by Camela Thompson
I was going to write about videogames, framing an argument for Diablo III as more than just a loot-crazed hack-and-slash fest, but something happened. A four-legged desperado took over our lives and now I'm sitting on my porch with Annie and my laptop literally waiting for the dust to settle. Diatomaceous earth to be more specific. The stuff clings to the top of the carpet in baby powder fine clumps, turning our house into a polka-dotted vision.
My grandparents helped raise my brothers and I, and they always had at least one dog. My grandfather had a tough childhood and clung to memories of pets as the bright spots in his life. His mom was a divorcee, a rarity in the deep South in the early 1900s, and they moved frequently, living with family members who would take them in. He doesn't talk about it too often, but I suspect the family dogs treated my grandfather more like family than the relatives letting an asthmatic, intelligent kid take up room and food at the table.
The first dog I can remember, Siegfried, was my grandfather's dog
I can never remember my grandparents without a dog. As soon as one passed away, Grandpa was up at the pound, looking for his next mutt. I introduced them to Bernese mountain dogs. Actually, I begged to have a show dog and paid for it with money I scrounged up painting whatever I could sell. After their first Bernese, they couldn't imagine getting another breed. That had to change recently, and it wasn't without epic resistance. Try telling a man who built his house with his own two hands and spent his days digging irrigation ditches between working three jobs that he can't have the dog he wants. How do you tell a man who has too much pride to use the walker he needs that he can no longer handle a dog? How do you tell a strong-headed patriarch he isn't making sound decisions? Until the last five years, he could physically handle a big dog. Things have changed quickly.
Proud Grandpa showing off Bogey's Costco employee badge
Their last Bernese mountain dog, Bogey, was a handsome, good-natured guy with a bunch of serious structural issues. Wobblers is a terrible disease, and his neck kept him slow and docile. My ninety-year-old grandfather loved taking him to Costco and sit out front, talking with anyone who would pause long enough to say, "Hello." When Bogey died, Grandpa's social circle immediately shrank. He missed Bogey, but I think the bigger void was the ability to go socialize. We waited for the grandparents to realize on their own that one-hundred-thirty pounds of dog was too much. The thought of them getting a puppy scared us all. They would be stubborn and insist on taking it to Costco or for a walk (yes, Grandpa still drives). Without the physical ability to control an animal that size, there were too many dangerous scenarios to list them all.
We waited months, hoping the Bernese fervor would die down, but my grandfather taught himself how to use the Internet and started calling breeders. Lance and I also got a few phone calls about refinancing opportunities he had stumbled across and we had to have a serious security discussion. Mom had to bite the bullet and have some tough conversations of her own about how a puppy would be a terrible idea, but she couldn't bring herself to tell him the truth. A good breeder would not allow a ninety-year-old drive to their kennel and pick up a dog. The sad truth is that he can't safely handle a dog and the odds of the animal living longer are very high. When Mom corralled us all into driving to Puyallup to check out a mutt she had spotted on Petfinder, he was told this to his face by the adoption volunteers and we had a very quiet, sulking car ride back home.
His voice was hurt gravel. "They won't let me adopt a dog. They said it was an age thing."
Mom was allowed a dog, though, and since they all live together, they could share. It gained appeal after the sting wore down of learning that even though he had lived longer and seen more, he can't do some things anymore.
We talked to the adoption personnel and I emphasized the need for a calm, social animal, and they brought out one of the most pathetic creatures I've ever seen. He came out of his cage and flipped on his back on our feet. He had no leash skills, but wouldn't pull, dancing in circles at the end of the leash to avoid putting any pressure on the lead. Even with other dogs walking by, he was as light as a feather. He loved people, pressing into them and closing his eyes in bliss at any contact. Even Annie liked him. He was perfect.
