Our dog arrived with issues. He’s been adding to his collection like a pre-Columbian artifact fanatic ever since.
Pip came to us full-grown, like Venus on the half shell. All we know about his early life is he graduated from a prison program that matches dogs with inmates who teach them manners.
These programs apparently are successful – Pip wouldn’t jump on the furniture if the floor was on fire – though I worry about prisoners who care for a dog and have to give him up.
I realize that’s the plan from the start, but so is mortality, and how many of us are all that comfortable with it?
Of course, Pip has baggage. You would, too, if you’d been a stray.
Loud noises undo him. Thunderstorms, or the mere suspicion that in the next 60 days a thunderstorm might develop, hurl him into a panic, during which he wedges himself into ridiculous spaces – between the clothes dryer and the wall, or under a kitchen chair – where he pants and trembles and sheds, all copiously, long after the rain stops, the sun returns and baby animals are born and grow up.
He leaves the room if someone tries to take his picture. He’s prone to peculiar wheezing fits that have to do with his uvula, or the canine equivalent of the uvula. (His veterinarian advised us to grasp his snout and blow into his nostrils to straighten everything out, and we dread the day we have to untangle his uvula in front of guests.)
All this has been a way of life for years, but Pip is older now, and new habits are developing.
Or perhaps I mean his lifelong tendencies, which we could once dismiss as minor quirks and foibles, are becoming major fears and phobias.
The most obvious of these is his habit of sleeping in my closet, back in a tight, dark chimney corner about half the size of the space underneath an airplane seat. He once squeezed himself into this spot only during nighttime storms, but now he’s in there every night.
It’s not that he doesn’t have a bed to sleep on. He’s got more beds than the gardens at Versailles, including two in our bedroom, another across the hall, two beds in the office and one more in the living room downstairs. Still, he pretends to settle into his own bed every night, then slinks into the closet like a cat burglar the moment the lights go out. You’d think he had a girl in there.
Then there’s the way he wants to be where we are. This would be tolerable if he moved along with us, but he doesn’t. He stops, almost causing us to fall over him, and then he stands there.
My husband and I would get so much more done each day if we weren’t constantly held up by the dog.
You might think we should scold him for standing in our path, but we can’t.
Early on we learned that even one angry word causes him to don a hair shirt and beat himself with sticks and hemp. We can’t do it. Anyway, we don’t have to.
When Pip does something unbearable – I’m thinking of how he loves to lick skin cream off my legs two seconds after I apply it – a simple “nuh-uh” is sufficient.
Before Pip, my husband and I had two adult yellow Labrador retrievers for about five years.
They were nice girls – OK, one was a nice girl and the other was a total birdbrain – and when they hit their dotage, they collapsed together, like sandcastles at high tide. One developed diabetes and a tumor; the other had debilitating seizures almost certainly due to a tumor of her own. The diabetic dog was incontinent, and her sister, no doubt in the spirit of camaraderie, contributed to the general dampness in the house.
Those dogs and the beloved German shepherd who grew up with our daughters passed on the recipe: Patience, understanding and Nature’s Miracle (“Solving your toughest stain, odor and training problems”), all in generous quantities.
Pip will get worse and not better.
Will it change how we feel about our boy? Not in a million years.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.