Friday, October 15, 2010

The Great Animal Experiment

Well, it took about a week.

Donna was visiting relatives in Pennsylvania and mentioned that one of her aunts wanted to give her a dog.  This was not the first time that she had expressed her interest in giving Maggie a play-mate.  During a visit to Petco a couple of weeks ago, the people from the animal shelter were all there with their pets, trying to coerce shoppers to look into the dejected, homeless eyes of their four-legged friends and "adopt" them, either for temporary care or, hopefully, permanently.  Donna picked up a small  Lhasa Apso, cuddled it, and said, in front of everyone standing there, "Wouldn't he and Maggie go good together?  Can't we adopt him?"

Sure, make me look like the heartless goon, I thought.  As everyone stared, waiting breathlessly for my response, I looked into his eyes.  Yes, he was cute.  No, I did not want another dog, temporarily or permanently.  My non-answer was answer enough, as Donna put him down and trudged through the Petco aisles, crestfallen.

As she and her cousin Marlene made their way back from Pennsylvania, Donna called me to let me know where they were.  But when she ended the call by saying, "Don't be mad at me", I knew what she had done.  Within a couple of hours, Maggie wouldn't be the only dog in the corner house on Scotland Drive.

I was not happy.  Frankly, I had given up enough of my life to the animal cause over the past several weeks.  My attempt at experimenting with the vegan lifestyle was beginning to take its toll.  For over three weeks, I rejected all forms of meat, chicken, pork, and seafood.  I also neglected my love for cheese, milk and butter.  In trying to learn more about what I actually can eat, I visited many of the vegan sites.  Sure, the vegan diet is a healthy one because it eliminates every known gastronomical molecule of enjoyment.  Fat tastes good.  But vegans are also vehemently opposed to meat because eating animals means having to kill animals, sometimes in an extremely gruesome manner.  I also learned that many of them disdain even honey, because the bees are held captive while working their magic on all that sweet, gooey goodness.  So, for nearly a month, I've watched Donna munch happily on hamburgers and pork-steaks from the Ellet Meat Market, while I chewed on my vegetarian beans and hummus.  And now she was going to taunt me more by bringing another strange animal into the house!

He's small.  He's white.  He's a full-blooded West Highland White Terrier.  And in his face, he looks identical to Yinny, our dog of the past 17 years.  That freaked me out.  I'm not sure if it was the anger at Donna or the lack of sausage and asiago cheese, but I basically ignored him.  And he knew it.  Yes, he was cute, but I had done enough for animals this past month.  "We'll keep him until I can find him a home," she said.  "He's been neglected."

Hell, I've been neglected!  What about me!?  I'm ravenous!  My withdrawal symptoms are acute.  I need to make eggs with a heaping amount of cheddar cheese on top of them.  I need chili con queso.  I want cream in my coffee.  The synapses of the brain begin to disintegrate without the healing elixir of bacon.  If I eat one more legume or ingest any more soy, my LDL levels will plummet to the point of putting me into a salubrious, catatonic state.  Good grief, if I don't have a bratwurst soon, there may be no turning back.

But I made a salad, and he watched me eat it.   With that "aren't-you-at-least-going-to-pet-me" frown on his Yinny-look-a-like mug, he sat on that small piece of rug in front of the sink and glared at me.  He watched me open a beer.  He watched me walk to the bathroom.  He stared at me as I descended in to the basement to work in the studio, and he sat at the top of the steps waiting for me to come back up.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I could feel my rigid composure towards him soften.  The people in Pennsylvania had called him "Happy", but we thought that was dumb.  Driving to my photography class later in the evening, I began to think about names.  I thought that we at least should name him after his Scottish ancestry.  "Haggis" or "Rod Stewart" seemed inappropriate.  But naming him after something connected to single-malt scotch seemed brilliant!  I lean towards the distilleries in the Islay region, so why not "Izzy"?  Donna loved it.  Yet during class, I continued to ponder why it was that I was even thinking about a dog that I wasn't going to keep.

