We’ve all had pets like this…right?
We stood waiting on the front porch of a non-descript 1970s rambler. On the other side of the windowless front door there was so much barking and howling, that somewhere, under a grassy knoll, Lassie was being stirred from her eternal slumber.
“There must be dozens of dogs in there,” my husband said, his concern visibly growing along with the escalating noise from inside.
I started to get worried that he might be having second thoughts about this visit, and that he might try to make a run for it. Therefore, in a somewhat selfish act to preserve my interests, I stretched out my foot and rested it right behind his. If he tried to bolt at least I had the hope of slowing him down with a well-planned trip down the front stoop.
Then, I looked up at him, lovingly, and reminded him, “You do remember that this was your idea, right?”
A few days before I had come home to find a boat and trailer parked in our driveway, he protected himself very quickly with one little sentence, “I think it’s time we get a dog”. He got a boat. I get a dog. Fair.
So, there we were. We had just rang the doorbell under the cute little sign that said, “Welcome to Basset Hound Rescue”. And frankly, that boat sitting in our driveway looked like it must have been rescued from somewhere, so this seemed appropriate.
When our hostess finally opened the door, she was hunched over and attempting to block a herd of canine prisoners from making their escape. She looked friendly enough, although slightly disheveled; a pair of eyeglasses was perched crooked on her forehead, unsuccessfully holding back a wild mass of curly graying hair. A large rhinestone dog paw pendant was dangling from her neck and hung askew on a dark colored dress that was bedazzled with equal parts dog hair, and shiny smears that I could only identify as dried dog snot. “Well, get in here!” She barked at us.
Thankfully once inside we were greeted by only about a half a dozen dogs, which was a relief because I had pretty much been expecting a scene from hoarders and was sure we’d find a few dogs on the kitchen counter and a box of puppies behind the tv.
Every single one of those dogs was vying for our attention and screaming “Pick me! Pick me!” It was like they had spent hours in front of a mirror practicing the perfect pose; just enough “sad puppy eye” mixed with equal parts “happy tail wag”.
We sat down on the floor in the middle of the pack and started giving out belly rubs while happily accepting slobbery kisses. Even my husband started to smile again, with visions of a constant loyal companion and reciprocated unquestioning love.
Then I spotted him. He was standing alone on the other side of a dirty sliding glass door in a back yard filled with mud covered tennis balls, and scraps of old doggie blankets. He was like Cinderella and he hadn’t been invited to the ball. Although, he didn’t really look like he wanted an invitation. He wasn’t dancing around like his exuberant roommates. He was standing still, all four feet planted firmly on the cement step, forehead pressed against the glass, cloudy eyes attempting to focus on the annoying chaos inside. He was skinny. Really skinny. His fur didn’t fold around soft fat rolls, instead he looked like a meth addict in a poorly fitted fur coat, and not a nice fur coat, like a thrift store, moth eaten, thin and patchy fur coat; And his ears didn’t sag all natural and cute like those of the other dogs; they stuck out stiff, like a starched collar of an old arm-pit-stained shirt that had been crumpled in the back of a closet and ignored for years.
He looked like a canine Frankenstein. He had a big shaved spot and a series of rough stitches across his forehead; not the careful stitches of a surgeon, but the clumsy, quick stitches of someone who had bought their discount degree online, and then attempted the suture after finishing a fifth of cheap whiskey.
This old guy was not prancing around trying to impress us, he simply looked pissed off. Our eyes locked. He glared at me through the dog-slobber smeared glass and I heard a grumpy old voice say, “Let me in you bunch of friggin’ idiots. Don’t you know how to open the damn door??!”
My husband had been watching me. I looked up at him. He rolled his eyes, shook his head and said, “Oh hell no. No, no, no….”.
“Can we take that one for a walk?” I eagerly asked our host.
“Ummm….Well, that’s Clyde…You see, we’re not actually sure what we are going to do with him. He bit the vet and….”
“Of course, he bit the vet!”, I interrupted, “Look at him! It looks like someone attacked him with a rusty needle and baling twine!”
