A Boy & His Dog
I am not necessarily what you would call a “dog guy”. They smell bad, they bark, they lick and they have no qualms about eating shit. These are traits that I have never found endearing in any living creature and I would not by my own choosing ever be a dog owner.
The Wife, on the other hand, has owned dogs her entire life. She has owned as many as thirteen at one time but had reeled herself in to only owning two when we met. When I picked her up for our first date I was greeted by barking, licking, and headbutts to my crotch, none of which were offered by my future bride at the time, for better or for worse. It was immediately apparent that I was going to have to find some patience for Man’s so-called best friend if I ever wanted to get to know this woman a little better. When we eventually got married I officially became a dog owner for the first time in my life and that was just something I was going to have to accept.
In all fairness, she became a step-mom to my son as part of the transaction. If she was cool with being responsible for an actual human child, I could hardly complain too much about a couple of dogs. After all, she loves my son as if he was her own and often makes significantly better parenting decisions than I do. She provides him with significantly better meals then I ever did and is much better at evaluating illnesses and open wounds than I will ever claim to be. The least I can do is take the dogs for a walk from time to time.
The pit bull, Baby, captured my heart pretty early on as she fell in love with my son and defied every pit bull stereotype I had ever heard. She was genuinely loving and affectionate and doted on my son as if she had birthed him herself. My appreciation for her grew to the point that I eventually stopped referring to her as “The Wife’s Dog” and began to claim her as my own.
The lab/beagle mix, on the other hand, is still “The Wife’s dog”. She bought him after tying on a day drunk on a Saturday afternoon and that is just a decision she has to live with. She had gone to PetSmart for dog food and came out with a feeble minded creature that had surely been churned out from a local puppy mill. She named him Rocco which suggests a certain level of brutish simplemindedness but he is far dumber than even the name suggests. One could argue that it beats drunken missteps like getting a DUI or a regrettable tattoo but adopting an obviously deficient puppy is still a pretty big case for just saying no to drugs and alcohol.
Over the years since we married I have tried to improve my relationships with and opinions of dogs in general. I do not interrupt a conversation just to run up to a random dog walking its owner down Main Street as The Wife does, but I certainly try to be somewhat tolerant of the creatures. In our own home, I have made countless attempts to strengthen the bond between myself and our own smelly piles of fur, with varying degrees of success.
Baby was a piece of cake. Having a penis gave me an early advantage since she was genetically programmed to fall in love with any male human that walked through the door. We solidified the relationship one day when I rubbed her head in just the right spot and she purred like a kitten. Our life bond was then sealed when she turned around and presented me with her backside so I could rub her arthritic hip, forever committing us to each other’s service.
Rocco, though, remains a different story. I have tried, oh, how I have tried. On walks around the neighborhood his inconsistent gait and need to piss every four steps make the experience painful at best. He cannot hike because he has to chase every woodland creature on the planet, real or imagined. He does not fetch, which, I always assumed was something dogs enjoyed as much as humping other dogs. He will ask to go outside only to forgo relief while he is out there so he can urinate (or worse) on the floor right in front of you upon reentry to the home. He fails in all aspects of being a dog but out of love for The Wife and The Boy, I try and try again.
One adventure in particular nearly ended in the most tragic of disasters and it was not even the dogs’ fault.
The Wife was sick on a Saturday afternoon. I cannot remember if she was actual-sick, hungover-sick, or monthly cycle-sick but I do know that she wanted to be left the hell alone. Wanting to help or, more accurately, escape, I decided to take the dogs for a walk.
Unfortunately, I have neither the patience nor physical ability to manage two untamed beasts at the same time. The moment the leashes are attached to their collars they immediately engage in some kind of canine tango involving figure eights, leap frogs, and any other action that tangles their leashes to the point where one’s head is pinned to the other’s ass and both are completely incapacitated. My son was still too small to manage either dog on his own so in order to take the dogs on a walk, I had to go on two walks.
