Tuesday, April 10, 2007

He Deserved Better

My parents have had their dog since the summer of 2001.

I was home that summer--between my Sophomore and Junior years at college--and I was the one in the family who wanted to get a dog. I have no idea why I suggested to my parents that we needed a dog--it was a sudden whim, and not something that I had been giving any thought to--but something came over me one Saturday afternoon that summer while my parents and I were out in the back yard. A thunderbolt hit me, and I had a powerful urge to get a dog, and to get a dog right there and then.

I told my mother and father that we should get a dog, and they agreed in a noncommittal way, not thinking that I was particularly serious about the matter. However, when I kept asking them "Well, let's go to the shelter and pick out one", they started to realize that I was serious.

Finally, just to humor me, they agreed to go to the shelter, but I do not think that their purpose, in going, was to bring a dog back home; their purpose, I am sure, was to allow me to get my dog thoughts out of my system.

When we were at the shelter, first walking into the kennels, there was one dog who started howling his heart out as soon as he saw us. He was howling and wailing and moaning, creating the most soul-piercing sounds, as if he were in great pain. That dog was Rex.

Rex's howling made the other dogs howl, too, but Rex's howling was the sound that echoed around the kennels, rendering the other dogs' howling into mere yipping in comparison to his.

"What's wrong with that dog?" I asked the kennel people, and they told us that he had bitten three people and that he would have to be destroyed. I walked over to his cage, and he started wagging his tail and whimpering and looking at me, putting his nose up against the cage.

"Let's get this one" I said to my Mom and Dad, who looked at me as if I had gone insane.

The kennel staff intervened before my parents could. "Are you out of your mind?" the girl in charge of the kennel said to me. "That dog is ruined. He even bit one of us. There's nothing we can do with him."

I pleaded with the kennel girl, asking her to open the cage. She refused, and she showed me how mean the dog was by approaching his cage, at which point he lunged at her.

I continued pleading with her, showing her that the dog did not lunge at me when I approached his cage. Finally she agreed to allow me to open the cage, but only after all other persons, including my parents, were cleared away from the area--far, far away from the area, and from the dog.

I kneeled down, and I unlatched the cage door, and the dog came bounding through, wagging his tail and jumping on me and licking me frantically. He put his paws on my shoulders and licked me for five minutes nonstop while I petted him and rubbed him and nuzzled him and kissed him. He was incredibly affectionate and loving.

After a bit, I asked my Dad to come over from where he was standing and see if Rex would allow my Dad to pet him, and my Dad approached Rex and me very cautiously. Such caution was not necessary, however, as Rex allowed my Dad to pet him and caress him and nuzzle him freely. After a bit, we had my Mom come over and see if Rex would allow her to pet him, and my Mom gingerly walked over to us and kneeled down and began petting and kissing Rex like only a mother can do.

After a few more minutes of gentle nuzzling and petting and kissing and licking, my Dad said, with mock indifference, "Well, I guess we'll have to take him home." "Yes, I think we should" my Mom said. That meant that both my Mom and my Dad had already fallen in love with the dog.

The people at the shelter told us that we were out of our minds, and that the dog would turn on us in an instant.

"No, he won't" my mother interjected. "Someone has been mean to this poor little fellow, and made him unhappy, and he can tell that we will not be mean to him."

Of course, the "poor little fellow" weighed seventy pounds and, standing on his hind legs, was almost as tall as I was, but in my mother's eyes he was in need of care and attention and affection and lots of love, and she knew that he would get all of that, and more, at home.

The shelter people still thought that my mother and father and I had gone berserk, and they would not go anywhere near the dog (nor would he allow them to go anywhere near him), but they allowed us to take Rex with us. My Mom and I stayed with the dog while my Dad signed papers and received necessary information and such, and after that was completed we had no trouble with Rex in exiting the shelter and getting him into the car for the drive home.

On our way home, my Dad told us that the shelter had informed him that it had planned to destroy Rex that very afternoon, as soon as the shelter closed to the public for the day. He said that the shelter had told him that Rex was approximately one year old, and that the family that had raised Rex since he was three months old had apparently beat him, owing to problems with house-training.

My mother said, that day, that Rex knew that he was going to be put under, which was why he had raised such a commotion as soon as he saw us enter the kennels. Rex knew, my Mom said, that we were his last chance at life, which was why his wails were so piercing. "You know, I think you're probably right" was my Dad's response. I, too, believe that Rex did in fact know that his life was going to be put to an end that day and that we were his only salvation. Rex, like most German Shepherds, is extremely intelligent, and I have always believed that he understands a good deal of what people say to him.

We got the dog home without incident, and he seemed to love our large back yard, and he seemed to love entering the house and bounding up the steps and exploring everything, and he seemed to be at home instantly. We had to give him a bath because he smelled so bad, and he allowed my Dad and me to give him a bath without any problems.

Since we had no dog food in the house, my mother cooked and deboned a chicken for him, as a welcome-home dinner, and he ate that up and settled in comfortably. He has been with my parents, happily, ever since.

We did have some trouble house-training him, but we got that issue resolved before I had to return to school. He has never been any other trouble in the least.

One good thing about Rex is that he gives my mother company during the day, while my father is at work, and Rex is very, very good company. He is cheerful and affectionate and playful and lively, and always at my mother's side, whether she is cooking or reading or at the computer or out in the yard. On weekday afternoons in which the weather is good, my mother generally takes him to a nearby park, where he runs and plays for half an hour. She also takes him with her on errands, such as visits to food stores and dry cleaners and the post office and such. He loves to ride in the car, and he watches out for my mother in public.

Rex is also good security, because no one can ever enter my parents' house without his approval--and his approval only comes after my mother's approval. He now weighs over eighty pounds, and he does not look like a dog that strangers would ever want to cross except at their own peril. When he hears a vehicle enter the driveway, he starts to bark ferociously to alert my mother. When the front doorbell rings, he starts to bark ferociously to alert my mother. When he hears an unusual noise outside, he starts to bark ferociously to alert my mother. Need I add that UPS and FedEx personnel are terrified of him?

He gets lots of love and affection and attention from my Dad, too. When my Dad is in the kitchen, reading or watching television, he always sits with the dog at his feet, and he constantly pets and rubs and talks to the dog. On weekends, my Dad generally takes Rex to the park and plays with him, and on weekends my Dad spends time out in the back yard with Rex.

When my parents are home alone, Rex sleeps on an antique Dutch chest at the foot of my parents' bed. It is a family heirloom, over 300 years old, from my father's side of the family, and my mother covers it with several thick rugs so that Rex can sleep comfortably.

When I sleep over at my parents' house, Rex sleeps in my room. He begins the night sleeping on a day bed in my bedroom, but during the night he moves over to my bed, where I always find him when I wake up.

He has a very, very sweet disposition, and he loves the attention that my father and mother, and Josh and I, for that matter, lavish upon him. He is always happy as long as he is involved in whatever household activities are under way.

He gets to eat like a prince--my mother is constantly preparing for him things that he likes--and he still gets his own special chicken, cooked and deboned especially for him, every Wednesday and Sunday, just like he did on his very first night in the household.

I hope that Rex has long forgotten everything that happened to him in his first year of life. He deserved better.

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