My Old Man
In February of 1999, I drove to our local humane society "just to look." Or at least, that's what I told my husband. I had a young Boxer at home and felt confident that she needed a sibling. This was shortly before I got involved in Boxer Rescue.
I entered the kennel area and walked down each aisle, looking at the homeless dogs to the left and right of me. Some dogs hurled themselves against the bars, desperate for attention. Some had given up and didn't even lift their heads as I passed. The staff members had gamely written little tidbits about each dog on colored index cards. "I love to play with toys!" and "I know how to sit!" A few of the dogs had adoptions pending.
After my initial pass, I left the kennel area and tentatively approached the front desk. "Would you give me a list of the dogs in whom no one is interested?" I asked. A young woman flipped through a three-ring intake book and made a list of kennel numbers on a small piece of paper. I headed back to the kennels, the paper held firmly between my thumb and index finger. I compared the kennel numbers to the ones listed on the paper. I began scratching off numbers for dogs that I needed to eliminate for one reason or another. I am not a small dog person, so all the small dogs were out of the running. (The good news for small dogs is that they have a much better chance of making it out of a shelter alive than their larger counterparts do.) I had a female dog at home and felt that a male would be best. So, no girlies. That left me with a handful of dogs.
I paused in front of a kennel that was occupied by a largish black, fluffy dog named Barney. He stood up quickly and walked towards the metal bars, feathered tail swishing behind him. I could've sworn he'd actually been expecting me. "Hey, you're here," he seemed to say. "Where are you parked?"
I found a shelter employee and asked if I could meet the black pooch with the friendly brown eyes. She opened the kennel door and let me inside. I closed the door behind me and sat down on the concrete floor. I had some treats in my coat pocket and Barney, who was around eight months old, shoved his long nose inside my pocket and helped himself. I spent a few minutes with him and then headed back to the front desk. I placed a hold on the dog and mentally began preparing the sales pitch for my husband.
A few days later, I had my new dog. I didn't care for the name Barney and soon dubbed him Karl Lee instead. My new dog, in turn, set about humping the bejeebers out of his new sister. We called every veterinary clinic in town in order to find the one with the soonest neuter appointment open. "I got one for Monday!" P told me jubilantly. It would be a long weekend.
Karl had been dumped at the shelter by a family that didn't speak English, so it was hard to get a lot of information about him. He seemed to be some sort of Lab/Chow mix. If there is a breed out there that fancies itself a fabulous hunter (but is not even close) and blows its coat in dramatic fashion once a year (every summer we get to pick up chunks of Karl all over the house), I guess that would be him. I did know, even then, that large black dogs have a hard time making it out of shelters alive. Our local shelter has a 50% euthanasia rate, so his odds weren't so great. However, I am really not the type to go around hollering about how I "rescued a dog." I got involved in rescue about a year after adopting Karl, and you still won't hear me say that. It's entirely too heroic, and makes it sound like I swooped in on some sort of Tarzan vine and pulled a dog from the clutches of evil or something. He needed a home and we had a home.
Once he got neutered and stopped humping his sister, Karl turned out to be a wonderful addition to our home. He was easily housebroken and trained. He is so smart that I taught him "gimme 10" (a variation on "high five") in one sitting. He's a bit of a nervous nelly and freaks out if you get near his feet, and we had a tough time in obedience classes because of his nervous chirping (I call him my blackbird). But all in all, even with his neuroses, you could not ask for a better canine friend. Just don't touch his feet.
Karl lost his Boxer sister, Lucy, in November of 2006. She had lung cancer and left us in no time flat. Those two always got along famously, mostly because he didn't mind bending to her will. When my daughter was born, Lucy was unimpressed, but Karl assigned himself the duty of checking on the baby at night. When I got up to feed her in the wee hours, he got up to supervise.
And now . . . my blackbird is growing old. His hips are getting creaky and he's slow to rise from a nap. His innards have started to malfunction, and he vomits more often than our carpet would like. (When guests come over, A is quick to give them a tour, exclaiming, "Karlie puked here! And here! And right over here!") I took him to the veterinarian yesterday, but there is nothing definitively wrong with him. He is currently on a prescription food and seems to be rebounding a bit. I can't picture a day and a time without my big, fluffy boy. He adores the snowy winters and looks at us disdainfully when we light a fire in the fireplace. "How could you?" he seems to say. Irritated, he runs outside and shoves his long muzzle into a snow bank . . . for effect, I suspect.
Karl has tolerated 8 1/2 years of Boxer foster dogs, which is a lot to ask of any dog. He hates puppies, I can tell you that. His loyalty to me, though undeserved, is unquestionable. He even fasts when I go out of town. As near as I can tell, he doesn't even drink water while I am at work. When I come home, he runs to the bowl and begins slurping. "My beauty makes him parched," I always tell people.
My sweet old man. I just need those creaky hips and cloudy eyes to hold out for a couple more years.