. She had a nice dog house but there was a foot of snow on the ground and more was coming. She was in a pen all by herself next to his two dozen beagles who were all snuggled up like mice in a litter in the adjoining pen. Dobermans are not outside dogs. And this was a young Doberman. A pup really. Only about seven months old. So I had to go and get her. Plus, I felt sorry for her, losing her owner.

For three days we wracked our brains trying to think of a name, but nothing. The whole time I kept picturing what would happen when she ran up to all the people who come and go on the farm—the farrier, the UPS man, kids who come to ride with Kelly—or those who pass the house—the dog walker, the bike riders, the lady who picks up litter. They’d stop short and put up their hands. Maybe take a step back. I’d say, “It’s alright, she won’t bite,” like I used to say with Motley. But this dog was scary looking. Nothing like our floppy-eared mutt who would plop down and roll over, red rocket out, tail thumping, when someone came to visit. The Doberman would think something was up, the way people would act. They’d widen their eyes. She’d widen her eyes. The meter reader would jump back in his car. Before you knew it, she’d nip someone.

If I had a fenced-in yard, it would be a different story. I’ve got field fence, rail fence, some chain-link fence on the far side of the property, and picket fence, but none of it is dog worthy if the dog has any kind of oomph. And the Doberman had oomph, if the way she zoomed around the barn when I let her loose in there was any indication. She didn’t come right back to me. I had to catch her. I’d have to tie her up. I don’t want a dog that I have to tie up. I want a dog who, when I step out onto the deck to let him do his duty, he will pee right there on my roses and come right back when I whistle. I wouldn’t even have to put my coat on. Yes, I know I could train the Doberman. But, even though she was beautiful and sweet, this just wasn’t the kind of dog we were looking for. I felt guilty about it but she deserved to be with someone who really wanted her and time was of the essence—she was still a puppy. I had to make a decision right away.

So I chalked it up to a rescue and I gave her to my friend who was the one who found her in the first place. I believe she was meant to have her since the dog sleeps in their bed and was named Lilly about an hour after they got her.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Mission

As soon as my friends found out we were in the market, my inboxes and Facebook page were flooded with links and posts and emails about dogs who needed homes. It was a literal smorgasbord of cute canines—little dogs, big dogs, young dogs, old dogs, purebreds, mutts; you name it—with an emphasis on pit bulls because the shelters are loaded with them, and brindles, because that’s what Motley was.

My friends were on a mission. They’re animal lovers like me and if you can’t get another pet yourself because you have too many already, the next best thing is helping your friend get one. It’s like shopping by proxy. It’s not the real thing but you can still get your rocks off. This happens in the horse world all the time. We’re always finding horses for each other and going out on shopping expeditions together. One of us will say, “Hey, you want to take a ride and go look at a horse?” and the next thing you know, you’re driving three days to Texas.

The problem was, I didn’t like any of the dogs. I’m sorry, but after Motley, I want it all. Motley spoiled me. I want a dog with a nice disposition. I want a dog who, when people come and go on the farm, they won’t get scared when he runs up to greet them but who will make someone think twice when they knock on the door and hear him bark if they had any intention of robbing me. I want a dog who I can let loose to trot alongside me as I go in and out of the house to do my chores and who will follow when I ride my horse around the pasture and come when I whistle. I want a dog who, even if he is untrained, is willing and trainable. I don’t think Marley and Me was very cute at all. Yeah it was sad at the end and it brought a tear to my eye when they buried him but I would have been burying that dog about ten minutes into the movie because I would have killed him right around the time he ripped up my couch.

So we ruled out the high energy, couch-eater types. And the ones who looked like they belonged behind an eight-foot fence with a curl of razor wire on top in Nazi Germany or in a drug den in Camden. We ruled out the ones who hated cats and small children. Little dogs because we’re big dog people, though we wouldn’t rule out a little dog as the second dog. And all the ones with pushed-in faces because we want a dog with an actual snout.

My friends were getting frustrated. They kept sending pictures. What about this one? Nope. What about him? Nah. How about her? No, I want the ears a tiny bit floppier and the tail just a little more waggedy.

Yes, I discriminated based on looks. I don’t want any Dobie-wa-wa in my pocketbook. (See Dobie-wa-wa here: I want a good looking dog. The grim reaper in the dog pound doesn’t care what it looks like. I can just as easily save a pretty one as I can an ugly one.

Plus, getting a dog is a big commitment. It’s almost like adopting a baby. You’re going to have this animal for ten or fifteen years and you will never again be completely free. You certainly won’t be able to go out all day and all night without making a pit stop home to let the dog out and that can be a pain in the ass if you’re in the middle of having fun, say, you’re at a barbecue and your ex is about to walk in with his new wife who you heard gained quite a bit of weight since the baby and now you are going to miss that. You have to go home and let the dog out. And they can be expensive. You might even purchase the new pool for the vet’s summer home if you get a sickly dog or a dishonest vet who takes advantage of you because now you are paranoid since you lost the last one, and you keep running to the vet every time the new dog looks crooked.

And what if the dog doesn’t measure up to the best dog ever? What if he pees on the floor or steals a steak out of the garbage or doesn’t stop to let you wipe all four feet, patiently lifting one at a time, because, it’s a dog after all. And you realize, perhaps, Motley was not a real dog.

I felt bad, ruling them out left and right, especially since my girlfriend was trying so hard, texting me pictures of dogs when she should have been cooking dinner, and keeping an eye on Craigslist for new posts like someone waiting to make a run for it when there’s a break in the traffic. She forwarded me new ads at all hours of the day and night, at midnight and dawn, whenever they popped up. She was relentless. It was a lot of pressure. So in a moment of weakness, I threw caution to the wind and I just grabbed one. I knew it wasn’t going to be the right dog like a drunk girl knows it’s not going to be the right guy but she does it anyway. Plus I was afraid the dog was going to freeze to death if I didn’t.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The List

The FedEx man knocked on the door. I jumped. I didn’t hear him coming. I don’t have a dog anymore who barks when somebody pulls up. Before I knew it was the FedEx man, I hoped it wasn’t a bad guy out there because he’d know I didn’t have a dog, since none was barking, and I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I could get killed and no one would know it until Kelly came home from school or Kurt came home for dinner. That was one of the good things about Motley. He’d bark when someone arrived, but when I told him to stop, he’d stop.

The FedEx man handed me my package and asked, “Where’s the dog?”

“He died,” I said. “Kidney failure. We had to put him to sleep right before Christmas.”

“Oh no, I’m sorry!” He looked down at his pad. He scratched his head like he couldn’t believe it. “I keep a list of all the dogs on my route. I’ve got: Motley… Friendly.”

That’s why I miss him so much. Forget keeping burglars away. He’s on delivery drivers’ lists of nice dogs.