Several months ago, we lost our 13-year-old Border Collie to cancer. It’s never easy to lose a furry member of the family, and this time we had to try to explain death to Benjamin. When Simon the cat died a few years back, Benjamin was only 2, and we didn’t think he could possibly understand. So our explanation for the cat’s sudden absence was, “He went to visit friends!” But now he’s 4, so we did our best to discuss her death in a way he could grasp. And once he wrapped his little brain around the fact that the dog had died and wasn’t coming back, he said, “That’s what happened to Simon, too, ISN’T IT?!”
As the grieving process moved on, we started to feel like we were ready to have a dog in our family again. We took several exploratory trips to the Humane Society to see what was what, and what’s what is that all the dogs at our local shelter were Pit Bulls.
I know there are all kinds of Pit Bull cheerleaders out there who say they are wonderful family dogs with sunshiny temperaments, their reputation is unfair, prejudice is cruel, etc. But with two little kids, I just can’t take the chance that I adopt the one dog that is going to rip Ellie’s arm off for a midafternoon snack. What my brain has come up with on the subject is this: I’ve had hunting dogs and a herding dog. None of these dogs were expected to hunt or herd, but they did it anyway. They naturally did the things they were bred to do, and Pit Bulls are bred to fight and kill. I’m sure I’m wrong, but I’d rather be wrong than risk being right.
Anyway, hopeful people that we are, we made one final trip to the Humane Society on Sunday. And WAH-LAH, there he was…a gorgeous yellow lab mix named Rex. Everyone who walked by his cage stopped to make some sort of enthusiastic exclamation.
“Oh, what a beautiful dog!”
“Now, that’s a dog.”
“Son, this is what you call a real American dog.” (Notably, this was uttered by a man with a thick Irish accent.)
We asked to play with Rex and they let us take him outside. Then we played with him inside. I liked the way he behaved with the kids. Then we tested his ability to tolerate a cat, which went well after a brief hissy-spitty-growly introductory period. Everyone on staff at the shelter said some version of, “Oh, that’s such a great dog!”
He was gorgeous, fun, widely loved and adored…how could we go wrong?
We decided to take him home and make him part of our lives after a brief family meeting in the reception area over popcorn and M&Ms. After an exhaustive adoption process, during which my brain melted into a quivering mass of gelatinous glop, we gleefully left the shelter with our new family member.
He did a great job in the car on the way home. I’ll give him that.
At the house, we kept him on a leash for the first hour or so. We walked him around the neighborhood. We introduced him to the yard. We walked him around the house on the leash. He met the cat, and they both did very well. “Fantastic!” I thought. “This is going to be great!”
Then I let him off the leash in the family room, which I blocked off from the kitchen with a baby gate. “Better not to overwhelm him,” I thought.
I assumed that the first thing he’d do was eat, but instead, he chose a different path, a bad path, a path that would change everything. Instead of eating the bowl of food I offered, he looked away, watched Ellie intently for a moment, then chased her down and was…well, he was…inappropriate, if you know what I mean. Inappropriate in a very rude, mannerless, boy-dog kind of way.
Ellie was horrified and startled, and thankfully I was right there to snatch her up and away from the…inappropriateness.
Next he targeted Benjamin in the yard, knocking him over in the process. Then it was me. THEN it was The Daddy, which was followed immediately by a display of lunging and menacing barking at the lawn guy and later, our neighbor.
The Daddy said, “I don’t think this is working out.”
I said, “I WANT A GIRL DOG.”
So, three hours after his joyful homecoming, Rex went back to the shelter. The staff was very kind about it, agreeing that we couldn’t have that kind of behavior with little kids around.
We felt really bad. Benjamin felt really bad. We felt really bad for Benjamin, who had been so excited to have a dog again, especially one named after his favorite dinosaur.
Ellie didn’t care at all, perhaps because she was the first of Rex’s victims. At dinner, she asked, “Where’s Wex?” The Daddy replied, “Rex had to go home.” She looked at him, smiled sweetly, and said “Okay, Daddy!” And she’s right, it is okay, because handsome Rex will eventually find a home, and we will eventually find the right dog to complete our nutty little family. The right GIRL DOG, that is.