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The Dog Days

August Men's Room Column

Every morning, I wake to heavy breathing and big brown eyes. I get an invitation to move closer, and soon the heavy petting begins: me scratching the dog behind his floppy ears and down his long back until he capsizes for a belly rub that he wants to last all day.

We plod to the kitchen, where I set up coffee while he reclines on what was once a black-and-red rug, now sheened with beige from his doggone shedding. If he grew cashmere, I could make a fortune selling sweaters. Instead, it’s just this Lab’s coat, and it’s everywhere. Soon, I’m just going to open the doors and run the leaf blower through here.

While the coffee brews, we lumber out for the day’s first excursion. I leash him not to prevent him from running off – his running days are over – but to try to keep him on something like a straight line instead of the zigzag he takes to fertilize everything he sees. He hits the neighbors’ shrubs, the shoulders of all the streets, and, once or twice, the streets themselves. Multiple times, he has disrespected the flower bed that the homeowners association meticulously tends at a marquee intersection.

I often walk him late at night in summer, partly so he won’t overheat and partly so the neighbors won’t notice what he does to their property. Everybody in the community knows his name because they hear my chiding: “Riley, stop that! Riley, get away from there! Riley, that’s not your mailbox!”

He always returns home panting and smiling, proud of his unsanitary deeds.

He came to me three years ago, handed over by my girlfriend at the time. She’d had enough following a couple of visits from Animal Control. I couldn’t blame her. The officers were just going to keep coming after the dog started nosing open her front door and traipsing around the neighborhood. She’d gotten him from a previous owner, who had found him wandering around some woods in Columbus County, abandoned, frightened, and riddled with ticks. Finally, after a decade of adventures, he took up with me. My place is his retirement home.

He is, in the delicate language of his compassionate veterinarian, an intact male approximately fourteen years in age; neutering at this point won’t enable the old dog to learn new tricks or better habits. He’s a mix of yellow Lab and Lord knows what, 80 pounds of slobber and love.

He has the cuddliness of a teddy bear, the table manners of a slop hog. He wallows on the lawn. He licks the carpet. He eats bugs. He says hi to everyone. He nonchalantly expels air from both ends. He licks the hardwood floor. He listens to NPR. He drinks from the toilet. He snoops for treats in my neighbor’s garage. He loathes squirrels. He lounges across the doorway to every room. He loves McDonald’s hamburgers, no onions. He watches me shower. He licks the rugs, his bed, and himself. The pharmacy made up a birthday for him: August 26.

All my windows have smudges.

The dog’s days are drawing close. Old age, chronic arthritis, and hip dysplasia – these have crept up on him and now are taking over, leaving him limping during our walks and often unable to get his hindquarters up without my assistance. He takes maximum doses of multiple pain pills. Probably soon, he will go on to that happy walk around the block of eternity. When I get there someday, I’m sure I’ll find him panting and smiling, anxious to show me around.

 

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.

 

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