James Bassett

© Copyright 2005 by James Bassett


They told me his name was Scannello, however one might spell that. Likewise, however one might say that repeatedly throughout the day or say it right after ‘sit’. This is a dog. “Sit, Scannello” does not come trippingly off the tongue. Everything that moves your mouth has to think about it. And when you’re talking “dog”, new, strange, unknown “dog” talk, it has to be quick and easy. Otherwise, “just how long is it going to take to get this sentence out of my mouth” soon becomes cats chased up draperies, pillow innards flying everywhere, chairs, tables, and shelves full of whatnot toppling willy-nilly, guests bowled over at the door, and poop, yes, poop is professional “dog” terminology, poop and pee everywhere. No. “Sit, Scanello” was not good “dog” talk. He became “Roger” real fast and, so far, no poop, no pee. Thank you very much, Roger. Other dogs have not been so nice. Roger can hold it forever.

They had tagged him a purebred Cocker Spaniel. After all, he didn’t quite look like anything else. Face on he was a Spaniel type. But if you saw him lying down, you’d think of him more as a good size Retriever type, a Setter if you were catch just a glimpse of the feathered tail and legs, or who knows what with those big, hairy, snowshoe feet. But he was an adult, and when he stood up, there was a slight jolt. His stubby little, crooked legs jerked to a stop just six inches up from the ground. The Cocker Spaniel left a defining mark on this otherwise good size dog.

As the towel dried away a simple bath you could see the curls rising up, flipping back, turning right, and screaming left. You could see the curly Golden Retriever, the kinky Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the wavy, feathered Setter, and the thick double coated Cocker Spaniel wiggling through every runaway lock, ringlet, and twisted curl. To call him a Cocker Spaniel or a Retriever mix was an insult to nature. This was the first and very animated, frenzied, and maniacal purebred cowlick.

Anyway, for a while anyway, he’s now my red dog Roger, my scruffy dog. My dog “for a while” because I volunteered to be a foster home for a nokill, animal adoption agency, F.A.I.R., For Animals in Risk. I supposed the grammar to be no worse than my own. And by the way people, about the twentieth time you tell someone this, you just want to turn around and scream, “Okay. So what if I do end up keeping the dog? Just what is your point?” I know it’s my own fault to just boil over in considering all the possible implications behind, “Oh, how could you give up such a face?” Of course, only a heartless ogre could take in, only to coldly cast off to another loving family such a cute little dog that was facing death at a crowded animal shelter. What could I be thinking?

(Look out. Here comes a sentence you won’t soon be grammatically dissected) You just have to release the idle chatter of those who don’t quite grasp the significance of the space, because right now you have to concentrate on getting in between the terrified cat racing through the TV room and the now vicious, bent on killing, Roger in hot pursuit, yank the dog up bodily by the collar, screaming bloody murder, “No, we will not be eating the cat today, Roger,” and wondering yourself just why you go through all the more unfriendly aspects of the companion animal game, the learning, the teaching, the training, the reprimanding, the scolding, the yelling and screaming that molds the dog into a peaceful piece of the family puzzle, just to all too soon release the dog over to a perfect stranger who will then reap the benefits of saving yet another out of the hands of, many prefer the euphemism put to sleep, but it really is, death. Thousands upon thousands. Year after year. Letting the one go, if you can, to give precious space to another.

But, anyway, Roger is mine for the time being. The time being, first, three months for tick and valley fever medication prior to neutering and adoption. The time then extending to six months for tick and valley fever medication prior to neutering and adoption. The time now being two or three more months of medications for valley fever only, no more tick fever, prior to adoption, as indicated by blood samples taken during neutering. This is how it goes.

Valley Fever is an erratic disease, causing most no symptoms whatsoever and some others slight, flu-like symptoms. But for still others, an unlucky few, it causes severe and debilitating, possibly deadly reactions. Roger was not responding to the Valley Fever Medication. The disease was progressing. Though there were no obvious symptoms, nothing so visual that just to look at him you thought of debilitating disease, there were times he turned, froze, and cried out in pain for no apparent reason. He would turn in one direction or another, to stand from sitting, or to climb the porch stairs, only to freeze, crying the pain as only a dog can. If I was close, I would check frantically that I wasn’t standing on his feet or tail, or pinching his hair to the ground or floor. I would just hold my hands near him, because you could see it hurt too much to touch. Then it was gone as quick and you didn’t think so much of disease, rather something broken, dislocated, or caught up wrong inside. I mentioned to the neighbor lady how much the veterinarian increased the drug dosage, adding “Which I guess will either cure him or kill him.” And I knew that really was no joke. It was an obvious last ditch effort.

I hope for the former rather than the later in the not so facetious remark, but I am no stranger to animals, their illnesses, and providing for the need and know that all efforts don’t end in success. But success isn’t the point. The point and effort is statement to a social ill of abandoning animals to tremendously overcrowded shelters, end results known to all, definitely not a statement of societal success. All the animals that have shared my home and life have been animals in need. Some needed longer than others, some I hardly remember, and yes, people, some stayed their full lives, others remain still, and still others died for the trying. Roger? Will he stay or will he go? Well, we’ll see. The intent is to finally get through this current wall of horror and finally place him for adoption. One, because as well as all the others he deserves better than to be thrust from home and left to his death, and two, because others need this half-way from hell to home space. Sheol. Selah.

Right now, I wonder who this dog is. I’m sitting in a park, taking in the sites and sounds of a good ol’ hippie folk festival, crowded, loud, and bustling with erratic activity, sidewalk circus acts, painted faces, dazzling streamers, and flashing fireworks of types. And this dog is letting other little dogs jump on his head. Little, baby girls are pounding and pulling on him the way they will and he’s wagging. All of him is wagging. Big people are brushing past, reaching down and giving his head that little ruffle and a bang. I guess it’s a pat on the head, but it looks like a bang to me. But he’s wagging and he is for all intents and purposes ignoring the odd dog who stretches at his leash to pounce on him. That’s who I thought this dog was. That’s why we’re here, to get this fairly unsociable dog accustomed to being around people and other animals in public places.

At home this is the dog I have to physically restrain at the door, whose fierce growling grows into savage snarling, pulling me over in his lunging at visitors. I short leash him when approaching other dogs on our daily walk because he goes directly for the throat, a full set of teeth bared and bloodthirsty. It is the dog I close in the TV room when I leave the house because he attacks the cats in an instant. His attempts to kill them may have thus far been disrupted and, admittedly, he has softened, even lately been found lounging in the same sunspot with them on the floor. And visitors may now be greeted with less sheer violence and out of danger as soon as they take a second to bend over and tap his barking head. But for a long, long time that took a particularly brave person.

This was supposed to have been the first of many planned outings into the public arena to begin what I thought was going to be a fairly long trial in socialization for what was up to now an unruly, aggressive, confrontational, and intimidating dog. But no, maybe finally, “Who is this dog?” He’s right next to me on a loose leash, weaving in between a big city, crowded park of people. The dog I brought home is not this mild, happy dog breezing through the chaos and mayhem. My dog was the chaos and mayhem. But today I wonder. My breathing trembling a little as I wonder when this all turned around. My breathing trembling a little more, when I think of him moving on.

So, Roger. My red dog Roger. We’ll see. If you live, Roger -- We’ll see.

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