I’m plodding down Adams Street with Ginger, a short-legged, long-bodied dog, sauntering alongside. Her neck strains for a hydrant, tautening the leash.
I halt, let her sniff.
Confused at being allowed to stop, her head turns and she peers up at me with those eyes that seem positively human – yet, today, show no comprehension of her fate.
As it happens, I’m having a difficult time with my own, allegedly human, eyes: The inside of my sunglasses are drenched with tears.
The day before, sometime around 6:00AM, our ten year old son, whom we had adopted a year previously, rolled over in his sleep, and laid his head on Ginger’s, only three years old, but already destroyed by arthritis, hip. Reflexively, she launched at the object causing pain, and bit his face – half an inch under his right eye.
Three hours later, with fourteen stitches, placed by an elderly plastic surgeon wearing jeweler’s glasses held together by masking tape, and he’s on his way home to recover, physically anyway.
“Can I not see Ginger,” he says tentatively, in the car. “I mean, I’m not mad with her, I know she didn’t mean to do it, … but still, can I not see her?”
Ginger spends that day closed into our bedroom; that night also. The next morning, when again, he’d “prefer not to see her,” it’s patently clear that this little boy, for whom we’d gotten this dog to help replace the soul-figures of dogs from his past life, could no longer deal with a best friend who relied on her teeth to solve problems.
“Probably two or, … three-ish, … maybe it’s the fourth time she’s bitten, a person that is,” I half-lie to the vet over the phone, glossing over the numerous slashing fights she’s gotten into with other dogs. “Yeah, yeah, fourteen stitches, … under the eye.”
He haws and hems through a bunch of veterinary psycho-babble, finally breaking free to say: “A dog like that can’t be around humans, something worse might happen. It should be brought in, …, and eh, … put to sleep.”
As a pup, Ginger travelled fourteen hundred miles from Arkansas to Boston in the back of a ‘rescue animal transporter’ – an eighteen wheeler, with an air conditioned trailer jammed with dog crates, and reeking of dog urine. Expectantly waiting for her was a different, as in not us, family, who would keep her for a year or so; presumably until those teeth got to work.
This small-ish industry of moving dogs from the laissez-faire southern states to the way-too-uptight northeastern US, is another instance of the clash between the two greatest forces in American life – guns and money. The southern states still have a large number of humans who disappear into the woods with guns and dogs to slaughter whatever moves in the underbrush. As a result of this, enshrined in the constitution, ‘recreational activity,’ southern hunters are vehemently, or at least manipulated into being vehemently, pro-gun and anti-spaying. As a block, they have successfully stopped the passing of spaying laws.
In the northeast, with our propensity to deliberately confuse, while looking down our noses at everyone else, spaying is referred to as “fixing.” As in, the vet saying, “for $600, without the hospital charges, I could fix that dog for you;” which translates to; it’ll cost $1,200 to completely break that dog’s only remaining purpose in life – to pass along its DNA. Down south, it reportedly costs on average $300 to get a dog spayed – which, even with flights and a hotel, works out cheaper than getting your dog “fixed” in Boston – but for a litter of pups, that adds up to a lot of money. All these “unplanned” pups, who can’t be fed and cared for, get turned loose. Dog Rescue Leagues gather up these starving pups, spay them en masse, give them a full veterinary work over, and ship them up Interstate 95 to careless-middleclass, northeastern families; who then repay the rescue leagues for their costs, and spoil the dogs outrageously.
Ginger’s paperwork, from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, indicated that she was a mix breed: Labrador Retriever and Corgi. This odd mix prompted one wag, pun intended, to posit the following two possible scenarios:
“Did I ever tell you, pitiful excuses for royal canines, the story about …,” the alpha male Corgi speaks up, silencing the kennel, as he breaths out a deep, accomplished sigh, “about that time I fucked a Lab?”
He focuses his gaze to ensure everydog is paying attention.
“Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe, but I did. ‘Cause of the height diff …, anyway, we had to do human-style: You know that disgusting way, where she lies on her back?”
His lips flap, as he shakes his head rapidly from side to side.
“It’s so demeaning, all those teeth, and that tongue flailing around!”
The alternate situation in the Labrador kennel would run something like:
“Hey, calm down, I was just experimenting, seriously guys,” the black Lab gushes, his wet-pink tongue dangling from the side of his mouth. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m a weirdo.”
He looks around at the blank faces, who just want to get back to rough-housing.
“I mean little dogs have a whole different outlook on the world; mostly they’re just looking up big dogs’ asses. Anyway, to me it was something I felt I had to experience.”
He tries to look intellectual, but can’t, ‘cause he got that Lab goofy face.
“But, I’ll be honest with you guys, it was pretty much the end of my hips. After that, I never made it onto another human bed again.”
