Why I'm Not a Dog Person: An Ode to Gruffy and Hosehead
I got Gruffy for Christmas when I was roughly eight. He was a fancy store bought Lhasa Apso and I named him Gruffy because, well, I was eight.
He was the most adorable little ball of fluff you ever saw, hardly bigger than a butter dish and with these sweet little raisin eyes glowing out from the white-gray bangs that fell across his face. He was cuteness incarnate.
So we, my mother and I, took him out onto the back lawn and set him in the spongy remnants of the long dead grass, dry but whitish, almost snowlike for a sunny California Christmas day. Gruffy's little legs could not have been more than an inch-and-a-half long. Which was pretty much hilarious because the grass was at least an inch and three-quarters deep. He leapt with all his puppy might through the depths of it with the most joyous eagerness as he bound back and forth between my mother and me in ebullient puppy glee. Watching him coil up his tiny haunches for each mighty leap, gather himself to hurl forward another two inches through the grass, plunging best he could with his fuzzy little belly never clearing the spongy depths of the lawn... it was hilarious, and all the two of us could do was laugh and wipe the tears of joy out of the corners of our eyes as he bobbed and bounced with his bright eyes and little flopping ears.
Catching Up and Moving Along
I grew up on a cattle ranch, in case you didn't know, and our nice house was like an oasis dropped into the middle of a great ocean of pasture land and low, rolling foothills. And, well, the open range is not the greatest place for a dog that only stands eight inches at the shoulder and barely clears 20 pounds. Not to mention looks like a professional janitor's mop. You guys know what a cocklebur is? How about foxtails? Yeah, has nothing to do with a Fox.
When he got older, Gruffy could actually climb up into my tree house in the lower limbs of an almond tree.
When he was big (lol), he wasn't allowed in the house, but my bedroom window was low enough that I could pull him up inside at night. Technically it's his fault that I got fleas in my carpet and my bed, but, whatever. Parents are so anal about stuff, I swear.
Attack of the Ground Squirrels
Okay, I need a bit of set up here, so bear with me:
One of the biggest problems for cattle ranchers is the damage ground squirrels can cause. They are rodents like mice and rats, and they breed at incredible rates. They make huge "squirrel towns" and when their population gets big, basically they turn large sections of land into swiss cheese. Now, I love swiss cheese on a sandwich, but the thing is, these squirrel towns are built amongst fields of knee high grass. Squirrels aren't stupid. They hide them so every coyote and hawk in the neighborhood can't see them easily in the tall grass. But they are there.
The problem for cattle ranchers is that horses and cattle run along and can't see them either. They trot about doing their horse and cattle thing and, not seeing the holes, stuff a foot into one and, given how big and heavy they are, plus how much momentum they have going because they are large animals after all... snapppp, there went a leg.
You all know what happens to horses or cows that bust a leg, right? If you don't, check out Barbaro's story.
So, ok, what does that have to do with Gruffy?
Well, for a few years in a row, the weather and other stuff, for whatever reason, turned out to be totally perfect for squirrels to multiply. The numbers were absolutely insane. They were literally everywhere. Their little squirrel chirps, high pitched shrieks that sound like a bullet ricocheting off a rock, literally filled the air constantly no matter where you went on the ranch. It was freakish how many there were, like the rats in Hamelin who needed the Pied Piper to draw them out. Only we didn't have any whack-job with a flute.
So, after two years of this, and several thousand dollars of lost livestock or at the very least insane vet bills, something had to be done. My dad called the County and they sent out a County "trapper" to do this special, permit-only fancy County poison thing.
Basically, they sent a dude out with these big bags of oats (just like in your Quaker Oatmeal box) but stained yellow, coated with this super poison that the County licenses only a few people to be able to use. This stuff is hardcore. If you look at it too long your mom will die... it's that kind of strong.
So they told us to lock up all our pets for two weeks from the day the poisoning started and the process began. We all had to take bags of this stuff on horseback and ride through every single acre of every single field and toss a glove-covered handful of these nuclear oats at any squirrel hole that we saw. It took us four days with like six guys working to ride over every inch of land. But finally it was done.
"Two weeks," the County dude reminded us. "Your pets stay locked up. No exceptions." Which of course we did.
Well, it turns out that the reason they tell you this is because this poison is so powerful that if, say, a squirrel eats it and dies (which they do, because that's the point) their body will lie there dead and then some other critter will come along and eat the corpse. Now it might be another squirrel, it might be a coyote, it might just be worms or a snake or snail. Anyway, those die too. Anything that eats the poisoned squirrel is dead. So, now that second thing is lying there wherever it finally died. So along comes another coyote or a hawk or bird and eats that one. Well, guess what, buh-bye; it's dead too. Same for the thing that eats that. By the fourth death, it's not instant or near instant death anymore though, it's more of a neurological breakdown thing. They actually lose their minds, panic and run themselves to death. But at least it's not, you know, organ failure.
So anyway, guess what happened to Gruffy at the end of two weeks.
