I still have a Left Coast Crime hangover. It was a grand weekend, especially because I got to spend so much time getting to know my fellow Rati face-to-face instead of screen-to-screen. But I’m all done twinkling and grinning and talking about crime fiction for a while.
So let me tell you what’s really on my mind right now. Angus of Dog.
Angus is my husband’s dog. If that was ever unclear to me, it has become obvious this week while my husband is out of town.
You need a little background here.
We got Angus four years ago from Northern California’s Golden Retriever Rescue group. (Who’d a thunk Golden Retrievers needed rescuing anyway? That’s like saying Lollipop Rescue Group.) They’re a terrific organization, with caring, loving people who go out of their way to find good homes for these sweet animals.
They said Angus was eight years old. And he was, for a couple of days. Then he was nine, putting him squarely in the “Senior Dogs who are harder to place” category.
That’s okay with me. I like a dog I can keep up with. And my husband has always felt that older dogs, like older women, are the finest companions to have around.
Angus comes from hard-scrabble Oakland, from a fenced-in house on a tiny triangle of space between two busy streets. The couple who raised him loved him and coddled him. Except that they never took him out of the yard.
For eight years, his only exposure to the outside world was through the diamond-shaped window of a chain link fence.
Then the wife died unexpectedly during knee replacement surgery and the husband spiraled down into despair. The husband and dog both lost the will to live. But the resources were there for the man. He decided to move to Hawaii and live with his daughter, and not take Angus with him.
We picked Angus up on Valentine’s Day, 2003. He had fleas, an ear infection, knew no commands, and had grown to 120 pounds in his misery.
“He’s not a perfect dog, but he’s a good dog, and he deserves another chance,” I said.
That was the Pollyanna in me talking. I didn’t know then that he wanted Bichon Frisé for lunch. That he would attack babies in carriages if their rattles sounded like dog tags. That joggers in sunglasses would become terrorists in his eyes.
We tried everything that Golden Retriever Rescue recommended. We had him neutered – somewhat belatedly – but discovered that nine years of learned behavior trumps testosterone every time.
And we had great hope for improvement with the recommended dog behaviorist, a stern Germanic woman who could threaten with a single syllable or a crooked finger. Gus did improve. We actually got him within thirty feet of another dog before he lunged.
He was The Only Mean-Spirited Golden Retriever In The World.
Our neighbors have learned to cross the street when they see us coming.
I’ve grown to love Angus over the last four years. We overlook each other’s shortcomings. And he’s a real pussycat (if you’ll forgive the term) when he’s indoors. But out on the street he still goes Baskerville on us.
Which brings me to the topic at the head of this column. He’s Bruce’s dog. And Bruce is in Korea. So Angus has come up with a new trick.
He waits until we get halfway across the street, then splays himself across the double yellow lines. “Going Ghandi,” as Cornelia Read puts it.
Have I mentioned that he’s a hundred and twenty pounds? Fat, yes, but also big boned and tall for a Golden Retriever. We’ve had people come up to us on the street – from a safe distance, of course – and ask if he’s some new kind of giant dog breed. Maybe a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog with lowlands instead of Alps in his family. More like Lower Seacliff Condo Dog.
A hundred and twenty pounds of immovable canine. A walrus with red fur. And no matter what I do, I’m going to look either inept or cruel to the motorists trying to get past us.
So I cajole. I coo four letter words in an uber-soprano range that only dogs can hear. I drop pieces of fresh venison just beyond his outstretched paws. I pretend that this is a joyful game we play and I bellylaugh with the motorists who point and guffaw at us.
Margaret Maron calls this "the things we do for love." Things like cleaning up bathroom messes for senile parents. Sitting through tedious dinners with rude people because your sister asked you to. Loving an unlovable dog because you know how important it is to your spouse.
Maybe Bruce should take Angus with him on his next trip. But they eat dogs in Korea, don’t they? Hmmmmm.
So tell me, what are those things you do for love? Or do you have an Angus of Dog in your life?
Ha – take a gander at my blog entry yesterday and you will see one of the dogs in my family. We have two corgis – Chase and Kyra – we raised them from puppies after our attempts to rescue a greyhound failed. Ron, the greyhound was WONDERFUL but he had some sleep aggression and we had a two-year old. We tried everything but after 4 months of anxiety we decided he needed a different home. He went to a couple w/o children and is happy there.
