Friday, January 18, 2008
Some seven years ago now I defied my lovely wife Jeanne's ("LWJ's") pleas and purchased a chocolate Labrador puppy to keep my yellow lab company. No one should have to go through life alone, as anyone who owns a doggy companion knows. After reading books on buying puppies I did a diligent search on the web, and found a kennel in Nevada that seemed to represent the best in breeding standards and all of that. I bought the largest male in a litter produced by two long lines of American and British show champions, and drove up to a distinctly odd neighborhood somewhere in Los Angeles to collect my purchase.
The house was easy to find. The lawn was covered with gnomes, little fake deer, flamingos, and everything else you can imagine putting on a little lawn. The inside of the house was crowded with a dozen chihuahuas, and did not smell great. But inside a crate was a brown fur covered basketball shaped creature with four little legs that could only be my new dog. I named him Denali in Alpenglow as his official AKC name, Denali for short, after a memorable camping trip where LWJ and I watched the great Alaskan mountain for many hours straight over a preternaturally clear solstice one summer in Alaska. One the way home, little Denali produced copious liquid poops that made the car smell for months afterwards. It was a sign of things to come. I loved him deeply.
Now Denali is prematurely an old man, dogwise that is. As I have related before on this blog, he nearly died and was miraculously saved after he suffered heat exhaustion a few years back after he accompanied me on a run. A veterinary nurse spent 12 hours sitting with him in his cage in the doggy ICU. He has that effect on people. His blockish head, his big brown sad eyes, and his obvious stupidity just melts the heart of the typical dog person. My vet told me he was probably a goner, but to take him to this facility. I did, handed them my MasterCard and told them, do whatever it takes. They did, and I was spared.
Denali has always made his presence felt in a room. He poses the question: how is it possible to love so much a creature who smells so bad? Of course, I have taken him to the vet and said, he smells. You do not need to write to me about ears, coats, or anal glands. I have been there and done that. Wise vets look at him, and like women in that John Travolta movie Michael, immediately fall under his spell. They kneel down, rub his head, look into his eyes, and take a big whiff. A skeptical look, another sniff, and then the inevitable ambiguous conclusion. "He's in the normal range I'd say," they say, not really believing it themselves. "Labs tend to smell you know. They're big dogs."
They are indeed, and not just in size.
I had the thought to cut his coat short, which might reduce his peculiar combination of very dirty socks let wet in the corner for 10 days, moldy carpet, ripe cheese, and rotten oranges, supplemented by a certain, je ne sais what In God's name is that? When I went to pick him up I was met by a furious groomer. "You can't bring him back here," she said. What had my dog done? He had sprayed a groomer. You may not have known a dog could do that. I had long since become aware that dogs have anal glands in my odor odyssey, but until then I did not know that sufficiently provoked some dogs can spray like skunks, and that what was Denali had done. Terrified about being stuffed into a cage that looked just like the one he had almost died in, he had fought back in the only way he knew how, since he would never bite anyone. "She had to go home! She was covered with it!" I could only nod sadly and take Denali home. He's such a good dog.
Now Denali has gray on his chin, as I do. He likes to sleep in my den and lends it a certain indescribable not to mention ineradicable odor. I don't care. LWJ knows he is with us for the distance. I don't know of anyone else who would die rather than let me run on alone. So he smells. It is a fault, but not a fault of the heart. He is not too bright, and has difficulty remembering where the steps are in the swimming pool. But who cares. Nobody is expecting him to unify physical theory. He is welcome to stink up my room, limp about on his stiff legs, and be puzzled by the world around him. I am too.