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.
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.
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?