Soon, I was taking both Maggie and Izzy out in the morning as Donna slept.  As I'd read the paper in the morning, he'd wander over to his food bowl, gobble his breakfast, and then lay on my feet.  I noticed that he'd become much more comfortable around Maggie, and she, him.  I also noticed that Donna seemed to be making a limited effort in finding him his permanent home.  For some reason, I wasn't surprised.

Last Thursday, Donna decided to take him out to the backyard.  She also decided that she'd do this without putting him on a chain.  Bad mistake.  I was standing in the kitchen inhaling some Brazil nuts when I heard the pleas for help!  He took off past the deck and down the poison ivy-laden hillside that bottoms out on to Newton Circle.  Donna was in her bare-feet screaming at him, clutching on to tree branches in order to help guide herself down the hill without tumbling out on to the street below.  But it was a waste of time.  Izzy was vapor.  So I went flying through the front door, around the hillside, down Newton Circle and on to Newton Street.  Cars were flying by and school buses were roaring past filled with students as Izzy ran at full-gallop up Newton.  I took off after him, thinking those short, knobby legs were no match for my now healthy, detoxified body.  But a diet rich in pinto beans and broccoli provided no advantage, whatsoever.  Every time he stopped to turn around and look at me running towards him, he'd turn and sprint even faster.  I screamed his name as a bus came to a screeching halt in front of him, but nothing worked.  I even yelled "Happy" at one point, but that day he was answering to nothing.  Racing two blocks down from Newton, I'd get close to him as he stopped to urinate, but he'd only dash in another direction as I approached.

Around houses we went, through alley-ways, and back into the street.  At several points throughout the ordeal, I'd sprint at him with full horse-power, under the delusion that I could overcome those stubby limbs of his.  But that only made my chest burn more.  As I followed him around to the backyard of an abandoned house, I could feel my arms and back perspiring through my shirt.  I also felt that I was nearing the end of the line in terms of my physical ability to continue the chase. In Man vs. Dog, Dog was about to win, and, likely to become a new resident in somebody's house in the next county.  But in the backyard of that abandoned house was a fence that was in perfect condition, forming a "V" that provided no outlet for him.  He pawed at the metal but it gave him no opening.  Gasping for oxygen, I placed a hand on the top of his neck and scooped him up in my arms.  Panting and heaving, I saw Donna coming down the alley in the car.  As she approached us, I yelled, between breaths, "Bet you'll never do that again!!"  A half-hour after we were home, I was still breathing heavily.

Later that evening, as I unleashed the contents of a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, I glanced towards the base of my leather rocker-recliner, and there he sat, staring at me, again.  I stared back.  "Tired?", I asked him.  "I am".  He continued, transfixed, peeking at me through the white fur in his eyes.  Suddenly, for a brief moment, I was back at our apartment in Manassas, watching Yinny eat a treat as we watched the Winter Olympics from Lillehammer.  Then, I came back to my leather recliner.  And for some reason, without knowing why, I tapped the top of my thigh and said "C'mon".  That was all he needed.  Izzy was up in my lap, curled around me and my Punkin Ale.  Donna stood in the kitchen making herself a hamburger, smiling.  I knew right then that Izzy wasn't going anywhere.  "I'm gonna murder you, Donna," I said.

Animals.  What a nuisance.  We clean up their puke and their "accidents".  We walk them around the yard during a blizzard.  We vacuum up their hair and watch that they don't each others' food.  We pay their exorbidant bills at the vet and sometimes at the kennel.  They get in the way of our plans.  Interestingly, we also eat them.  They give us sustenance in so many ways.  So, for the time being, while I shun them as nutrition, I welcome one as a new acquaintance.  We'll see how each experiment turns out.  But until I decide to char-broil a T-Bone or drop a yolk into a sizzling pan, I am drawing the line on honey.  Sorry, vegans.  Sorry, bees.  Man cannot live by tofu, alone.


Image: Francesco Marino /
Image: Suat Eman /
Image: Suat Eman /

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