"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I never knew I was a Dog Person until I met my friend's German Short-haired Pointer, Remy. In fact I barely knew a German Short-haired Pointer from a Poodle or a Golden Retriever. I did not grow up with dogs. Cats, that is what my family always had, though we were animal lovers in general and had little tolerance for those who would not protect and defend the finned, furry and feathered set (including the flounder, steak and fried chicken on our dinner plates). I was even a little afraid of dogs. I admit it.

Then my friend, who lived in a remote cabin in the woods up a long dirt road, asked if I would be willing to clean his house. No problem -- I was in between jobs and I was perfectly willing. But there was something odd about the place; I never felt any malevolence, but strange things occurred on a regular basis, like the sudden smell of perfume or a finger poking me in the back as I bent down to scrub the tub or toilet. And there was nobody else there except me and the dog. And the dog kind of had separation anxiety to begin with, so he followed me from room to room. I got to be really good friends with that dog, in fact. The special kind of charm that is canine, heretofore unrecognized to me, began to make itself clear.
 Stopping in for a couple of hours now and again is very different, however, from 24 hour care of three pit bulls and one bossy cat. Nevertheless, this is where I found myself a few years later (friend of a friend who vouched for me type of deal -- you get the picture...and I sure needed the money.) Since I had bonded so well with Remy, and he was always really glad to see me, and we played, and I even helped him when he had seizures -- the treatment being a loud clap in his face, believe it or not, to "redirect" his brain activity -- I had no qualms whatsoever about this gig. Three dogs who only ate once a day and were very friendly? With a fenced-in yard? Sure. Piece of cake. You could just see these were dogs with great heart: Lyndie, the sleek and elegant, beautifully brindled pit bull-Doberman; Piggle, the soft, snow white wrinkly pit bull-Shar Pei; and Pax, the purebred, black and white and love all over.

Okay, so it wasn't cake all the time. The dogs were wonderful. If anyone had told me that I would be sleeping with three pit bulls with a penchant for looking at me doe-eyed, turning upside-down, playing tug-of-war at what had to be only half their strength (maybe even one-fourth), and gently taking little bits of whatever I was eating into their mouths without biting off my fingers, I would have said that is insane. However, picture it: Piggle curled up at the foot of the bed, Fat Cat (the house’s exalted ruler) curled up on one pillow, Lyndie (who had trouble climbing) in the hallway just outside the bedroom door, and Pax lying with my right arm around him, big head resting on my chest, stretching and yawning and kissing me, and often snoring, and giving me very little room. Yep, I had every confidence in the world that I could take care of any dog. Anywhere. Anytime.
Now if I say blue ballpoint pen, white slipcovers, and dogs with big teeth that like to chew, can you say panic? That's really self-explanatory, isn't it. I called the cleaning lady. In a rather upbeat foreign accent she explained that she never washed the upholstery and had no knowledge of any particular product that would take blue ink out of a white couch. But fortunately the dog's mom stocked cool stuff, including shelves of spot and stain remover that professed to remove stains I had never even heard of. I got it right the first time, and after putting the cover back on the couch I had to lie down on it for awhile just to recover. 

That one or more of the dogs grabbed the TV universal remote and made short work of it seemed like small potatoes after this. The final straw, however, came when I left the house and locked the doors to do some errands in town and came back to find Lyndie and Piggle running all over the neighbor's yards in the rain. They had been able to open the door from the kitchen to the garage, and then to squeeze underneath the overhead door, which was not closed all the way. Those dogs and I had a come-to-Jesus that night as soon as I rounded them up. I was losing all control, and they were no doubt seeing this as a good thing. They knew it. I was a Dog Person now.

On to Chloe. A sweet little cocker spaniel incapable of wreaking havoc. But that’s okay, because there were plenty of other things to fill in for her. For example the yellow jackets. I came downstairs one morning in a normal morning fog unsure if I were really seeing bees swarming all over the living room and the dogs (I had Chloe’s nephew too that time, a Jack Russell terrier) snapping at them voraciously. Turns out it was sad but true. I ushered the dogs (who must have felt very unfairly chagrined) out onto the deck and called my friend Jonathan the exterminator. “Look up,” he said. “Any holes in the ceiling?” Yow! Big hole in the ceiling. “Get a vacuum,” he said, “And look for some duct tape. Be real careful not to get stung now. You have to vacuum the hole because that’s where they’re getting in. And then you have to seal that hole with duct tape.” 

All this before I had coffee. And what if I couldn’t find any duct tape? Fortunately there was some in the cellar. So I’m standing on the couch gingerly, but purposefully, extracting any lingering bees from this hole – living or dead – and then chasing the ones who had already gotten in, and then I have to really quickly put that vacuum as far away from the house as I can. And then get back up on the couch with duct tape and scissors and try to cut strips as rapidly as possible and slap them over this hole. Hooray!! Success. I know those dogs were looking forward to flying dog treats, but not on my watch. I was the Unstung Hero.
 But the episode had taken its toll on me, coming out of the blue like that and I could not stop thinking, all day, of how to tell the owner there really was good reason for wads of gray duct tape stuffed in and stretched over a huge hole in her living room's white textured ceiling. I was preoccupied, I admit it. So when I needed to use the sprayer in the kitchen sink, I remembered that it was built right into the faucet and you just gently pull on the spigot to release it. 

Only trouble is that it wouldn't release no matter how hard I tugged on it and then suddenly I remembered too late that this was not the house with the kitchen with the faucet with that function. That had been the last house. In this house, the faucet just let go with a loud rip and fell into the sink. There was a lot of water. There was no way to use the faucet, in fact, because if you turned it on there was no way to direct the flow. However, I knew where to find the duct tape (oh no she didn't -- oh, yes she did). Okay. Now I had some even more creative explaining to do.

