Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dog Days of Summer

My mother, who has never, ever touched a dog in her entire life, despite the fact that I always HAD a dog while growing up, once agreed to take on a golden retriever because "it would look nice in front of the fireplace." Like many things in our house, the dog was a prop, an accessory.

The golden retriever, in this case, became a part of our family because she blended nicely with the wood floors and ceiling-high bookshelves. She would transform the room into a gentleman's library, perhaps, or maybe a cigar room of some sort.

All grown up now, I have taken a different approach to selecting pets. Dogs and cats have to fit in with our family in some way. Size, personality, hair color. I adopted Penny seven years ago from the Humane Society because we had a CONNECTION. When I saw her in the kennel, I saw My Dog. She was a great fit. She and I had almost the same hair color. She was housebroken. She seemed like a loyal dog and was good with kids. And she needed a home. So we gave her one for the next five years.

On Oct. 7, 2006, I sent the following e-mail, which I have kept in my outbox for almost two years:

A few of you have already heard, but I wanted to let those who knew of Penny's illness know that she died this morning at Dr. Day's office. Her cancer had returned a few weeks ago and had apparently spread throughout her body. I took her to the vet yesterday to get a shot for pain and anything else he could give her, and Dr. Day said she was nearing the end. I took her back this morning and was holding her when she died. It was very peaceful for Penny, although I'm certain that my wailing permanently scarred every child in the waiting room.
It's been a really crappy day.


Last month, Ruby (who was called "Betsy" at the animal shelter) caught my eye because I saw a lot of Penny in her, and who wouldn't want another Penny, the Most Awesome Dog Ever? And while that's not fair to Ruby, it sealed the deal for me. I set high standards for her before she ever entered our door.

But Ruby had something else, too -- something more than a Penny likeness. She had the look of a disc dog. At our first meeting, I had visions of touring her across the state as part of a PR campaign to raise awareness about rescue dogs. I would look sporty throwing a frisbee across the park, while Van Halen (of the Sammy Hagar variety, not David Lee Roth) played from the van stereo. I would grab the mic and explain to the crowd that Ruby was a shelter dog, the sometimes end-of-the-road for a dog like Ruby, who was surrendered by her owners who, according to the shelter documents, "just didn't want her anymore." The crowd would gasp.

I would go on to explain that upon our second visit with Ruby at the shelter that she laid on her back in her kennel, displaying fresh stitches from her hysterectomy, as if to say, "I'm not sure why they did this to me. Can you please get me the crap out of here?"

I would stop mid-field in the disc dog demonstration area, put one hand on my hip and recall my response. "They did this to you so that we could take you home today. Come on." The crowd would applaud.

During our disc dog demonstration, Ruby would leap several feet in the air and wow the crowds with her frisbee moves. I would throw treats toward her airborne body, and she would run in a perfect circle, as if she were running a victory lap. People would toss $5 and $10 bills into the empty water cooler jug that I would position beside the van, and all the money would go toward the animal shelter, which would later be renamed The Amy & Ruby Animal Care Center.

So I brought home Ruby and my dreams of being a disc dog demonstration performer. Unfortunately, these dreams may never be realized, for what we have instead is a dog who runs around the coffee table and occasionally uses the floor as a toilet. She sheds to the point that she should be completely bald. Three nights ago, she drank so much water -- wiping out not only her bowl, but our Boston terrier's bowl as well -- that she took one step outside and threw up water all over the sidewalk. She tries to jump like the Boston does, but her legs are unbelievably disproportionate to her body, so she can only hop. Her leash gets wrapped around her front right paw every single time I walk her. After she does her business, she walks five feet away, faces the opposite direction and slings dirt behind her, nowhere near her business.

So Ruby might not be a Penny after all, and she doesn't show a lot of promise with disc dog demonstrations. In fact, she may have a few screws loose. But what she lacks in dog-smarts, she makes up for in loyalty. And a nice hair color. She's a good fit.