February 26, 2009

Theory of Relativity

Or something like that. About our dog, who is named Einstein.

Einstein, the Misnamed Dog

Our adventure to dog ownership began quite innocently. My children and I took a wrong turn returning from the West Side Outdoor Market one summer afternoon, when I saw a sign for the city kennel, and said, let’s just go “look”. My affinity for homeless strays is probably a little over romanticized by 1000 viewings of Lady and the Tramp, but I still held a glimmer of hope.

The City Kennel is not Fluffy Pet Store at the Mall by any stretch of the imagination. There are no petting rooms or cute chew toys or adoption certificates. Instead, there is cage after cage of rounded up mongrels from city dumps, abandoned buildings and other unsavory places that wild dogs gather. They were emaciated, frightened, and LOUD. As I took my 7 and 9 year old through the kennel, the dogs snarled and barked and leaped against the cage doors, terrifying them. Only to spy a sign for a section of quarantined DANGEROUS animals, out of our sight. These were the TAME ones.

After this Kennel incident, I’m certain my husband would have been thrilled that I had traumatized my children to the point of never wanting a dog. But taking the shaking, trembling little girls out of the city kennel, I knew I had to make amends. Thinking on my feet, I announced, “Obviously this is the wrong building. I thought we were going to the Animal Protective League, not Dog Prison.” Driving a few more blocks, we arrived at the pristine APL building, our oasis from the Snarling Wild Dog preview a few minutes earlier.

As I reminded my children, “We’re just here to look and pet a few animals”, they tentatively walked into the building with me. After a preliminary sign in, we were permitted in the kennel part.

There we met Moe, a 5 year old beagle mix. With his sad loving brown eyes, we read Moe’s dossier, which suggested Moe was at the APL because he chased cats and birds. In amazement that he was given away for acting as any self respecting dog would, my heart strings tugged. This was the sort of dog I wanted. A mellow, smaller, mature dog with a bit of spunk… I thought, how can I sneak this boy home?

The girls and I were completely smitten, but knew Dad’s resistance to hermit crabs, let alone a dog. So we tore ourselves away and conspired to find a plan to bring a dog home sometime SOON. My chief co-conspirator was my then 7 year old. From that day forward, she would study the APL website every day, copying pictures of homeless dogs, their description and why they would be a perfect pet. They all had names and her file grew like a deck of Old Maid cards. We were specifically looking for an adult dog (not a chewing unhousebroken puppy), and a dog small enough to snuggle on our lap.

Summer vacations and activities kept us from doing much besides watching and studying the dogs, but we knew we were building a solid case to rescue an animal. The day of reckoning arrived, when one day we noticed that the APL inventory went from 20 to 45 dogs overnight. We saw a Basset Hound mix named Riley, who seemed to fit our bill. Armed with a new toy and leash, we convinced Dad to drive down with us.

We walked up to the desk and said, we want to meet Riley, the Basset Hound. Apparently Riley had heard through the grapevine that she had company coming, because the minute we arrived at her cage, she jumped up on the door and let out a howl that can only be described as wounded animal. I think she was trying to impress us with her operatic stylings, but I cringed and immediately said, wrong animal for our calm quiet home. Let’s look around some more.

Around the corner, were two more possibilities. Winston, a yellow lab with a stump tail and a weight problem. Winston was mellow, and kind, but at 8 years old, we could foresee nothing but health issues. And at 80 lbs, I also saw outrageous dog food bills and very little lap time. Not to mention the yard bombs to pick up from a dog that size.

Then the antithesis of everything I thought I wanted was in the cage across the way. A 4 month old male puppy, breed undetermined, but possibly a Sharpei mix in the body of a lab. Short wrinkly tan skin, sweet eyes and boundless energy. The children melted and I reluctantly said, “Let’s get to know this guy better.”

Well, this little guy apparently knew how to market himself. He sat with as much restraint as a puppy can muster, his tail whipping back and forth impatiently, and looked at us wistfully with his furrowed wrinkled forehead. At this point, I said, he looks like he’s a deep thinker. My older daughter said; let’s call him Einstein if we can take him home. As if on cue, we all looked at my husband and with a perfected “please” look, and stared him down.

Unable to resist the pressure of four sets of eyes (three human, and one canine), my husband said, “He is a handsome dog.”

He trembled in fear the whole time home, apparently from motion sickness. Once we arrived home, he took in his environment with joy, discovering a house with two dogs out our back window for his viewing pleasure. To this day, nearly two years later, he lets us know anytime they are outside, or any member of their family. He has become their personal stalker, guarding their house from afar.

The first time I took him to the vet; he apparently thought if he drove that would solve the problem of car sickness. I was quite the sight driving with a 30 lb. puppy on my lap quivering.

The honeymoon quickly came to an end when Einstein thought anything left on the floor was his personal chew toy. We had several single shoes, a dining room chair leg, Bratz dolls and countless socks lost to the cause of Einstein’s teething.

As Einstein grew, and his wrinkles diminished, it became clear he was not the Sharpei the APL had guessed. We began to study books and finally determined that he is probably mostly Rhodesian Ridgeback, an African hunting dog. This theory has been backed up by his dislike of cold weather and his amazing speed when he is loose. Much to his joy, he discovered that high snow drifts rendered his invisible fence useless and he took off through the neighborhood, beckoning the other dogs to join him. Gallivanting around with glee, they relished the opportunity to frolic and smell each other. Finally all the dogs were gathered and properly restrained. Einstein just smiled, panted and then scratched his ear, short term memory failing him to the point of having no idea or recollection of his adventure.

There was another time he found a large teddy bear in one of the kid’s rooms; it was dressed in a pink ballerina tutu. He attempted to walk by my bedroom nonchalantly, like he had nothing in his mouth, but he was foiled by his own sideways glance, not to mention the big pink fluff on the side of his face. Thank goodness he doesn’t play poker.

He also has an attachment to towels and washcloths. Most towels that are not hung up immediately have been discovered with holes chewed in them, to the point where some of our towels have begun to resemble Swiss cheese. Recently, he found a pile of clean folded washcloths sitting on the coffee table which is his height. The holy grail of fun things for him. Of course, he has figured out that he must be sneaky, so after somehow pulling the pile of washcloths onto the floor, he casually laid his body over them apparently to hide his crime. His guilty face gave away his momentary joy. I noticed multicolored pieces of terrycloth sticking out from under his torso as he attempted to lie perfectly still over his treasure and I was able to rescue the washcloths from becoming matched with the towels.

Einstein has also discovered a fondness for chicken. One day, as 8 cooked chicken breasts cooled in the sink drainer to be diced for other meals, I came back to the kitchen to find the colander on the floor, the chicken vanished and a contented smirk on Einstein’s face with nary a trace of chicken to be found. But his innocent act didn’t fool me, especially when he didn’t eat for three days the chicken incident. I called the vet and inquired if the chicken was more dangerous to him than my thoughts of killing him.

His name has proven to be a bit of an embarrassment, especially when we need to yell for him and he ignores us. The implication of genius is just too much pressure for him and we call him “Stupid Dog” for short. But he’s our stupid dog and we wouldn’t trade him for the world.

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