Hi everyone. I’d like to introduce my friend, Walter.
And I’d like to assure you that this will be a happy story.
Walter showed up in my life last March, oddly enough, at the suggestion of my ex-wife. He had arrived a few months earlier in the neighborhood with a collar but no tags, and when she scooped him up and drove him around, trying to find someone that knew where he came from, she struck out. She was actively searching to rescue a dog to go with the one she had at the time, so keeping him wasn’t on her agenda.
Instead, she got the people across the street to keep him, the ones with two grown sons living there, each with drug or alcohol habits, and one with a dog. And to say they “kept” him is something of a stretch. Several times a day, they would let him out of the house, and he would wander around, crap in someone’s yard and then stay close to where he was getting food. It wasn’t an ideal circumstance, and the son without a dog reminded her of this regularly, between drug deals, when he would see her on her morning walk and ask “Find a home for this effin dog yet?”
The tipping point came when she saw Walter, then called “Buddy,” chained to a resin chair, which he then dragged into a busy road nearby. He survived that encounter, returned “home” and she applied the heat.
“You should take this dog,” she told me.
After a few days, I agreed, largely because while I love dogs, my work schedule often requires me to be gone for well over 10 hours. On those days, she said, you can bring him here, and I thought that a perfect solution, knowing nothing of this dog’s tendencies, house training history, temperment beyond a few brief encounters or anything else.
That night, I went and picked him up from the neighbors.
Two days later, I took him to the vet to see if he was micro-chipped, which would make finding his owners easy, and was actually relieved to learn that he wasn’t. The dog had grown on me very quickly, and I actually crossed my fingers hoping he would not have a chip.
Heck, I had already decided to rename him, to Walter.
He did not, but what he did have was fleas, a minor case, and so the doctor gave him some meds for him, asked me for about $200 and off we went, my instructions being not to bathe him for 3 or 4 days. So Walter now had a file at the vet, fleas, a name and a new owner.
He was such a pleasant and trusting dog who loved when I sat on the floor with him and played. He loved being petted, and while he initially had no idea what a Milkbone treat was, he quickly learned to like them.
We walked several times a day.
I set him up a Facebook page – Walter – because he was too cute not to share, and asked Facebook friends to help me with food choices. I had fast decided, after blindly buying food for family dogs for years, that I needed to look into good vs. bad and opt for good. The response was overwhelming with every one of my dog-loving 1,000 (mostly work-related) Fb friends weighing in and making to clear that my real love for Walter would be determined by what I decided to put in his gullet.
I also had to admonish my ex for feeding her dog, and Walter when he visited, garbage food, much of which I had purchased pre-Walter.
I went to the store and got a tag proclaiming him as mine, complete with his name on one side, my phone number on the other, and bought him some toys. Okay, so I also took him for a walk in their plowed parking lot and let him poop twice because overnight snow was deeper than his legs are long and, well, a guy can’t do anything when his business is encrusted in frigid ice or snow, especially not if he is a little dog.
On the night of the third day, I gave him a bath, and while he didn’t walk voluntarily into the bathroom, he gave no resistence when I walked out, picked him up and placed him in the tub. I sat on the edge of the tub, half in and half out, bathing him, and he buried his head in my crotch, as if to tell me that as long as I was there, he was good, and me, inspired by the amount of flea crap the vet’s comb had found, washed him and rinsed him very well, delighted that he was so accommodating.
I became fascinated with Walter’s origins: How many names had he had? How had he ended up roaming the streets despite being house-trained, neutered and while knowing some basic commands? And mostly, why did he duck every time I petted his head from above?
But I loved so many things about him:
How he backed up a step to get a running start before jumping into the front seat of my Honda C-RV before standing there like a boss.
How he threw both front legs out to start a run.
How he had to be lifted into my bed at night and always started on a corner, but also always moved to be against me after a little bit.
How his eyes rolled back when he stood to get my attention.
How he would bring his rope toy and drop it on my foot when I was working at my desk and he was tired of waiting for some play time.
As far as that last one, Walter hated me working, and how do you explain to a dog that even though you are there, you’re not always there for his amusement, and daddy has to pay the bills to buy the food that you sometimes eat and sometimes walk away from like, “try harder.”
Journalism is an unpredictable game and sometimes stuff happens. Wives can be made to understand, and kids too, sometimes. But when a dog looks at you like you are way past due, it can tear your heart out.
But Walter had ways of exacting his revenge.
Have you ever seen a dog sniff the same spot on a tree for 3 minutes? I would stand there wondering if he was not only searching out how many other dogs had peed there, but what they ate and if it was better than what he ate.
Have you ever seen a dog with a full bowl of water in his home try to drink from a parking lot puddle covered in an oil slick like it’s the first access to water he’s had in 2 days when that is completely untrue?
We also dealt with a neighbor with a completely antisocial daschund who, I am convinced, was the one who threw the chicken bones, lobster shells and other stuff into a spot where she knew Walter would find them, and find them he did, and each time it made my eating plan a joke. Soon, he started rutting around for things, and the only time he ever messed in the house was after I was only gone for a few hours, but after he’d eaten a yellow thing he’d dug up that was too much to hold in.
He was verklempt, and when I got home, sheepishly apologetic.
Once, I tried to grab from his mouth something he’d dug up and was eating, and was horrified to discover it was covered in dogsh#t. He looked at me as I tried to pry it from his mouth like it was my fault.
Walter is a curious dog, and with me, he learned to like to poop on a leash. I think he liked it because he liked that someone was actually paying attention to him, but he’s a dog. I’ll never know. At the house, he only pooped in the yard where the weeds might have tickled his bits when it was really urgent, like `Gonna poop in the house’ otherwise.
He’s kind of a camel that way. There were days when I was working, and he could hear me, that he wouldn’t get out of bed until 3 or 4 p.m. and I always knew this was a “ready to poop a few times” moment, and he did, eventually. After sniffing a tree for a few minutes, or more.
He liked to sniff out a spot, sometimes near a pile of poop, and drive his face into the ground, as if it needed scratching, and then roll around.
On walks, especially after a long work session, he would have “air wees,” where he sniffed out something worthy, lifted his leg and then thought “nah” and lowered his leg and marched on. It was like he knew I was paying attention, and he wasn’t about to give me the satisfaction.
He was a worrier. I once took him to see my son at college, about 75 minutes away, and he stood on the passenger seat the entire trip, up and back, like he was afraid I might fall asleep or something. In between, my son found a friend to keep him while I took him out for dinner and shopping, and the friend said he was great, but had bad gas. I had never noticed.
So, this weekend, Walter moved to Alabama, where my ex now lives. The great job offer she got there made it impossible for her to say no, and when I struck out finding someone to keep Walter when I was traveling, it made the most sense to send him to a stable place, with Lucky.
I was emotional when my son and his girlfriend pulled out of the driveway, Walter had ever-so-trustingly jumped into the backseat when I beckoned him to do so, and I knew he would eventually adapt. Lucky was with him, though, and they are true buds.
I am grateful that he is going to a place where his life will be stable, his address constant, which he ultimately deserves, and I know he will be fine. Moments after they pulled away, my son having heard the quivering in my voice and seen the tears in my eyes, he texted me: “I’ll love this little guy just like you did dad. I love you.”
And I knew, right then, that Walter would be fine.