Tanked (#368)

We spent several months depressed and dog-less before I spotted a video of a gray bully mix named Tank on Petfinder. The video showed Tank playing fetch with a young boy. Tank even sat nicely with a cat.

I showed the video to Andy. “Look! He’s great with kids and cats! He’s trained. And he’s under eighty pounds!”

Andy agreed. I called the rescue and arranged a time to meet Tank. We showed our son the video. Dalton promptly dubbed the dog “Tankie De Jong” after watching Tank chase a ball into a pool, a couch, and the bushes.  Dalton, who was all about soccer, told us that Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong always had to have the ball.

It turned out to be an accurate comparison. Tankie was friendly when we met him, accepting pets and giving sniffs, but the second a ball appeared? Nothing else existed. He barreled through any obstacle to get a thrown ball, then raced back to the closest human, dropped the ball, and waited for it to be thrown again. (This was novel. Getting the ball back from some dogs could be…difficult.) Tankie would sit and stay on command, lie down, high-five, and go to his crate. He even had perfect recall off leash.

There are, at any given time, between 26,000 and 44,000 stray dogs in Los Angeles. The majority are chihuahuas, followed by American pit bull mixes and American Staffordshire Terrier mixes. Tankie looked like thousands of other stray, gray bully mixes. He was found on the streets of Moreno Valley, unaltered, at age 2-4.  Months later, he was pulled from the shelter by a rescue.

A picture Tank’s foster mom took soon after she got him.

Tank spent at least a year in foster care, overlooked in favor of younger dogs.

His foster mom had been working with him for months, hoping that a someone would value training enough to opt for an older dog instead of a cute puppy.

And here we were, smitten, taking Tankie home for a two-week trial period. We just needed to make sure he was a good fit and that the boss was okay with our choice.

 And no, Dalton was not the boss.

This was the boss.

The Boss

Boss Cat was her full name, and she ran the household. She loved dogs—especially hitting them in the face—but she had refused to be in the same room as the last dog we’d brought home for a few days.

I warned Tankie’s foster mom that if Boss Cat didn’t like Tankie, we couldn’t keep him. She gave me a can of compressed air and said, “Use this if he acts up. He really, really hates it.”

Once he arrived, Tankie immediately made himself at home. He played with Dalton and a dog-proof soccer ball. He crashed on his outdoor bed on our sunny patio. He was a dream on our walk up to the park. Since no one was around, I let Tankie off leash.

Tank and his newfound football

He promptly found a discarded football and brought it to me for the inevitable game of fetch.

When we got home, I put him in his crate. Boss Cat walked by, stopped, and glared at Tankie. I grabbed the can of compressed air.

Tankie sat up on his haunches, ears perking into an alert. And barked a single, angry bark.

“NO!” I shouted, shooting compressed air into his face. Tank dropped immediately into a submissive pose. “Absolutely NOT!”

Boss Cat stalked away.

Tankie never barked at her again. He did his best not to even look at her. Boss would come sit within a foot of Tankie and glare, her tail lashing back and forth. Tankie would stare resolutely at the wall, or put his back to her.

Then she’d move until she was right up in his face, as if to say, “Come at me, bro. I got five daggers on each paw and I will CUT YOU.”  And still Tankie would look away. Sometimes he would look at me, checking to see if I noticed what a Very Good Boy he was being in the face of such outrageous feline provocation.

Tankie’s last test was three small children. My Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister came to visit with her kids—none of whom were known for having impulse control. I gave them all a very firm lecture on how to behave with Tankie.

“We’ll be very good with your dog,” they promised.

“Well, he’s actually not our dog yet,” I explained. “We’re still seeing if we’re a good fit.”

I introduced them to Tankie and showed them how much he loved to fetch. Then I watched them like hawks. I needn’t have bothered. Tankie was thrilled to share his yard with them. If they weren’t playing ball, he followed those kiddos around as they picked lemons, shot Nerf guns, and wrestled.

Such a good boy

When the youngest patted him on the head, he licked her face.

Tankie had been trained not to go on the furniture. But at one point, he came over to my chair and tried to climb into my lap.

“Tankie!” I said, laughing. “Down!”

My sister snapped a picture and said, “I don’t care what you say, he’s definitely your dog.”

And so he was.

