Dogs & other creatures I've treasured; past & present: Stories & reflections.

Author Archives: Delynn Way

It was more pee than I’ve ever seen in my life.   ~  Chase, via text to me upon returning home to find that Dad had closed the dog-door (due to extreme wind) & shut three dogs in the kitchen, one of which was the, um, “elder” Boxer.


When you own a dog, it’s inevitable: at some point in time, sooner rather than later, you’ll see an odd, quizzical expression overtake your dog’s (or puppy’s) face as she hurriedly plops her bottom to the floor & wiggles side-to-side. Immediately thereafter, she’ll appear nonplussed or slightly pained as she suddenly lifts her hind legs elbow-level, digs her front claws into the floor, & drags her madly itching anus across your pristine carpet. Your beloved dog slits her eyes & drops her jaw in ecstasy. You’ll totally freak. This disgusting, canine butt-scratching event is known at our house as the “Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie” & though every dog delights in it, owners world-wide live in daily dread of it.

This morning, my husband released the GrayHaven hounds – aka nine Boston terriers – from their safety crates & as the pack thundered through the house toward the dog door (located in the kitchen, at the opposite end of the home), our Alpha bitch, Sheriff Pinky caused a four-Boston pile-up in the middle of the living room. Alas, she’d been stricken with the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie in mid-run; not a pretty sight. As Chaos, Ruby-Ruby, Bouncer, & Rocket-Dog untangled themselves & resumed their stampede for the morning duping grounds; Pinky proceeded to scrape her delicate rose of a tush across my lovely patterned area carpet… She was blissfully unaware of events to come.

Now, Pinky is one of my loveliest girls, in fact, my nickname for her is, “My Best Girl,” but seriously, no dog is attractive whilst performing the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie. So, once the terrier traffic jam cleared, it took my mind a moment to wrap itself around the horrific sight before me… Then, I freaked: “PIIIINKYYYYY!!!! Quit! Go outside!!!!” I yelled at the poor, butt-itchy dog. Of course, she ceased scootching in mid-cootch & gaped at me with her ears pinned back, totally clueless as to why I was hysterical at the fact she was rapturous from the rough caress of carpet fibers across her puckered posterior opening. Pink gave me her patented “Puss-In-Boots Eyes” with her hind paws hovering near her shoulders, confused & clearly wishing I’d leave the room so she could resume the Scootchie. However; I firmed my resolve against her hypnotic, bottomless eyes & pointed a trembling finger toward the kitchen, “OUT! Take your itchy bum outside, Pink. Go out, NOW!” At last, the Sheriff dimmed the eye-wattage, heaved a sigh, & headed for the dog door – but only after a final skilled side-to-side cootch. I can only suppose that, after having been stricken while running, then bowled over by her pack-mates, she felt fully justified in completing as much as possible of her HCS routine.

Despite the fact that Pinky’s morning attack hit while only family was present, it seems that this odd & revolting affliction fells countless canines when houseguests are present, always causing embarrassment & disgust. The more important your guests; the more likely it is your dog will perform the HCS in front of them. It never fails. I’ve attended parties before where, although of course I’m a dog owner & lover, I’ve been beyond appalled at the sight of the host’s dog(s) performing the Scootchie repeatedly in the midst of the guests over the course of the evening’s events. And I’m sorry, but there’s just no tactful way to overlook an eighty or one hundred-plus pound dog scouring its bum along the carpet (& we all know how they love the carpet, don’t we?), desperately searching for relief. How do you eat appetizers while a faint brown trail is being emblazoned on the creamy berber right before your eyes? For me it’s impossible, so I certainly can’t expect it of anyone else. Therefore, we long ago began safety crating the GrayHaven pack when expecting guests, specifically to avoid the mortifying effects of the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie which seems to surface inexplicably with the arrival of company.

Sadly, the Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie is a fact of life for dog owners everywhere; there’s no prevention, treatment, or cure; there’s simply an illusion of control at the moment of onset, as you frantically shriek at your dog to cease & desist (fully expecting her to obey) & she most likely ignores you, at least for the amount of time it takes to utterly defile a portion of carpet. If the Scootchie takes place when – to your dog’s delight, you happen to not be hanging about, you either never realize your carpet has been despoiled or you later ponder the origins of several dull cocoa streaks, never noticing your dog smugly scrutinizing your mystification from the corner of the sofa. It’s a lose-lose proposition for both you & your floor covering of choice.

