Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A "Prequel"

Before I go into depth about the babies – Abby and Andy – I want to give some background on my experiences with dogs and subsequently show how drastically my opinion of them have changed since Abby and Andy came into my life. The first two dogs our family had was a mutt named Blacky and a Western Highland Terrier named Macky. I don’t know where my parents got Blacky. They kept him in his own room and rarely let him into the rest of the house. Why my parents treated him this way perplexes me to this day; I felt so sorry for him. I speculate that it could have been due to my mom’s borderline OCD which manifested itself with her constant cleaning. She would vacuum the house two or three times a day. Maybe she was worried about Blacky making a mess in her house. I was never close to Blacky, and he died pitifully of heart failure when he was 9.

Macky was a gift from my dad’s mom. (He is the one pictured above on his haunches.) He was a nice enough dog, but he was also a ‘one-person’ dog, and I was not the one. I neither liked nor disliked Macky. He died when a neighbor backing out of the driveway ran over him. It’s hard to believe that my parents let him run free in the neighborhood, but at the time, it was not my place to question them. Some would say that I should have stood up to them, but my parents were old-school. The children were to be seen and not heard. Any insolence on my part would have been dealt either with sharp words or a belt.

After Macky’s death, my parents bought another Western Highland Terrier, Roger, from a pet store in the mall of all places. (He is pictured above with me when I was around 11.) This was in the late 70’s, so the concept of puppy-mills was not well known then. I often speculate the conditions in which Roger was breed led to his behavioral problems he had as an adult.

They say that older couples who have lived together a long time start to look like one another. Maybe by extension, pets can take on characteristics of their owners. My dad has male-pattern baldness, and my mom had bleached blonde hair. So, Roger had features that were a combination of theirs. He had white hair, what hair he did have, and from the waist down, he was bald. The poor thing had some skin condition, but to make things worse, he smelled bad. But for me to not love Roger because of his appearance would be superficial and shallow. After all, when Abby was older, she was overweight, was plagued with constant ear infections which didn’t smell good, had fatty tumors all over her and was severely afflicted with arthritis, but in my mind’s eye, she was still that cutey-pie that I knew her from in her younger days.

To put it in a nutshell, Roger was a bad dog. For starters, he was not house trained. Many times we had let him out for an hour or so, and that no sooner had we let him back in would he go directly in the middle of the living room and urinate and defecate, looking you in the eye while doing so. Roger also bit a neighbor, bit a cousin of mine, killed kittens and tried to screw the cats.

However, Roger loved me. When he was two, I saved his life. He almost drowned to death in my grandparents’ pool, and even though my family had been looking for him, it was me who caught a glimpse of him hanging on the side of the pool on a cold winter’s day and pulled him out. I guess the little guy felt indebted to and appreciative of me. I didn’t hate Roger; but I didn’t like him either. I did pity him. I was frustrated that I could not change his bad behaviors.

My mom loved Roger, and he loved her. Nobody else liked poor Roger. My mom’s mom refused to buy new carpet until Roger died because of Roger’s notorious potty issues. So, my grandmother clung on to that gold shag carpet well into the 80’s and into the early 90’s. Roger’s demise was the result of tumors throughout his body. He lost his eyesight and was bumping into furniture. Soon after, he was euthanized. Nobody but my mom missed poor Roger, and my grandmother did indeed live up to her word and bought new carpet.

My mom informed me of Roger’s death by phone. To this day, I don’t know why I reacted the way I did, but I laughed. I tried to cover the speaker w/ my hand, but she could hear me. It was probably one of the most thoughtless things I had ever done to my mom. She didn’t speak to me for two months after that. It took my grandmother’s intervening to smooth things over between us. My grandmother reminded my mom how she had laughed at her grandfather’s funeral (her mom’s dad) just over a decade before that. So, we put the incident behind us.

Even though I never bonded with our family’s dogs, my dislike of dogs resulted from my interactions with dogs outside of my immediate family. For example, my grandparents had a Chihuahua that they had inherited from my grandmother’s parents. This dog was a living legacy of my great-grandparents, and my grandparents loved that dog. I, however, could not stand that little shit. Mimi, pictured above, was the stereotypical Chihuahua – irritable, taciturn, yappy and just plain mean. She would never let me near my grandparents and would snarl and growl at me; sometimes she would even bite me. The little rat would even chase me around the house when I was younger, but when I found out that her bite didn’t hurt, I stopped running from her.

In addition to being bitten by a Chihuahua, I have also been bitten by a Doberman and a St. Bernard. I was actually attacked by the St. Bernard which actually left a scar which remains over 30 years after the attack. I felt bad about the St. Bernard incident because I, along with other neighborhood kids, had relentlessly teased that dog and consequently made him mean. On that fateful day when I went into his cage to retrieve an errant football, it came as no surprise looking back that he attacked me. I got the ball, threw it over the fence, and just as I was about to climb over it, he jumped up, but his paws on my shoulders and started chewing on my back and head. Fortunately, the several layers of winter clothing kept him from puncturing my skin, but I did have some ugly pools of blood under my skin. The situation clearly being my fault, my parents didn’t call animal control, but they told the owners. I was pissed when I heard their response to the news: “He was playing”, the owners said. Believe me, he was not playing. The couple moved soon after, but I found out later that the dog had attacked someone in their new neighborhood. A lawyer called my dad a few years later wanting to know the details of the incident. I don’t know what consequences there were for that couple, but I’m sure it was not happy.

It wasn’t until I started running in my early 20’s that I started hating dogs. I was amazed and frustrated how many dog owners did not leash their dogs, instead letting them run free. Although I was never bitten while running, I had some close calls with several breeds including Dalmatians, German Shepherds, Dobermans and Pit Bulls. I found it was best to stop and confront a dog in those situations instead of turning ones back and trying to run away.

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