Category Archives: Fang & Claw

Domestic Partnerships and Slobber Love

 

Any pet owners worth their salt believe their domestic partners are god’s gift to the animal kingdom. And that’s only because it’s true.

But while I am full of shit, I fully believe Teddy and Esme are the shit.

It had been too long since I’d seen them Sunday. Ten days, thanks to two road trips that required their boarding. It would be our longest time apart. And it didn’t speed by like dog years.

When it did finally pass, I couldn’t help but marvel — again — at their differences. From color to size to demeanor, they are polar opposites. Even intelligence (let’s just say one may not be, um, MENSA-eligible).

But I also discovered that while they look and behave so differently, they are so alike.

Esme, I think, is the first dog to ever look at me condescendingly. If she has a ball within reach, she will bring it to me, friends, family members, hobos. She’ll set it on the ground and look at me. Then the ball. Then at me. Then…She is saying, ‘Come on, little guy, throw the ball. That’s it. Just throw the ball over there and play fetch. Good huuuuuuuummmmmmaaaaaaannnnn…’

EsmewithBall

When we are driving to the vet (or anywhere involving unpleasantries), she will sit in the front seat and simply stare at me. She is saying ‘I know where you’re going, and what you’re doing. Sonovabitch.’

Teddy speaks a different language. When I awaken and open the bedroom door, he is invariably, inevitably waiting, saying ‘Well good morning! Feel like a drive?! How about a walk to the washer-dryer?! Look, dad, look outside, look! It’s the backyard! Oh. My. God…DOG FOOD BREAKFAST!!!!!’

Even heading to the vet, he seems ridiculously happy with his head out the window, his tongue lolling. ‘Oh boy! A drive! The vet! RECTAL THERMOMETERS!!!!!’

teddyatcounter

esmeforeground

So I watched their reactions at our reunion. Not only was it our longest time apart; Teddy had to be hospitalized for an epileptic seizure the night before boarding. It was their longest time alone.

Esme came out first, with a ‘Where the hell is he, that sonovabitch?’ scowl with which she greets the planet. But when she saw me, she dropped the facade, hopped on the waiting room couch next to me. She pressed against my thigh, trembling slightly, not making a sound in the animal mayhem around her. She simply burrowed into my lap.

She was saying, in a pure, heartfelt, perfect way, “God I missed you. You owe me so much love.”

Next came Teddy. All clatter. Veterinary assistants calling out his name as he walks out, pats goodbye, the scrape of claws as he tries to Fred-Flintone it on the tile floor to get to me.

Fred_Flintstone

And I realize: they say the exact things, just in polar-opposite fashion.

He was saying, equally pure, equally heartfelt, equally perfect: “God I missed you. I owe you so much love.”

We stop for a Coke at the drive-through, a favorite hound haunt. I notice that Esme, for once, wanted to ride in the backseat with Ted. I could have taken umbrage, but how can you deny the beauty of a sister wanting to see her brother?

I smile and look back at the pair, to welcome them home.

Teddy greets me with a slobbering lick that covers the entirety of the right side of my face, from open grin to the lens on my glasses. And here I thought they were so different, when they are simply both sides of love.

Sonovabitch.

Dogsoutwindow

 

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For Esme, with Love and Slobber

 

I learned recently that my submission to America’s Funniest Home Video had been rejected.

Not that it came as a surprise. The footage is grainy, with crappy sound, shot on an early iPhone (which I guess is redundant). Still, I challenge producers to capture anything as unabashedly trusting.

But it got me thinking about viral videos. What makes them such a barometer of the zeitgeist? Why does Winnebago Man speak to our inner Walter White (beyond the guy trying to sell Walt’s vehicle of choice)?

Why does David After The Dentist philosophize so eloquently to our inner stoned child?

Or Keyboard Cat strike a chord in the inner animal in all of us, or at least maestro?

Then I realized: they work because they’re not trying to. When so many things are produced, prepackaged and beta tested, we rarely get an unrehearsed moment. Which makes them sing like Socrates.

And there was another through-line: none of them give a shit about recognition. In fact, when I told Teddy and Esme they weren’t going to be on AFHV (Esme’s favorite show), they went right back to sleep. I think they actually  would have preferred not to have been awakened with the news (unlike those Oscar contender phonies who claim to be asleep when the nominees are announced at 5:30 a.m.).

Perhaps the hounds had a point. Maybe it’s about consciousness, not clicks. Maybe it shouldn’t even be called a viral video; viruses are nearly always unfortunate news. A good viral video can heal the soul, even when it captures life in all its love, frustration, Novocain and pet hair.