For sure Ginger had Lab genes in her, and maybe, just maybe, those frighteningly powerful jaws of hers could be tied back to the dogs Flemish weavers brought with them to western England in the 1100s. Dogs that would later be selectively bred into canines fit for a queen. Or maybe, just maybe, those jaws could have come from a whole different breed, an American breed, whose powerful jaws, combined by predictable human mishandling, ended up making this dog the one we most fear.
“A Lab-Corgi mix,” again, I half-ish lie over the phone to vet.
“Yeah, I guess you can never tell,” he sighs heavily, genuinely exasperated that a dog has to go. “Maybe she was abused as a pup, and eh, … got into the habit of biting?”
She for sure had “got in a habit of biting.” After the first, unknown, family returned her to a shelter, we had her for less than a year, and in that time it could not be said her teeth were entirely restful.
It started as a fact-finding trip to a dog shelter, but Ginger’s eyes, the way there appeared to be a human trapped in a dog’s head, irrevocably drew you in. She was a deeply affectionate dog, loved to cuddle and got so attached to certain humans that she seemed to have affection-super-powers: When a car pulled up outside, she somehow knew if it was one of her humans, and would scratch at the door, yelping with joy.
Her first bite was a few months after she moved in: A young man is walking his dog past our house; our front door gets opened to retrieve the mail; out darts Ginger to protect our territory; when all the snarling, scratching and biting is done, the young man has a puncture wound on his thigh; wound cleaned, apologies accepted, a new front door policy put in place, and we think we’re good.
A few months later, at Castle Island, a popular seafront park from which colonial Americans summarily sank the ships of pirates and press-gangers, a roller-blader swishes past, just a smidge too close: Ginger gets his hand. The roller-blader, from Dublin as luck would have it, is fine, his wrist protector took the impact, but he does offer some ominous advice: “I’d watch that mutt, I would, she’s gotta mowth on hur, she does.”
To some humans Ginger couldn’t be a cuter dog. Walking down the street one day, a woman in her twenties pulls her Jeep Wrangler over, a small bit erratically, and ignoring the Massholes stuck in traffic behind her, laying heavy on their horns, she quizzes me on Ginger’s breed, mix type, and the general availability of such “totally scrumptious dogs.”
I start to bore her with the whole rebel dog transportation to the northeastern states phenomena, but she’s not listening.
“I’m getting one!” she belts out the Jeep window, screeching back into the even angrier, horn blowing traffic.
Another time, while walking past a bus stop, the driver, a large, effusive African American woman, yells out the door:
“Hi doggy! Ain’t you the cutest thing I ever did see on fouh legs.”
“Move the bus!” a barely-containing-his-anger, elderly white male voice yells from inside the bus.
“He is too cute.”
“She,” I reflexively – type A – correct her.
“Oh my Gawd, even better: A sistah!”
“Move the god…dam bus!”
The Labrador genes twisted into the Corgi body was the root cause of the pain. She got a Lab’s torso and a Corgi’s legs. Her hips and shoulders paid the price, with arthritis diagnosed when she was a little over two years old, only a few months after she moved in with us. From thereon, I was slipping Tylenol into her food and giving her massages every day, trying to ease her pain, and trying harder to ignore the growls, … and occasional bites.
“Five is it?” the vet looks up at me from filling out his paperwork. “I mean one … or two is plenty, but if you want to list all five.”
“I just don’t want my son to think it’s his fault,” I hesitate, fumbling the question. “Why don’t we say, three, the two I just told you and me.”
“So not your son at all?”
“Yes,” I answer, happy with my lies.
He finishes his paperwork, drops the clipboard on the stainless steel exam table.
“I’ll take her down the back room,” he says, taking the leash from my hand. “That’s where we’ll …, and eh, you better wait here.”
Ginger looks up at me with those human eyes. The tears start again. She walks, tail slow wagging, down the corridor with the vet.
I prop myself up against the stainless-steel table. Garishly colored posters for medications that kill intestinal bugs, rendered at thousands of times their actual size, cover the wall; a devotedly filthy computer sits on a small stainless-steel shelf in the corner; next to it, a half empty container of dog treats.
I’m staring at the now never-needed-by-me jar of treats, when the door shoots open, startling me.
“And eh, I totally forgot this point, but … you see, ‘cause it was a bite, or three bites actually, as we, … well you established, then I, eh, … need to either hold the dog for three more days to see if she develops rabies, state regulations, and eh, or we could, … just do it today, right now, you know, put her out of her pain,” he holds up both hands, “and eh, not have her locked up for three days, with all the precautions, no human contact, and eh, ….”
He stops talking, out of breath.
I stare at him, waiting for the ‘but.’
“But, if we do it today, and eh, we’d …, you know, because of rabies, … we can’t do the exam for three more days, and eh, so, you know, we’d need to freeze it, you know. Freeze it, so we can test it in three days.”
He stares at me, clearly distraught.
“Freeze it?” I ask, the room starting to move.
“Her head. Afterwards. We’ll have to cut off her head.”