Rocco was first as I took a save-the-best-for-last sort of approach to things. My thought was that Rocco would try my patience every step of the way and then when Baby’s turn came the adventure would be a walk in the park, both literally and figuratively.
Taking Rocco out into the worldd is an epic test of one’s patience and will. He zig and zags constantly. He changes pace randomly, alternating between a sprint and a crawl every couple of steps. He looks back to make sure you are there, turns to walk directly in front of you and comes to a dead stop, forcing you to trip over him and then curse in front of your child and innocent bystanders working in their yards on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes he stops to pee every fifteen feet or so and sometimes he simply releases as he walks, splashing himself and anyone with the misfortune of walking too close to him in the process. If you find a field for him to run around in he will refuse to fetch or frolic but promises to find that one spot that he can roll around in until he is coated in an unidentifiable eye watering stench.
At the conclusion of this particular adventure he even found a new and creative way to show his appreciation for my efforts. Despite relieving himself roughly 7,000 times on the 30 minute walk, he immediately lifted a leg and pissed on the living room floor as soon as we got home. He did this standing almost on top of my son who was innocently sitting on the floor removing his shoes.
After flying into a brief rage and then cleaning up the mess, I took a few minutes to compose myself before the good dog got to take her turn to tour the neighborhood. I ate some leftover Chinese food from the evening before, waited the standard ten minutes it takes for a seven year old to put his shoes back on and then Baby, The Boy, and I began our adventure.
Baby walked straight lines and a steady pace. She walked with her mouth open in a way that resembled a smile and I will forever be convinced that is exactly what it was. Even though she was a little gimpy from a car accident in her younger, wilder years she would have walked alongside my son until the end of time. She was his and he was hers and walking in their company was a pleasure.
We wound through the neighborhood, paused to play at the unoccupied playground at my son’s elementary school and cut through one of the town’s many urban parks as we made the wide turn that would eventually send us back in the direction of home. There was an adult kickball game in progress so we stopped to watch for a moment before I heard someone call my name. I turned and found myself shaking hands with a friend that I had not seen in years when we both lived in an entirely different town.
It is always good to see an old friend, especially when it comes as a surprise. We had gotten through the initial catch-up line of questioning – “How’s the family, work, etc? When did you move to town?” - and had moved on to more important matters like “How can I play grownup kickball?”
I do not remember the answer to that question as this is when I detected the first ripple of change in my being.
My digestive function has always been a touch below average and, as a result, I am no stranger to gastric distress. Even the most benign foods have the ability to disagree with me without warning or reason. On this particular afternoon the Chinese takeout that landed smoothly the evening before was now about to wreak some serious havoc. I knew the moment I felt a little bubble of discomfort in my stomach that things were about to take a bad turn and I immediately halted my conversation with my old friend.
“Well Bud good to see you good luck in your game send me some kickball info let’s grab a beer one of these days gotta go,” I believe is how I left it as I ushered The Boy and Baby out of the park.
I am convinced that the rate of onset of a gastrointestinal crisis is directly related to one’s proximity from a suitable restroom. Had I been relaxed on the couch that afternoon my stomach might have bubbled for an hour before I needed to address the situation. Were I at a friend’s house or restaurant I might have had the time to wait for a break in conversation or other convenient moment to casually insert “excuse me for a moment.” A mile from home on a walk with my child and dog? I was zero to cold sweat in about 7 seconds.
The terror that held me firm its grasp had its foundation in one simple fact – I was just far enough from home to turn a simple walk into a nightmare. Taking a pit bull into a convenience store, restaurant, or any other establishment is generally frowned upon and leaving a seven year old outside and in charge of an overprotective dog seems like a recipe for disaster as well.
I began to consider other options.
Who did I know that was nearby, home, and familiar enough that I could storm into their residence on a Saturday afternoon and say “watch my kid and dog while I use your shitter”? In retrospect, this is actually a moment when you really consider who your true friends are. Sadly, none of my friends that might have met this level of familiarity lived any closer than my own residence. I was on my own.