She tried to explain to us that he was not very good on a leash, and then she reluctantly let us take him out. Clyde shot me a sideways look as I leaned down to let him sniff me, but I quickly stood up as the stench of his breath reached my face. It was the smell of dog drool that had been trapped in the jowls of an ancient dog for years. The kind of smell that gets in your nose and then you start to taste it when a strange burning sensation hits the back of your throat.
“WHOA. He stinks!” My husband stated the obvious rather loudly, as if to further drive home the point that he was not at all pleased with the direction that this visit was taking.
“Oh Honey, it’s not that bad,” I lied. “Besides, I’m sure we’ll get used to it.” And then I turned my head so he didn’t see that my eyes were starting to water as the stench continued to work its way into my sinuses.
It turned out that is wasn’t that Clyde, “wasn’t good on a leash”, he just clearly didn’t like walks. It was impossible to tell whether his aversion was to exercise, or to human companionship. Maybe it was simply that the poor old ancient bag of bones had had enough of involuntary activity in his life and he was ready to take charge. The leash was five feet long and he was determined to walk six feet behind us. I’d slow down, and he’d tug and slow down even more. Eventually we were all just standing completely still in the middle of the road. None of us were saying a word until Clyde yelled at me, “Well, you idiot, Why the hell did you think I wanted to take a damn walk?”
Five and a half feet of contempt rode on a faded dirty leash that stretched between me and a grumpy old browbeaten dog. But as I looked into those hazy hateful eyes, I saw one little tiny glimmer of hope, and with that we turned around and slowly headed back to complete the adoption process.
My husband walked silently beside me, it was painfully clear that he was not thrilled with my choice of a geriatric dog with the mouth of a trucker. I’m also fairly certain that that old dog smoked unfiltered cigarettes and indulged in a can of cheap domestic beer every now and then, but I could never prove it.
It took us thirty seconds to pay the fee and sign the adoption papers and thirty more minutes to sign waivers releasing the rescue organization from all responsibility if he bit us, required an insane amount of veterinary care, or simply died of old age before our check cleared.
Then we had to figure out how to get him into our car.
We tried everything from milk to stale potato chips to lure him up onto the back seat. Yeah, I’m sure that potato chips aren’t good for dogs, but I’m also sure that heart failure brought on by eating greasy human food was not going to be this guy’s undoing. A heart attack brought on by a slightly crazy, yet determined, woman trying to force him into the back seat of a 1996 VW sedan, was however, a mounting possibility.
Reluctantly, Clyde finally got his two front feet up inside of the car, but he flat out refused to go any further. I tried to lift his back legs and push him the rest of the way up onto the seat, but his claws had not been trimmed since The Golden Girls were blessing TV on Friday nights, and those long doggie nails held on to the running board of our car as solidly as an eagle clinging to its prey.
I would lift his back legs again, and on “one, two, three,” it was like some sort of tortuous version of a wheelbarrow race, where I was the big clumsy uncle and Clyde was my unwilling race partner at the family picnic. I’d lift his back legs and try to push forward, but he refused to move his front feet, so again and again his head would fall into the backseat, leaving a tiny smear of drool with each contact. Clyde would yelp and snap, and eventually, he looked back at me with those tired old eyes and growled, “Well now what are you going to do dumbass? You’ve got me stuck here!”
Finally, presumably out of pure exhaustion, Clyde let us scoop him up and lift him the rest of the way into the car. He licked the remaining potato chip crumbs off of the backseat, then lay down and proceeded to snore the rest of the way home. With every loud exhale the terrible stench wafted from the backseat, and I turned my head towards the open window to avoid both the smell, and daggers that my husband was shooting at me from the driver’s seat.
About a month later we were in our new boat, bouncing around on some rather rough seas, when the inevitable happened. “I have to pee.” I told him, and he handed me an old piece of faded plastic that looked like an oversized beach bucket with some kind of seat.
“Seriously? That smells horrible,” I said.
“Oh Honey, it’s not that bad”, he replied, as he reached down and scratched the ears of the stinky old dog snoozing happily at his feet, “Besides, you’ll get used to it.”