The Family Dog

The Family Dog
In the past year, I’ve read about 30 or so books about dogs. Some of them were behavioral, some anecdotal. I’ve read the Truth About Dogs and One Nation Under Dog, A Dog Year and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Dog Walks Man and Dogs Never Lie About Love (Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t read all of that book. Alright, complete, full disclosure, I read about half that book. Maybe 1/4th of it. I probably got about 1/5th of the way in before taking it back to the library. It’s just that I had recently finished The Truth About Dogs and found that book so convincing that most of the theories put forth in Dogs Never Lie … just seemed preposterous.) But dammit, I had already, at least subconsciously, decided to make working with dogs more than a hobby. It was to become my life. And, like anybody who has aspirations to become or is a writer, it occurred to me one day that I should write about dogs. Why not? All you have to do is look at the numbers to know that everything dog-related is flying off the shelves these days, whether it be the shelves of Barnes & Noble, the local library, Petsmart or Walmart. America is seemingly starving for this stuff. But what to write about? The industrial side? One Nation. Anecdotal? Dog Walks Man. Personal Memoir? Pack of Two. That’s one of the myriad reasons why I started this blog: to be an avenue for me to bounce ideas against like Jack Nicholson in The Shining when he’s bouncing the tennis ball off the wall in that huge dining room. Just see what sticks.
When I came up with the idea of a post called “The Family Dog”, I hatched the idea of writing stories about all the dogs that have come and gone through my family’s life through the years. I don’t know if this will be just a few posts or a recurring theme, one that I will revisit periodically. But today, I feel like I should tell you about Gertie. Well, let me backtrack. I’ll tell you about Reggie and George first. Reggie was a mutt and he bit my sister trying to get baby food off her face when she was a baby. There. That’s what I remember about Reggie. I remember George was a mutt too (A “mix” if you want to use the dog equivalent of politically correct. I, however, do not. He was a mutt) and he might have been named after my Bapa (my mom’s dad) but that is pure speculation. And he bit me. I have the strangest, most random memories of my childhood. I remember my brother and I used to share a room and every night, we would lay there and he would say “Andy,” and I would say “What?” And he would say “Nevermind.” This went on for what seemed like hours. Every time I would let a little more time pass before I said ”What?” and he would counter with “Nevermind.” until finally he would say “Andy?” and I would wait for what seemed an interminable amount of time (sometimes, we would say “Andy?” again if I didn’t respond. He really was a jerk sometimes). Then, I would finally break-down and say “What?” and he would be fast asleep. The root cause of some adult mental disorder is in there somewhere.

And I remember George bit me. I was hiding behind a chair in the family room of the “old house” and I was eating a graham cracker. I do not know why I was hiding behind the chair in the first place (there was nobody else in house but me and mom and she was napping) so don’t ask. I had an extremely active imagination as a child. I remember once I went out to the driveway of my grandparents’ house to play in a our new Ford Taurus station wagon. “Playing” meant I would sit in the driver’s seat and crank all the knobs that controlled the vents and the volume knob on the radio back and forth like I was Sulu in Star Trek. And nobody ever came to see what I was doing in there. I guess if I wasn’t kissing the exhaust pipe they figured it was harmless fun.

Anyway, I honestly don’t remember if George even meant to bite me. I don’t even remember if I somehow provoked him to bite me, although I probably did and I remember mom freaked out and George was out of the house that day. That was Mom for you. She is unbelievably neurotic and has become even more so with her grandchildren. I weep for them when she goes to Providence to visit. I’d tell you more about that but Mom has covered that in her column she writes for her neighborhood association newsletter and I don’t want to steal her thunder. Which brings me to Gertie.

Gertie was named after Drew Barrymore’s character in E.T., the little sister. Unlike Drew, who was unbelievably cute in the movie, Gertie was not. Gertie was ugly. No, she was fugly. She was a fugly dog. She peed and pooped in the house, did no tricks, and my mother hated her. Now that I think about, we kids weren’t too crazy about her either. I think she gravitated towards Da because he may have been the only one in the household who remotely liked her. Not that we all hated her or anything. We were just kind of indifferent to her. God, now that I’m thinking about it, no wonder she pooped on the carpet. I probably would have too. Screw these people. We had Gertie forever, like 13 years and to my knowledge, she never received veterinary care of any kind. I don’t remember that she needed it, you understand. But I know that if that dog were on fire, nobody wouldn’t have been frantically looking for a bucket.
After Gertie came Casey. Casey was a little more accepted around the house than Gertie, although behaviorally he was, well, he was a Beagle. So, two strikes against him out of the gate. There’s a photo, probably still floating around in an album somewhere, of Casey ripping apart the dust jacket of How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete. He was a good boy, no question of that, terribly affectionate and terribly misbehaved. My parents brought him into the house right before the boom in all things dog-related had saturated the country. So there was still no research about what dog worked right for a family, what temperament would work best with my family’s busy lifestyle. None of that. The American household had still not yet grasped the concept of doing some R & D before bringing a dog home, let alone a beagle. So really, given all this, the Laundry Incident really came as no surprise to anybody.

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