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“That’s Not My Dog”

Chew on these tales of bad behavior before you add a new member to your family

The infamous Slip Mahoney.

Through the beveled glass oval of the front door, I could see trouble. My friend and hair-stylist Kathy Burns’ brother was not making a social call. His khaki uniform meant he had come on official business. Dogcatcher business.
    The dog in question, Slip Mahoney, wasn’t home. Wherever he was, he had stirred up enough commotion to bring out the dogcatcher.
    “He escaped,” I said, holding up my hands in helplessness.
    My preemptive confession got me nowhere. A look told me my inability to control my dog was no excuse.
    “If you can’t keep him at home, we’ll have to take him into custody,” the officer of the law said, handing me the ticket I’d have to pay for a dog on the loose.
    Shame on my own doorstep and the $25 fine were bad. But not nearly so bad as springing Slip from jail. Once he’d been caught and caged, the fine rose to $75. We’d have to pick him up on the other side of town. The dog would come home drooling and listless, hung over from the drugs in the dart the dogcatcher fired to bring him to bay.
    Smart as his German shepherd father, wily and willful as his beagle mother, Slip had taught himself to elude capture. The dogcatcher couldn’t catch Slip, but he knew where I lived. So trouble arrived home before Slip did.

•   •   •

    That’s the first scene that memory replayed after my son Nat announced that dog fever had infected his home.
    I could understand the infection. Nat and Liz’s daughter Ada, an only child, was eight, about Nat’s age when Slip joined our family. Nat was probably nostalgic, for Slip had his virtues as well as his vices. Though maybe his virtues were fewer.

Young Nat with Slip, and Ada with Moe.

    Visiting here in Maryland, the family had just spent a week with Moe, our 100-pound yellow Lab. Strong men shed tears on meeting Moe, remembering the dog they had loved and lost. Women sigh Isn’t he beautiful and drop to their knees to embrace him.
    On the visit, Ada’s feverish crush on Moe rekindled.
    I understood because the fever had already run through older son Alex and his family. They’d suffered two bouts. They share their home with Nipper, the Jack Russell terrorist, and Chester, a rescued pit-bully mix.
    Now Nat, Liz and Ada were all down with it. My warnings about daily demands, vet bills, travel inconvenience and dog hair — Nat is very clean — couldn’t break its grip. They were going to get a dog.

•   •   •

    Slip moved into a neighborhood in Springfield, Illinois, not far from the state capitol.
    When I recognized that Slip was inevitable, I demanded a fence. The fat little puppy was so small that I decided three feet would be high enough.
    Slip grew quickly into a long, low tri-colored hound. That’s what he sounded like, too. With his stubby legs, Slip lacked the agility to jump our fence. He climbed it.
    He was a good climber, and a good teacher. A friend’s agile whippet could have jumped her backyard fence any time she had a mind to, but Gwendolyn had been told not to and she was obedient. But she hadn’t been told not to climb, and, on a visit, Slip taught her that skill.
    True to his name, Slip was as good at slipping past legs at the door as he was climbing fences. Nothing seemed to stop him. Chaw by chaw, he ate through the door of a care-taking friend to gain freedom.
    Once free, his game was catch-me-if-you-can. Most of us couldn’t, but Nat and his friends were young and fast.
    Sometimes they could catch Slip, but he could run, despite his beagle legs. And when you tried to grab hold of him, he was as slippery as a greased pig.
    It might have been funny, like Mary and her little lamb, for whether we traveled by foot, car or bicycle, Slip was seldom far behind. Slip became a not-unfamiliar sight in downtown Springfield as he tracked me to the library, post office or Illinois Times’ newspaper office and Bill to the pressroom at the Illinois State Capitol.
    Somehow Slip survived traffic, and sometimes, when you reached your destination, he’d climb into the car — if you happened to be driving.
    But never at the neighborhood grocery store, Kroger’s. There he’d slip through the automatic doors and catch up with us at the meat counter.
    Slip flourished in the days of the hilarious Pink Panther movies. “It’s not my dog,” is Peter Sellers’ notorious punch line. That line became our defense as Slip rushed to greet us with a sudden urge for togetherness.
    It was a good line, but I don’t think anyone believed it.

•   •   •

    Slip Mahoney is the reason some people who knew him are immune to dog fever.

Ada and Pal.

    No such luck for Nat and his family.
    The very day they returned home from Maryland, Liz and Ada happened to be near a pet store where the local animal rescue was holding an adoption event. Puppy in arms, they made an urgent call to Nat, who joined them.
    A week later, after he’d had his shots and surgery, eight-week-old Pal joined their family.
    There’s some Lab in there, along with cocker spaniel, the vet says. He’s brown with white tail tip, paws, bib and muzzle, as if he’d dipped his face in cream and licked it off his brown nose. He has a very long tail.
    Pal is enrolled in school, and the backyard has a fence that should be tall enough for a dog with no relation to Slip Mahoney.