On loving and loathing
Weekly prompt: Write a character sketch of a person you have known well but have very mixed feelings about. You like them and you loathe them. You are attracted to them, but they annoy you. You keep hanging out with them, but you don’t really like them.
Isaac is a purebred American Beagle. My then coworker, now husband, Patrick bought Isaac as a tiny puppy. He was all ears and big eyes and soft fur. There was no indication at that young age that he would grow into an asshole.
The first time I dog-sat Isaac, he was eight months old. This was Patrick’s first trip since getting Isaac, and Isaac had never stayed at another house before. Isaac came to my apartment and I set up his plastic travel kennel right next to my dog’s crate. I introduced the two dogs, they played well together. I put them in their respective crates and left for work.
At lunch I came home. When I got out of my car, I could hear manic screaming coming from somewhere in the apartment complex. As I walked across the parking lot, I realized it was coming from my apartment! Patrick’s dog was screaming like he was in danger for his life. I ran into my apartment to see what was wrong, and was immediately knocked back on my ass from the stench of dog shit. This fucking dog had shit in his crate, rolled in it, smeared it on the walls, threw some of it onto the floor outside his bars, and started screaming like he was being water boarded with it.
I spent the remainder of my lunch hour fumigating a plastic kennel, a howling beagle, and a shit covered floor. When Patrick got home from his trip I slammed the leash into his hand and swore I would never watch that goddamned dog for him again.
But of course I did.
Several years, and two children later, Patrick had to leave town unexpectedly for his uncle’s funeral. My boys were absolutely smitten with Isaac; who patiently let them tug his ears and use him for a pillow, who brought his own chew-toys over to the boys when they were teething, who guarded the stairs so my toddlers wouldn’t fall, and who licked their faces clean after every meal (producing squeals of delight from the boys). The surest way to a mother’s heart is through her children, and Isaac had won mine.
So when Patrick had to suddenly go away, I decided to bring Isaac to my house to be with us for a few days. He was five or six years old by now, a calmer and less-anxious dog. Besides, the boys would love it, and I’d be helping Patrick out. I knew my then-husband wasn’t crazy about the idea of having a fur-shedding beagle in the house, but I promised to vacuum every five minutes and I even threw Isaac’s dog bed into my front loading washing machine to get rid of any dog smell before my husband came home from work. I had it all planned out.
The 2-hour long wash cycle ended and I swung open the washer door to transfer the dog bed to the dryer. As I looked back into the washing machine, I noticed the tub was covered in fur an inch thick and it smelled like wet dog and fabric softener. Surely there hadn’t been that much fur on the dog bed! I removed over a dozen fistfuls of wet dog hair from the washing machine. Yet the smell persisted. Wash after wash, the smell wouldn’t go away. I ran a couple of towels through the wash and they came back covered with fur! Where was this fur coming from? After a quick Google, I learned that front loading washing machines are the female of the species. And like all females, they have lady parts. Google told me where they were on my model, and I reached in and pulled back the rubber lip of my washing machine’s vagina. A hairy, furry, 70s porn vagina. Hairy with Isaac fur. It took seven more wash cycles to be rid of the fur and again I vowed to never dog sit this asshole again.
I got a divorce and Patrick and I moved in together. Isaac came too.
I learned what living full time with Isaac was like. He was incorrigible. He’d lick a pork butt that was resting on the counter or sneak into the guest room and eat dirty panties or bras from our guest’s luggage. He snored so loudly we couldn’t hear the TV and refused to learn, despite dozens of lessons, where the pool steps were. He was neurotic and dramatic, squealing if you nicked his toe under your shoe. He’d snatch sandwiches right out of the boys’ hands and eat the rest of MY dog’s food while she was still chewing her first bite. He drove me crazy.
Like all hound dogs, Isaac lived by his nose. He would catch a scent and chase it to the ends of the earth. Our world is full of interesting scents that we sight-dominant humans cannot begin to understand. Outside every door was something far more fascinating than anything inside our walls could ever be. And Isaac was infinitely curious. He wanted to bolt out there at every opportunity. He was sure some of those smells led to food. He just knew it. We could never open a door without holding on to Isaac’s collar, or yelling to the kids, “Watch Isaac!” I never knew doors could be so anxiety-inducing until Isaac lived with us. Our yard is not fenced in, but we had a 50’ lead out back that he could run around on.
But Isaac was fiercely loyal and he protected his family at any cost. Isaac hated water and could not understand why the rest of us loved swimming in our pool. It was fine when Patrick or I was swimming, he’d just pace nervously. But if either of my boys were swimming, Isaac’s protective streak would come out and he would bark and howl, until Patrick and I came out and saved the boys from their no doubt imminent death from the monstrous pool. Beagles are born hunting dogs, and despite his suburban upbringing, Isaac had those same instincts. When we put him on the long lead in the backyard, he’d run full speed at any trespassing Sandhill crane or deer until he was yanked back by the neck so hard he would barrel-roll ten feet before he stopped and took off again. He protected his yard, his house, and most of all, he protected his family. We had a bear problem in our neighborhood, and Patrick always said that if the situation ever came up where the boys were playing outside and a bear started chasing them, the first thing he would do is let Isaac off his leash. Isaac would bolt head long at a charging bear to protect his boys. He would give his life for his family.
I lived with Isaac for four years before he went away. In that time, he eventually got used to the baths he hated and the brushing he loathed. He’d sit forlornly as I brushed away tumbleweeds of fur. I was diligent about keeping him as dander-free as I could. See, I was severely allergic to Isaac. Two years after living with him I was hospitalized with a severe sinus infection that was exacerbated by the constant swelling in my sinuses from the allergies. I had surgeries and post-op infections, and put up with all of it. But then my youngest son started showing the same symptoms of being allergic to Isaac. The threat of another surgery for me was one thing, but not for my son. Isaac had no idea, but he was hurting his family. If he had known, he would have been horrified. As our sinuses swelled, this time from tears, Patrick and I made a decision no dog owner ever wants to make for their 12-year old dog.
We had to find Isaac a new home.
The two ladies from the beagle rescue called “Senior Hounds Abound” lectured me about treating my dog like he’s disposable and told my husband he should find a new girl instead of give up his dog. I didn’t tell them about the PICC lines and the ICU and the months of antibiotics and pain. I just thanked them for the wonderful thing they did and swallowed back tears I didn’t expect, the heartbreak of my favorite asshole being gone from my life. I knelt down, nose-to-nose with this rascally, loyal, protective, beautiful beagle and kissed his snout. Betraying him in a way he would never betray us. He winked at me, a coincidence that felt too real to be an accident and I sobbed. I’d no longer worry about my undies, or my pork butt, or open doors, or allergies. Thank goodness I could give the vacuum a rest and stop ODing on Benadryl. Isaac was an asshole. I miss him so much.