 

Dogless (#365)

We had never lived in our house without a dog. The night the owners of our current house accepted our offer, we got our first dog. Woofie came with us to the housing inspection. In less than six months, we’d gotten Woofie a buddy named Fey. Dogs were incorporated into our lifestyle from the start.

They prewashed our dishes, which was especially handy with egg yolk.

They made sure we got exercise: 2-6 miles daily.

They helped us meet our neighbors. (To this day, I generally know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Their owners’ names? No idea.)

They guarded our house and saved us money on alarms and utility bills. If the dogs were home, we could leave the windows open when we were out.

They gave us a handy excuse to leave awkward dinners or parties: “Gotta get home and let out the dogs before Bad Things Happen.”

The dogs helped entertain and raise Baby D, as well as ensuring he had a very robust immune system.

Even in Los Angeles, I could walk those dogs at any hour without an ounce of fear. Only the most desperate, hopeful dog-lovers would approach me and my 160 pounds of canines. (When they did approach, it always made Woofie’s day.)

No TV show was ever as funny as watching their battles over water bottles or tug toys (which generally ended in Woofie dragging Fey around the yard as she hung onto said toy). We spent many summer evenings on our swing in the backyard laughing over their antics.

They were family, whether snuggling with us on the couch at night or counter surfing relentlessly during the day.

And we lost them both to different cancers within a year-and-a-half of each other.

I took losing Woofie hard. So did our Boss Cat. While Fey had guarded her yard all day, Woofie spent much of the day inside, playing with Boss Cat or getting attention from me. I kept expecting to hear his claws on the hardwood floor, or feel his muzzle lift my arm when I paid too much attention to the computer screen.

Boss Cat tried to play with Fey, but Fey was a sensitive German Shepherd mix. When Boss Cat batted her in the face, Fey barked and snapped. A normal cat would have fled. Boss Cat glared and hit Fey with her right paw so hard that the WHAP reverberated through the house. Fey—who had vanquished multiple loose pit bulls, a Tibetan Shepherd mix, and a Rhodesian ridgeback—winced and slunk away. Without a canine playmate, Boss Cat consoled herself with food, gaining a pound after Woofie’s demise.

Andy took Fey’s death hardest. She was his obedient girl who loved to jump on the couch and have him pet her face after he got home from work. Andy consoled himself with Boss Cat, who allowed cuddles and head bunting nightly.

*****

Our dogless house was a quieter place. Less mess. Less money spent at the vet. No need to hurry home from Baby D’s soccer tournaments. It was much easier (and cheaper!) to hire the girls down the block to feed Boss Cat than to find a reliable dog sitter to stay in our house when we traveled.

We closed and locked all our windows up when we left, returning to a house that was a veritable SoCal sauna.

We had to throw out leftover food and waste water rinsing away egg yolks.

I still went for early morning walks, but my only companion was Pokemon Go. Sometimes I would see a big dog and run over, cooing, “Oh my GOD! She’s so cute! Can I say hi?! I have a venison treat in my pocket in case she had allergies is that okay?!”

I had become the desperate dog stalker.

We took care of a friend of a friend’s dog for a few days. Boss Cat hated that dog on sight. She nearly tore out a window screen trying to escape the house and refused to come into the living room until the dog went home.

I told Andy, “I guess if we want another dog, it would have to have Boss Cat’s approval.”

“You want another dog? You’re the one that always goes on about how you have to train it and do all the work.”

“Yeah, but…our house doesn’t feel right. Every morning, going up the hill, I think, ‘This is such a waste of a walk. Some rescue dog out there would be loving this.'”

“We’d have to find a dog that is good with cats and kids.”

“But it has to be a rescue dog that needs a home. A big dog.”

“Not over eighty pounds,” Andy declared. “I need be able to carry the dog ten years from now when it’s old and sick.”

“It’ll have to be trained. And not a puppy. I am not up for spending hours on dog training again.”

“So we’re looking for a dog that’s good with cats, good with kids, is big but under 80 pounds, is young, but not a puppy and fully trained?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “We’re probably not getting another dog for a while, are we?”

And we didn’t.

Until I found the Tank.

A Doggie Story (#339)

Our rescue dogs were very different in temperament. Woofie, the Labrador mix, saw every creature as a potential playmate. If he could have, that dog would have opened the door to any stranger with a ball…or a knife, or a gun.

