The mulberry tree is doing its thing again, and that means our dog, Charlie, is doing his.
A mulberry exists to procreate, so every summer the tree’s branches get heavy with fruit. Thumb-size berries ripen and then fall, littering the ground in the park where I take Charlie for his walks.
Charlie exists to eat, so it is his mission to consume anything vaguely edible that he encounters.
Mulberries are more than vaguely edible.
We’ve been lucky with Charlie, our black Lab who’s closing in on 14 years. He doesn’t eat socks or chair legs. He doesn’t take food from coffee tables or leap onto kitchen counters and steal the Sunday roast. But he’s convinced we don’t feed him enough, so on our walks he’s always on the lookout for a quick snack. Walking him is like walking a four-legged Dyson.
Like a lot of dogs, Charlie lives by the adage: Eat first; ask questions later. Just as some management gurus think it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, Charlie thinks it is better to vomit something up that tastes bad than not eat something that tastes good.
Not that he vomits that frequently, actually. Charlie has a cast-iron stomach, a necessity given some of his frankly appalling predilections. In a vast soccer field, he can find the single pile of deer poop. They are like Raisinets to him.
When we lived in Oxford, England, we once walked Charlie on Port Meadow, a lovely open field used for centuries as a communal pasture. We allowed him to gambol unleashed through the bucolic landscape. Then we realized he was stopping at every cow pat and taking an exploratory bite.
What’s that saying? Love the sinner, not the sin? I think that encapsulates dog ownership, or at least Charlie ownership.
He may not vomit that frequently, but he has a whole symphony of near-vomits. There’s one that he does after he eats grass, for example.
I’ll say, “Charlie, don’t eat grass. You know you always end up getting a single blade stuck at the back of your throat.”
But he does it anyway, managing to nip some before I pull on his leash. Then he makes the same sort of dry, throat-tickled sound you would make if you were a dog and you’d eaten some grass.
Charlie’s most dramatic performance is the rare full-body upchuck. He seems to most enjoy doing this when we have guests over. He’s an old dog now, so he’s usually like a three-dimensional throw rug: a shiny black pile of shedding, snoozing fur. But, gripped by some unknowable motivation, he’ll get up, position himself so that his snout is in someone’s lap or over the plate of olive tapenade resting on the ottoman, then go into his horking routine.
He will sit on his haunches, then slowly open his long, toothy mouth and start convulsing as if he’s trying to eject something from deep inside his diaphragm. He pushes his neck forward. He pulls back his lips, baring his impressive teeth, and curls up the tip of his tongue. Oddly, this display is almost silent. Oh, would that it were totally silent, for the only noise he makes is a guttural urlgh, urlgh — elemental and horrifying, like something dredged from the abyss.
Thankfully, the full-body upchuck is hardly ever productive. Charlie does it for a while, then, satisfied that he has rearranged his internal organs to his liking, he lies down and falls back asleep.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if one day a scaly little demon popped out and scampered away.
But back to the mulberries. This time of year, part of the path through the park is covered with the squishy black things. Charlie perks up as we approach them. I tighten my hands on the leash.
“Charlie, heel,” I say as we tiptoe through the minefield. “Heel.”
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the vomiting dog, I will fear no evil …
Camp Moss Hollow starts a week from today. For the next eight weeks, at-risk kids from our area will travel to the summer camp in Fauquier County. Your support makes this all possible. Won’t you please give? You can make a tax-deductible donation at washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-0045.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.