As I made my way up the residential side of Main Street I wondered how acceptable it would be to pose this same question to a total stranger – “Hello, sir, I see you washing your Mercedes on this sunny afternoon and you look like a guy that might want to make sure my dog and child don’t run off while I go into your house for a little while.” On the other hand, I could look for a home that appeared uninhabited and sneak into their backyard to do my business in their bushes like a feral animal. Every option was on the table.
As my mind raced through each scenario my child and dog were not doing a thing to improve matters. The dog had adopted an attitude common in the elderly which was to approach life in an “I’m old and in no damn hurry” sort of way. It is not that she could not run anymore – she could when she wanted to – it was just that she had no interest. If I was going to make it home it would be at her pace, not mine.
For his part, my son was determined to interrupt my attempts at panicked problem solving by peppering me with less than helpful questions.
“Why didn’t you go before we left the house?”
“Can we stop somewhere for ice cream?”
“Do you still have to go to the bathroom?”
“What are we eating for dinner?”
“Are you feeling better yet? Can we go to the toy store?”
My condition worsened with every step as I was completely wrapped in an icy blanket of panic. There were moments when I had to come to a complete stop and focus every ounce of energy on keeping the flood gates closed. As the moment passed, I would take a deep breath and would feel a flash of relief that offered a glimmer of hope that I would be able to make it home. That would last all of a few seconds and the terror of having a complete blowout on Main Street would return in full force.
By the time I reached the nearest public business, my favorite neighborhood convenience store, I had come to the conclusion that I was not going to make it home. I doubt this was even a conscious decision but rather a simple acceptance of fact… the sun is bright, water is wet, and if I don’t find a bathroom I am going to soil my pants in front of my son and all of humanity. I had ceased to consider if it was appropriate to use the convenience store’s “NO PUBLIC RESTROOM” restroom – I was just going to do it.
If you have ever heard the stories of firemen who ran into a burning building to save a child or soldiers who rushed forward through a hail of gunfire to save their buddies, they tend to say the same thing about their actions – they ceased to think through the situation and, almost on autopilot, they simply did what had to be done. Not to compare myself to, you know, actual heroes but I can comfortably say that I can relate to what it feels like to simply react in a life and death (or shit) situation.
Without thought, I put my son’s hand through the loop of the dog’s leash and attached it to the newspaper stand in front of the store. I did this with a series of loops and knots that would have impressed any seasoned sailor, which is odd because when it comes to knot-tying the only ones I really know are “shoelace” and “necktie”. I stood back and determined that anyone that wanted to harm my child will have to go through the pit bull first and anyone that wanted to steal him would have to drag said pit bull and an entire newspaper stand with him in broad daylight. I can hardly imagine that the average child targeting ne’er do well was going to put that kind of effort into stealing my child.
“Don’t go anywhere” was all the fatherly advice I could offer him before I ran inside the store. His reply was simply to look at the knots around his arm and newspaper stand and then stare at me like I was an idiot. He was right. I was.
I knew two things as I ran into the store. The first was that there was a sign saying “NO PUBLIC RESTROOM” on the door. The second was that I did not give a damn because every building has a bathroom and I was going to use theirs. I did have the courtesy to let the owner know, at least.
“Ineedtouseyourrestroom” I whimpered at the counter.
I do not know if she recognized me as a regular customer or just saw the terror in my eyes and took pity on me. Whatever it was, she quickly pointed and said “Door in the back with the out of order sign. Don’t worry, it works.”
When I opened the door I swear I heard angels sing. When I sat down I felt what was arguably the single most intense moment of relief and release that I could ever remember. Sadly, like most climactic moments in life, it was over too soon.
The relief, that is.
