Now I am definitely not an animal hater. I'd like to get that one straight before proceeding any further. For the most part, I like animals — I really do. When I was a kid, we kept a procession of dogs and cats on the premises, and I was a known cat lover. I adopted every stray that ever wandered onto our property, and this is a mind-set I've carried with me into my middle-aged years. For most of my life I've had a very genial relationship with pets. It's only in the last few years that I've developed something of an adversarial relationship with certain animals. Case in point: my mother-in-law's peek-a-poo, Benjy.
It's hard to picture a more surly, hateful animal than this dog. When my mother-in-law Jane found him, he was wandering the streets of her town, hairy, unkempt and dirty. Jane coaxed him into her car, took him home and fed him. Do you think he was grateful? That he appreciated this kind treatment? Nope, just the opposite. If anyone got near him, he growled. If anyone tried to pet him, he growled. If anyone tried to pick him up, he snapped and then growled. No, this animal was not a fawning example of man's best friend. He seemed to hate everyone and everything, and wanted nothing other than to be fed and left alone.
Jane eventually took him to a pet groomer for washing and trimming. I'd guess that the pet groomer's hospital bill exceeded what he earned for cleaning up Benjy, but anyone who washes dogs for a living has to expect to get bitten occasionally. At any rate, Benjy didn't wash up that great. He was still ugly as a busted blister.
Benjy the dog is a mangy swirl of gray, black and white hair, all plastered on a short, stubby little body. He has a flattened pug face, long drooping ears and a pair of pop eyes that glare at the world in sullen outrage. He's less than five years old, he has all his teeth, and he attempts to use them frequently — whenever someone gets near him.
My relationship with Benjy has always been tumultuous. The first time I met him, shortly after Jane rescued him from the streets, we visited her for Sunday after-church dinner. I spotted him lying on the couch. "Hey woofers. Good boy." I extended my hand to pet him.
Click! His teeth narrowly missed my fingers, and I drew back in alarm. "What the heck's wrong with this dog?"
Jane stuck her head around the kitchen door and smiled at me. "Oh, he's not the most personable dog in the world. He snaps."
"I'll say he snaps. That stupid thing nearly took my pinkie off."
Jane dried her hands on a flowery towel and walked into the living room. "Poor Benjy. He's had a rough time of it, haven't you baby?" She stroked his head. He rumbled a warning growl and glared at her out of the corners of his protuberant eyes. "He's a little biter, aren't you fella?"
"Yeah, I can see he's a biter. I hope you've had a tetanus shot lately, cause that thing is about to take your hand off."
Benjy snapped churlishly at Jane's hand, his little razor teeth barely missing her fingers. "He was obviously mistreated by his former owner," she said. "I think he can be gentled."
I looked at him. Now that Jane has stopped stroking him, he settled down on the couch, curled up in a hairy little ball, his angry pop-eyes watching every move we made. "You'll need a whip and a chair to tame that thing."
After that, I stayed as far away from Benjy as possible. I didn't like him, and he obviously didn't like me — or anyone else. He bit a couple of our grandchildren, and although the bites weren't bad, I was all for finding him a home at the nearest dog pound. I was overruled, so Benjy remained, an angry little comet circling the cosmos of our family unit.
Jane, my wife Ann and my daughter Mary decided to make a trip Up North to Ohio to visit Jerry, Ann's brother. As the person who was staying behind, I was elected to baby-sit Benjy. I immediately rebelled.
"I can't keep that dog. He hates me." I was determined to stand my ground.
Jane shook her head. "He hates everybody. He hasn't singled you out for any special attention."
"Why do I have to take care of him?" I whined. "I'm gonna get bitten, I know it. It's not fair!"
"Don't be a baby. He's just a little dog." "Yeah, you could say he's a little dog. You could also say he's a hateful, vicious, biting little dog. If that thing was the size of a German Shepherd, there'd be bodies everywhere."
"Don't be such a complainer. He's not going to hurt you."
And so Benjy the dog was left in my care for a week while everyone else went Up North to play and have fun. I stood on the porch beside Benjy and watched them drive off. When they were out of sight, I looked down at him. "Come on, stupe. I'll give you some food, then you're going back outside." I opened the door and he strutted in like a pint-sized canine prince, his head high, his plush tail curled over his backside. As I prepared a bowl of dry dog food for him, I looked across the kitchen. Benjy was standing beside the garbage can, one leg hiked, spraying the can like a mini fire truck.
"Out! Out!" I opened the door, walked over to him and pushed him with the side of my foot. He snarled at me. "Give it up, bud," I said. "You're not scaring me with that growling business. You've just earned yourself a week outside."
I took a broom and swept him outside. He snapped and growled, but I was unrelenting. Benjy the dog had guaranteed himself a week of healthy outdoors life.
Every morning was the same. I'd open the door with his water bowl and food bowl balanced carefully in one hand, the other holding the door open. Benjy would always be standing right outside the door, and he always attempted to rush past me to get in the kitchen. I'd fend him off, pushing him with one foot and yelling at him all the while. I must have looked like some crazy overweight circus act, dog food and water in one hand, the other on the door, balanced on one foot while I battled with the other to keep Benjy outside.
Except for meal time, I ignored Benjy. I'd occasionally find him barking at one of our cats, or a bird, or anything else living he could find to annoy. One afternoon he barked incessantly for over an hour, and his high-pitched yapping finally roused me up from my siesta. "Damned dog," I muttered as I heaved myself up from the couch and walked outside. Benjy had gotten himself up on our backyard picnic table and was unable to get down. Hmmm. Now this presented some possibilities. I could leave him on the table, take his meals out to him, and never worry about having him underfoot. On the other hand, he'd wind up peeing and pooping all over my picnic table. I sighed. It was a good idea, just not practical. He'd have to come down. I walked out to the picnic table.
"Come on, stupe. Let's get you off this table." I reached out to scoop him up in my hands.
ROWWWW! He just barely missed my hand. I stepped back. "Ok bud, you just stay up there. We'll see if several days of living on that table will fix your temperament up some."
Sometime in the night Benjy got himself down from the picnic table. The next few days passed, with us circling each other warily, each mindful of the other's territory. He peed all over my roses, and I shot him with the water hose, which he absolutely hated. He dug up my flowerbeds and left enormous doggie dumps all over the yard for me to step in. I was perplexed: I just couldn't figure out how a dog so small could leave such a huge pile.
When Jane finally got back, I was more relieved to see her than at any time in my life. As I watched her drive off with Benjy in the back, I felt a true sense of gratitude that I didn't own him. "Bye Benjy, you little bastard," I called as I waved cheerily from the back porch.
"Basil!" Ann pinched me on the arm. "Stop it."
As luck would have it, Jane recently decided to make another trip Up North again, and wanted us to keep Benjy for her. I didn't want to do it, but at least this time I'd have Ann with me to help keep an eye on him, so once again Benjy was an unwelcome houseguest. This morning as I was having coffee on the back porch, I felt a warm trickle down my ankle. I looked down. Benjy was standing, one leg lifted, blissfully relieving himself on my foot. "You buggar!" I kicked out at him and he snapped at me, barely missing my toes. Ann practically collapsed with laughter. I looked at her. "Yeah, yeah, very funny. Let him piss on your leg, and we'll see how much you laugh." As I hosed my foot off I plotted my revenge. Did I mention how much Benjy absolutely hates to get wet? I'll wait until he's taking his afternoon nap in the shade, then I'll sneak out in the back yard armed with the water hose, and give old Benjy a 'rude awakening.' He'll wake up thinking it's the second coming of Noah's flood. Ladies and gentlemen, the war is on again.