Going to the Dogs

When Bill and I married in December of 1985, there was no rule book on blending families. Our effort to purchase a house that would have been neutral territory for everyone concerned had fallen through, so my two kids and I abandoned downtown Seattle and moved in with Bill and his kids in the Eaglesmere neighborhood of Bellevue. I’m sure his kids felt as though their home had been invaded by strangers, and we felt like we had landed on another planet. Looking for something that would be new for everyone, we came up with the idea of puppies!!! Yay for puppies! Two eight week old golden retrievers came to live with us the day after Christmas.

Bill is a retired EE—an electronics engineer, so the new arrivals were named Nikki and Tess after Nikola Tesla, one of the brilliant founding fathers of modern day electronics. We were new to the neighborhood when a serious snowstorm came through in early January. Our street had few cars on it and there was a grassy median between houses on each side, so my kids took the puppies outside to play in the snow. A few minutes later, my daughter returned carrying Nikki with a seriously bleeding front paw. Some teenagers had evidently been partying overnight and had left some broken beer bottles hidden under the snow. I was new to Bellevue. I remembered seeing a veterinary office near the Newport Way turnoff, but I had no idea what the name of it was. We wrapped our bloody puppy in a towel and headed there. The office in question turned out to be the Animal Hospital of Factoria.

As we carried Nikki inside, the vet himself entered the lobby. “Oh,” he said, looking at her. “What happened to that poor baby?” And that’s how we met Dr. Eighty Bucks—the man who would be our vet for the next fourteen years, as long as we had that generation of Goldens. And how much did he charge for that emergency visit? $80.00.

The next several months were tough. For one thing, while I sat at a computer desk in the living room, trying to write, the puppies got into everything. We had a crew remodeling the kitchen, and the puppies loved to steal the workers’ tools and bring them to me. While my back was turned, they chewed holes in Bill’s beloved Websters Third Edition.

Bill’s house was built on a steep grade with the kitchen and main living space on the ground floor and the bedrooms upstairs. Inside access to the above-ground pool in the tiny backyard was through a slider in the daylight basement. One October morning almost a year later, the Nikki and Tess were on the deck outside the kitchen barking like crazy. When I finally went to check I looked down and saw an unfamiliar golden retriever swimming around and around in the pool. Bill was working for a company in Tukwila. I immediately called him and he said, “There’s not much I can do about it from fifteen miles away.” So I put on my big girl panties, went outside through the basement slider, and tried to pull the dog out of the pool. The dog probably weighed seventy pounds dry, but soaking wet he was more like a hundred-twenty. When I couldn’t pull him out by his front paws, there was nothing for it but to climb into that frigid pool and push him out. He took off like a shot without a word of thanks. Ungrateful wretch!

The following spring the front door was left open accidentally and the dogs got out. That was a problem since the yard wasn’t fenced, but I figured they’d come back eventually, so I left the door open. Tess returned first, staggering past me like a drunk before walking straight into a wall. I called Dr. Eighty Bucks. “Sounds like she got into slug bait,” he said. “Bring her right in.” I loaded her into the car and went straight there where he dribbled a yellow powder, an emetic, into her eye, making her barf immediately. When I took her back home, Nikki was staggering around, too. So I took her back and went through the same routine. How much did he charge? $80.00. See what I mean? And in case you’re wondering, that’s the same treatment Davy Ladd’s dog, Oho, got in Hour of the Hunter, when the bad guy poisoned him with slug bait. (If you’ve ever wondered where I get my ideas, now you know. Life happens, and I pay attention.)

Yesterday, after our miniature dachshunds, Jojo and Mary, ate their mid-afternoon dinner, I let them out to play in the backyard for a little while. Shortly thereafter, they started barking like crazy. I thought for a moment that the pool lady was probably here, but then I realized she’d been here last week, so I got up to check, just in time to see a tall, gangly, Irish-wolfhound dog—a bristly tan colored one–step up onto the back porch—inside our fully-fenced yard. I brought my dogs in. Then I went outside and propped open the gates on both sides of the dog yard. When I called “Hey you,” he came right to me. He was big but not aggressive. He was wearing a green plaid collar but no tag. He looked well fed. When I called for him, he followed me straight to the dog yard and out through the gates before taking off down the driveway. Ten minutes later, he was back on the back porch.

Thinking he might be a neighbor’s dog, I called them. He wasn’t theirs, but the neighbor came up to help. Once the dog was corralled in the dog yard once again, the neighbor took photos which he carried to several houses in the neighborhood, but no one recognized our stray. I kept him in the dog yard for the next hour or so, with him barking and my dogs barking, too. Rather than be driven nuts, I finally let him out. Locking him up must have done the trick, because this time when he sprinted down the driveway, he didn’t come back. So far there’s no sign of him today which tells me he’s most likely safe and sound back home, wherever that may be.

As for me? Chasing him around the back yard was good for steps if nothing else. Yesterday’s total was 14,389.