My friends Ron and Donna have had a tough year pet-wise. They lost their dog, Jake, to a sudden illness a few months back. A new one, Scrappy, which they picked up at the shelter a month ago, has turned out to be unpredictably vicious and uncontrollably excitable…too much for them to handle. These traits were not in Scrappy’s bio when they selected him. So, Scappy is returning to the shelter today and no one feels very good about it. Pets can do that to you.
It is a bit uncanny how Ron and I have had similar experiences with dogs. I never had one growing up—cats, yes, but never a dog. A dog wasn’t part of my life until I was in my 40’s, about five years after we moved to Florida. We got Nicki, a typical ultra-cute Golden Retriever puppy. Right away she and I went to training school together. Neither of us had our hearts in it. She refused to heel when I commanded and I wouldn’t roll over when she asked me. She would, however, sit on command and give me high fives. When a thunder storm approached she’d jump on whoever was available—all eventual 66 pounds of her—and shake like a scared rabbit.
Nicki was rarely alone. The kids were home early in the afternoon and at about this time Rosemarie’s father began coming down from Pennsylvania and staying with us through the winter. He and Nicki bonded well. So, Nicki always had somebody to pal around with…until I lost my job and after a year we wound up moving back north for a job in Philly. Rosemarie’s father had just recently died. Our daughter had left home for a few years in the U.S. Navy and our son decided he wanted to stay in Florida since he was 18 and working full-time and pretty much on his own.
We moved into a house in New Jersey, a selling point being the huge fenced-in yard. Nicki was alone all day while Rosemarie and I worked. She didn’t like it. She began acting out. She used our new carpeting as her bathroom…it seemed like every room, every day without fail. She also developed a fetish for Rosemarie’s underwear. Every day when we got home she had been through the hamper and a pile of bras and panties always greeted us at the front door. Other pieces were spread around the house. If nothing else, it made for good party conversation despite my wondering, at least for a moment, what kind of weird goings-on were going on between my wife and my dog. We hired the neighbor teen to come over after school and let Nicki out in this big backyard…but it made little difference. Nicki continued to let us know she did not like being home alone.
One day while I sat in the family room I got to thinking that the one wall which had two vents in it for heat and AC, was shared with the garage. So genius me figured I could open two holes in the garage wall opposite the family room vents and share the heat/AC into the garage. Eureka! Nicki would have a cement floor in a large two-car garage to poop on all day and still be warm or cool whatever the weather. So I cut holes in the garage wall and installed two vents.
The first day we put her in the garage I came home to discover that she must have looked through the vent and seen the family room on the other side…and that’s where she wanted to be. So she proceeded to chew and claw an opening all around the one vent. She didn’t make it through but she was covered with pink fiberglass insulation from head to paw. Her face looked like one big pink snowball. We spent the next few hours brushing it all out.
Over the next few months Nicki developed a caugh and was constantly clearing her throat, at least that’s what it sounded like. Several visits to the vet and eventually a trip to the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinarian hospital resulted in learning she had a massive cancerous growth in her throat which was quickly choking her to death and that it was inoperable. A few days later I sat on the floor in an exam room at the hospital and I held her in my lap as they injected her and put her out of her misery. Mine was only to begin. I took it worse than some relatives and friends who had died. I had no idea how much Nicki had penetrated my soul in the short six years she lived with us. It took me forever to get over it. But the guilt remains today since, as you may have guessed by now, my genius idea of putting her in the garage is what killed her. Her face, and especially her mouth, were so full of fiberglass insulation there is no doubt in my mind that some of it lodged in her throat eventually causing the infection.
This is Part I of my dog story. Part II is likewise a bit cantankerous, but certainly not as sad as what Ron and Donna have gone through. I’ll have Part II for my next posting. While you wait for that, consider what Mark Twain, via Pudd’nhead Wilson, said about dogs:
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”