“Whatever you do, please don’t get a little yippy dog, especially a poodle. I hate those things.”
Those were my last words to Michele, my wife, as I left on a three-day-trip, just before she got our miniature poodle, Lulu. Our daughters had finally worn us down. We had agreed to get a dog. More precisely, Michele agreed while I, outvoted and outranked, looked in vain under the couch cushions for my manhood. With the decision made, Michele wanted to surprise the girls with the dog when they returned from visiting their grandparents out of state.
Ozzie (on the left), RIP
I am not anti-dog. I am anti-taking care of them. We had a mutt named Ozzie for fourteen years. Ozzie was no great looker. One tooth always stuck out. He also had some poodle in him, but you couldn’t tell it, thank goodness. He looked like a small black lab, and he bounced off the floor like he main-lined Peruvian coffee. Ozzie caught Frisbees in mid-air, chased tennis balls until he exhausted the thrower, retrieved sticks, and could not resist eating his own poop. He was a DOG. But I remembered vividly the day we put him to sleep (without consulting him, mind you) and the loss we still feel.
I also remembered the hassle we went through any time we wanted to take a family trip. Michele opposed putting him in a kennel because, the one time we did so, she was convinced he had suffered lasting emotional trauma being caged with other dogs. We had two alternatives when we left town: Leave Ozzie with Michele’s parents or take him with us. Neither option was great because of Ozzie’s propensity for acting like an addict on a PCP bender. I didn’t want to go through all that again with a new dog.
When it became obvious I had lost that battle, however, I tried to retain the last crumbs of my dignity by laying down the law with the girls. I gave the traditional waste-of-breath parental speech:
This is not my dog.
It is not my responsibility.
I will not walk the dog.
I will not clean up after the dog.
I will not house-train the dog.
I will not feed the dog.
The dog does not belong on the furniture.
The dog under no circumstances will sleep in anyone’s bed.
My batting average on that list is .125 only because I did not have to house-train the dog. The girls had intermittent hearing loss which seemed to occur primarily when encountering tones in my vocal range. This malady is hereditary; their mother suffers from it, too.
We couldn’t buy any dog. We had to rescue one. Michele perused the milk-carton photos of pets on local web pages and made on-site visits. She had always liked wire-haired terriers. Instead, she fell in love with a poodle – an emaciated, ugly-ass varmint that looked like a rat with an eating disorder. When I returned from my trip to see what she had chosen, I said, “It’s a good thing you’re getting a dog, because we have a rodent problem.”
According to its records, the “dog” had been sent to a shelter because its elderly owner could no longer care for it. (Because the dog seemed to be afraid of the stove, we imagined her previous owner, cigarette dangling from her mouth, holding the dog while frying bacon.)
There was no long line of dog lovers waiting to adopt a rat-like canine with the breath of a zombie. The first shelter was prepared to terminate the dog with extreme prejudice when another rescue facility offered to take her. By the time Michele locked eyes with the so-called dog, she had been living in a shelter for quite awhile. Her hair was matted beyond saving, and she had been too scared to eat much. She had turned into a bony little bag of nothing. To call this dog butt-ugly would be an insult to posteriors.
The new %#$@!%@ dog
Just like Charlie Brown choosing the wimpiest Christmas tree, Michele decided that pitiful dog was the one for her. (This also explains our marriage.) It was love at first sight for woman and rodent. Despite the dog’s ugliness, the girls loved her, too, and named her Lulu.
Lulu quickly gained back a pound or two, which is a lot for a dog her size. Her hair grew to look like something other than the fur on a road-killed possum. She almost looked presentable.
Someone gave Michele a dog bed. The floor in the kitchen seemed like a good spot for it, but Michele put it on the couch in the den instead. It didn’t matter anyway, because Lulu jumped up on the couch anytime she pleased, as if it were her couch. The dog also got twenty or thirty blankets to keep her cozy. I did not realize it can get very cold in July in Kentucky, so Lulu also wear wears a coat. (I’m still searching for those testicles)
Daughter #2 wanted Lulu to sleep with her at night.
I said no.
Lulu began sleeping with D2.
However, Lulu knew who had rescued her. Michele was the center of her universe. The rest of us were only bit players who would pet her and scratch her belly when Michele wasn’t around. When Lulu could, she would sneak out of D2’s bed at night and sneak into our room.
“I forbid to have this mutt in bed with us,” I said. (I like to use “forbid” when I can.)
“I’ll keep her on my side,” Michele said. “You won’t even know she’s here.”
The situation soon worsened. D2 put up a blockade each night to keep Lulu in her bed. That usually worked, but D2 tired of having the dog in bed with her. This may be related to the fact that the girls only groomed “their” dog under the threat of parental violence, and Lulu often stunk like a junior high boy’s jock strap. Now, however, we owned a dog that was used to sleeping in a person’s bed.
“We can’t put her back in her own bed downstairs,” Michele said. “She’ll cry all night.”
“We won’t know until we give it a try,” I said, thinking of some way to work “forbid” into the conversation.
“No,” said my senior manager. “She’ll stay here with me.”
In other words, if I didn’t like it, there was a perfectly decent couch downstairs I could use—one with an empty dog bed on it.
For the record: any night I’m the only one home, Lulu sleeps in her own bed downstairs. She does not cry.
Lulu doesn’t do much. She doesn’t play with toys, fetch or explore our back yard. Unless I walk her, the only exercise she gets is following Michele around like a Taylor Swift stalker. Still, I began to respect Lulu a little when I discovered she really is a rat dog, though not in the way I first thought. We came home from a long Thanksgiving weekend to discover that a rat had gotten into our basement. Michele would not let Lulu go down there because she thought the rat would eat her tiny dog. But Lulu would not be denied. She got into the basement and dispatched the rat in swift, Chuck Norris-like fashion. She proudly displayed her kill on the basement steps while Michele screamed like a banshee.
The most important thing about Lulu is that Michele adores her. After a long day of the special hell that passes for public school teaching these days, Lulu can cheer up Michele like no human can. When Michele enters the back door, Lulu hops down from the couch to greet her. It’s the only time she voluntarily gets off her slacker butt.
Lulu, under the mistaken impression I will lift her up on the couch.
But times are changing. Just recently, Lulu quit jumping up on the couch. She waits for someone to lift her up. If I’m the only one around, I laugh and say, “Good luck with that.” Still, I wonder if she has reached a certain age. We don’t know how old Lulu is. One vet guessed she was about four when we got her. Another said he was six or so. Maybe she’s nine or ten now. It’s possible she’s a few years older. I know Lulu’s aging is on Michele’s mind. That’s reason I didn’t want to get another dog. I didn’t want to go through the aging stuff again. But for however long it lasts, and it could be many more years, Michele will be happy. And the rat population in our basement will remain in check.