…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Thursday, March 01, 2007

about a dog

Her name was Chelsea. Not my favorite name, too post-Clintonian trendy, Gen Y’s “Lisa.” I briefly changed her name to Scout—need I say a name I’m fond of?—going so far as to make a tag for “Scout” with our address and phone number, thinking, of course, that she would be our dog in the long term. Funny how quickly animals can worm into our lives and seem absolutely right for us, even when they’re absolutely wrong.

I’ve always considered myself more of a cat person, though I think such distinctions are overrated as predictors of human personality. I gather I’ve been what you call a “cat person” all these years largely due to my exposure to such piss-poor models of the caninus family, from the antisocial dogs of my youth to the curly tailed terror visited upon me by my life partner, Sporks, who 12 years ago came into my life bundled with “Carter,” a destructive overachiever given to fits of separation anxiety most explicitly expressed via nervous bladder. I’ll never again be able to look at basenjis without wincing.

After Carter’s death, and not by my hand, we took in Sporks’ parents’ Welsh springer spaniel “Red.” Red was nice enough, but he came to us in declining health, with eight years under his coat, and ours was more an assisted-living relationship than a lesbians’ best friend kind of thing.

Soon after Red died came Biscuit, a magical entity inasmuch as she’s the dog who made me love dogs. She’s a cocker mix from the south central L.A. shelter, and while she fails factorially short of the “perfect dog” appellation thrust upon her by Sporks—via phone from the shelter, seeking my approval to go ahead with her adoption—she is preternaturally cute, proving a timeworn principle: The cuter you are, the more crap you can get away with. La Diabla, née Biscuit, is the least well-behaved member of our household, but she loves us, and she really works that cute angle.

Perhaps La Diabla’s greatest fault is that she’s cat-aggressive. Being a “cat person,” I have two feline space heaters—not counting the strays who live in our yard being that kibble is known to spring magically from a well on our property twice daily. La Diabla chases all equally, the outdoorsy types from their font of food, the indoorsy types from wherever they are. My eldest has grown accustomed to such dogergy and barely reacts anymore, which bores La Diabla, consequently diverting more of her restless energy toward Halo, our mutant five-year-old calico who, at six pounds, is as close to a perpetual kitten as nature allows. Both her teeny size and her fear of La Diabla make her just about the funnest quarry ever!

It may surprise you to learn that we were surprised by the cat aggression. Neither of us had ever experienced anything but mixed-use dog and cat households—without incident—though we do both know, abstractly, that dogs chase cats: See Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier, Sylvester’s Looney Tunes nemeses:

On the other hand, our childhood was rife with examples to the contrary: See Marc Antony and Pussyfoot:

Or how about Chance, Sassy, and Shadow:

To bottom-line it, dogs who get along with cats and cats who warm to dogs are more winsome mammals for their harmony.

We’ve made every effort to break La Diabla’s habit of chasing Halo on sight, and to both her and Halo’s credit, they’ve managed occasionally to settle territory within several feet of one another for dozens of seconds at a time, like Israel and Palestine, though La Diabla hums like a power cut all the while, twitching with the readiness of a soldier at her checkpoint, ever ready to fire.

So it was that last weekend, while watching a Dog Whisperer episode in which Cesar Millan recommended and procured a second (perfect!) dog for a family whose first dog was out of control, I casually mentioned my own openness to the concept.

“Now, I don’t want you calling me Monday saying you’ve found the perfect second dog,” I clarified. “Let’s take this slow.” Sporks tends to get a bit obsessed with focused on fun new projects, and she doesn’t always think through the consequences. Meanwhile, I’m the sensible one who positively obsesses over consequences, and I worry about the expense of a second dog, not so much in terms of food as in boarding fees, vet bills, and net destruction to the household (i.e., unforeseen damages should we adopt a chewer, a scratcher, a digger, or a nervous urinater).

“Monday’s Presidents’ Day,” Sporks reminded me. “The shelters won’t even be open.”

That was Saturday. On Sunday we were driving by a park where, it happened, the L.A. city shelter was having an adoption fair. I impulsively suggested we stop.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sporks asked. “They bring their most adoptable dogs to these kinds of things.”

“Yeah, let’s just have a look,” I said.

When I first started chatting up the shelter folks, they said they figured Chelsea was three or four: good teeth, no gray on her muzzle. A little later they offered as how she might be five-ish, and they mentioned that she had been surrendered by owners who claimed she was “human aggressive.” Hah! People will say anything to allay their guilt when surrendering a family pet to the shelter. Look at this sweet face and tell me there’s an aggressive bone in her body!

Chelsea proved her former caretakers wrong again and again, suffering attacks on all sides by adults, children, and other dogs. If you had a free hand to pet her, she was yours for the stroking. How could her people have been so cruel to saddle her with the taint of “human aggression”? Didn’t they know that was tantamount to a death sentence for a dog? She’s lucky to live in Los Angeles, where animal shelters citywide are working toward achieving a “no-kill by 2008” goal, the only way a three- to four- to five-year-old mutt suspected of human aggression would be allowed a second chance.

Make that a third chance. On closer inspection staffers found paperwork showing that Chelsea had been surrendered earlier by another owner, in 1999, when she was two, making her 10 years old today. Reason given: “human aggression.”