So, what’s a dedicated dog owner to do? Here are some Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie safety tips:

  1. NEVER leave your dog alone with your carpet
  2. NEVER leave a teacup dog alone with the sofa (or bed)
  3. ALWAYS spot-check your dog’s bum after duping, to ensure no ‘danglies’ are present
  4. If you own a “serial Scootcher,” ALWAYS safety crate when expecting guests
  5. If visiting a friend with carpet lighter than tree bark brown, NEVER take your dog along
  6. If you’ve never seen your dog do the HCS, ASSUME s/he’s done it 5 times just this week
  7. NEVER leave your dog alone in a conversion van or RV (or any vehicle w/ carpeted flooring)
  8. Okay, just NEVER leave your dog alone with fabric of ANY kind; it’s a tragedy waiting to happen!

If you have some Hootchie Cootchie Scootchie safety suggestions, please comment & share them! In this way, we can improve the lives & carpet fibers of dog lovers everywhere!

COPYRIGHTCARLENEGRAY2012


Sleeping with a Boston terrier is like going to bed with a large rock that breathes & farts.

Bouncer, one of our “bed-rocks.”



They’re cute and appealing in their spot-lit pet store cases, sometimes several to a display; bouncing, wrestling, yapping, and napping…Puppies. Adorable purebred puppies, shelved like designer jewelry within starkly lit acrylic boxes, waiting to be bought and carried home. Sooner or later, someone always buys. It keeps happening because hundreds of thousands of unaware people satisfy their instantaneous urges for puppies. Indeed, the decision to purchase a purebred dog should not be impulsive; rather it should take place with help from a Reputable Breeder, because doing so increases the probability of acquiring a healthy, well-tempered companion and also thwarts demand for ill-treated, unsound, maladjusted “puppy-mill” dogs.
Ignorant of “puppy-mills” while searching for a dog, one naïve young couple bought Bugsy. Undeniably; however, the murkiness & stench of the kennel should’ve been their first clue that something was amiss, while the pathetic, abhorrent conditions of the adult dogs caged inside should’ve been their second. Unfortunately, they didn’t know enough to heed the visual evidence, and they weren’t resolute enough to leave the single remaining puppy, so the couple took home their first Boston terrier. Within days, three month old Bugsy was being treated for anemia due to profound parasite load, demodectic mange, and ear mites. He also demonstrated a serious lack of socialization which rendered him incapable of forming close bonds. This eager couple, like many people buying their first purebred dog, had no idea there were “Reputable Breeders” and “puppy-mills;” they thought breeders were breeders. As a result of their ignorance and the greed of the puppy-miller who churned out Bugsy, the short life this couple shared with their unpredictable, unfit dog was filled with frustration and anxiety, his ultimate loss nearly a relief.
Reputable Breeders – of which this author is one (Boston Terrier Club of America, Inc Code of Ethics) – strive to be fair and just, and pride themselves on not only producing sound, quality, well-tempered examples of a given breed, but also on how well their dogs are raised and treated in their homes: as family pets. Their dogs are prized, fed high-quality food, and provided timely and appropriate veterinary care. What’s more, females aren’t bred until mature, are only asked to produce a very limited number of litters (2-3 as a rule for Boston terriers), and are then spayed and pampered, whereas a puppy-mill bitch will likely produce ten or more litters in the course of her sad life (“10 Things to Know about Puppy Mills”). Furthermore, Responsible Breeders spend great amounts of time playing with and socializing puppies to ensure they are prepared to handle the world they’ll soon join, and serious care is taken to interview and choose prospective puppy families so that the best matches are made. Additionally, spay/neuter purchase agreements are used to protect both parties, plus the dog; they typically include an abiding health guarantee, an unconditional guarantee, and a lifetime return clause. Reputable Breeders expend these efforts because they want their cherished dogs in wonderful Forever Homes, so if a puppy placement isn’t proceeding in a positive manner, or if a placed puppy becomes ill, a good Breeder wants to know about it so s/he can rectify the situation.
