When Dog Met Car (#188)

Despite the title, no dogs were hurt in the making of this post. I promise you will not need tissues. You can continue reading without fear. I can’t stand stories where the dog dies in the end. Kill all the people you want, damn it, but save the dog. I mean, I thought the movie A Dog’s Purpose was the worst film idea ever. What kind of masochist wants to watch a dog die six times?

You’re sick, Hollywood. Sick.

Now, onto the dog-is-fine-I-promise story.

*****

It took me years to get our rescue dogs properly trained. They each had different issues, though. Woofie, our Dane/ Labrador/ American Bulldog mix, could learn any command in minutes. But would he perform said command if there were exciting new dog or human friends around? Uh, no. In the beginning, there was no food reward or stern-voiced consequence that could deter Woofie from greeting/ jumping on potential playmates. Woofie loved everyone. He firmly believed everyone loved him back.

There are worse ways to go through life.

Fey, our once-starving rescue from the streets of South Central, was far more obedient than Woofie. The minute our Shar-pei/ Shepherd mix discovered my pockets contained a limitless supply of treats, she’d do anything to please me. She just couldn’t always figure out how. It took ages to train Fey to move in certain ways – even just rolling over.

Meanwhile, right next to her, Woofie would frantically roll over, play dead, give high-fives, hold a bone on his nose till commanded to flip his head back and catch it, shake water off his fur, or bring us a specific toy.

Fey did have one remarkable trick. If Woofie ran off when I had told both dogs to “stay,” she would immediately chase him down, tackle him, and herd him back to me. She was smaller than Woofie, but faster, meaner, and with much sharper teeth.

Eventually, Fey finally caught on and Woofie calmed down. They leaned to come when called. They heeled nicely on walks. They sat and stayed while I picked up poop. Fey and Woofie sat and waited at our gate while I took off leashes and let them back in our yard.

I was proud of my dogs and never hesitated to show them off.

Too proud.

One morning I foolishly ended our walk just as the local school’s drop-off traffic began. The temptation of so many children was too much for Woofie. Instead of going in the open gate, Woofie bolted down the sidewalk, heading for the main crosswalk that led to the school.

Fey went after him.

I chased after them both, visions of the Emergency Vet in my head.

Woofie galloped across the street. Thankfully, some remnant of training stayed in his big, bony head. He used the crosswalk.

Unfortunately, a Volvo station wagon was turning through that same crosswalk. Street-smart Fey slowed.

Woofie did not.

He smashed head first into the driver’s side quarter panel.

Then bounced off like it was nothing.

The Volvo stopped.

Woofie swerved around the front of the car and kept going.

A Mom in pajamas jumped out of her minivan on the other side of the street. Woofie identified her as a new friend. He pranced joyfully around her. She grabbed his collar. By the time I caught up, Woofie was on his back, offering his belly for scratches. Fey stood guard over him.

I examined Woofie for damage. His tongue lolled out over his jowls. He drooled like a cartoon lunatic. In short, he was totally normal.

I thanked Mini-van Mom profusely.

She sighed, looked down at her nightwear, and said, “Of course, the one day I wear pajamas to drop off, it’s the one day I get out of the car.”

Once I had the dogs leashed, I went back to the Volvo. Woofie’s head had left deep dent about 3 feet wide on the quarter panel.

“I’m so sorry,” I told the mom sitting in the driver’s seat. “It’s all my fault, let me give you our insurance information. I’ll call them and open a claim.”

Her face was very pale. The poor woman’s voice and hands shook as she told me, “It’s okay. I thought…I thought for a second I’d hit a child.”

I felt complete shame and guilt, and rightly so. Stupid me, showing off my well-trained dogs. “Oh, my God, that’s terrible, I am so, so, sorry,” I babbled. “Please, please, my house is right here, just park and come inside and let me get you some water and you can sit until you feel okay. Do you want coffee? Tea? Anything?”

The Volvo driver did come inside. She was more forgiving than I deserved as we swapped insurance info.

It took a long time for her hands to quit shaking, though.

After she left, I called the vet and explained that my dog’s head had crashed into a car’s quarter panel.

Her voice grave, the vet asked, “You’d better bring her in  – wait. Which dog?”

“Woofie.”

Her concern vanished. “Oh, it’s Woofie! He’s the one who dragged me out of the exam room and down the hall to meet all the kenneled dogs, right?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“With the gigantic head?”