"Spencer" was shipped up to Washington from a high kill shelter. The best guess was that he led life on the street as a stray. He has had zero training, didn't know what stairs were, and shied at the carpet the first time he saw it, so this is entirely possible. He also has an affinity for diving on anything that looks vaguely edible and has scabs all over his face and neck from getting attacked by other dogs. He is severely underweight. Say a harsh word and he cowers on the ground. Even after all of that, he is entirely affectionate, crawling onto any lap that will have him. He is a bit obnoxious because he isn't neutered, but he respects Annie's terse warnings and plays well with her. He loves kids.
My family was putting in a fence and this guy will take off if left to his own devices. He's used to life on the road and won't look back. How do you call back a dog who doesn't know his name and doesn't trust that he'll get his next meal? Add in that he still has all of his parts and loves the ladies, and you can see how crucial it is that he's always on leash or in a yard fit for keeping in convicts. They were going to leave him at the pound while this was done. I offered to take him, but only if I could call him Spartacus. It was the most inappropriate name I could think of for a scrawny mutt. They let me because I train dogs and we could get him on a schedule and start the housebreaking (they named him Benji - we'll see which sticks).
These are blurry because he's literally rolling on the couch
At first things were great. His zest for his new life was a joy to watch as he rolled on every single surface available to him. He crammed himself in throw pillows and managed to scoot along the entire length of the couch on his back. He rolled on our bed, paying special attention to our pillows. He had no manners, so his feet bounded on counters and table tops. The world titled the first time he went poop. Lance leaned over and I heard him swear. Lance rarely swears. Lance rarely mutters. I knew it was bad. Spartacus had worms.
Fast forward to us ripping every blanket, pillowcase, and cover off every piece of furniture he had rolled on. I spent hours wiping down surfaces with anti-bacterial wipes. His kennel was a cornucopia for tape worms and Annie had been her piggy-self, hoovering crumbs off the floor. Annie sleeps on our bed, or at least she did until we figured out her odds of also getting worms were 100%.
Traffic in Seattle sucks. The morning we saw live worms, I drove a couple hours to get him into the only vet who could squeeze him in on such short notice. He had already been wormed, but not for THESE worms. Special mega worms. Great! We were instructed to brush his backside after each trip outside (she even pointed out the vile things clinging to him as we spoke). Essentially, our entire house was contaminated and we have the reason why he's so emaciated.
Under the hair is skin and bones
Spartacus is housebroken if kept on his schedule. He does well in his crate during his meals and ours to prevent him from diving near any food prep surface or table. He's bathed, wormed, and we're working to get weight on him. He's getting home cooked meals that are balanced (I recommend Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet - we cook our dogs' food). We tried getting him switched to canned food to make it easier on my family, but he won't touch the stuff and is already emaciated, so he's on high end stuff for now. Lance jokes that he's like the redneck who hit the lottery and refuses to look back. We've vacuumed everything and put down diatomaceous earth wherever the dog has been (carpet, couch, dog bedding). Annie gets to sleep in her kennel for a while until we can test her and get her wormed.
Spartacus is at home with Mom and the grandparents, but he'll visit me during work days. I check in frequently and worry about him escaping because my grandparents can't move quickly anymore. They're prone to falling and both have had bad spills recently, which is especially scary with them on blood thinners. It took us time to realize they would fall with or without a dog and it was important to have an animal in the house. We've rigged exercise pens around the doors to prevent Spartacus from getting out and they are lining the wider gaps in the fence with chicken wire. He's still looking for a way out, but his wonderful temperament has everyone warming up to him.
Grandpa has always prided himself on doing every project himself. I remember hanging off his flexed bicep as a young girl, the product of his hours spent digging ditches. The drastic decline in his physical ability has led to depression. We think he likes the dog, but the past few days he's been questioning whether or not they should have one. We had to help put in the fence, something he wanted to do by himself but was too dangerous given his instability. This has been a difficult couple weeks. Hopefully things will brighten up with a dog who is more than happy to crawl in their laps.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.