After Ron left I decided we needed puppies so we could know their history and grow them up used to children. I actually took an online test to see what breed matched our family best – and the corgi was a 100% match. And it’s true. They are like big dogs in smaller bodies and we love them dearly.
Have you seen Cynthia Rylant’s series for young readers called Mr. Putter and Tabby? I think you would enjoy them. Mr. Putter rescues Tabby and the series follows their adventures- many of which involve their neighbor Miss Teaberry and her Good Dog Zeke.
The stories/illustrations are both hilarious and charming.
Heh. Clifford the Idiot Hound is a Golden, and weighs about as much as Angus. He doesn’t have problems with aggression (quite the opposite, actually) but he has mastered the whole “passive resistance” thing. When we take him for a walk, he always wants to go the same route. If you try to deviate, he’ll keep walking the way he wants to go till he reaches the end of the leash and then he’ll just leeeeean against it. He won’t bark or twist or try to get the leash off, he just throws his considerable weight against the leash and patiently waits for you to give up.
And I don’t know what is is about Goldens and lying in the road. I have to chase CtIH out of the middle of our street 3-4 times a day.
Thanks for my much needed laugh for the day. I’m SO sorry about Angus’ stubborn streak – reminds me of my daughter. Your description is priceless.
Louise, when I get home from work I am going to share your post with my daughter, Julia, who loves Angus without prejudice because Angus befriended her when all the grownups were ignoring both of them 🙂 She continually asks when we can go back to San Francisco “to see Angus.” We just may have to do that…
And who knows, maybe she could cajole him out of the middle of the road.
Be careful, Speed Racer… Angus could be your muse and you don’t even know it!
Billie, your corgi is darling! It would be nice to have a dog that took up less room in the bed than my husband.(I make one of them lie on the floor every night.)
And JD, I do believe that Idiot Hound is a separate breed, now recognized by the AKC. And Clifford has passive resistance down to an art form.
Hi Jody. Glad Angus gave one of us a smile today! He’s now doing that “I’ve got Golden Retriever Rescue on Speed Dial” moan and driving me crazy.
Karen, send Julia tout de suite! Or I could just ship Angus to you instead. Your car is big enough to take one of those shipping cages they use for hippos, isn’t it?
And if Angus is my muse, Guyot, then I am well and truly f**ked. My writing will consist of stories of skunks and rawhide chew bones.
I’m not so sure…
Have you ever written anything without Angus around?
Louise, I fear we are not a big-car family, both of us driving Honda Civics (and old ones at that!) But if you want to bring Angus out, we’ve got a big yard he could run around in, and we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, sans any lines at all in the road.
Here I was, hoping for a masculine muse with a come-hither look, a neck the size of my thigh, and the ability to pun in three languages.
And what do I get? A wookie that barks and won’t even chase a stick.
Louise, what about the Dog Whisperer? He works miracles and the two of you could be TV stars.
Patty, Angus may be beyond hope. But I could use a good Louise Whisperer right now …
Awww, poor, poor Angus! He’s just asserting his masculinity and protector persona for you Louise!
She’s gonna kill me for saying that – I just know it.
“She’s gonna kill me for saying that – I just know it.” Yep. She will. Angus is the canine equivalent of John Goodman. If that’s the kind of masculinity and protection I’ve got coming, I’m all for the lesbian way of life.
And Karen, how about if I give you a big car along with the big dog. Really? Are you sure? Maybe I could throw in a year’s worth of kibble.
And I thought you were kidding me when you told me he was mean-spirited; in fact, I’m still not quite sure you aren’t. . . .
Hi Tom! Glad you checked in, as I forgot to give you credit for the “hot dog” photo, and you’ve given me a chance to correct that.
Yep, Angus is mean-spirited, as they say in polite circles. Dog-aggressive. Downright pig-headed and contrary, I say when I’ve had a cocktail or two and I’m trying to coax him back up the stairs.
At least he keeps you safe. : )Thank you for sharing Angus with us Louise. Another aspect to your fascinating life… he’s such a cutie though.