Puppy-mills, in contrast, pull out all the stops to maximize the number of puppies produced for pet store sales each year, and this mass-production contributes to the abundant problems seen in these unfortunate dogs. To meet demands, ‘millers must breed every female on every heat cycle (regardless of age), disregard basic rules of genetics (inbreed), cram many dogs into as little space as possible, feed non-nutritious foods, and often deny even essential veterinary care. This drastic ‘corner-cutting’ means no cuddling for the pups, as there are too many dogs and puppies, too few humans to care for them, and typically no concern by the ‘millers. So, even though the pet store puppies appear active and playful, it’s quite customary for them to have little interest in shoppers who wish to interact with them; their brains did not make the ‘socialization connection’ at a critical time of development (“From Puppy Mill to Pet Shop”) – a misfortune which likely haunts hundreds of thousands of new families each year. Even worse, significant health issues in puppies have been reported from both pet store puppy buyers and pet store employees (“Pet Shop Puppies”). Numerous heritable canine maladies frequently seen in pet store puppies, such as “cherry eye,” epilepsy, mega-esophagus, heart disease, and hip dysplasia are (just a few) defects that Reputable Breeders eliminate from their breeding pools to decrease the odds of producing afflicted puppies. At the opposite extreme, puppy-millers incessantly propagate and exacerbate deficiencies by having no interest in eliminating defects to begin with, and then they create more extensive flaws by inbreeding affected dogs (“Puppy Mills”).
Yes, breeders who sell puppies to pet stores must be USDA licensed and inspected (Animal Welfare Regulations), so thousands of puppy-mills operate within federal guidelines, but the laws which govern “commercial dog breeding operations” (“Puppy Mills”) are sorely lacking. For example, although the law states it is legal to imprison a dog inside a wire cage only six inches larger than its body length (Animal Welfare Regulations), for its entire life, do you know anyone who would consider that humane? What is more, many USDA inspectors overlook puppy-millers’ blatant disregard of Animal Welfare Regulations, leaving dogs and puppies to suffer endlessly. At one site, inspectors paid no heed to numerous dogs with horribly injured and even missing eyes, clearly not receiving veterinary care over the course of five years (Puppy Mill Awareness Day). Dogs, ‘Man’s best friend,’ America’s most beloved companion animals, are handled with less regard than ‘farm stock:’ dairy cattle, or hogs grown for slaughter, which routinely receive fresh air, sunshine, clean bedding, quality feeds, and exercise (“Killing Charlotte: Breeder Says New Dog Law Made Him Do It.”). What is wrong with this picture?
There exists a tremendous population of puppies confined in plastic and starkly lit for the world to see, waiting to be bought on a whim, yet too many eyes are blind to the dreadful reality: Pet store puppies are produced in conditions no reasonable, dog loving person would deem humane or appropriate for family companion animals (Puppy Mill Awareness Day). So what will you do when you’re ready to bring a purebred puppy into your heart? Will you step into that store and shop through those clear cases, pointing out the puppy you must have right now, like it’s a charm bracelet under glass? Then again, are you strong enough to do what’s right, to make time to locate a Reputable Breeder (“How to Find a Reputable Breeder”), secure in the knowledge that this is the best path toward enjoying a happy, long life with your new best friend? Will you – can you – deny that momentary urge which propagates the suffering of so many?
Copyright10/2012CarlenGray

Works Cited
Angel, Jennifer. “From Puppy Mill to Pet Shop.” New York Daily News. N.p., 1 Nov. 2011. Web.
08 Oct. 2012.
ASPCA. “Puppy Mills.” ASPCA. N.p., 2012. Web. 08 Oct. 2012.
Awareness Day. “Puppy Mill Awareness Day.” Puppy Mill Awareness Day. Awareness Day,
2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.
BTCA. “Boston Terrier Club of America, Inc. Code of Ethics.” Bostonterrierclubofamerica.org.
BTCA, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2012.
HBO. “10 Things to Know about Puppy Mills.” Madonna of the Mills – A Documentary about
Puppy Mills. HBO, 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2012.
HKC. “How to Find a Reputable Breeder.” How to Find a Reputable Breeder. Harrisburg Kennel
Club, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. .
Puppymill Rescue. “Pet Shop Puppies.” PuppymillRescue.com. N.p., 1999. Web. 09 Oct. 2012.
USDA. “Animal Welfare Regulations.” aphis.usda.gov. USDA, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2012.
Worden, Amy. “Killing Charlotte: Breeder Says New Dog Law Made Him Do It.” Puppy Mill
Awareness Day. Awareness Day, 10 Nov. 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.


