My husband talked me into a dog. A super social dog named Woofie. We loved him, but he kept running off to make new friends.
Which was how Andy talked me into a second dog. He picked another rescue, a female found wandering on the street of South Central Los Angeles when she was about four months old. We met her at an adoption fair on Sunday, signed papers, and waited another two days for a volunteer to deliver her after we cleared a background check.
My neighbor, an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, was skeptical when I told him our new rescue’s history. “Why didn’t you get a purebred? One where you know where the dog has been and what kind of breed it is?”
“Like your German Shepherd?”
“Well, the rescue group did a temperament test on her, and they say she’s great with other dogs and cats. We even watched her playing with a buddy.”
“Yeah, but she’s a ghetto elk!”
“That’s what we call ‘em, the dogs in South Central and Compton. It’s a big problem. People there don’t spay or neuter, and all these dogs run loose, scavenge for trash, get in fights, and grow up wild and aggressive.”
“All the more reason to get one more off the streets, spayed, and give her a good home.”
Mr. LAPD snorted. “You can try. I had a friend who adopted a ghetto elk, but that dog jumped or climbed every fence every day and went off to roam the streets and pick fights with other dogs. You can take the dog out of the ghetto, but the dog’ll always be a ghetto elk.”
I bit my tongue before I could say, “Well, if your friend walked his ghetto elk as much as you walk your German Shepherd – which is NEVER – it’s no wonder the poor dog had to find his own entertainment and exercise.”
Biting your tongue is the key to staying on good terms with your neighbors. Especially your armed neighbors.
So all I said was, “I guess we’ll see.”
And then I pretended like I wasn’t worried that Mr. LAPD might be right.
When our new rescue girl arrived, she was still so skinny we could see her ribs. Her first day at our house she ate at least five bowls of food.
We tested her with Woofie. He pranced and wrestled with her immediately. When she ignored him to eat, he whined. He poked her with his nose until she bared her teeth and made an ugly face at him. He backed off for about 10 seconds. He poked again until I dragged him away.
We brought her inside to test her with the cats. Bat Cat came to investigate — and froze when she spotted this second canine intruder. She shot me a look that promised 2 AM hairball retribution before bolting down the hall. The newcomer ran after Bat Cat.
So much for the rescue group’s promise that she was “fine with cats!”
Bat Cat made a hard right at the end of the hallway, into the bedroom.
The new dog, unused to hardwood floors, failed to replicate Bat Cat’s turn. She crashed into the linen cupboard at the end of the hall. Her face scrunched up into a wince as she hit. When Commando Cat appeared, she looked away instantly.
Huh. Maybe the rescue was right.
Or maybe pain was a powerful deterrent.
I tested her on a walk. She was awful, alternately pulling and then stopping to sniff at everything. The dog had no concept of walking next to a human. And when she saw a trash can? She dragged me over to it, found a discarded chicken drumstick, and tried to gulp it down. I had to yank open her jaws, shove my hand into her mouth, and pull it out. (For those without pets, cooked chicken bones get rubbery – they compress when cats or dogs chew on them, but can spring back into shape and block an animal’s throat when swallowed.)
When I tried to walk both dogs together, hitched with a coupling device, I looked like a drunken jet-skier, going in circles, helpless to control all the horsepower.
I had to walk the dogs separately. Woofie, furious over his abandonment, promptly dug up Andy’s cucumbers and ate them.
Andy took it better than I did. “It’s okay. She’s never been in a home or on a walk. She’ll learn. But put Woofie in the house next time you walk her alone.”
I did. Woofie spitefully eviscerated two throw pillows.
Andy shrugged off the casualties. “No big deal. He’ll have to go in the crate when we leave.”
“Easy for you to say. You never liked my throw pillows.” Then I asked Andy, “What are we going to call her?”
“What? You don’t already have a name picked out?”
“I like to make you feel like you have input.”
“Well, I kind of like the name—”
“Her name should be Yang Guifui!” I interrupted. “Because she’s part Chinese Shar-pei and she’s got eyes that look like a courtesan’s!”
“But you always keep telling me how Yang Guifui was only considered the most beautiful courtesan in China because she was so fat and our girl is so skinny!”
“But we want her to get fat, right? As fat as her namesake! Well, maybe not that fat.”
Andy rolled his eyes at me. “Fine. But I’m calling her Fey.”
I rolled my eyes back. “I can’t believe you just Americanized her name. WHERE is your cultural sensitivity?!”
I’m sure Andy would have chucked a pillow at me then, if Woofie hadn’t eaten it.
