I brought you a ball. I brought you a bone. I brought you a stuffed thing that squeaks. I brought you a rope. I brought you a bit of tissue I grabbed out of the trash can. I brought you another ball. It’s a really good ball. I’ll just climb onto your lap and put it in your ear for you. There. I brought you another stuffed thing that squeaks. You don’t want these things? Do you still love me? You still love me, right? I need to eat. I haven’t eaten in years. Decades. Also I have a ball.
This is what happens when I bring home something with Lab in it.
I counted the days down and, I am sure, annoyed the shelter staff by calling almost every day to check on the dog who became Logan. I brought my mother up to meet him, a few days before his hold expired, and she fell in love right away. I kept checking his page on the petfinder site and hoped that whoever had owned him before did not want to keep him. He’s such a good dog, I kept saying, or he will be; there’s a good dog in there and I can shine it up. Everybody thought I’d be able to do that, too. My mother took me aside and told me, with the sort of seriousness she usually reserves for asking if I’ll go to the store for her, that she had no doubt whatsoever about my ability to make this pup a Good Dog.
I tried names: Shadow, Watson, Elwood, Logan. I would experimentally shout them across the house, because a good dog name has to be easy to shout. I have a theory about dog names: the best ones are two syllables, each with a vowel, because the way we pronounce things in American English means the name will be a Happy Sound, not a Scolding Sound or an Angry Sound. Dogs don’t really know their names, not the way we do. To them, a name is “the sound the monkeys make that means me.” So it’s important to select a good sound, an enticing happy one, that they will want to respond to. My pets pick their names, more or less: I’ve never selected a name and then brought home an animal for it. I choose a few I like, and try them out, and see which one fits the animal.
The shelter names their intake, even the strays; I suppose that is a bit more personable than asking for dog A21605, or whatever. The name they’d given Next Dog was Buster. I’d already had a Buster, a wonderfully weird dog, one in a million, and that name would only ever be his. When the guy was filling in the forms on the computer, for me, and he got to the name, he asked if I’d like to keep that name or change it.
“Logan,” I said. That’s who he became, that day: Logan, a wriggly black mutt, a shelter rescue, a Lab mix with I think some Border Collie, a stray who’d been collected off the street somewhere, a funny little dog who suddenly was mine.
I forgot to ask them where he’d been picked up. Maybe I can call to find out. I did learn a few interesting things, waiting for his hold to expire. His microchip information was eventually traced to a person in Gainesville, who the shelter managed to contact; this person said they gave him to somebody else in Tampa before they moved to G’ville. They did not want him back. This second owner never turned up, and since the first owner claimed he wasn’t theirs anymore, the hold expired and he became adoptable.
There are so many things I wonder about, which happens with shelter dogs. Was Logan dumped? Did the Gainesville person know Second Owner? Had there been a third Previous Owner before the other two, who’d had a whole litter of Logans? How long was my pup wandering on his lonesome? Where was he picked up? Was he frightened, shy, aggressive, happy to be found? All of these things happened here, not long ago, and different people know it all, but I’ll never find out.
It took a while to get everything squared in the databases: on my first visit, when I applied to adopt a dog I was asked about every dog I have ever had, and for some strange reason one of the cats, too. That was a depressing recitation. Renal failure, 2002. Bad hip, arthritis, 2003. Respiratory infection, 2007. Seizures and neurological damage, 2008. Spinal tumor, inoperable, last month. All of them were euthanized at the vet when it was their time. That was okay until I got to Riley, of course. I still feel like I failed her, even though I know it was her genes and her body, not me. I probably always will.
Even with all of that done, we still had plenty to do on Logan’s Gotcha Day. Updated inoculation records for the cats (thanks, vets for, phoning that stuff in), official owner Of This Dog, proof of rabies registration number with tag and title; it went on and on. Last, the actual purchase. This is funny: they had heavy discounts during October because it is Adopt A Shelter Pet Month. My mother piped in and asked if they also offered senior discounts. (She adores getting senior discounts. She has a lot of fun with being old.) It turns out that they did, so after a moment’s work and a quick glance at her photo ID to add her to the records, my new dog cost all of five dollars, with a full vet checkup and a year’s shots.
Logan: the five dollar dog. We had enough left over for pizza.
After all of this I was given a thick wad of paper with copies of everything — which I have since lost, of course. The guy called over the intercom for a pickup for kennel 118 and told me that someone would meet us there.