My life is not an entirely pleasant one. No one’s is of course, but for the most part the general population manages to go about their days free from the dread that gnawed at the psyches of World War One trench soldiers like plague rats on decaying flesh: gas. For me, this anxiety is a daily reality that haunts me, sometimes waking me at night with its stealthy, stinking presence. No, I’m not insane & no, I’m not creating fiction for your entertainment; trust me. I live in a near constant state of distress because I share my heart & home with six Boston terriers & a Boxer – brachycephalic dog breeds which have a propensity for discharging fogs of fetid flatulence ad nauseam.

Sometimes I’m offered mercy; granted a few moments to escape by the sound of the ‘bomb’ releasing from across the room. Although the easiest farts from which to flee, these noisome raspberries are strident & quite mortifying when guests are present, as they range from furtive, airy “Pweeeeeeeeeee!!!” whistles up to floor-rumbling bass, where-the-hell-is-the-toilet-paper, moist, trucker-jeans blow-outs. My Boxer, Copper is the Champ at trucker farts. He prefers to hold them until he knows I’ve settled into bed & am perhaps nearly asleep, but not so far gone that my sense of smell has shut down. Usually, I’m lying there rigid as a botoxed forehead with my eyes huge as golf balls, staring blindly into the dark, just waiting for the attack to begin. I’ve learned through the years that the most devastating air strikes take place under cover of night… And it comes, as it always does. If I’m cowering under the blankets, all I notice is a thunderous reverberation through my pillow – but I know what it is, I know what’s coming next, & I know I can’t escape.

It’s nigh impossible to describe the vile, staggering essence that issues from these pursed doors to Hell. I’m not a connoisseur, you see. I’m simply a victim of circumstance. I’ve suffered this torment since 1988 & I’m afraid I know too much. Each strike delivers a unique bouquet, not only special to that dog, but specific to that particular emanation. No two discharges are ever alike; much like snowflakes, but critically deficient in both sparkle & artistic value. The putrid odors produced by my dogs have routinely put to shame grown men who pride themselves on gassing their wives beneath the marital blankets. When women such as these proud survivors rush out of a stricken room gasping for air, I know my dogs are dangerous. And I’m incongruously proud. Go figure.

The “silent-but-deadly” hits are the absolute worst, & Pinky the Boston has the best guerrilla warfare tactic to get in, make the hit, & get back out undetected. At eight, Pinky is currently our eldest Boston terrier, the Alpha & Sheriff of our pack. She rules with an iron tongue; she licks when she’s happy & she licks when she’s upset, she just does it differently. Pinky has also perfected her “Puss in Boots” eyes. This ploy is perfect for begging to be picked up when she wishes to plant a silent-but-deadly. Once held in arms, Pinky then employs her tongue, licking every bit of skin she can reach to distract whoever is holding her from the fact that she’s practically grunting with the effort to expel a fart in their arms & onto their clothing. Once she accomplishes her mission, she makes a leap toward freedom & it isn’t until ten or fifteen seconds later that the stench steals into the nostrils of whomever unwittingly fell for those huge, liquid eyes of hers… She gets me every damned time.

I love my dogs dearly, but it’s exceptionally difficult living this way, never knowing from which direction the next blast will come, or how horrendously ruinous it might be. Trucks rumbling by on the road out front have sent me running from the room in blind terror, certain I was about to be killed outright. I beg my husband not to feed the dogs any sort of ‘people food,’ but he claims it doesn’t make any difference what they eat, they gas us regardless. I secretly tend to agree with him, but I’m also petrified beyond belief when I see him considering a bit of leftover pork chop or chicken breast… And I know from raucous, rank, sickening experience that mashed potatoes are a recipe for disaster. Gads!! (shuddering)

