Ever listen to a phone conversation and immediately know by the tone that whatever is going on isn’t good?
My wife had some surgery last month, and I was sitting in her hospital room after work toward dinner time. Her cell phone rang, and I assumed it was a friend to check on how she was doing.
“He was where? ... I wonder how he got there? ... But you got him? ... Well, thank you … No, we’ll get him in a little bit. Thank you.”
I didn’t have to guess. I knew. It was our new dog, which we’d owned for all of about a week. Kirby was supposed to be in the house, but he was in the front yard – in the pouring rain.
Our neighbors swooped him up and called. When I dashed home to get him, an interrogation yielded no clue, and not even threatening a stern letter in his file would get him to admit how a 15-pound dog got out of the house.
But I think this was on me. When I left after checking on him at noon, I locked the door, but it didn’t quite shut. Feverish scratching of the door pried it open enough for him to reach the glass door, which wasn’t latched either.
We are back in the dog business. Actually, we’re in the puppy business, and there’s a huge difference.
We had to put down Ranger in November. He was a 10-year-old border collie mix. He and I were kindred spirits. He lost a lot of energy in his last difficult year, but some of that, too, was just maturing into a bit more sedate dog.
After nine months, we felt it was time for another dog. In early July, we went to the SPCA kennel after seeing a photo of “Kevin,” who caught our eye. He was part of a litter, along with Marvin and Carlie.
He was the one, and we reserved him that day, although we couldn’t pick him up until all his shots were finished nearly a month later.
Kevin became Kirby, which is a habitational name from the Old Norse Church in Northern England that means “chews on anything he can get his teeth on and doesn’t show one bit of remorse about it.”
We’d been warned by others who had replaced an old dog, and I thought, well, you just got a hyperactive puppy. It won’t happen to us. Right.
This little border collie mix – and that mix looks like a lot of dachshund – became an immediate untrained expert of silently going into my closet and dragging out shoes to gnaw on. He was like a little quiet Cujo. He never barked, but the trouble he could find.
It didn’t help that my wife had surgery, which left Kirby alone at the house for extended periods. I didn’t want him in the backyard because I didn’t trust him.
I tried to cordon him off in the kitchen, which became a joke. So I thought, forget it. He can have free run of the house for a few hours and I’ll puppy-proof the place.
I put down a week’s worth of newspapers around the house, but he had the uncanny knack of finding a bare spot the size of a golf cup to go poop on it.
I cringed when I came home at noon and later in the afternoon daily for a week. The first day there were seven of my shoes strung through the house. I didn’t know I had seven shoes. Kirby pried the closet door open, again with the nose.
He chewed through a phone charger cord. He chewed the cover and part of the shell of a DVD cover, which I had borrowed, by the way. He got up on the back of the couch and chewed the end of the window blinds.
It was suggested we buy some bitter apple spray to slow that down, which we have. Only time will tell. I bought Kirby an $11 chewing ring that 4 out of 5 vets recommend. He’s ignored that in favor of chewing a $2.99 duck from the bargain bin at Petco.
I’ve tried to get some energy out of him with a harness and leash. After years of not thinking about it, I forgot that simple leash walking is a learned skill. He digs his four little paws in like some stubborn donkey being dragged off a 1,000-foot cliff. It takes 10 minutes to navigate the length of the backyard.
It’s getting better, though. There’s more of a routine now. We’ll charitably call it a work in progress. But if Kirby doesn’t completely shape up in the next 15 years, he’s outta here.
by Jon Mark Beilue
Jon Mark Beilue is an award-winning columnist for AGN Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (806) 345-3318.