The first time I went there and spotted Logan, I asked for a meet-and-greet so that I could figure out if he was a dog I wanted to have in my life. A nice older man with a short tidy white beard came up with a slip-lead and opened the kennel door. Logan was out like a shot, bolting down the kennel, while every other dog who saw this barked their fool heads off. JAIL BREAK! I dropped to my knees and called for Logan, who barreled up to me, and I grabbed him on impact, holding him still enough for the old man to get the lead around his head. The second time I visited, to introduce my mother to the pup, we got the same old guy. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for saving a life.” Aw. On Gotcha Day, of course, who did I see walking out as we were walking in? Same old guy. He wished us luck.
When we collected Logan from the kennel that last time, I dropped down by the door and made sure to catch him before he could take off. They offered me my choice of tiny nylon slip-leads, about as wide as a ribbon and slightly stronger; I picked a rainbow one, because every color goes with a black dog. I was happy I’d brought the nice big martingale along though – Logan was a bouncing fiend, pulling as hard as he could. He had a little plastic ID collar with his number written on it, but I didn’t trust that it would keep from snapping or slide off his head.
We brought him by my friend’s house, because we were in the neighborhood, and she wanted to meet Logan. He got to play with little Charlie, brave killer of frogs, and climbed onto every piece of furniture. After that, and a quick drive back across town — learning that Logan does great in cars, sits and looks out the window calmly – it was time for the pet store, to get a collar and some welcome-home toys. Finally, at the end of a very long day for a young dog, we came home. He was tired out, happy and friendly, exploring everywhere. My mom, like I said, fell in love at first sight.
For me, it took longer. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough. Despite what everyone who knows me had said about dog training, I had my doubts, because Logan has so much energy and one really bad habit: he’s the mouthiest little jerk I’d ever met. I had no idea how to handle that, because puppy nipping is one thing, but a full-grown dog (physically, anyway; mentally he’s still a snotty teenager) acting that same way is entirely different. A little scary too, considering I’ve got a fragile old lady and a fragile elderly cat in the house. Biting, with dogs, is a dealbreaker for me, and while he wasn’t doing that – play-nipping is another behavior entirely — I still worried that it would become biting, the big bad skin-breaking kind, and every day that the nipping didn’t magically stop I worried more. I swore at the Previous Owners, whoever they were, because a dog this size with that behavior had to have been encouraged.
Dogs require lots of patience, and a pretty strong stomach sometimes, and a willingness to be made to look like an idiot on a regular basis. And then some more patience on top of that, because they are dogs. I steeled myself to give this dog patience, and firmly reprimanded him every time teeth touched skin. I don’t know when the shift happened exactly, it was so gradual, but we passed a certain point and I stopped worrying. I could train this habit out of the dog. I could train other things into him. Recall with a proper sit-front happened quickly, though I need to really drill it into his head. Walking on leash hasn’t been bad at all. Logan followed me like a clingy shadow, getting up as soon as I did, following me across the house, jumping into the empty tub when I went to the bathroom. In bed he’d drape himself across me like a blanket, or curl up in a ball under my knees. And now, even though I still have a few tooth and claw bruises on my arms (I bruise in a stiff breeze, this is not his fault) I am grudgingly fond of the guy. He grows on you. Like a rash. And he will be a good dog. He’s got it in him.
It may be that I got him too soon: I know some of that crazy despair was the IT’S NOT RILEY clamor in the back of my head, and that still pops up every once in a while when he’s being rotten. But things look good from here. He dozes in my bed when I’m at the computer, follows me like a shadow, like the name I almost gave him, tirelessly brings me toys. He puts them in my lap, on my feet, shoves them insistently in my face, tries to put them — I am not kidding about this — in my ear. Any time Logan is near I can expect to be surrounded by a drift of toys that once had been Riley’s. That makes me happy, to see him playing with toys she enjoyed.
He is shameless, this dog: there is not a dominant bone in his body. He eagerly throws himself down on my feet, rolls over to show me his belly, placates me with yawns and rolling eyes and licks of his nose. If I step on him or accidentally bump him with a knee, he’s back moments later, as close to me as possible.
Can I sleep on your feet? Can I curl up in your sweater with you? I brought you a ball and another ball and the bone and the kong and a stuffy squeak thing and a stuffy honk thing and here’s a ball. Please love me. I’ll put the ball in your lap and you can throw it. I’ll put it on your book. I’ll put it on your phone. Can I sit on your shoulder and put my face on your face?
He really does jump into the tub after following me into the bathroom. The first time he did it I laughed and petted him, and I suppose that was all the encouragement he needed. He’s great in the car, and it’s so good to have a dog riding shotgun again. Dog is my copilot. He’s got horrible separation anxiety: he watches out the window unhappily when I go get the mail, and if I have to leave him at home I can hear him yelping his unhappiness from the driveway. He thought part of the skirting on the bottom of the couch was a tug toy, and pulled it off.
I think we’ll be all right, the two of us.