My therapist is fond of saying that all those red flags I see aren’t there to cheer me to the finish line.

By this time I had already spent several hours with Chelsea. We were resonating, she and I. Senior dogs need love too! And re: aggression, she had been misunderstood, or mistreated, or they just flat-out had the wrong dog. Maybe she’d been set up by some no-account presa canario friend.

In the meantime Sporks had fetched La Diabla to see how they got on—well—and I had taken Chelsea through the cat area to see if any aroused her ire—they did not.

We adopted Chelsea.

Two hours later she bit Sporks’ forearm. Hard. Like, chomped down and shook her head back and forth. It was an unprovoked attack that required an emergency room visit, seven stitches, and a tetanus shot.

When we got home several hours later I slipped a leash over Chelsea’s head and we took her back to the shelter. We didn’t feel we had much choice, but in bringing her back I felt that I acquired a taint of my own: the surrendering owner, a burden on the system, the kind of person who buys a cute little baby bunny for Easter only to cast it aside by Administrative Professionals’ Day. At least I had Sporks’ bruised and bandaged forearm to back up my story.

The shelter officer took down my information as I stood there with Chelsea, who was busy looking all doe-eyed and docile. We emphasized to the officer that all of our animal companions had come from L.A. shelters (we’re good people, really!) and that every one, until now, had become a permanent family member, practically living a life of luxury in our benevolent home! The shelter officer was kind but disinterested. She noted that our adoption fee was transferable to another animal within 10 days. I told her we were probably a little gun-shy to adopt again within 10 days; consider it a donation.

I went to bed Sunday night feeling embarrassed both at my impulsiveness and poor taste in animal companions. I was sad for Chelsea—I really wanted to give the old girl a better life—and also sad for myself, that my first foray into dogdom had ended so miserably. Maybe I was a cat person after all.

Coming soon: “About Another Dog”


Blogger WenWhit said...

Even knowing most of the story, your words were captivating and I found myself feeling anxious about the ending... akin to the suspense I feel when I know the slutty chick in my beloved horror films is going to get whacked.

I too am sorry for Chelsea, for you, and for poor stitched Sporks... but you weave a fine tale, my friend.

6:23 PM  
Blogger sporksforall said...

You didn't kill Carter? You should have! (No, you shouldn't have). See what dogs do to me? Make me crazy.

I'm still sad and it's not because my wrist hasn't healed yet.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ok...I haven't read your post yet. I'm really sorry but I have to have time to read a Scout post. But I'm sure it's fabulous and I really can't wait to read it but right now, I've got to take the dogs out to poo.

9:22 PM  
Blogger weese said...

"~... those red flags I see aren’t there to cheer me to the finish line."
good line.
i too have learned a bit about dogs. first - to hell with Cesar.
we are dog people. we understand dogs. we raise them well, and have a basic knowledge of pack mentality.
and now...with our latest shelter mutt dog - we also know that its not only environment that makes a dog what they are.
i hope you fare better with your next choice.
might i suggest armour.

11:51 AM  
Blogger MARYELLEN said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. I am leaving a comment here about your previous posts. I know most of us don't look "below" our current post. As for shaving your head, let me tell ya, I'm not depressed, but I sure like not having hair to deal with at all. Takes 20 minutes off my morning. And I'm so not about ego. I think you look great without hair. I could care less that britney did what she did, but it sure has made more people comment about mine. LOL I've been shaved for the most part of 8 years. Hope you are on your way out of the depression. The whole thing is so invasive and all consuming.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Slangred said...

Oh, Chelsea looks very pretty and perhaps a bit more noble than Scout, but Scout has one of the sweetest faces I've seen on a dog. I am really glad my conversion to (also) "cat person" is balanced in the universe by your conversion to (also) "dog person." And I'm really excited to meet Biscuit's new playmate.

3:01 PM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

The Boy is dating a girl named Chelsey but she spells it differently. Sounds the same though.

There's nothing like being dog people. Cat people I've usually found a tad strange.

Poor Sporksie. :(

9:03 PM  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

Suzanne finds you a tad strange. This coming from a woman who uses "Sporksie" and "Scoutster."

I, however, think you are perfectly normal. I have a new book coming out that should clear things up...

Dog people are from Pluto (which is no longer a planet), cat people are from France.

4:38 AM  
Blogger MARYELLEN said...

Thanks for dropping by. Sorry to hear about the bod, but nice to hear someone else understand the words "zero gravity chair". I've been fortunate to never have to resort to sleeping in my chair, not to say I haven't occassionally napped there.

It is wierd how most people are dog or cat and so are bi-pet. LOL

8:26 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Aww...well, don't let this one setback stop you from trying again. There is another little one out there for you and if you want him/her, they will find you.

I am toying with adoption, too...just not sure I can commit to all that it entails yet. But the urge is there to do it and I've been close many times. OY VE to be a mother again to my little furry child LOL.

10:45 AM  
Blogger KMae said...

This was so sad.

I have recently seen your comment posts in some other blog & look forward to your next installation here!

9:26 PM  
Blogger Little Blue Petal said...

Sorry to hear about Chelsea biting Sporks. (And she looked so angelic!) I hope she is recovering ok.
Marc Antony and Pussyfoot! Oh wow I LOVED that cartoon as a kid! Thanks for that bit of nostalgia!

8:18 AM  

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