Ah, on cold mornings like this, nothing feels better on the bare feet than a wood floor in a gas-heated home. Until you step in the dog vomit.
We dogsit Fred for a friend when she goes out of town, for the same reason she keeps Houdini for us when we leave. The two dogs are, um, longtime companions, and it’s a way better situation than putting them up in a kennel. Fred is a little guy, some kind of purse terrier. He is sprightly and alert, and weighs about as much as a handful of used Kleenex. The amazing thing about Fred is the huge impact he has for such a small critter. On me, that is.
He always announces his arrival with a housewarming puke, probably because the first thing he does is eat Houdini’s food before I get a chance to remove it from the floor. What brand do we feed our dog? I think it’s called “20% More Free.” Fred is allergic to it, so he has his own, expensive food, which Houdini routinely hoovers before Fred has a chance to eat kibble one. But once we get the food situation straightened out, that’s not a big deal.
What is a big deal is the smell. The rest of my family swears they don’t notice Fred’s pungent aroma. His owner always bathes him just before she drops him off, but I must have a unique body chemistry that reacts with his in such a way that a foul stench is produced that can only be detected by the olfactory sensors in my brain. The stink is so bad that it actually can bend light waves, and it looks like he’s giving off heat when he comes near. It’s a unique funk that’s difficult to put into words. Imagine Satan sitting down to eat a bowl of skunk anuses (anni?) drowned in rat piss. Then he pumps a stream of diarrhea into a cauldron of overcooked Brussel’s sprouts. Then that butt gumbo festers in the Death Valley sun for three weeks, and gets puréed in Jeffrey Dahmer’s kitchen blender and seasoned with baby gorilla poop and a cup of pure shame. Pour the concoction over Fred. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And his breath is even worse.
But the smell, I can live with. I breathe through my mouth when I see him coming. What makes his visits difficult is his total lack of respect for my personal space. See, in our home Houdini has a clear understanding of the boundaries. He is not allowed on the couch. He needs to keep his barking to a minimum. He is forbidden from begging. Fred, on the other hand, must live in some sore of doggie libertine environment. The first time he stayed here, when we sat down to dinner he jumped right up into my lap, a small cloth napkin already tied around his neck. I’m not sure how he gripped his cutlery, lacking opposable thumbs and all, but that act was not going to fly in this house.
Houdini understands who the alpha dog is around here, and all it takes is a stern look and a raised eyebrow from me, and he’ll drop his vulture act and skulk from the dining room. Fred, however, will sit a foot from the table, mouth closed, statue-still, staring intently at every single bite of food I take. There is nothing cute or even pathetic about it. It is wanton, naked opportunism. It is beyond rude. It is disconcerting. It’s like Donald Trump watching the Republican presidential candidates imploding one by one, waiting for his moment to swoop in and announce that the next place he’ll be performing his heroic comb-over will be the White House.
But like a fat white tourist eating jerked chicken in a poor Jamaican slum restaurant, I ignore the silent pleas for food and get on with my meal. I can take Fred’s begging vigils. Likewise, I can deal with his persistent barking. This little bastard looks out the sliding glass kitchen door all day and barks at everything that moves. And many things that don’t. Yesterday afternoon I found him in the backyard, putting the fear of God into a sprinkler head.
But by far the worst part of his visits takes place at night, after we’ve gone to bed. First, I discover that he has nabbed the $70 dental guard from my night stand and treated it like a rawhide bone. Completely ruined. Ironically, this has me grinding my teeth before I’m even asleep. He insists on sleeping on the bed between me and Barb, curled up like a potato bug. From underneath the covers, I shift and prod and push and kick to try and dislodge him, but somehow he hangs on, like a Velcro-covered bowling ball. I have to physically remove him from the bed and set him on the floor with some choice swear words, and he waits until I drift off into a fitful sleep to jump back up there. I invariably awake to the dreadful pitter patter of him marching around on my head like he’s impersonating a cat. He does this until one of us gets up and lets him out so he can go pee, then bark at a stump.
The whole experience is like having a relative staying with you who’s a cross between a clueless infant and your unemployed, alcoholic uncle. He pesters me constantly, never more than three feet from my person, which guarantees at least two or three (mostly) accidental stompings a day. His clinginess is exacerbated by Houdini’s jealousy, as both of these assholes try to keep each other from being petted by the alpha dog. It’s a tiresome rivalry, and sometimes I just wish they’d lose interest and go out back and sniff butt, like normal dogs. Of course, I know they’ll never do that until I lead the way.
It’s not easy, being a role model.