Fey came with other issues. Her little Shar-pei ears were prone to infections. We spent hundreds of dollars at the vet before we found a homemade ear wash that worked if applied regularly.
Fey was allergic to both dust and orange trees. Since dust and orange trees are ubiquitous in SoCal, she had allergy shots. Expensive allergy shots from the expensive doggy dermatologist that was not local (cue expensive gas).
Early malnourishment had taken its toll on Fey’s bones. She broke a toe soon after we got her. Then she broke several splints for her broken toe. The exasperated vet told us to keep her crated and charged us a nuisance fee (or three).
Fey’s vet bills were now thousands of dollars.
But our biggest problem was housebreaking Fey. She never passed up an opportunity to pee or poop…even inside. We only had space for one giant dog crate, and when we left, we had a choice – we could put Woofie in the crate and save the pillows and furniture, or put Fey in the crate and save the rugs. (If we left them outside, Andy’s garden suffered serious plundering.)
After one particularly bad episode, Mr. LAPD spotted me carrying in the rented carpet cleaner and smiled knowingly. “I hear those ghetto elks are hard to housebreak.”
I reminded myself that Mr. LAPD was never unarmed — he once showed a special lightweight pistol he bought to go with his shorts — and only said, “Yep. But she’ll get it eventually.”
And she did. With plenty of edible motivation, Fey learned to use the same special doggie toilet area as Woofie in the dog run. She walked better on a leash than Woofie, especially once her idiot owner figured out that each dog should walk on a separate leash on either side of the human. Fey’s toe healed, her allergies subsided, and one of our greatest joys was watching Fey and Woofie wrestle in the yard.
While Fey was happy to play with Woofie, she would break off tug-o-war immediately if she caught the scent of a mortal enemy such as the street sweeper. Then Fey raced from corner to corner, warning off skateboarders, garbage trucks, and other dogs with her ferocious, deep barking. She preferred to spend her days outside, guarding her yard and only coming inside only when it got dark. Then, of course, she would hop on the couch and snuggle with Andy.
Once Fey was trained, I usually left her outside and Woofie inside when we were gone. Fey was too busy guarding to dig holes unless Woofie egged her on.
One afternoon, I returned to a strange sight. Fey was on her dog bed, snoozing in the sun, but there were multiple metal casings around the patio between the detached garage and the backdoor. Each one was several inches long.
As I collected and puzzled over them, Mr. LAPD opened a window next door.
He called out over the fence, “Hey, there were some guys in your yard earlier. They looked like official Gas Company people, with fluorescent vests and stuff, but Fey was barking her head off at them. She wouldn’t let them near the house or the garage. And then I saw one of them start throwing stuff at her, and I thought, huh, maybe those guys aren’t official after all, but by the time I got outside, they’d driven off in their truck. Was anyone supposed to come to check the gas meter?”
Aghast, I yelled back, “Of course not, that’s just what thieves want you to think! They put on a vest, no one thinks twice about seeing them go into a backyard, and then they break a window or force open a door where no one can see them and rob you! You’re LAPD, shouldn’t you know this?!”
“Well, I mostly deal with shootings,” Mr. LAPD mumbled. He closed the window and disappeared.
I checked Fey. Her thick fur must have protected her, because there were neither bruises nor swelling. Then I called the local police. Sure enough, there was a gang that had hit our neighborhood recently using the same backyard entry. The police came out, interviewed me, and collected the casings. When I told one officer what Mr. LAPD had seen, she said, “Yeah, we already talked to him.”
“How could he not know immediately that it was an attempted burglary, for crying out loud?”
She sighed, but only said, “Ah, the LAPD.”
When Andy got home and heard the news, he made Fey a special meal of chicken livers. As they were cooking, Andy grumbled, “What’s the use of living by all the firepower next door if Mr. LAPD can’t even figure out when a crime is happening?”
“Well, we don’t need Mr. LAPD or his twenty guns. We have Fey.” I petted Fey’s face while she thumped her tail. “And she stood her ground, and she held those burglars at bay, even when they threw stuff at her!”
That day, Fey the Fierce earned back all her vet bills and more.
The backyard burglary gang robbed several more houses in our area. They tasered one poor Labrador retriever and got past another dog by feeding him an entire barbecued chicken. As far as I know, they haven’t been caught.
But they haven’t been back to our house.
Mr. LAPD has since been promoted to Lieutenant LAPD.
His truck got broken into while sitting in his driveway one night. Lieutenant LAPD’s purebred German Shepherd never noticed as the thieves made off with firearms and valuables.
Too bad he didn’t have a ghetto elk like Fey.