It is hard out here
Let’s face it, if you’re not a dog lover you think dogs owners are nuts. I thought dog lovers were nuts and my Mom was a really nutty dog lover. The fact that I wasn’t a dog lover might have had a lot to do with the fact that our family dog, Charlie, was mean and crazy as a snake.
Charlie was a poodle. No, not one of those goofy lap dogs, we didn’t have him clipped to look gay. Charlie was cute and scruffy and bigger than those annoying toy poodles, but not as big as a huge standard poodle.
His fur was the color apricot, he stood about one and a half feet at the shoulders with bright dark brown eyes and a black button nose. Charlie was smart. That was probably his biggest problem. Charlie was too smart. My Dad called him the world’s first neurotic dog. Charlie once got thrown to the floor of a car in a car wreck with my Mom. Mom and Charlie were OK, but Charlie would never go into a car willingly again.
Charlie loved my Mom and vice versa but that is where the love stopped. Charlie would act like he loved me in front of my Mom or when he needed something, like a walk or food or water. But if you wanted to pet him without Mom around, Charlie would growl for you to leave him the hell alone.
When Charlie wanted to go for a walk, he would wag his stumpy tail and brush up against your leg to get your attention, then he would considerately run halfway up the stairs so you didn’t have to bend over to put on his leash, smiling and wagging his stumpy tail the entire time.
When you got home from the walk, however, it was another story. Charlie would not only not run half way up the stairs, so now you had to bend over to clip off the leash, but no lie, when you did clip off his leash from his collar, Charlie would give a quick growl of contempt as if to say;
“Piss off, I don’t need your sorry ass anymore.”
When my Mom was home, when my Dad came home from work, Charlie would greet my Dad like a conquering hero, yelping and jumping and spinning around in delight. But when my Mom wasn’t home and my Dad came home, Charlie wouldn’t even bother to get up. Greeting my Dad was all a ruse for my Mom's benefit.
Charlie was the world’s only duplicitous dog.
When my Mom really wanted to annoy my Dad – which I now know is a thing wives like to do from time to time – she would invite Charlie on her lap after dinner and she would cradle him like a baby, rub his tummy and he would grunt and groan and coo with delight as she translated for him;
“Oh, I know, Charlie, Charlie says I guard the house all day, and greet everyone when they are home and what’s the thanks I get? Alpo and a lousy walk or two. Is it asking too much for a guy to get some appreciation around here?”
My Dad would just roll his eyes and say;
It didn’t take a psychologist to figure out Mom was projecting through Charlie, but it was a mutual love fest to behold.
Charlie’s harshest criticisms were aimed at a dog down the street, Wotan. Wotan was of an undeterminable breed of a combination of scary looking dogs. He was mostly Huskie but I am sure there was some Rotweiler in there somewhere. This was a dog you did not want to mess with and Charlie, who, like people who are too smart, would do some really dumb things but one of the dumbest was to constantly bark and taunt Wotan whenever he got a chance.
When he was on a walk Charlie was smart enough not to incur Wotan’s wrath until he was within running distance of our front door, then Charlie would let fly with his “Oh, you think you’re so tough, do you? Well I think you a big doofus” bark and if Wotan so much as looked at Charlie –which he rarely did - Charlie would scamper inside the house leaving a trial of dust like a cartoon character.
Apparently even dogs have a breaking point.
Charlie and John froze as Wotan charged and went straight for Charlie’s neck. In one chomp, Charlie fell lifelessly to the ground, as limp as a rag doll. Wotan’s owner grabbed him back and apologized profusely;
“Oh, I am so sorry, oh my word, Wotan broke your poor dog’s neck.”
Surprisingly calm for him, John picked up Charlie. Charlie’s head and legs hung down lifelessly and John carried him somberly to the front door to give us all the bad news. By the time John got inside the house, Charlie popped up wide awake and pranced off like nothing had happened.