As I share these thoughts, I find my eyes skittering apprehensively about me; taking in the cozy scene of this evening’s three ostensibly amiable, devoted companions, all snuggled warmly about me on the bed. But I’m neither naïve nor unwise; I’ve been engaged in this conflict for nearly twenty-five years & I know not to let appearances deceive me. For all their outward charm & quirky, bulgy-eyed appeal, I have learned the hard way that smushy-faced dogs are nothing more than fur-coated mobile barrels of self-replenishing bio-hazardous gas that seek only to lure unsuspecting humans into range; the goal: to trigger their Hellish sphincter release valves. If you’re fortunate & they give you a fair chance, you’ll at least hear a sinister, squeaky “Pweeeeeeeeee….” At that point, it’s every human for herself (or himself, of course – you big guys are certainly free to escape, too) & you’d better hope you’re wearing a turtleneck, as I am right now. Whatever you wear, if you plan to visit our Bostons & Copper the Boxer, anticipate lots of sweet kisses & cuddles, but come prepared for massive amounts of malodorous malevolence…Trench warfare has never been so adorable.

CopyrightCarleneGray2012

Living, breathing, hazardous waste.


Our introduction was looming. The cat seemed a bit ethereal as it slid between pockets of light & inky blackness, disappearing momentarily, only to reappear a couple feet nearer. The only way for certain I could tell it didn’t stop somewhere in the dark was that its grumbling purr grew steadily louder. Abruptly, the cat surged from the sharp edge of a deep shadow, startling a surprised “Eeep!” from me. This didn’t faze the cat a bit; it stopped about six inches from my toes & tucked its haunches comfortably beneath itself, tail tip twitching near its front paws. Its wide amber eyes held mine. Again, it pronounced quite precisely, “Mi-aow!” I could feel its rumbling breaths ruffling the hairs on my knuckles, which were still wrapped tightly around my legs.

I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have cats; the only cats I was even familiar with were the feral cats my grandma cared for around her home. Some were tame enough to pet & hold, but most were terrified of contact. My dad didn’t even like cats, so I was a little worried that this one was even in our yard. What should I do? I peeked at Mom & Dad again. They were smoking & talking, totally ignoring what was taking place a few feet away from them. I looked back at the cat & it regarded me patiently, unblinking, as if it had all the time in the world. It kept purring.

I slowly stretched out my left hand.

The cat didn’t move an iota when my trembling fingertips touched its forehead. Its only reaction was to close its eyes & – unbelievably – amplify even more its internal engine. I stroked its head & down its back, enthralled by the thick silky fur, but also shocked at how skeletal the cat felt beneath the luxuriant coat. When my hand reached the root of its tail, the cat stood & stretched. It opened its eyes & met my gaze as it stepped forward with clear purpose. I quickly folded my legs down into a crisscross style lap & the cat climbed in, circled once, & lay down with a contented sigh, purring heartily. I kept stroking the cat, but it was a while before I realized I was crying.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To my complete surprise, my parents took pity on the hungry cat & allowed me to adopt it. By the light of day, the cat looked even worse; not nearly so mysterious & much more ragged & unkempt. It was clearly starving & in need of loving care. Scabby & bony, but covered in the thickest, richest blue-gray coat I’d ever seen, with huge amber eyes; I also discovered that the cat was male, & unaltered. I bought him food, he got vaccinations & de-worming, & I fashioned a shelter for him against the side of the patio. I found a leather collar at a yard sale & a neighbor engraved his name on it: “Panther.” I officially had a cat.

Panther was one of those cats that made “regular cats” look bad. He was a true friend, a confidant, an unselfish spirit – unlike the majority of felines which demand servitude of humankind. Panther clearly enjoyed loving & being loved; he was simply a happy creature with a huge heart. He would race up & down the alley with me, for no reason but to run & play for the sheer joy in it. I could call him & if he could hear my voice, he would come, although sometimes it would take him almost half an hour to get home from wherever he was meandering… But he’d always race up the sidewalk in response to my call. He recognized sadness in me & would stick to me like a burr when he sensed it. I was never sure whether he was worried about me or if he was trying to comfort me, or perhaps a little of both. Panther never complained. He was happy someone cherished him & held him & told him secrets. He didn’t care that I couldn’t afford the most expensive food. He never bit anyone, he never scratched anyone; he just doled out his calming gaze & his hypnotic purr, letting his love pour over everyone he met. He was very unusual, but it was a wonderful unusual.

