Tahlequah Daily Press

August 12, 2013

Ankle-biters? No, thanks; I’m a big-dog person

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — I really want another dog, and several friends know this – which is why several of them keep trying to fob off strays on me. And since they know I prefer German shepherds, I’m often tagged on Facebook in photos of sad-eyed, abandoned canines of this breed.

A pragmatic person might argue this sort of inducement is a tad cruel. Like every other animal lover, I would take on a plethora of pets, if I were able to accommodate them. But as my husband keeps pointing out – unfairly if realistically – we’re not home enough to take care of a dog properly. We do have the whitecat, a cantankerous beast who foisted himself upon us in February 2006. But cats are considerably more self-reliant than dogs.

Since I cannot persuade my husband otherwise, the cumulative effect of these well-meaning photos is to make me depressed that I can’t give a good dog a good home, and that it might wind up in the hands of an even less attentive owner than I would be. Or worse yet, the animal might be put down. These are not the things a person in  my predicament needs to dwell upon.

We did have a German shepherd named Max, who grew up with my son. Sadly, he died of a seizure the summer before the arrival of the whitecat (also known as “Zeus”).

When we had Max, we weren’t home a whole lot more then than we are now, so he was consigned to the garage during the day until we got home in the evening.

What this meant – and what is prompting my husband’s repeated refusals – is that Max sometimes crawled under the house to do his business when we got home too late. At least he wouldn’t taint my husband’s concrete floor or, heaven forbid, one of his power tools. But even that would have been preferable to his squatting on the carpet in the house. I don’t have to tell you that German shepherds do a big business, even if they’re served high-quality dog food.

You’re wondering why the dog didn’t just stay outside during the day. I give you a one-word answer: Walmart. I’ve told you before about those 18-wheelers jake-braking their way up Highway 10, and how every animal we owned prior to Max fell victim to an oncoming delivery.

For a brief time, we had a huge Chesapeake Bay retriever, and I’m comforted in the knowledge that he did some major damage on his way out. Oh, and about that fence: We never found the money or the time to build a decent one, and besides, I didn’t want to think about a dog suffering outside in the heat or in the cold.

I’ve explained this multifaceted dilemma to several friends, and without fail, they come back with, “Well, get a small dog, then. They’re more easily trained, and they won’t go to the bathroom on the carpet.”

I beg to differ. We had a minuscule toy collie, several dogs and Walmart trucks before Max. This animal – Sir Frodo Aragorn, if you can believe it – was so high-strung that if anyone yelled suddenly, he simultaneously yelped and released a half-gallon of urine. (At my house, there’s a lot of yelling, since my husband is Italian.) Frodo was skittish around people – even his own people – and nipped at a few guests. This was back when we actually had guests, of course, and those fell off considerably when we had Max – who weighed 90 pounds and only liked a handful of people. If he liked you, he tried to sit in your lap. If he didn’t, he would grumble against you under his breath, and take more drastic action if you didn’t back off.

I’ve had other bad experiences with small dogs. When I was a kid, my aunt had a chihuahua named Chica, who lived under the couch and occasionally wore diapers.

Chica was known for biting the ankles of hapless couch-sitters. That dog didn’t like “strangers” – and by that I mean anyone but Pauletta and my grandmother – and she barked herself hoarse almost every day any of the grandkids were around. By “she” I mean Chica, and not Pauletta or my grandmother.

Years ago, when we had the old Walmart here, I parked my car next to a Cadillac, and from the swanky velour interior came the telltale high-pitched yap of a small terrier, perched on the back of the bench seat. This must have been back in the days before folks realized you shouldn’t leave a pet in a hot car, but at least the well-monied owner had left the windows cracked.

As I got out of my own junker and retrieved my purse, the threats continued, punctuated by the occasional growl. Annoyed, and perhaps in the mood for some class warfare, I lightly slapped the window of the Caddy with my palm. The dog squealed a very distinct, “YIPE!” and wet all over the velour seat. I got the heck out of there before the owner returned.

It’s true that many of my co-workers are fond of small dogs. Josh Newton likes pugs (though he owns a big dog), and Teddye Snell has a min-pin and a medium-sized mutt that looks like an oversized chihuahua. Our sports editor, Ben Johnson, has three Malteses, and you can’t get much smaller than that. I understand Ben and his wife, Alicia, put dresses on Bella, the female. I have not heard whether the two males are similarly attired.

As for me, I’ll wait for the day when I can devote proper love and care to a German shepherd – big business and all.