It was a blessing that the last straw, which could have had serious and major implications, never required disclosure to the homeowner. This was the backing up of one of the upstairs toilets. Why, why, why. And there was no plunger anywhere to be seen. What kind of person with three bathrooms in their house didn't own a plunger, for chrissake?? Didn't they ever plug up the toilet themselves?? What did they do, call a plumber every time? I figured there had to be some sort of substitute item somewhere in this house. My god, I had it -- a fireplace poker. It worked, too. Broke up the clog and pushed it on down. And I never got my hands wet. Except when picking up all the towels I had thrown on the floor to soak up the overflow. (Monogrammed towels too -- we're talking Fairfield County in Connecticut, the Gold Coast, you know. Fairfield County and no plunger. I still don't get it.)

I actually did not get asked to go back and take care of pretty little Chloe, and she was a sweet, cuddly girl so I missed her. But Zoey, now, that's a different story. Zoey was a young, high-spirited border collie. It was winter, what else would I be doing for a week? Sure, glad to oblige. Zoey was a big puppy who slept with me every night...a real doll. Naturally, I slept without my eyeglasses on. One morning when I woke up, precious Zoey, in all her doggy exuberance and love, jumped on my chest for a hug and accidentally got me directly in the eye with one of her claws. I wonder what she thought when she saw me grab my face, double over and yelp in agony? 
 As the day wore on and my vision hadn't returned I figured I'd err on the side of caution and have it checked. Tears had been running down my cheek for hours, and I was still seeing stars from the pain of it all. There was a walk-in emergency clinic not far from the house so I made my way over there. The doctor took one look at my eye and said "What?? You drove yourself here??!  Alone????!!!" Turns out Zoey had scratched my cornea and probably left dog paw spores, whatever they are, in the whites of my eye. So back I went, armed with drops for the pain and drops for the infection that had probably set in by now.

Remember I said it was winter. And there had been a big, big snowstorm the day before. (And as the homeowner was a new resident, and hadn't signed up anyone to plow yet, I had to first shovel my car out before I could even get to the clinic.) So the snow is very deep and the temperature is very cold. Very very cold and windy. Freakin' Arctic. And the key that Zoey's mom had given me would not open the front door. The back door was unlocked but this was of no comfort, since there was no access to that door; the back yard was fenced in with a tall iron fence, and there was so damn much snow. Okay, now I'm panicked. I can only see out of one eye, the key won't work, it's 2 degrees out and Zoey, in the house, is barking so loudly I'm in fear she will rupture something. There was only one thing to do: break a window. So yes, I had to punch my mittened fist through a pane of glass in the door that led from the garage into the kitchen so I could reach in and unlock it and let myself in.

Since the wind was whipping and snow was drifting in from the trees, I had to find something to put over the broken pane. Cardboard and duct tape. How come everybody has duct tape? I mean, that's one thing that's really worked in my favor. So the next day I had to find a hardware store in an unfamiliar town, and buy glass and glazing points and since I don't know how to fix a window I could not weasel out of this one. But that isn't all. A day or two later, Zoey's mom's credit card company called and said they'd detected unusual activity on the card and could I please verify that she was in the Caribbean? "Yes, she is," I confidently announced. Only trouble was that she was in the Dominican Republic and the card had found its way to Puerto Rico. Needless to say this caused no end of havoc, with the unfortunate necessity of affadavits and notarized statements and new issues and a sudden freeze on the card while the cardholder is thousands of miles away in another country.

Dogs.  You have to love them, really.  And of course I'm a Dog Person.  Why would I go through all this stuff otherwise? 

In memory of Remy, who showed me my capabilities, and of Pax Newton, Dog Of My Heart. 

ADDENDUM: I recently took care of two boxers, Georgie and Marty, for five days.  They are great dogs, and I was determined to get through this job unscathed.  I really put my mind to it.  And all went well!  At least until I got home to my own house.  The dogs' mom had bought ravioli to cook and I decided I was going to take the leftovers home.  Not in a plastic container, which would have been the easy way to do it -- I just figured I'd take it in the bowl, and bring the empty bowl back when I had a chance, since I was right around the corner.  Bowl smashed into smithereens (what are smithereens, I wonder?) on my kitchen floor.  Good news is it's Fiestaware, which is open stock and I can replace it, even though the dogs' mom said not to worry.

Well, okay, there was one other thing, just a small thing really -- the staircase at this house is long and I always put my hand on the railing going down, and one night I got my left hand caught in that square finial that topped the post at the foot of the stairs.  You could not have convinced me this would hurt as badly as it in fact did.  I don't know how the icemaker works at this house so I just grabbed a bag of peas from the freezer and went back to bed with it.  What a good idea, the pain and swelling lessened dramatically.  Only trouble is the bag was partly open, which I didn't know until I went to put it on the nightstand.  So I ended up picking peas out of the bed at midnight.  The dogs didn't seem to care.


  1. I enjoyed this story and thankyou for turning me on to shabbyblogs.com. I used some of their stuff on my blog www.lymesentinel.blogspot.com and its so much fun!!! I love changing widget blinky things and blog backgrounds. The problem is...that I will probably be changing backgrounds and pictures so often that people will never know where they are when they come to visit!

  2. Great dog stories. They took me back through memories of my different wonderful pals. I'm unfortunately "dogless" at the moment, but I have friends who loan, so I have some furry companionship.

    Enjoyed stopping by and reading your blog.

  3. nancy nucci campbellFebruary 13, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    So funny, Laurie. You do seem to have a penchant for getting you into, shall we say, predicaments :-) and you write about them beautifully.