Yeah, he found something not quite dead enough in the cycle.
I heard him barking his ass off from a distance and it sounded weird as hell, so I ran out into this long, circular gravel road that runs around the front of our house and looked out into the field where I heard his barking coming from. At first I just saw the grass bending in a wave approaching me, fast, a source-less parting in the sea of yellow blades. Then he busted out of the grass onto the gravel driveway and, I mean, he was hell bent for somewhere. I could tell something was wrong, so I crouched down and called to him, "Come on, Gruff, what's up?" with arms outstretched because he was one of those little dogs who would leap into your arms.
But he didn't. He sprinted past me, his little legs pumping like tiny pistons, churning the gravel out behind him in a wake. Never even looked at me. Just ran past, trapped in some horrific terror taking place in his poisoned mind.
He shot by me and ran down into the almond orchard we had (the same one with the tree house he used to climb up in) and through that towards the barn beyond. I couldn't see him even though I was running after him, but I heard him hit the hogwire fence on the far end, heard the wire stretch metallically and the creak of it against the wooden posts. Do you have any idea how hard you would have to kick that wire to make it make a sound like that? Then he was gone.
Never saw him again. My step mom told me years later that she found his body under a pile of wood over three-quarters of a mile away. They didn't tell me though because I'd already gotten past the loss. Gruffy was my first dog. The first one that wasn't just another "animal on the ranch."
You'd think I would have learned.
Ok, so I'll try to keep this one brief.
I kind of got stuck with Hosehead. My roommate at the time (I was like 20 I think) brought two puppies home and told me the black and brown one was mine. I was like, "WTF am I going to do with a f-ing puppy?" (I wasn't stupid, and Gruffy pretty much cured me from ever getting attached to a dog as a pet again.) She was like, "They were going to die, so, I saved them. I like this one [a gray and white one, Aussie-Queensland mix] so you get the other one." She knew I wouldn't say "no" because she knew I was lame like that. (Stupid artist types are freaking easy in some ways.) (Oh, and so you know, yes my roommate was a chick, and no, it wasn't like that. We were roomies. Period. And friends.)
So here I'm stuck with this damn puppy that's about the size of a can of Alpo. He was cute as hell though. Determined not to be a sappy dog owner again, ever, plus being 20ish, I named him Hosehead after the dog from the great movie Strange Brew. By picking a beer induced, non-sentimental name, I figured I would be able to prevent myself from becoming attached.
Tribute video to Hosehead.
Yeah, that didn't work out.
Hosehead was hilarious, loving and true. For starters, the damn thing got Parvo like four months in and I had to go into debt to pay the medical bills. (Vets can suck my ass, by the way). But, I couldn't let them put him down. (Did I mention vets can suck my ass?). (No offense to any vets, by the way, just, .... Anyway, if you are a vet that doesn't totally suck you get why you can suck my ass so you don't mind).
So anyway, Hosehead turned out to be like the perfect dog and he totally lived up to his name. (I did mention I was only 20 right?), so we had these big parties all the time and people were drinking everywhere pretty much all the time at my house, especially on weekends.
Well, Hosehead was a monster party dog. He was the original "dawg" really. He would go around the parties and, because we only had so much furniture, people would set their beers down by their feet wherever they sat down. Hosehead, being the perfect party dog, would knock over the cans and bottles of beer and lap the beer up as it went "glug glug glug" out of the tipped over bottle or can into the carpet. He was awesome like that. Total alchy and completely hilarious. God I loved that dog.
We actually trained him to get beer out of the fridge and out of the creek if we went camping or fishing, but he didn't like the clink of the bottles on his teeth and, frankly, with cans he had this habit of "accidentally" pricking through the aluminum and drinking a lot of it before you got it delivered to where you were. Not to mention the mess. I still don't buy the "accident" thing.
So anyway, he was cool and he slept on my feet every night and chicks worshipped him. A perfect dog.
Well, we had to move out of that house. I found another house briefly, but then the rental arrangement fell apart and I was trapped having to move into an apartment. I was young and poor and just didn't have options financially.
I called everyone I'd ever met begging someone to take my dog. Just for a while. I begged my parents. I begged everyone. Even my boss.
But no one would take him.
I got stuck taking him to the pound.
I swear to god that was one of the lowest moments of my life. I had to betray that dog who had never done anything to me ever but give me love and trust. I had to drag him into that place, that sterile row of concrete and chain link... he didn't even follow willingly... HIM, the dog that would follow me into Hell and be leaping around absolutely giddy for the experience, he knew... he could smell my betrayal on my skin.
I pulled him in, choking back the tears as they opened the gate to the pen and I pushed him inside. I garbled a drowning "I'm sorry" through tears of shame and regret and walked out and never looked back. I didn't even have the courage to look back at him. I abandoned Hosehead.
I tell myself to this day that he was so sweet that someone surely took him. He was young, after all. People like young dogs. And cute. Trained too. So. Maybe.
I'll never own a dog again.