“Yep.”

“Any blood? Bleeding gums? Erratic behavior?”

“Nope, didn’t even fall over.”

She snickered. “Of course not. Big dogs like him, they take a shot like that pretty well. Bring him in if anything changes, though I bet he’s fine.”

She was right. Woofie was fine. Just like I promised, remember?

My next phone call was to my insurance company, USAA.

I told the agent, “I need to open a claim because my dog hit a car.”

“You mean…your dog got hit by a car?”

“No, my dog hit the car. A Volvo station wagon, to be exact.”

“Is…is the dog okay?”

“He’s fine. The station wagon isn’t.”

“I…can you hold just a minute?”

“Sure.”

I held while the rep finished either laughing or summoning her colleagues with, “Guys! Guys! You’re not gonna believe this one!”

Once she came back on the line, though, the agent was completely professional. “So this will be a claim on your homeowner’s insurance, which covers damage done by dogs, although a dog hitting a car is definitely, um, unique…”

That’s my dog. Unique.

What Lies Below (#187)

I live in Los Angeles and there’s something under my house.

Don’t freak out.

It’s just a crawl space.

But this dirty, cobwebbed, not even two-feet high den of darkness is disconcerting. Especially for a person who grew up in Washington, D.C., where we had basements. In places with cold winters, basements have to be built below the frost line – otherwise soils can heave and push foundation walls in and there goes your house. Extremely cold places like New Hampshire even have signs warning drivers about buckled asphalt:

Frost Heaves

When I first house-sat for an exec in Los Angeles, I opened a lot of closet and bathroom doors while hunting for the non-existent basement. (Don’t judge – if you grew up in a family like mine, you’d always want to know where all the exits were, too.)

After house sitting gig #3, I finally figured out that houses in sunny southern California don’t need basements. Instead, a vented crawl space between the dirt (or slab) and the floorboards of the house allows ocean breezes to circulate and cool the air under the house in warm weather. The ventilation reduces the potential for mold, too.

Even better, the crawl space allows access to the plumbing, cable, and electrical systems without tearing up the floors.

You just have to pay someone to brave the cave.

My husband grew up in Hawaii. He’s used to the crawl space. He’s also cheap. Andy had no problem belly crawling under our new home himself when he wanted to install surround sound. All I had to do was grab cables and pound on the floor to direct him to the correct spots.

Andy eventually emerged, dirty and cobwebbed, but victorious.

I asked, “So, um, you didn’t see anything down there, did you?”

“Like what?”

“Like mice. Rats. Cannibalistic human under dwellers.”

“Funny, honey.”

“Hey, it’s not like the crawl space is secure! There’s just a cheap screen in a wooden frame to keep creatures out.”

“It took me a day to make that!”

“Yes, you’re very talented. But a weak human or a strong raccoon could pry that screen off and lurk below us and we’d never know it.”

Andy rolled his eyes at me. “We might not, but the dog sure would. And he’d want to go get it.”

“Only to play with it. He’d be easy prey.”

“He’s ninety pounds and he’d alert us. Stop freaking out. There’s nothing there.”

Andy had a point. Woofie was absurdly social and an “only dog” at the time. He lived to escape in search of new playmates. We’d just replaced our third gate in the hopes of curtailing his escapades.

Apparently in vain. Woofie disappeared from the backyard that very afternoon. Andy grabbed one leash, I grabbed another, and we split up to case the neighborhood for our Houdini dog. Usually, we found Woofie within minutes, either in science class at the local middle school, or joyfully leaping around any dog and owner walking around our block. I once found Woofie trying to play with an irate cyclist.

But not that day. We walked for miles. We knocked on doors. No one had seen Woofie.

Despondent, we went home to make “Lost Dog” flyers.

As the printer roared to life, I heard scratching. Under my desk. No, under the flooring under my desk. Followed by moaning.

“I told you!” I shrieked. “I told you there was something under the house!”

“There’s nothing under the house!” Andy argued. Then, in unison, as the light bulb went off over our heads –

“WOOFIE!”

We ran outside. Sure enough, Andy had forgotten to replace the screen for the crawl space. He crawled back under the house. After a few minutes of scuffling, Andy dragged out our dirt-coated and utterly unrepentant mutt.

“He was belly up and having a ball,” Andy reported. “Kicking his legs in the air and doing that growly-moan thing he does when he’s wiggling on dirt and rocks to scratch his back.”