Even when it tastes like Boston Terrier.

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A Confederacy of Ounces

I really should be banned from pet stores. With a wanted poster, like the one for John Wilkes Booth.

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Because whenever I walk into a store, or any locked settlement of animals, my thoughts turn to conspiratorial liberation. Or at least fantasies of widespread adoption. I am my landlord. I could be Octodad. I already have two dogs; what’s a half dozen more?

This weekend, I went to Petco where Teddy gets his mani-pedis and hair done. I had to replace his leash, which has been worn thin over the years by dog bites.

But not Teddy’s. Every time I leash the dogs for a walk or a ride, Esme chomps down on the same spot of Teddy’s leash, just below his thick noggin. And she’ll shake her head violently, like a Great White shredding a shark cage. I’m sure she’s just steaming off the energy of anticipation. But I like to think she’s telling Teddy, whose car sickness occasionally ends a road trip prematurely, “Do not ruin this for me.”

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This time I was dogless (Teddy kind of goes bat shit for all the toys and company). As I headed to the leashes, I passed the hamster/guinea pig/mouse/rat section.

There was a boy, maybe 12, peering into the glassed hamster section. Mom was over him, holding his shoulders as he watched the one-wheel circus as if he were interpreting a Monet.

And I thought of the Lost and Found Mouse, a rodent neighbor when I was married and living in Sherman Oaks.

Our neighborhood was Grand Central for domestic pets. There were the beautiful chocolate labs on the corner, a protective German Shepherd across the street and the asshole Chihuahuas two doors up.

And there was the massive Doberman further up the block. He belonged to a guy I nicknamed Big John, a mentally-askiewed behemoth who walked his dog religiously. I used to think he looked like John Popper, the formerly-globular  lead singer and harmonica player for Blues Traveler. popperBut I’d later realize he was the living version of Ignatius J. Reilly, the mesmerizing, mentally-questionable hero of A Confederacy of Dunces.

John was a frightening guy. He walked his dog down the middle of the street. I once saw him yell at a car. That was parked. And empty. His Doberman had lunged for a squirrel crossing the road, pulling him into my Jeep parked out front. John didn’t reprimand the dog. Instead, glowered at my car and cursed it out like a drunken sailor.

One day, while walking Larry, I saw dozens of hand-written posters on nearly every tree and telephone pole on the block. The posters stood at least seven feet up every tree, and taped so completely that no one could reach, let alone remove, owner’s plea.

“MISSING,” the notes read. “1 PET MOUSE. 50 CENT REWARD.” There was a grainy photocopy, though I’m not sure why. If it’s not albino, what makes for a distinguishable mouse? mouse

“Poor kid,” I thought to myself. “That mouse is crow poop by now.”

But the next day, Julie called. While walking Larry, she found a mouse, just sitting upright in the middle of the road. She thought it would run off upon seeing human and canine, but it just sat there, as if paralyzed. Though she figured he would be long gone, she went home to grab the cat carrier, just in case. Man, Linus would scratch you to the bone if you tried to put him in that thing. He knew: No good ever comes from a cat carrier.

To her surprise, the mouse was there when she returned. Stock still (still) in the middle of the road. Not dead, but perhaps wishing he were. She walked up and ushered the little guy, who seemed more than pleased to enter a safe jail, even if it did smell of cat piss. She called and left a message on the number from the poster. She had to go to work, and didn’t want to leave Mickey locked in the house, particularly with cats.

I suggested she put the cat carrier outside our patio, perhaps will a little water and cheese, the only thing I figured a mouse ate.

I got home two hours later, and found the cat carrier open, with a hand-scrawled note ripped from the corner of a legal pad sitting atop it. “THANK YOU FOR FINDING MY MOUSE.”

Anchoring the note were a quarter, two dimes and a nickel. My god! what an ending. I beamed for days.

A week later, our next door neighbor saw me outside. “I heard you found John’s mouse,” he said.

What?? John was not the guy I presumed. That he could love something that fragile, so much. That he’d wallpaper Knobhill Drive to find a mouse. That he’d remove every poster with those giant paws after his child was returned. That he’d post a reward, and follow through on the promise.

Since then, I’ve wanted to do a children’s book, Lost and Found Mouse. I figure I could write for kids; how many editors consider me a petulant brat? But I can’t draw worth shit.

Still, I picture a child who discovers the mouse — and an important lesson about book cover judgements and fearing the world in which we reside.

But for me, it’s also proof that love is the one thing that is at once priceless and a bargain at any cost. Even at a quarter, two dimes and a nickel.

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