That’s right, when attacked by Wotan, Charlie had simply feinted dead away. He didn’t even have a mark on his fool neck.
One time my Mom accidentally cut her wrist shoving her hand through the glass of a stuck basement storm window. It was a scary, bloody and chaotic scene to leave for the hospital that included my tall and uncoordinated brother frantically coming back from walking Charlie. He quickly put the leash on the leash hook on the basement/coatroom landing wall and we took off in great haste.
When we got back from the hospital, Mom was no worse for the wear other than twenty stitches but we couldn’t find Charlie.
“What’s that weird noise?” My Dad asked. It sounded like a small child coughing.
When we opened the door to the landing down to the basement/coat room where the leash hook was mounted six feet up on the wall, we saw that John, my clumsy brother, had indeed put the loop leash handle on the hook, but he had neglected to take Charlie’s four- foot leash off of his collar.
For two hours while we were at the hospital, poor Charlie had to dance in continuous circles on his hind legs so that he wouldn’t hang himself, yelping, barking and gagging the whole time.
Maybe that’s why Charlie hated us.
Now that I am a self-confessed, two-hilarious-yellow-Labrador-owning dog nut, I find it hard to believe I was once so ambivalent about a dog. But, as it turns out, deep down I really wasn’t all that ambivalent. I found out the hard way that I was a closet dog lover the whole time.
When Charlie was an old dog of about 14-years, he developed a nasty cough. When I got back from my job as a camp sports director one summer - back home in Winnetka from college at Santa Barbara - two hours before my Mom came home from working at Northwestern graduate school, Charlie was coughing pretty bad.
Worried as hell, I called my Mom and then I called the vet to make a house call.
For the first time in his life, Charlie wanted me to hold him in my lap. The poor little guy was scared, so I sat on the floor of the dining room, right at my Mom’s spot at the table where Charlie had been so lavished with love and attention, and petted and soothingly talked to him as he coughed harder and harder. The brave little guy was trying to make it until Mom came home. But he didn't make it. Finally Charlie took his last gasp. That’s when I saw the spark go out from his bright little brown eyes.
As hard as I was crying when I handed his poor little limp body over to the too- late-arriving vet, I knew it would be ten times harder on my Mom. My job then was to run around the house and hide all of Charlie’s rubber toys and chewed up tennis balls and his leash - the same leash that almost hung him ten years earlier - hoping it would make it easier on Mom.
Mom got home, got out of her car and I met her at the front door.
“How is Charlie?” she asked hopefully. It broke my heart.
When Mom saw that I was too choked up to answer she instantly knew what happened. She yelled out a sob and ran up to her bedroom crying. From downstairs I could hear my Mom crying upstairs for the first time in my life since John F. Kennedy was killed when I was five.
After she composed herself, Mom heroically came down to make dinner and to put a brave front for the rest of us. She was doing really well until I heard her yell out another loud sob from the kitchen.
Like an idiot, I had neglected to hide Charlie’s food bowl.
My Mom, like “Mister Bojangles,” never really stopped grieving for that crazy little dog.
Years later when we would tell the classic family story of the more than a few times we walked in to the kitchen while Mom fixed dinner, with Charlie constantly by her side, we were veritably attacked by a horrible gaseous stench. My Mom would shake her head and look down at Charlie, and say;
“Charlie, how could you? You committed an atrocity.” Then she would add in his defense;
“I really shouldn’t feed him human scraps anymore. His little system is way too delicate.”
Somehow, after Charlie had gone to the big kennel in the sky, his occasional atrocities mysteriously continued. (Sorry Mom) When busted on this, my Mom, being a good sport, would laugh hard, then smile, and then say;
“Poor Charlie.” And then she would tear- up all over again.
So it gives me great pride to say that, like my Mother, I am also a nutty dog lover.
But I really shouldn’t feed Kasey and Wrigley human scraps anymore, their little systems are way too delicate.