CopyrightCarleneGray2012


My upbringing & family life were difficult, at best, with an alcoholic father & an emotionally unstable mother. To further complicate matters, I was born prematurely & developed cerebral palsy (a form of brain damage that affects nervous, muscle, & motor functions) as a result. Throughout my childhood I wore an ugly, clunky leg brace, walked with a limp, & suffered petit mal epilepsy absence-type seizures. Worse, I grew-in some terribly crooked permanent teeth, & was painfully timid… And that was that. I was marked as an outsider; the kid to be shunned or teased. It didn’t help that due to the chaotic state of Mom & Dad’s marriage & my mom’s emotional fragility, which resulted in a few hospitalizations, that I was the “new kid” in three different schools during kindergarten alone. As I neared adolescence, I felt even more lost & alone. Thank God, one spring evening a feline ally stole into my life like a silver shade & salvaged my fragmented spirit; I was eleven & to this day, even though I know he needed a home as much as I needed a friend, I swear I got the better end of the bargain.

I can close my eyes & see it like it happened yesterday: It was a humid spring evening & I was sitting outside enjoying it with my parents. They were in lawn chairs & not arguing for once. I was sitting on the concrete patio watching moths & bats dogfight through the sulfuric glow of the street light across the street, sweeping my gaze over the oddly orange-tinted lawn, wishing for lightning bugs.  Suddenly, from the gloomy black lip of the emptiness between our storage shed & the neighbor’s ramshackle, overgrown fence materialized a shy, sinuous form, frosted with pink where the street light danced upon it. Our porch light caught its eyes & set them afire as the hesitant animal made its winding way toward my parents’ voices; the eyes flashed wickedly bright, then dark as the creature blinked or turned its head. I was thrilled far beyond words, & sat hugging my bare knees, waiting to see what would saunter out of the gilded night to greet me.

The graceful little wraith came to a halt about fifteen feet away, still cloaked in shadows & its beaming, slit eyes looked more like cracks in a nuclear reactor than living eyes – which gave me a jolt of apprehension…  Until I heard the unmistakable rumble of a cat’s contented purr filtering along the spring breeze. I hurriedly glanced up at Mom & Dad & saw that they were totally oblivious; with their folding lawn chairs angled another direction. I looked back at the cat & reached out a hand. I whispered the only thing I knew to say to a cat: “Here, kitty-kitty.” The cat responded immediately with a throaty, “Mi-aow,” rose fluidly & recommenced its trek toward me through the damp grass, this time with its kinked tail upraised.  My initial anxiety melted away as the cat slipped from the darkness, proffering its vibrating purr before it through the air; reassuring me in the only way it knew that it meant no harm.

CopyrightCarleneGray2012


I’ve been tossing this whole blogging idea around for quite a while & finally decided to just go for it. I suppose we’ll see how it goes! Anyway: welcome!

The stories or happenings I share may not always be lace-trimmed & perfectly well-kept, but consider this a sort of window into a wannabe writer’s mind & memories & future hopes & dreams. I plan to mostly write pieces about pets which have influenced my life, but there have been numerous other animals as well, so things could get a little weird now & then. Really, you just never know what’s going to greet you at GrayHaven Farm… And so the same will hold true for VelcroDogBlog.

My first post is a piece I’m very happy with, both because I just like it & because it’s true. The dog’s name is changed, but the facts of the story are real. The dog currently shares his heart with me & I’m honored to share my home with him. He’s an incredible boy. I look forward to any comments you wish to share.

I hope you enjoy your visit with us; better yet, I hope you’ll become a regular visitor & encourage some friends to join us!

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us (me & my dogs),

Carlene

“Every visit’s a peek inside…”


I met the surrendering owner at the sliding door and gaped in utter astonishment as the gasping, black-masked fawn Boxer anxiously entered the house. I’d been forewarned that Elvis was a “bit overweight.” However, there’s a certain level of beyond-disbelief when over one hundred thirty pounds of morbidly obese Boxer waddles in a vaguely obscene fashion into one’s kitchen. He was so corpulent that he carried ‘saddle bags’ on his hips. His entire body was overwhelmed by flab and upon first glance; I found it impossible to determine his gender. I felt my heart squeeze in compassion for Elvis’s obvious suffering and I struggled to shore up my emotional defenses. I had filled my life with small dogs precisely to avoid the Call I was hearing inside myself from this sad behemoth; how could I guess how much he’d come to mean to me?

