Sam The One Day Dog

To Bob... for Skippy.

As I grew up, my parents never sat me down and had the talk with me. Several times I'd think it was coming. I'd hear a whisper in a hall or see them huddled over a cup of Mormon-friendly Postum. I'd linger a bit in anticipation of getting the talk; but after a few minutes of me standing there not speaking it just got awkward, so I'd shuffle off, mumbling I'll just be in my room if you need me, or something equally hopeful. They'd have smelled my desperation if Jovan musk wasn't so cheap and sold in walking-distance malls.

Greg White holding a cavalir king charles puppy in Sherman,CT

In my mind, the speech goes like this: Son, owning a dog is a big responsibility. It's a huge metaphor for life. You have to feed it -- like it's your very soul. You're ultimately responsible for the happiness and well-being of another spirit. A Blithe Spirit -- to use a term you might find comfortable since you seem to like being in those drama productions at your school that we never come to -- a spirit of which you and you alone are totally in charge. They must be walked and you must pick up their shit on the lawn like you love it. If we ever step in the unpicked-up shit, though. we will beat you like a red-headed stepchild. If you think you are ready to own and care for a dog, we can form a little committee and once you and your three brothers have all decided on one type of dog, we will go buy one.

The same dog?! We couldn't decide on the same pizza, let alone a dog. I realized that I couldn't swap a poodle for a German Shepherd like it was Halloween candy, so I just kept relatively quiet. We never did that family outing where we walked up and down the aisles of the SPCA. I know how it goes -- everyone is looking for a puppy. There's a crowd around the pen with the mass of wiggling yellow fur, and tiny children are being licked by a young pup named I Want This One Daddy!

But I keep walking and notice a lone, older dog in a pen that no one cared to clean today. She has one ear sticking up. She shakes a little as I walk in, because she isn't used to visitors and doesn't want to get her hopes up -- again. Life doesn't throw a tennis ball at every dog. She creaks up with hesitation and early hip dysplasia like a girl at the very end of the prom who's finally asked to dance. There's something in this dogs eyes that look back into mine, and start telling me her story. I want to hear more, so I take sign the papers promising not to cook her and I take her home.

After months of slow bonding and endless trips to the vet to try to heal everything that probably got her abandoned in the first place -- we are in love. Our slow-mo montage is laid on top of a Maroon 5 ballad, where we romp through fields. We sit in front of the roaring fireplace in our mountain chalet, and I take a quick minute to look up from my novel and smile at the sight of her sleeping all curled up, wondering why that doesn't hurt her back and how I ever lived without her.

Yeah, I never had that.

Like many people, my Aunt Cathie loves her dogs. She has passed this love sweetly to my cousin Sean It's heartwarming to watch their hearts melt at even the thought of their animals. Cathie got this gift from her mother, who we called Baby. Baby once had a black lab, Joker, who was able to jump her six-foot fence and run away. His desire to fly to freedom made no sense to me, because Baby's home and loving care were what all people, not just dogs, should have wanted to jump into.
    
Her son-in-law, my Uncle Jim, was playing golf one day. His caddy, James, happened to live in Baby's detached guest house over the garage. In addition to shining golf shoes and recommending a three iron over a five, he helped Baby with stuff around the house. One day, as James handed Jim his driver, his hand lingered on the club, not letting go.

"Mr. Jim, there's a dog in your mother-in-law's yard dragging around a skillet tied to his neck," he said, worried.

Jim appreciated the nerve it took James to speak to him about this deep concern. Smiling, Jim explained it all as he swung, "That's just to keep him from jumping over the fence."

Yes, exhausted and frustrated from hunting and searching and dragging crazy Joker back into the compound, Baby grabbed a cast-iron skillet from the kitchen she never cooked in and tied it to a long chain attached to Joker's collar. He could walk around the yard, dragging the huge, heavy, chicken-frying skillet but he couldn't jump over the fence. He never figured out why he couldn't jump, he just accepted it and roamed the grounds semi-freely. Occasionally his chain would get caught up on a tree trunk or a car tire; but he'd sit, patiently waiting for someone to pass by and hear his eyes pleading, Be a lamb and untangle me.

My cousin Sean and I later used this idea to attach our monkey to a cable between two trees in our yard on Balboa Island. He could zip-zip back and forth, and was still hands-free to masturbate incessantly; but unable to run away.

I got the itch for a dog years ago in Los Angeles. I decided to scratch it on a Jack Russell terrier. I found a farm in Thousand Oaks that also bred champion thoroughbred horses. I drove out on a beautiful sunny Sunday to have a little look see.

