When I woke up on Sunday morning, little did I know that by lunchtime I’d be deep in the mountains, sitting on a piss stained rug in some stranger’s remote indoor zoo, a pocket full of cash and the realization that there was literally nowhere to run. Dogs, this whole thing is about dogs and the twisted attachments my wife and I have formed with ours. I’ve talked about Carl before, our English Bulldog—sixty pounds of emotive wrinkles—and how we’d probably both start depraved new careers in a late night Home Depot parking lot if it meant we could afford whatever surgery we hope Carl will never require. I thanked Carl in my first book, and his name was listed before several actual human people, a testament to the humanity I’ve reflected through him and the resulting personality I’ve given a former wild beast, a killer, a toothy medieval guard that’s been bred into the thing that runs from the smell of menthol and sleeps on my feet. The mid-game for my wife and I and the whole marriage thing is to have children and get it over with already before we’re too old to watch a movie without getting so confused that we dial 911. Like everyone, we have a few wish-list things to scratch out before this happens, and one of those things is to acquire another dog, and this is because my wife and I are insane people.
The first plan was to see if we could round up a rescue puppy, any mutt will do, as mixed-blood dogs are generally healthier and we’re not terribly picky. We kept a firm eye on the puppy-oriented ones, rescue sites and re-homing organizations that find puppies and get them into safe environments away from the streets, dog fighting, and to prevent them from forming post apocalyptic packs of mangy teeth that wander the neighborhoods eating garbage and stealing children’s shoes. The hitch in that whole giddyup for us was that the majority of these beasts were Collies, Shepherds, Mastiffs, and all other kinds large breed—dogs we would love to have in our home—but we simply don’t have the room in our tiny house and 10×10 “yardling” to contain the mischief. So, we caved, and signed up for a puppy mailing list from a private breeder, and imagined what it would be like to find a bag of botched robbery money just lying in the street.
We were trying to avoid spending mortgage-type monies on a new dog, which is exactly what we did when we brought Carl home several years ago. Adoptions and rescues are available to good homes on the cheap, so we were only planning to part with a couple of bills for the new pup, but it seems that any dog genetically engineered to fit into a briefcase comes with considerable expense. We’d settled on a Pug or some bastard mixture of Pug DNA, for their size, temperament, and how they’d get along with Carl, my close trusted heterogeneous animal life partner. We’re basically after another movie dog, the type of canine who looks at his leash, hears the question “Go for a walk?” and just sighs in your direction while continuing to read People magazine.
On Sunday morning my wife receives an email telling us that the breeder just purchased a litter of pugs, and they’re now eight weeks old and ready to poop all over a good home. We reply, and a phone conversation later, I’m on my way, deep into the mountains to retrieve one of the little puppies which are apparently already selling out like something something I don’t know maybe flapjacks. The dogs are 1/8th Poodle so says the email, and from the pictures we can see that a few of the little ones have longer hair, and the others are dead ringers for normal regular Pug puppies. We noted that we’re after a male, and that the drive is going to take me two hours, and that I’ll be there as soon as humanly possible, and that much like an underage hillbilly wedding—I’m bringing a pocket full of cash for the few bills it’ll cost me to drive away with a new family member.
The whole thing caught us by surprise. Traditionally if you’re shopping with a dog breeder, they interview you, have you bond with one of the dogs, pay a deposit, then when the puppies are old enough (usually eight weeks or so), you come and pick up your dog. In our situation, we woke up on Sunday morning prepared to eat bacon and catch up on the hit television program, Justified, but were instead subjected to what felt like a puppy gold rush. Someone had struck puppy in them hills, and we were to act fast before all the good puppy was sifted, or, well, whatever this metaphor was supposed to be. Puppies were going fast. An hour and a half into my drive into the wild yonder, just after sneaking into a wood-paneled mountain Denny’s to use the restroom, I got a call from the breeder:
Dog Lady: “Are you near?”
Me: “I’m not sure, my phone stopped working, I believe I’m in a town, but everything looks like one hundred years ago.”
Dog Lady: “Okay, I think you’re near. I just wanted you to know another couple that picked up one of the females was bonding with one of the males.”
Me: “Have they taken my dog?”
Dog Lady: “No, I told them you’ll be here soon, so you’ll have first dibs.”
