When Jay and I bought our first house, we agreed to take a dog that his ex and her husband had raised from a puppy. They were giving up an aborted attempt to homestead and had no place to keep him. As the dog had saved my stepson from drowning in a creek, and was depicted as a highly responsible animal, we accepted him without reservation.
‘Beast’ was aptly named. His ancestry was uncertain: he had the size and shagginess of a St. Bernard, and the head and markings of a husky. But his sense of pack responsibility was all timber wolf. In the forested land where he spent his early years, he had been trained to patrol the boundaries of his owner’s territory.
I remember when he was dropped off, his former master showed him the front property line, walking him up and down it. “Beast, guard!” was the command.
And Beast took the order seriously. How seriously, we were about to find out. His stay with us lasted for about six hair-tearing months, and then, in complete exasperation and with the neighbors threatening lawsuits, we found him a home in a rural area with people who had an apple orchard that needed guarding.
On the Saturday morning when this transition was in process, I was waiting for the new owners to pick him up when the phone rings. But it isn’t the new owners, it’s my Mom.
We started with the usual catch-up on family. And then Mom asks, “How’s Beast?”
At least, that’s what I THOUGHT I heard her say. Given the circumstances, it seemed perfectly in context, as I had spoken to her briefly a couple days earlier about the grief this dog was causing us.
As I later found, to my great mortification, what she had actually said was, ‘How’s Jay?”
Out the window, I can see my husband rounding up the mutt from our front yard. Beast had once again jumped over our 6-foot board fence in his desire to patrol our entire property line.
So you can understand the exasperation in my reply. “Oh, I am getting RID of him!”
My mom seemed unduly surprised. “Why? What has he done?”
“What HASN’T he done?” I exploded. “Like right now the place stinks, because yesterday, AGAIN, he prevented the garbage men from picking up the trash!”
Mom was baffled. “Why would he do that?”
“Oh, he thinks it’s valuable, because it’s ours. He thinks anything we’ve ever owned has to be guarded. Ever since we got this house, he has paced up and down the property line, looking menacing. The mailman gave us a notice the other day saying we’d have to get our mail at the post office, because he’s afraid to deliver it.”
My mother is used to dealing with nutty people; she was custodian of her two schizophrenic nephews. Which might explain why her mind immediately jumped to conclusions about Jay’s sanity. “I had no idea he was so disturbed. Can you get him help?”
“I’ve already tried everything I know!” Says I. “I can keep him under control in the daytime. But at night, he just works the window latch and slips out again. And if you tie him up, he just chews through the rope!”
At this point, you would have expected my mother to realize that we were on totally different topics, but the shock apparently prevented her from putting two and two together. As for me, I am oblivious—as I can be, when I’m on a roll and there is a sympathetic ear.
“The final straw happened the other day! A girl came by riding a bicycle, and he cleared the six-foot fence in one bound and took off after her, barking and nipping at her heels!” I exclaimed. “And she was only twelve!”
There was a silence on the line. Then Mom said, “Are you going to file for divorce?”
“Divorce?!” It was my turn to be shocked. “Why would we get a divorce over Beast? Jay is as weary of his antics as I am!”