It's a Wiener Dog's Life

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but dogs are ruling the earth.

They’re pets, which are kind of like politically correct slaves, but think about it: We do everything for them, and they do nothing for us. (And before you say, “They do for us! They give us unconditional love, blah blah blah,” stop and think about what you’re saying. They’re dogs. If your dog is your best friend, you’re in trouble.) They get food and shelter provided for them at no cost. Other than the border collies in rural Ireland and the drug sniffing ones, they’re not working at all.

Every week day I walk my dog, Grace, first thing in the morning. My daily routine is to wake up, make a mental note to myself to change my iPhone alarm sound to something nice like Harry Connick Jr. singing to me (and only to me), stumble out of bed, put the coffee on, throw on some clothes, and take Grace for a walk. By the time we head out the front door, I’m just starting to wake up (and I’ve already forgotten about the Harry Connick Jr. alarm idea) so my 20-minute walk with Grace is my chance to think about the day ahead and reflect on stuff, like how can it be so dark and yet feel like I’m standing on the sun? (Honestly, can anybody tell me how I’m supposed to live in South Florida? Are we moving closer to Mercury?) It’s a nice, private quiet time with myself and Grace’s sniffing, snorting sounds.

Many, many mornings I think about dogs, for obvious reasons. My daughter has a way of bringing every topic of conversation down to the nitty gritty, so I pretend I’m her and think, “Why do we keep dogs as pets?” What was the first pet? Was there some cave man who was walking through the woods and saw a dog and thought, “Hmmm. Why don’t I take him home, let him live in the cave with me and Lucy. We’ll get him a collar and serve him his food and take him for walks, pay for expensive surgeries and medical conditions specific to his breed, and in return he’ll lick himself while we’re trying to have dinner.” It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but we were supposed to have evolved a bit since then.

Yesterday, my mind wandered to our first dog. Schnitzel was a gift to us from Don Hanni, who was supreme ruler of the Democratic Party in Mahoning County at a time when my husband was a newspaper reporter and at odds with Don and his vast and all-powerful kingdom. Don Hanni would spend the entire day saying things about my husband that I can’t even print here, and the entire night drinking down at the other end of the bar at The Backstage Lounge. One night they both got so drunk that they stopped arguing and two news items came up in conversation:  Don said his champion dachshund had just had puppies and my husband said he was going to be a dad.

“A little boy needs a dog,” Don slurred. When he got home that night, my husband told me about the conversation and I didn’t for a minute think that we were going to get a dog from Don Hanni.

The next morning, my husband called me from work and said, “I have a dachshund puppy sitting on my desk.” Apparently, Don was more generous than he was given credit for. And he could handle his liquor pretty well.

Schnitzel was a terrible, horrible little dog. He caused a constant state of mayhem in our house. He bit people. And not in that snappy, cute way that some dogs do. We’re talking about little children crying and clutching their hands, blood on our carpet, people leaving for the ER and saying they’re never coming back to our house, stuff like that.  My nephew Zach spent an entire visit standing on the back of our couch. We lived in the upstairs of a duplex on the North Side of Youngstown and from the time Schnitzel came to live with us until I bashed his head in with a - oh, wait, that didn’t actually happen . . . until we gave him away to a lady covered with tattoos who lived in West Virginia (that did actually happen), Schnitzel was as much of a pain in my ass as anything before or since.

He used to eat blankets and poop them out. He ate a gorgeous cashmere throw that my sister bought me for a wedding gift. (Sorry, Reenie. I don’t think I ever told you that.) Ate about half of it and pooped it out over a period of a couple days. It was hardly usable at all. He greeted people at the door by jumping up as high as his 3-centimeter-long legs could fling him, latching onto whatever his teeth could find, and then letting dead weight bring him down with a blouse fragment, a sleeve, some bare skin, whatever.

One time I was walking from the kitchen into the living room with a plate of spaghetti and he tripped me on purpose, sending me and the spaghetti flying in several different directions. That ruined eating in front of the TV for me forever.

His favorite hobby was to get things out of the bathroom waste can and eat them in front of us, dashing away when we tried to grab him/it. We kept the bathroom door closed, but when we had company, they sometimes left the bathroom door open and it was then - with company in the house - that Schnitzel would come running into the center of the living room with a snotty Kleenex, a used tampon, or embarrassing over-the-counter drug packaging.

Once the baby was born, Schnitzel’s purpose in life was realized. He would have done anything for that baby. They often swapped Kibbles N Bits and pacifiers. And he got us both out of a jam, once.

Shortly after the baby was born, we had two scam artists come to the front door, demanding to come in and take the baby’s picture. I had closed the door to our duplex behind me and was standing face-to-face with these two scammers, only a flimsy screen door separating us. They told me I would be a terrible new mother if I passed up the opportunity to let them come into my house and take pictures of my baby. One of them looked exactly like Kenny Loggins and they were driving a convertible sports car, but I still didn’t completely trust them. Schnitzel was doing what he does best and barking like Armageddon was on the other side of that door.  I told the scammers that I had a big, mean dog behind that door and “he doesn’t let anyone come into our house when my husband’s not home.” After they left, I thanked Schnitzel for protecting me and the baby. He pooped out a dish towel, his way of saying, “You’re welcome. Here’s your dish towel back.”

Meanwhile, Don Hanni would see me around town and ask how Schnitzel was doing. I lied and said he was great. Thanks, Don, for the dog. That was really great. After we gave Schnitzel to the West Virginian tattooed lady, Don stopped me downtown one day and said, “I have some bad news. Schnitzel’s mother died.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “I won’t tell him.”

Would I lie to the Don?

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