For the first time in all the years we’ve been married, Darleen and I are down to one dog. We’ve never had less than three, and at one point, due to circumstances beyond our control (soft heads, soft hearts, dogs in need of rescue) we had five, and the chaos level in the house was on a par with a badly run kindergarten. Imagine the lunatics not even bothering to run the asylum. We have decided to keep it down to two, but that still leaves us one dog shy, so we drove down to the nearest city to see about rescuing a dog. I’m not sure why, but southern California seems to have more than its fair share of irresponsible pet owners. Between three and four million dogs and cats are euthanized at shelters all across America every year. That translates to roughly 80,000 animals a week, and the shelters in southern California are overwhelmed. Apparently large numbers of people labor under the misapprehension that neutering old Rover or Miss Tabby is somehow cruel. Or maybe they’re just so dumb they don’t even think of it at all. The Audubon Society claims that the single greatest killer of migrating songbirds is the domestic (or feral) cat, yet people all over the nation think it is cruel not to let their cats out to play. It is possible the birds who get played with have a different perspective. And every mentally negligible moron in the country seems to think his dog is worthy of reproduction (“Let the kiddies see the miracle of birth.” I have actually heard that.) with the result that every time you go to the local shopping mall there are kiddies standing out in front with cardboard boxes of puppies they are trying to give away. Or starving pit-bulls running loose along the interstate. Or unidentifiable messes of bloody fur on the asphalt. In the years we have lived in our little rural corner of the mountains, ten miles out from a very small town, Darleen and I have averaged two stray dogs a year on our property. For the first four or five years we earnestly tried to find the owners, but after one such paragon of compassion told Darleen on the phone, “Ah, just kick him in the gut and send him on home,” (that’s a direct quote) we stopped trying to return them. Now we feed them and take them down to the shelter or, if injured, to our local vet. If you’re too stupid and irresponsible to get your dog micro-chipped, and you can’t be bothered to even keep a collar with a tag on him, you don’t deserve to get him back. But rescuing a dog is not as easy as you might imagine. We had to rule out a wide range of the shelter’s offerings. Pete is a male, a male with a tendency for brawling, and I have broken up more than my fair share of dog fights during my life, so it’s female only. We ruled out dogs with obvious communicable diseases, and dogs that showed any signs of aggression toward people or toward Pete or toward cats. After that we ruled out various characteristics or breed types that would make our lives miserable for one reason or another. We spent two days at two different shelters and finally gave up. The best of the bunch was a sort of Labrador kind of cross that had been neglected in a backyard for so long that it had reached a state I can only describe as catatonic in terms of its reactions to humans. She was fine with Pete, but completely unresponsive to the vet tech, to me, to Darleen. I can understand a dog being unresponsive to me, but if a dog is unresponsive to Darleen, it has serious problems. A pet rock would respond to my bride. So we are still, for the time being, a one-dog family. But what the experience left me with was a conviction that there is something seriously wrong with man’s relationship with his best friend. And if man can treat an animal with such callous disregard, how will he treat his fellow man? I don’t think we’re going to see peace on earth anytime soon.
We had to put our old corgi down. She, Belle, is the alert one in the photo above, shown with her friend Scooter in a chair I used to be able to sit in myself. Old is a relative term; she was only ten, which is old for some breeds, but not—or it shouldn’t be—for corgis. Belle was a semi-rescue (what breeders euphemistically call “pet quality”) that no one else wanted and so, being soft-headed and soft-hearted, we took her. She was a delight. She had tremendous charm and brains enough to know how to use it. When guests came over, she would work the room like a cabaret singer, and when we went out with her somewhere, she invariably made everyone smile. She was a mess. She had terrible structure, including excessively turned-out feet that caused her great difficulty and necessitated a surgery in her later years. In her later years (which should have been her middle-aged years) she also developed Cushing’s disease, something I had thought only horses got. She was a delight. She was hands down, without question, the finest and most alert watch dog I have owned, seen, known, heard of, or encountered. If she went on high alert and growled at the back door, it invariably meant there was something up on the hill behind the house, frequently something so far away that it took us and the other dogs a long time to spot it. If she went on high alert toward the front of the house, it invariably meant someone was driving up the lane, even if the car was still a quarter mile away. Both of these she did regularly, summer and winter, even when the house was buttoned up tight and the television was showing the Animal Planet. She was a mess. Her nerves were so bad she was terrified of practically everything, which made taking her anywhere extremely difficult. Even walking her around the fields in our own neck of the woods could be problematic: my neighbor to north sometimes practices shooting in the canyon north of his house. The distance is about half a mile, and the shooting is always muffled by the canyon wall, but she would begin to shake and, if she was off-leash, she would run back to the house. Since the only way to (hopefully, possibly) get a dog over a fear factor is to ignore any behavior exhibited, taking her anywhere was a challenge. She was a delight, getting along with everyone, human, equine, canine, and feline. She always stayed calm around the horses, resolutely ignored the cats, and bedeviled Pete the Boxer into games. She also used to bedevil me into playing tug-of-war with her, but only with one very specific toy. I lived in fear that toy would disintegrate and that she would be inconsolable. We purchased another, identical in every way save color, but she wouldn’t touch it. Unfortunately, the toy lasted longer than she did. She was a mess, badly bred by an irresponsible breeder; but even the typically callous, venal, avaricious breeders so prevalent today in America, even that despicable person couldn’t destroy the essential sweetness of one of the world’s oldest breeds. She was a delight.