Los Angeles is full of canyons and valleys with properties that even Will Rogers would still be discovering, so I was thrilled but not surprised to drive into this never-before-imagined farm property.

A Hallmark commercial (starring me) began rolling. As I parked and walked toward the huge, stereotypical red barn -- a dozen Jack Russell tiny, fat puppies bounded out and ran down the expansive, rolling green lawn. One particular puppy leaped right into my sucker-arms. I wrote the check, tucked the pup in the passenger seat and drove off onto the Sunset. Sunset Boulevard.

Once home, I fussed over him and played with him. I took Sam (his new name) to a dinner party that night with David Youse and Tai Babilonia, passing him around like an hors d'oeurve. Later, I pulled him into bed with me, now not alone for once in a very long time. We clung onto each other all night, both sniffing each other and asking ourselves what we'd gotten into.

Before I hesitantly went to work the next day, I left his food and water in my bedroom, near the bathroom floor thinking that would be the easiest place to clean up the inevitable pee. I spoke in a loving, hopeful, song-song voice as I showed all this to him, left a gay-crazy amount of toys piled up, and closed the door gently.

It was dark when I got home. I didn't know yet to leave a light on for him. I eased open the front door to prevent his excited little body from squirming out past the guy he barely knew and might not remember.

But he wasn't waiting. Panicked, I flipped on the lights and started searching the house, sure that he had escaped out a door I left open or had been robbed by a PETA rogue. I hadn't even had the chance to act non-repulsed by the saliva-covered tennis ball I hadn't even yet had the chance to throw over and over and over.

When I walked in my bedroom, there he was, huddled in the exact same spot I had placed him in near his untouched food. He hadn't even chewed the price tags off the toys, nor drank any water. In a second I realized that the bouncing puppy I had watched run down the huge, rolling lawn, and had fallen so quickly in love with, was in shock and missed that farm and the horses.

I made a mistake asking him to accept my life.

I called the farm and told the owner what I felt. She understood. I drove him back to the farm immediately. Even in the dark, he ran out of my car, up the giant lawn and into the dark barn.

I hope he has a wonderful life, and not thought for a moment of selfish me. All of the time I get is borrowed. 

Of all my travels, I have marveled at the fantastic, shockingly pristine beauty of Alaska, which is rivaled by nothing in the world except the love I saw bestowed on the Alaskan sled dogs by their owners. Seeing Alaska is as breathtaking as visiting Paris in love.

Ive helicopter as a U.S. Marine, and twice I've helicoptered up through a sharp, frozen-in-timeless-beauty ravine and gasped from the thrilling ride and the stunning vistas. Even though the chopper is crazy noisy, all you can hear is the serenity outside. Alaska must be what owning and truly loving a dog is like -- everywhere you look you want to hold it in your mind and caress it and you don't care who sees you because it actually is just you and it alone.

As I landed on a blindingly white glacier, I saw the sled dogs jumping around and even before I de-choppered I heard them yelping as they strained against their chains. They get as excited as Baby's dog Joker did (pre-skillet) but to pull sleds. Whether it's tourists full of cruise ship buffet food or for the grueling, eleven hundred-mile long Iditarod these dogs are barking.
 

Only if the time is right, I'd like to earn the privilege of sharing my life with a dog. I'd love to feel what my friends feel -- that unconditional, constantly-surprised love when I walk through the door for the one thousandth time.
  
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable." - C.S. Lewis

3 comments:

  1. Lots of them out there, looking for a chance to give that unconditional love.
    Hope your day comes soon

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  2. As counterintuitive as it might sound, your puppy Sam might have been less overwhelmed when you left him for the day if he'd had a small kennel to call his own. Our dog is giant and not nervous, but other dog owners I trust crate their dogs when they're away, especially smaller dogs who seem to need a space closer to their own size. They get agoraphobic.

    We got our Chesapeake Bay retriever from a rescue society. They're networks of people who love particular breeds of dogs and will grab them from shelters and foster them until someone comes along to take them home for good. This is such a popular way of getting a dog around here that right before we got Charlie I saw a bumper sticker that described our feelings about him perfectly: "Who Rescued Who?"

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  3. Oh Greg, ANOTHER good story!! I do hope that one day you are in a place where you can share life w/ a furry family member. I have had dogs (& cats) ALL my life & there is truly nothing like the unconditional love with your pet. Of course, inevitably there is heartbreak & each & every time,I swear it's my last. But then I remember the love & we get another. I think when these I have now leave me, we will become a foster family. And we always adopt/rescue now. Growing up my father used to always go to a breeder but my family adopts. Woof Woof!!

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