I sighed. “His claws must’ve scratched the floorboards. God, dog, that’s twice today you’ve scared me to death.”

As I retaliated by giving Woofie a bath, Andy asked, “Now that Woofie’s investigated, will you just admit I’m right?”

It took an effort, but, yes, I admitted that my husband was right. There was nothing under our house.

That time.

Chocolate Thievery (#186)

A big family and not quite enough food can mess you up for life. My sisters and I learned to eat fast, hunching protectively over our plates. But no matter how fast we ate, Big Brother would finish first. Then he’d inevitably loom over us, asking, “Are you gonna eat that?”

If our mouths were too full to answer, he’d take that as a no.

Fork duels ensued.

Once we got high school jobs, we stashed food in our rooms. My size eleven boots could hold a lot of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and none of my siblings – not even my crafty older sister – found them.

Then my father got a chocolate Labrador Retriever. Like many Labs, Toffee had no off switch when it came to food. Any unattended comestible was fair game. Cooling apple pies disappeared from the kitchen island. Whole batches of chocolate chip cookies were lost. Pizzas, too.

The Naval Academy was soon responsible for feeding Big Brother, but my other siblings and I had to guard our food from the dog. And not just in the kitchen.

Toffee busted into my closet. She ate my entire stash of Reese’s.

Yes, chocolate is bad for dogs, but Reese’s is barely chocolate and Toffee was ninety pounds.

She not only suffered no ill-effects, she lived to be seventeen.

The same cannot be said of my boots.

*****

Fast forward a decade or two. Baby Brother came to visit. As a twenty-something single guy on his own in NYC, he was living on ramen. My husband and I weren’t surprised when Baby Brother haunted the kitchen, scarfing down everything that came out of the oven. He was appreciative of every scrap of food, and he ate it like he was afraid someone was going to rip it out of his hands.

He especially adored the devil’s food cake with ganache frosting that takes me six hours to make. But when he disappeared in the middle of his third helping, things got weird.

I looked around and asked Andy, “Hey, where’s Baby Brother?”

“In the bathroom.”

“But…he was eating cake. Where’s the cake?” (One of the residual impacts of childhood food scarcity is unconsciously keeping tabs on how much food is being eaten and knowing exactly who is eating it and if they are exceeding their allotted share.)

“Huh. I don’t know.” We searched the kitchen and the living room. Nothing.

I eyed our rescue mutt Woofie. Woofie was part chocolate Lab and therefore a champion counter-surfer. The dog stole everything from pot stickers to loaves of bread. He laid on the floor, snoring. I shook my head. “If Woofie had eaten it, he’d still be licking his chops. And there would be a plate, licked clean.”

“Maybe not,” Andy answered. “Remember how Woofie ate that rock?”

We considered our dog’s oversized maw until Baby Brother came out of the bathroom.

He held a plate with one bite of cake left.

I said, “You DID NOT seriously take your cake into the bathroom.”

Baby Brother said, “What? What’s wrong with that?”

“I just…I don’t…I can’t even – SO MUCH! Andy, tell him!”

Andy was laughing too hard to be of assistance.

Unfazed, Baby Brother ate his last bite. “It’s good cake.”

*****

A year or two later, Big Brother had a conference in Los Angeles. He stopped in for dinner. (My family used to come visit for Disneyland, now they only come for conferences.) We had Andy’s pot stickers and hot and sour soup. Even though there were still pot stickers in the serving dish, Big Brother leaned over when he finished. He pointed at my plate and asked, “Hey, you gonna eat that?”

I mimed stabbing him with a chopstick.

Andy, confused, offered the serving tongs to Big Brother, saying, “Plenty more pot stickers here and in the kitchen. Plus Autumn made cookies for dessert.”

“Cookies! Yum!” After finishing off a few more pot stickers, we took napkins of cookies into the living room. We wound up talking about gardening. Like most guests from D.C., Big Brother expressed orange tree envy. Within minutes, we were out in the backyard so Big Brother could pick his own orange. He carried it proudly back to the living room.

Only to yell, “Hey! What happened to my cookies?!”

His napkin lay on the coffee table. Empty.

Woofie, licking his chops, slunk hurriedly out of the living room.

So maybe I owe Baby Brother an apology.

Maybe taking your cake to the bathroom is the way to go after all.