Me: “I shall begin speeding.”
We’re dealing in life, selling an animal, and yet terms like “bonding” and “dibs” are more than relevant. I’d arrived into the mountain property, winding gravel roads and bumpy adventure for almost two hours, but I was finally here. The house looked like it was teetering on the earth itself, barely balanced atop the highest point in Colorado, big yellow bait for terrible winds. The nearest door was for what looked like the basement, and a few knocks summoned a loud and terrifying Bull-Mastiff, a huge beast that stood nearly as tall as me, throwing a glare through the slobbery window that dared me to become a corpse for his pile. Mastiffs are a breed that we’d considered briefly before realizing we had no room for such a thing, but coming face to face with a real one was more jarring than I’d originally planned. I stood there grinning at his toothy mug for a moment before I realized he wasn’t going to smile back—he was going to stand there until I either left the property, or became medium rare.
I took the stairs around the house to a deck hoping for a safer greeting, and one doorbell later, I was greeted by the Dog Lady, bright blue suit and bright blue eye makeup. She opened the doors, then her arms widely, like some canine Willy Wonka, and as she welcomed me to the ranch, easily a dozen little dogs came swarming out from between her legs and mobbed me right where I stood. Boxers, terriers, Brussles-Griffons, Pugs, Bostons, mutts and mixes all greeted me happily. There were mixed and pure breed dogs, old and young, all colors, and I had to fight every instinct to roll onto my back and flail my limbs everywhere, death by a thousand dog kisses, laughing like a little girl while the joy of such a thing lifts me up and into the veil beyond. The little Pugs for sale were in the batch as well, and were the world to finally succumb to the inevitable zombie apocalypse, this would certainly be the most adorable pack of feral dogs to ever gnaw your legs into stumps.
The meet-and-greet was brief, and Dog Lady quickly ushered me into the zoo. Her office was a thing to behold—the noise was overwhelming—filled with all manner of animal, all manner of noise, and all manner of smell. It didn’t reek in that special way that you’d assume it would, the kind of smell only achieved with stacks of newspapers, unchecked obesity, a dirty mattress, and generation upon generation of inbred feline. Instead, it simply smelled like a collective animal farm, as while there were dogs everywhere, there were also dozens of birds, turtles, guinea pigs, lizards, and more puppies. Her ancient computer sat inside of messy piles of paperwork and stickers, photo printouts of happy purchases and all kinds of canine paraphernalia. She was everywhere at once, darting around the room to collect and replace wandering wildlife. “Oh, how did you get in here?” she exclaimed, bending down to pick up a baby Iguana who’d been slowly staggering across the linoleum, his point of origin nowhere to be seen. I made my way to a little rug and took a seat, feeling the stench of dried animal pee soak into my pants, and every direction I looked, hair and dander to set off my allergies. In this stinking loud indoor farm, eyes watering and covered in animal waste, I was in heaven.
I picked out the Pug I was here for rather quickly, cradling the two males, one continuing to jump out of my lap and the other, now our little Herman, digging deep into my arms to catch a much needed nap. Dog Lady walked me through the purchase while I stood and watched her computer from behind, holding Herman in my arms and trying not to mention the bird shit on her shoulder. While she arranged my paperwork and food rations, I was taken to her living room and forced to sit with the couple who’d just picked out one of the females, the couple whom I’d just stolen Herman from. Small talk, pleasantries, cash exchange, and then I was finally back in the car with Herman, a two hour journey to get home. The entire visit lasted maybe an hour, a quick trip to a mountain zoo with a pocket now empty of my cash and a puppy so damned cute that every time I look at him, it feels like my brains are turning into liquid.
Carl is slowly warming up to Herman. Most days, Carl just sits across the room and lets out those big tired Bulldog sighs, giving me looks that seem to say “Butter. A little butter and a maybe some garlic salt, that’s all this tiny thing needs.” He’s not pleased, but he’s relentlessly patient, and from what I’ve read, that’s a good start. I’ve also read that stubborn puppy breeds like a Pug or the Bulldog are good preparation for having children, but I consider this nonsense, as you can’t put a child in an unattended crate for several hours while you watch a movie and catch up on much needed sleep. At least, not without laying down twice the newspaper you normally would.
Music in this episode:
Anitek – Contact