The movement itself was not going to pass as swiftly as it arrived. It was determined to sweep through (and out of) me in waves. Every time I thought I was done, there was another rush of fury that held me captive to my seat. Instead of relief, each wave just brought another level of anguish and fear because the reality of the situation had sunken in – my seven-year-old son was tied to a dog and a newspaper stand on Main Street while I might as well have been welded to that toilet seat. My most important responsibility in my entire life was to take care of my child and I was taking a dump while he stood on the street like a damn urchin.
I finally gave in and decided it was time to ask The Wife for help, something I had not previously considered out of respect for her current condition. I knew she would have picked us up on Main Street had I called but for some reason I hesitated. Chalk that up to an intense dedication to chivalry as I wanted her just to relax or maybe it was the fragile male ego that would not allow me to ask for assistance. Either way, I finally submitted and with trembling hands I pulled my phone from my jeans.
From my prison in the back of the convenience store I typed something along the lines of “SOS! I’m trapped in a bathroom and The Boy is tied to The Dog who is tied to a newspaper stand! Come quick!” I was sure that she would arrive in a flash, completely cured of whatever ailed her as a call to duty is a surprisingly effective medicine. She was only a couple blocks away and her normal driving style would be described as “aggressive” by the average NASCAR driver so she would appear in nothing short of an instant as the Super Woman that I will always believe her to be in actual moments of crisis.
That is, of course, if my cell service could penetrate the thick block walls that surrounded me. Damn you T-Mobile. Damn you to hell.
My mind raced with all the possible disasters that might have been in progress at that very moment. In my “least worst” tragedy, a passing police officer noticed how unusual the situation was and stopped to investigate. I would get a stern talking to about responsible parenting and would walk home in shame, a best case scenario if I were to ever leave the restroom.
Less optimistic visions involved things like animal control taking the dog and leaving the crying child behind. I imagined a failure in my loop and knot system that resulted in the dog running into traffic, with or without my son in hot pursuit. In another scene I saw some stranger innocently approaching my son to see what was going on, only to have their face ripped off by his overprotective guardian.
Every situation that I invented left me convinced that this is what was going on outside at that very moment. I felt sicker. I got sicker. I remained seated. I was helpless.
Eventually things settled to the point where I could do some quick paperwork, flush multiple times, and rush out of the bathroom in a fog of Death sprinkled with a dash of Lysol that was intended for situations much less severe than this one. I nodded a thank you to the store owner as I was in too much fear to feel shame about the stench that was surely following me. I braced myself for what I was going to find when I stepped outside the store. What I found was the one scenario I had not considered.
The Boy was exactly where I left him, calmly petting his four legged companion with his untied hand. She was relaxed as well and showed no signs of anyone’s face or hands hanging from her mouth. This did not stop me from running to them and asking “Are you okay?!” in panic and disbelief.
“Did anybody bother you? Were you scared? Did Baby do ok? Tell me what happened!”
For the second time today he looked at me like I had lost my mind. “Nothing happened, we’re fine.” Then, as if struggling to find something worthy to report on the experience he said “Oh! Baby barked once. Apparently she doesn’t like yellow motorcycles. Other than that she just stood here.”
I hugged him and started trying to figure out how to undo the network of knots I had inexplicably tied. “I’m really sorry about that buddy. I had no choice but I didn’t mean to leave you out here that long.”
Cue yet another my-Dad-is-a-moron look on his face. “What? You were only in there for, like, a minute.”
I knew the situation had been bad but apparently my bowel movement had altered the time space continuum. My son, only seven years old, experienced a mere minute alone with his dog. For me, that minute felt like hours and, in that time, I suffered through one of the most panic inducing situations of my adult life. It was the same day, same adventure for both of us but we “enjoyed” it on two different planes of existence, apparently.
The walk home was conducted mostly in silence. There was not much a 35 year old father and his 7 year old son know to say to each other after a walk like this. When we got home I collapsed onto the couch. The Boy disappeared into his room to play with his Legos where he imagined a world that did not include things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and panic attacks.
She just laughed at me for not calling her to pick us up.