I am a Boston terrier person by choice – exhibiting AKC Bostons, plus rescuing and fostering Bostons and other “bully” breeds. Although I had no need of a mega-sized Boxer; something more than concern for the dog’s health yanked my attention back to the wheezing animal time and time again, as I discussed the surrender terms with the overwhelmed owner… While she completed the paperwork, I knelt on the floor before Elvis, squared my shoulders, and met his eyes with a dominant stare. He panted malodorous ‘death breath’ in my face and immediately flicked his eyes away from mine. I whispered nonsense to him and waited for his attention to come around. I stared strongly into his eyes again. He blinked and turned his head away and down, angling his entire body so it became lower, smaller than mine.  I was pleased and told him so, “What a sweet, soft boy you are!” and rubbed his silky cheeks.

The owner’s leave-taking was heart-rending to witness. Again, my eyes were drawn to Elvis. For all his bulk, he sat unobtrusively by the door, quivering and panting madly, ears erect and eyes wide within his shadowy mask. Elvis understood that a Big Change was here. He wanted his Person to give him direction – but she only let her guilty eyes skim over him as she squeezed by him out the door. When she stepped off the porch, Elvis’s breath caught harshly in his chest, not panting for the first time since I’d met him, not breathing at all for several moments, and then suddenly gasping out a single stunned bark as he watched his beloved Person climb into her car and drive away. The pain Elvis breathed into that single hoarse bark spoke of six years of devotion, companionship, and his innate drive to stand steadfastly by those in his charge. Deaf to all consolation, Elvis was a Boxer in mourning.

Within days, I knew I was keeping Elvis. His stoic acceptance of his situation broke my heart – and I wanted to earn his.  I put him on a weight reduction diet that consisted mainly of green beans, mixed with miserly servings of kibble. We went for meandering strolls in the field behind our barns. At the start, it was so difficult for him to navigate the two porch steps that I worried whether I could ever get him healthy. Halfway ‘round the two acre field and Elvis was spent; drool hanging from his chops, his docked tail hanging limp. Very slowly, the excess pounds vanished. As blubber melted away, Elvis breathed easier and walked lighter; he could sit like a normal dog. It was clear he looked forward to our walks, but though obedient, held himself remote from me. Within weeks, the canine could make the trek around the field three or four times, even trotting partway. I nicknamed him “The Hunk,” because he was becoming such a gorgeous dog.

An amazing thing gradually happened: Aloof Elvis noticed me. I observed that instead of just blandly accompanying me on our walks, he began to walk with me, often choosing to walk so close that he brushed my thigh. If I sat to rest, he paused. As summer waned, Elvis sat closer and closer until one evening I found myself propped in the sun warmed grass with an arm draped companionably around the now athletic Boxer, whispering silliness into one Spock-like cropped ear. It twitched and waggled; tickled. Hunk turned his head and focused his soft, deep gaze on mine. He looked at me.

            Two years later…

A flash at the edge of my vision catches my attention and I turn in time to see a large dog streak by my side, galloping flat-out. “There’s my Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love!” I call as he thunders past. His eyes are wide, shining; his ears are pinned back hard; his tongue is flagging out the side of his mouth, and I swear – I swear! – I can see a canine grin of utter joy on my dog’s face. He skids and spins to an untidy stop thirty feet before me, plants his paws, locks his docked tail impishly upright, and awaits my next move. I can see his eyes gleaming with anticipation within his inky mask.

“Come on, Hunk!” I holler at him and clap, crouching down into my own play pose. Immediately, Elvis collects himself and launches. I drop to my knees, spread my arms, and urge him on. As my gorgeous golden dog rockets toward me, I see love and joy beaming from his gaze and wide “Pac-Man” grin. I consider the comfort and companionship he has brought to my life and I wonder who really saved whom?

When Elvis reaches me; when this eighty-nine pound Boxer slews ungainly to a stop within the circle of my arms, he sits and pants his gleeful death-breath in my face. I laugh a bit misty-eyed as I press my forehead to his and rub his ears, his shoulders. I cup his velvety cheeks gently in my palms and look softly into his glowing, coffee-rich eyes…

My Hunk looks back at me.

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