I don't know why I thought that having a dog would be relaxing. I think I read that somewhere, that the soothing presence of a dog can lower your blood pressure. I bet if there was such a study, it was sponsored by the canine-industrial complex.
Our daughters wanted a dog because it is a child's job to lobby ceaselessly for one. My wife wanted one because she'd grown up with them. I wanted one because I thought that the loyal beast would bring me comfort when all others had forsaken me. (I imagined sitting on the porch, a dog curled at my side. Me: "Well, boy, I guess it's just you and me now." Dog: "They only went to the store, you moron.")
And so we got Charlie. Charlie is a rescue dog, which means he came from a volunteer organization that makes sure unwanted dogs of a certain breed find good homes. We rescue dog owners are prideful and smug, feeling that we snatched our dogs from a horrible fate.
The thing about a rescue dog, though, is that you're always wondering what it is that made it need to be rescued in the first place. What character flaw made his original owners say, "You know what? He's just not worth it"? I keep expecting to come home from work early and catch Charlie rifling through my financial records or setting up a crystal meth lab in the basement.
Charlie came from a Lab rescue group and so is, technically, a Labrador retriever. However, I call him a Labrador leaver, given that he never actually retrieves anything. In addition to my porch-sitting reverie, I had imagined endless hours in the park, throwing a ball or a stick. Charlie would retrieve it, then drop it at my feet. Instead, Charlie does one of two things: He races after the object, grabs it in his mouth, runs toward me and veers off at the last minute. Sucker! Then he plops down a few yards away and chews the stick or ball to a pulpy mess.
Or he just looks at the ball, looks at me, then shakes his head in disgust, not even bothering to humor me. (You know, this could be why he entered the rescue pipeline.)
One thing Charlie is good at is shedding. He's a champion shedder, sloughing off enough coarse, black hair each day to knit a completely new dog. Great tumbleweeds of it fill our house, piling up along the baseboards, giving the carpet an extra layer, clogging the vacuum cleaner. I can't remember the last time I ate a bagel that didn't have a dog hair sticking to it. I half expect to crack an egg one day and find a hair inside.
I quickly realized that the question I should have asked myself two years ago when we first thought about getting a dog wasn't "What would have a calming effect on our household?" but "Our house just isn't dirty enough; what would make it even more disgusting?"
Of course, if it's disgusting you need, a dog is what you want. I awake every morning curious about what grotesque thing Charlie is going to produce from his many extrusion points.
Conversely, I'm especially annoyed by how stingy Charlie is with his urine. When I take him for a walk, he has to sniff every last blade of grass and low-hanging branch before deciding whether it's worthy. God forbid he should pee in the wrong place.
I do feel sorry for Charlie sometimes. It can't be easy being a dog. Oh, sure, you can sleep all day, and humans carry around your poop in a plastic bag as if it were some holy relic. But you don't have arms or hands, and that's got to be rough. Imagine if you had to scratch an itch on your chin by kicking yourself in the face.
And Charlie is loyal. Not so loyal that he can be relied upon to come every time he's called outside -- he usually does a little cost-benefit analysis in his head before deciding to follow a command -- but loyal enough that when we're all in the house he wants to be near us.
Really near us. Practically touching us. When Charlie enters a room, he scans it to determine the most inconvenient place to position himself. And then he goes there. This is usually across the threshold of the kitchen when we're trying to make dinner. Or directly behind one of our chairs when we're trying to eat it. Or curled at our feet when we're trying to watch TV.
A dog curled at your feet sounds nice, until you try to stand up and he tries to stand up and then he throws himself in your path like a strong safety trying to take down a wide receiver.
But forgive me. I was at the part of the column where, after outlining the subject's deficiencies, I extol his virtues and allow as how I couldn't imagine life without him. And it's true. In April, the rest of the family took a road trip with Charlie, leaving me in an empty house for three days. I didn't miss my wife and kids nearly as much as I missed Charlie. I'd grown accustomed to his slobber, and like some batty old lady pining for her dead cat, I had a little hole in my life when Charlie was gone.
Still, did I mention that Charlie eats the mail?
Send a Kid to Camp
We have three weeks left in our Send a Kid to Camp campaign. And so far we're $550,208 short of our goal of $750,000.
Now that summer is here in earnest, I hope you can get in the mood to contribute and help some of the Washington area's neediest children. Here's how: Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.