Every weekend I visit the rescue dogs at Pet Supermarket as a test of willpower. This is a secret, except sometimes I make one of the children come in case he/she so falls in love with a pup that I HAVE to take it home. This might sound familiar because this is exactly the way we acquired Yobe the Rescue Dog, and afterwards Hot Firefighter Husband made me promise to never ever do that again. I didn’t exactly promise but I conceded that he had a point.
I really like dogs, which doesn’t make me unusual. In fact, lots of people I know are far more obsessed with dogs than me. But animal suffering bothers me a lot. And if we as a society consider dogs (and cats, I grudgingly admit) to be beloved family members capable of love and pain and sadness, then the number of canines in this country who live horrible, lonely, desperate lives is unconscionable. I know the same can be said of children, but I can only fill my head with one enormous problem at a time.
A few weeks ago, I was on my weekly pilgrimage when I met a black and brown little dog who was missing half his fur. Instead of fur he had this thick wrinkly gray skin. He looked part-possum, part minuscule rhino, and he smelled like infection. He looked up at me.
Short backstory: I know a man who works long hours and keeps his four dogs shut in cages all day. Like, 12-14 hours a day. They crap in the cages and have to stay there until their person gets home. He lets them out, they roam around the yard, then he puts them back in their cages. He never walks them. I would think about taking them but he lives in Arkansas.
I had been thinking about this man and his dogs when I met this little possum pooch who was trying to make himself attractive so he could be adopted. And it occurred to me that no one was ever going to adopt this sad little creature who was missing half his fur and smelled like sickness, and he was destined to live his whole life in a cage.
“I can’t bring home another dog,” I said unconvincingly to the rescue lady. “My husband might leave me.”
“You could foster him!” said the rescue lady.
FOSTER HIM! Why, yes, I could! In the moment, it seemed like the best idea ever. Plus, Husband was working, so I had, like, 18 hours until he found out. I put the dog on a leash and walked him out to the car where the Diva was randomly Instagramming. “OOHHH, he’s adorable!” she said. Which he was not. But it was nice of her to say. “We should bring him home!” she added, then went back to her phone. I interpreted that as begging.
The rescue lady was so happy to get rid of a dog that she gave me a crate and told me having a mutual acquaintance was reference enough. We named him Bernie Sanders, because I’m a socialist at heart. (Please, people, teach your children to share.) The Tyrant immediately bonded herself to him and used a voice 40 octaves higher than normal to coo at him. Husband came home from work the next day, looked at this strange animal curled on the couch, and just sighed and asked if there was still coffee. I swear, I love that man.
We took Bernie to my vet, who said his hair loss was likely due to a years-long flea infestation and infection. “His hair may grow back,” she said. “It might not.” And I felt a little sick just then, realizing I might be stuck forever with a possum-rhino dog who smelled bad. The vet estimated Bernie was between two and 6 years old – his teeth looked like those of a 2-year-old, but he had graying around the muzzle. “Maybe he just had a hard life,” I said. After all, he was a stray from Bradford County. The vet gave us three weeks worth of antibiotics, some medicated shampoo, and some special mousse to rub on his rhino hide.
Bernie Sanders quickly transitioned from guest to family member, even as I exclaimed several times a day, “He’s a FOSTER dog, remember that!” Within days, his sad little countenance turned perky and he started prancing as he walked. He seemed to be part dachshund, part long-haired chihuahua, and maybe a little Australian Shepherd. He weighed 10 pounds, and he pretty much thought I was the best thing since ham, which he clearly never before had tasted.
Bernie liked to play with Buddy the Wonder Dog and Yobe the Rescue Dog, but he tired more easily and nipped at their heels when he’d had enough. At night, he started out sleeping at the foot of my bed, but inevitably I would feel him under the covers on top of my feet, which, I’ll be honest, was disconcerting, but better than having him share my pillow. When Husband watched television, Bernie crawled up onto the back of the couch and fell asleep.
I became very fond of Bernie Sanders, even as I began asking everyone I encountered whether they were in need of a dog. Three dogs translates into three times the poop, after all. One night, I was having drinks with friends when my girl Kelly mentioned she was thinking of getting a dog for her 21-year-old son. “I HAVE A DOG FOR YOUR SON!” I declared loudly, and told her all about Bernie Sanders.
The very next day she brought her son to meet Bernie and they fell in love immediately. Two days later, Bernie moved to his new home with his new person and their fabulous new life. The Tyrant, surprisingly, was thrilled that Bernie had found a forever home. On her Instagram page, she wrote: Bernie has now left to his permanent home witch is great! I feel so proud of myself for saving a dogs life. Miss you already Bernie! (Grammar/spelling gods, please smile on her soon.)
I felt proud of myself, too. I do think we saved Bernie’s life. More importantly, I think I crept a tiny bit closer to being my own true self. I’m not a neat freak. I don’t mind wiping paw prints off the couch. And if I have to bring an occasional extra animal into my house because it’s the right thing to do, I can live with the chaos for a while.
Bye, Bernie Sanders. You’re a lot like your namesake – you were all over the place for a while, and then you disappeared. But you sure left a lasting impression. Love you.
P.S. His hair grew back. #winning