Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Junk Shop: A Dog Memoir


I was too young to remember my mother well, but I remember her licking me, my whole body rocking with the motion of her tongue. And I remember lying in a heap with my brothers and sisters, and climbing over each other to suckle, all of our tails knocking together, and the smell of my mother's fear.

And then my siblings vanished one-by-one until it was just me and Mother. She trembled and licked and licked me, and sometimes we whimpered.

And then it was just me and the concrete floor and the sound of barking and the smell of nervous diarrhea. I curled up as small as I could and tried to wrap myself in my tail. It just reached the tip of my nose, but it was something.

People came and went. They talked to me in high voices and sometimes they held me, which I liked, and I did the only thing I knew: I licked them, as my mother had licked me.

But none of them stayed, and mostly I was alone.

Then one day I heard a voice from nearby. I couldn't see who was talking because of all the concrete, but it was a kind voice. Gruff, but kind. It said, "You're awfully young to be here all alone."

And that was when I learned about the outside world, and about people and about how fickle they could be.

"It's my second time in," said the gruff old dog, "and I don't have a chance.  I'm old and incontinent. Don't be incontinent. That's the number one thing people can't stand."

That's when I learned about The Room You Never Leave. That gruff dog had reliable sources, he said. He'd been talking to the cats.

The next day, they came and got him, and he was gone.

And I was alone again.

I didn't know it, but I had been sick. As I got well, I started to pay attention.

The other dogs gossiped. Rumors went up and down the line. They talked, and I listened, trying to glean what I could about the Facts of Life. Nobody talked about the Room You Never Leave, but we all knew it was there.

Instead, we talked about the families we would have one day. Yards with fluffy green grass. Days spent hunting squirrels and chasing balls. Legendary holiday meals. Walks and children and lazy evenings cuddling by the fire. The Good Life.

I was young and ambitious, and I wanted it all.

But the number one thing, the foundation for the Good Life, was a person with Heart.

We can all sense Heart, but sometimes we get distracted by other things, surface things, like a nice belly rub. Just because someone gives you a belly rub doesn't mean they're committed. Just because they say kind words, it doesn't mean they feel them. Just because they want you really badly because you're so cute, doesn't mean they will remember you when it's cold outside, when you're old and farty, when they get married.

A person with Heart will love you forever.

I had no experience of the Outside World, but I listened and I learned, and I knew that I must choose carefully.

I had seen the other dogs lose their heads over a person, and I had seen how it ruined things. People didn't like barking and slobbering and whining and jumping up. They wanted a dog with dignity.

I imagined myself making a careful choice. Weighing my options. Offering a dignified paw, perhaps, to seal the deal. But it didn't happen like that for me.

Instead, it was like falling in love. Like falling down a flight of stairs. Like a car wreck.

The metal door swung open at the end of the line, and before I even saw his ball cap or his gentle smile, I felt his Heart, beating in my chest.

And everything I had learned went out the window.

A yelp escaped my throat as I joined the growing chorus: "Pick me! Pick me!"

Slowly, slowly, his feet came into sight. My gate swung open and I leapt into his arms. My bladder emptied down the front of his shirt.

I licked his face and his teeth, and even got a swipe at his tongue before he spluttered and pushed me away. "I'm not incontinent!" I yowled. And my tail, my tail was out of control! It knocked off his eyeglasses, and when I ran to get them for him I accidentally trampled them and they skittered into a puddle (guilty evidence from earlier). Now, he would notice for sure! No, no, don't leave me!

He picked up his eyeglasses with two fingers. I tried to lick them clean. As he walked away, I remembered my dignity, and I sat at the wire gate, vibrating with yearning, and willed him to bring me home.

He was the one for me. He just didn't know it yet. The next day after kibble-time I sat at my gate, staring down the concrete aisle toward the door. My heart and my will sent hooks out into the world, and I reeled him back to me. I could feel his Heart, out there somewhere.

And I drifted into a trance.

A rumor came down the line: he was back. All of us were on high alert. The door swung open and the other dogs erupted: "Pick me!" they chorused.

My body vibrated with the effort to stay still.

He squatted down and stuck his fingers through the wire. "You want to go home with me?" he asked.

"Yes!" I yodeled, and toppled over backward.

As I followed him into the Outside World, I staggered to stay ahead of my thrashing tail. It banged rhythmically on the check-out desk. Its arc was so wide, it whipped me in the ribs and knocked pamphlets from a table.

My tail and I dragged him through the glass doors to open sky and an explosion of scents. People and movement everywhere! So this was the fabled Outside World! I decided immediately that I loved it.

"Hold your horses!" He said, hauling me out of the path of a moving car. "Sorry!" he waved as it roared away.

He introduced me to his wife, who was a blur of pleasure and warmth. Their name was Metcalfe, but to me they would always be He and She.

The world was huge even before we got into his car and drove. More of it unfolded, sniff by sniff out the open window.

In the car, I noticed that She had the most glorious tail coming right out of her head. It was too wonderful to ignore, so I grabbed hold and pulled as hard as I could. She told me no, but I knew She meant yes! Because She had Heart, too.
To learn more of Sophie's story, download Junk Shop: A Dog Memoir. It's free for a limited time.