Fey, our German shepherd and shar-pei mix, saw every stranger as a potential threat, unless they were a white male over six feet tall who smelled like In-n-Out burgers. (You can probably guess who rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles and what food they used to gain a starving dog’s trust.) Fey refused to let the gas meter man near the house, which was a pain in the ass, but she also refused to let burglars break into the house, which everyone except Woofie found heroic.

Woofie shook off criticism like water. “Bad dog!” meant nothing to him. So did “no!” and even, “Jesus fucking Christ, Woofie, how did you dig up an entire bougainvillea in two minutes?!” Continue reading A Doggie Story (#339)

Consider the Dachshund (#315)

Comedian Sarah Cooper started a funny dog thread on Twitter with this tweet:

https://twitter.com/sarahcpr/status/1350622446848770049

Thousands of replies told Sarah all about dachshunds. About how they were bred to be small enough to fit into badger holes, but aggressive enough to drag badgers out of them. About how neighborhood and household dachshunds terrorized all other dogs.

Twitter, which never agrees on anything, agreed that dachshunds are assholes.

Even dog breeding groups, which put the best possible spin on all purebreds, concede that dachshunds are “more likely to be aggressive towards both people and dogs,” although the they do not specify more likely than what.

More likely than ANYTHING would be my guess. Continue reading Consider the Dachshund (#315)

One Smug Squirrel (#286)

There weren’t many squirrels around when Andy and I moved into our little house in Southern California. The native Western gray squirrel lives off oak trees and hangs out mostly in forests. SoCal isn’t big on forests.

The few squirrels we did begin to see weren’t natives. They looked exactly like the squirrels I grew up with in D.C. and Virginia. That’s because they were Eastern fox squirrels, brought to Santa Monica by veterans a century ago as pets. These squirrels are savvy little scavengers. They used telephone and electrical wires to colonize Los Angeles County.

They’ve bamboozled numerous elderly neighbors into feeding them peanuts daily. Continue reading One Smug Squirrel (#286)

New Cat (#278)

When my husband mellowed on the subject of a new cat, I contacted the group that had rescued our dog Fey from the streets of Los Angeles.

“We have a big dog who tries to play with everyone and everything,” I explained. “We mostly trained him out of chasing our old cats, but Woofie’s not totally reliable. Do you have a cat that’s okay with dogs?”

The volunteer said, “Oh, do we have a cat for you!” Continue reading New Cat (#278)

When Baby Met Dogs (#261)

We had two three-year-old rescue dogs and two old rescue cats when Baby D was born. Even though the dogs were well-trained (mostly), you never know how your pets are going to react to babies.

Well, in one case we knew. Beowoof (Woofie for short) loved everyone and everything. Especially kids and puppies. The greatest day of Woofie’s life was the day he escaped and went to Science class at the local middle school.  Half the kids were on their desks, shrieking, but, as usual, Woofie was convinced everyone loved him.

Woofie had been waiting for his own boy forever. He was gonna be thrilled…as soon as the kid was big enough to play.

I expected Bat Cat and Commando Cat to be utterly indifferent until Baby D was old enough to terrorize them.

Fey (orange) and Woofie (dark brown).

My biggest worry was Fey. Continue reading When Baby Met Dogs (#261)

To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).

Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.

The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.

This astounded people.

Continue reading To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

A few years ago, a thirty-something couple moved into the house behind us. They had two girls under age five and another baby on the way. When the mom told me that her husband once danced and sang on a table, I assumed she was indulging in nostalgia rather than foreshadowing.

Until festive lights went up in the backyard. This was followed by a disco ball, loud music, and the chanting of “Drink, drink, drink!”

Another neighbor called and asked where the frat party was.

“At the newborn’s house,” I replied.

Continue reading New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

Problem Pet Owners (#213)

Some people shouldn’t have pets. Take my family. I had anywhere from 3-7 siblings when I was growing up. There’s no way a parent will notice a listless cat needs a vet visit when they don’t even know that child #2 has a chipped ankle because they’re busy bandaging the road rash of child #4, dragged an entire block by the dog they never had the time to train. Eventually, the ill-trained dog will be sent to the local doggie death center. The children will cry. The dog will be replaced by a bunny. Raccoons will eat the rabbit because it was left outside.

Welcome to the circle of life, suburban edition. Continue reading Problem Pet Owners (#213)