The dog before me shudders and recoils in fear at the sight of my outstretched hand. He trips as he backs away from me, panicking and turning to bolt back to his kennel only to realize that the door is shut. Cowering, he slinks into a nearby corner and makes himself small. The look of terror in his eyes tells me he’s convinced that I want to do him harm, and my heart breaks a little as I do what I know I must, turning away, pretending not to notice or care.
He needs space, and as badly as I want to wrap my arms round him and tell him everything is ok, I have to balance my desire to heal with his need for time to understand and trust his circumstances. Ferdinand is completely overwhelmed by life in the kennel and all it entails, and frankly, he’s just not coping well. Tempted as I am to snatch him up and take him home, I know he would be overwhelmed by our rowdy pack. I have also heard a rumor about a potential home, so I make a mental note to follow up and usher our frightened friend back in to the relative safety of his temporary home, his kennel.
My next visit is with (kennel name) Horatio, or, for the sake of today’s story, dog number one. He is a favorite: I can see a happy canine waiting just beneath the surface, he only needs someone to bolster his confidence. When that happens he will be transformed nearly overnight. For now, however, he’s easily spooked and not terribly trusting. He is very submissive – so much so that the other male dogs have been using him for target practice during turnouts. His normally white coat is almost entirely urine stained. He desperately needs a bath, so I leash him and walk out of the kennel, across the parking lot to our SUV.
My wife is awaiting us in the parking lot of Northern Greyhound Adoptions. She’s negotiated a dozen free baths with a local pet store/groomer, and we’re here to grab a couple of kennel occupants to whisk them away for a spa treatment. Or at least that’s what we tell them. When dog number one is secured safely in the back of the SUV I close the hatch, go back inside and locate lucky dog number two. “Donald” seems relatively laid back, and waits patiently as I locate a leash and slowly guide him through the kennel and out to the parking lot. He springs easily in to the back of our waiting vehicle, landing next to dog number one and giving him a friendly nudge to say hello.
With both dogs muzzled and ready for the journey, we hit the road and head south toward Burlington. The weather (prone to frequent and unpleasant changes) has taken a turn for the worse and the highway is slick with freezing rain that pelts the windshield, forcing us to maintain a slow, steady, safe pace. I turn on NPR, hoping for a weather forecast that includes any kind of improvement. It’s wishful thinking.
A few miles later I glance at the rear-view mirror and notice that dog number one is pacing in the back of the SUV. He looks distressed, like he’s trying to find a way to escape. I consider pulling over, notice that the entire breakdown lane has glazed over with ice and quickly abandon that idea, instead refocusing on the road while searching the radio dial for music suitable for dog bathing transports.
The noise that interrupted me was something like a cross between a whimper and a groan. Dog number one had reached the end of his rope. I glanced up at the mirror just in time to witness him backing up in to that all-too-familiar crouch. It was craptime, and I watched in horror as my passenger dropped his pants. I know, I know – but if they did wear them, this would be the moment.
The substance that subsequently emanated from the rear of dog one was the most unholy, atrocious, stomach turning poop soup this dog owner has ever encountered. It was loud, it was liquid, and it was abundant. As he finished his number two, dog number one looked at me in the mirror and quickly glanced away. I thought he felt guilty. I was very wrong.
With our destination over ten miles away and the breakdown lane too treacherous to allow for a stop and scoop, our options were limited. Hell, our options were just one: to keep driving the shitwagon south on the interstate with the windows rolled down while an arctic breeze whipped freezing rain through the vehicle. From his perch on the back seat, dog number two watched all of this with what looked like fascination, squinting to protect his eyes as another sheet of precipitation pelted us.
To say that the remainder of our drive felt longer than it should have would be an understatement. It felt longer than my entire life to date. We alternated, rolling the windows up for a minute to break the chill, quickly rolling them all down again when the retching started, and cursing dog number one all the way. Dog number one took no notice. Instead, he decided to engage his artistic leanings, taking the tip of his muzzle, dipping it in his pile of putrescence, and effectively poo-painting any surface available to him, dotting bits of shit on the walls, the floor, the ceiling. He was thorough. He was merciless.
With our noses plugged we made our way off the highway and eventually wound through town. I was overcome with relief when I saw the sign for the pet store that was our final destination. Dog number two was also overcome – not with relief, mind you, but with nausea: while I waited for traffic to clear in order to make the left turn in to the parking lot, he stood, tilted his head, and unleashed a hot stream of projectile vomit across the entire back seat of the vehicle.
I’ll spare you the disgusting details that made up the remainder of that unfortunate evening. Let’s just say that they were very brown. I was already elbow deep in it when my wife came out of the store with a few employees who had heard about our hellish journey, were sympathetic and had offered assistance. Horrified by what they witnessed, the store employees who had a look at the damage handed my wife a roll of paper towels, wished us luck and quickly walked away. I don’t blame them: we spent hours cleaning the truck only to realize that the smell remained. A subsequent trip to a detailing shop did much to diminish that, as did air fresheners and sprays, but no matter the method of cleaning employed, the faintest hint of Horatio still lingers to this day.
Many months have passed since we made that fateful drive. I often find myself wondering where Horatio is, and what has become of him. One thing is certain: I will never forget him.