The dogs rule the house. Sure, we are supposed to be in charge. They are supposed to behave, do what we tell them, and disappear until we need them either for emotional support or when we want to pet soft things.
That’s not the way it works.
Molly McGuire and Sadie Grimke are the two pooches. Molly’s a little mutt of a hound made up of basset and corgi, or beagle and corgi, or something. She’s long and low, weighs about thirty pounds, and tends to talk a lot, particularly when the letter carrier or the neighborhood groundhog is about. Besides being cute as hell, she has these little basset or beagle gloves on her front lets that makes her adorable.
Sadie’s more than twice the size of Molly. Sadie weighs in at around seventy pounds. She, too, is a mutt, something between an American bulldog and pit bull, with some other things swirling around in there. She’s built like one big muscle. While Molly’s brown, white, and black, Sadie’s jet black and snow white. I can’t say she’s cute but she is handsome, very much so.
They are both ill-trained. In other words, we haven’t really trained them at all. They know to go outside to pee. They both sit on command. But they jump up on people. They bark incessantly. They don’t know to stay off when people don’t want them on their laps. Both are chumps for affection and, at the same time, demand much attention. They are both, in the end, spoiled brats.
We rescued both animals (or, sometimes, we think, they rescued us). Whoever owned Molly decided they didn’t want a cute, excitable dog and left her off in Jarboe park, where some neighborhood do-gooders picked her up and sheltered her until we came along. We lost our last of three dogs several months before, a real trauma that we hadn’t quite recovered from. My wife Virginia saw a picture of a dog the neighborhood community network had for adoption. When she went to look at that dog, it turned out that it belonged to a neighbor who lost her.
Instead, the director of the community network center suggested Virginia look at another puppy that a friend had been fostering named Daisy. Daisy came off cute and affectionate. Virginia decided, well, we’ll see how she works out at home. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love. We both thought that Daisy was a crappy name for a dog—too collie or cockapoo. I named her after a group of radical labor activists. Molly Maguire has been with us ever since.
Right on a year later, my wife found Sadie out on Beardsley Road wandering around behind a homeless guy. The dog and the man were both in the middle of the street when my wife drove up. The dog ran out in front of her car and my wife stopped. The homeless guy asked Virginia if she could animal control. The dog had been following him all day and he was afraid the dog would get hit by a car. Virginia opened the car door and the dog jumped in.
Again, Virginia thought we’d see how she worked out at home. When she brought her to the porch, Molly whined on the other side of the front door. When Virginia opened the door, the dog she found rushed in and started licking Molly all over. They got along famously. We named her Sadie—again with strong influence from me—after Sarah Moore Grimke, the 19th century writer, suffragette, and abolitionist. Like Molly when we first got her, Sadie was hardly a year old.
When I got home the day Virginia brought Sadie home, I accepted that we had another dog. We’d had three at once before, so why not two? Of course, who couldn’t like these dogs? Besides the way they looked, they both have fabulous personalities, open and affectionate, gentle and vivacious.
I walk those dogs two to three miles or more every day. I spend a solid hour of my day, every day, underway with those dogs. Walking has been a part of our routine since Molly’s arrived. They are happiest when they have a good walk and depressed when they don’t get one for a day or two. That rarely happens. They get too wound up, too excited when they don’t walk. They are too much the kinds of animals that work out their frustrations and cares with physical contact. If you don’t want the dogs crawling around on you when you’re reading, sleeping, or watching television, you have to walk them.
The means that walking is my principal exercise. We don’t just saunter along. We get the major business of the walk out of the way and then we set out on a forced march, at least three and a half miles an hour on average.
As I’ve walked, I have worked out a theory about why anyone would throw away such perfectly good animals. Their previous owners got them when they were pups. Puppies are cute. They do cute stuff. But they tend to chew on things. When they get older, if they don’t get a walk, they tear up the house, crawl on people, and chew through electrical cords. In other words, for people who don’t know to walk a dog or are too lazy to do it, these kinds of creatures are too much. The owners don’t know what to do. They drive to a park and dump them off. They find a lonely stretch of road and throw them out of the car.
Then we wind up with them. But we are busy people. We had dogs before and trained them as best we could. We even spent several weeks with a fascist dog trainer whose idea of a well-behaved dog was something along the lines of an automaton who took orders and was otherwise invisible. We lack discipline, however, particularly Virginia, who’s a sucker for a pretty face and a look that says, “Give me some of that cookie (sandwich, roast beef, potato chip, etc.).”
The dogs we had before were real hounds. They knew that Virginia and I were soft touches. When we had a sandwich, they had a sandwich. They followed us around like dogs trained in food tend to do. It got to the point that when we weren’t eating, they’d force us to find something so they could eat.
This time around, with Molly and Sadie, I insisted that we feed the dogs only dog food, and, except for Virginia’s transgressions when we first got the Molly, have kept them off people food. They don’t beg, which I like, because nothing says pitiful than a pleading, panhandling dog.
Other than that, the dogs get what they want. When they demand affection, we give it to them. When they want to get in a lap, we let them. When they want to go out, they go out. (Thank god, we have a doggie door or I would be worn out getting up time and again, letting them in and letting them out again.) Fortunately, we’ve reached the point that when we sleep, they do to.
One thing I should mention: Molly is the dominant dog. She’s the first to eat, a right she defends with bare teeth and a firm growl. No matter how big Sadie is, she always loses the wrestling matches, not because she can’t win but that she knows that she’s second. Many a visitor demurred when Molly sets astride a reclining Sadie and humps away like a logger sawing a branch.
The dogs are in the DNA of our lives. Our existence swirls around them. They don’t know, can’t know how good they have it. But we know how good things are with them. We can’t imagine life without them. Not any more.