If you’re ever at the beach and it rains to beat all for days, do not go to the local dog pound to pet puppies. Just don’t.
Years ago, our week at the Outer Banks was dark and stormy. Rain pelted the beach more days than not. We’d done all the indoor things that could be done: explored the mall, watched “The Rugrats Movie,” visited several seashell shops.
We weren’t in the market for a pet right then. In fact, we were on the tail end of mourning the loss of our seven-year-old Beagle. Lacy June Bug Lulu Bell perished due to her affection for trash-picking.
Man, was the house quiet without her strident hunting howl. Boy, did I miss the way she sneaked one paw, then another, then all of her, onto the sofa while Tony Bear and I watched “ER.”
The plan had been to spend the last rainy morning of our vacation at the Manteo animal shelter, petting puppies and kittens. An hour later, though, I was writing a check and signing forms. Swearing we’d be awesome animal owners to darling twin pups when we returned to West Virginia. The shelter staff even phoned our vet back home. He testified that we were excellent pet owners and promised the pups would get shot and spayed at the appropriate times.
On the car ride home, our daughters decided to name the dogs Seashell and Suntan Lotion. I gently suggested different names.
“This one’ll be Daisy, because she’s white and yellow. That one’ll be Little Paint, because her tail looks like someone dipped it in a bucket of black paint.”
Out in our yard, the invisible fence that had worked most of the time for Lacy rarely worked for Daisy and Little Paint. They soon figured out the brief, bright pain in their necks was lessened, or at least abbreviated, by speed. They’d fold their young, long legs beneath their deep ribcages and explode. Zero to 15 miles per hour, just like that.
My husband fixed them. He and his father built a 5-foot-by-40-foot dog run on one side of our property, attaching it, with permission, to the neighbors’ chain-link fence.
For a week or two, the girl pups seemed robbed of their joie de vivre. Whenever my daughters called me outside to push them on the swings, the dogs stared at me through the fence with unblinking, Milk Dud eyes.
I wasn’t a dog whisperer, but I knew what they were thinking. Just like Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch,” they begged to know one thing: why?
And then Daisy and Little Paint fixed us. They began climbing over, digging under or chewing through their dog run. Or, if there was nothing but toddler between them and a screen door, the child was sacrificed for the greater good: the wild blue yonder.
Scrapes, contusions and high-pitched wails of “No, doggies, no!” were ignored. In fact, sometimes the dogs stopped smack dab in the middle of the street to glance back at us. Daring us to try to catch them.
Their blue-black, rickrack gums flapped. Their tongues hung to one side like strips of warm, strawberry taffy. Their eyes seemed to boast, “Looky! Looky! Look at me! I’m a doggy that’s now free!”
An hour or two later, the phone would ring. “Is this Daisy and Little Paint’s owner?”
A serrated tone often clung to a caller’s voice. I pictured one hand on his or her hip, the pointer finger on their other hand wagging. “I have your dogs. Can you please come and get them, like, right now because I’m fixin’ to go to the mall any minute. And another thing, you shouldn’t ...”
I never defended myself, never blamed the dogs or my kids. I simply drove down the hill, or one neighborhood over, and fetched the pups. Murmuring under my breath, “Next time it’s raining at the beach, when we visit the animal shelter, we’re going to pet kittens.”