No, Daniel, you cannot take home/care for/nurse/foster this helpless/neglected/lost/injured/abandoned/cute/ugly cat/bird/dog/rabbit/squirrel/raccoon. This is not a good idea.
This has become a personal mantra of mine, mostly because of the frequency with which, historically, I have done any number of these things and subsequently opened a can of worms I intended to leave sealed. These sorts of mottos tend to develop, say, when you find yourself waking up every 2 hours to feed a milky liquid diet from a small medicine dropper to a newly hatched starling, whose temporary habitat you’ve constructed under a heat lamp in an ice bucket you lined with tissues in your kitchen. Do this for an afternoon and you might think to yourself, “Look at me! I have compassion! I care for the weak! Animals are beautiful! Nature is a wonder!” Keep it up for a few days and you find yourself wondering why either you or that damn bird are still alive and breathing, and ruing the day you thought this was a decent or feasible idea.
Maybe it’s just a side-effect of living in New York, but it had been a good couple of years since I’d been presented with the opportunity to really save anything, unless you count a boyfriend who previously subsisted off a diet of fruit and Triscuits or a dog who didn’t need saving, at least in the classical sense of the word, so much as she needed cuddles and a better name (Mekko was previously known as “Cream.”)
This was until about two and a half months ago, when Max and I were walking Mekko down our street and were stopped by a frantic British woman, pushing a stroller in one hand and holding a length of yellow construction rope in the other, tied to which was the creature you see above. I don’t remember exactly how the exchange took place, but evidently she had witnessed the police making a big hullabaloo in downtown Brooklyn, sirens blaring as they cornered a small shaking mess of a dog, such that they could capture him, take him to be euthanized, and restore peace to the troubled region around which he had been terrorizing. Thinking she recognized the dog as a pet who lived on our street, she stepped in and volunteered to take him back to his owner, whose house she was now planted outside of since he didn’t appear to be home.
“Do you recognize this dog?” she asked.
“No, I’m sorry.” I replied.
“Wait,” Max jumped in, “I think that’s the dog who lives here, right? Daniel, isn’t that him?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen this dog before.”
“Well, I already have a dog at home so I can’t take him with me,” the woman sighed, “and I have to get my baby home and I can’t just stand here all day, so I think I’ll just leave him tied to the fence here, and hopefully the owner will walk by and see him?”
This, I realize now, was the moment when I had two choices. The first would have been: “Great, I’m sure that everything will work out. Good day to you, British mommy lady.” And then there’s what I actually said, which was something to the tune of, and I’m paraphrasing here, “oh, we can’t do that! Why don’t you just give him to me and I’ll see if I can’t get this whole situation worked out. Go on your merry way now, nice British mommy lady, you have done your generous duty to the world. Peace be with you.”
Shortly after she walked away, I realized the error of my ways and turned to Max. “We have two dogs now, don’t we,” I said. He shook his head no and smiled, and took Mekko on the rest of her walk while gremlin-dog and I stood on the sidewalk and plotted our next move.
We went to the vet to scan for a microchip but there was none, obviously. I mean, look at him. That is not a dog who has a microchip. They recommended that I call the shelter where we got Mekko, but they were at capacity and refused to take him.
Now, I know that picture above might read as cute and all, but trust—this dog was not cute. This dog was disgusting. This dog was in the worst condition I have ever seen an animal in in my entire life, in the flesh or otherwise. Wet little nose and pink tongue notwithstanding, it would have been difficult to even decipher this being as a dog at all—more like a pungent clump of matted fur with filthy street waste and poop clinging to its peripheries. When you have a weakness for dogs like I do, there’s something intensely heartbreaking about seeing stuff like this.
Too late in the day to take him to be groomed, I did the only thing I could think to do: I took him home, grabbed several pairs of scissors, plopped him down on my bathroom floor, and began a long excavation process that continued for the next seven straight hours.
It occurred to me part of the way through that this was, perhaps, a terrible idea. I knew nothing about this dog, who might not have taken kindly to what I’m sure was a painful and exhausting ordeal, as I had to gently but necessarily pull apart his armor and cut away at it slowly, trying to avoid his pink skin lurking somewhere in its depths. I suppose he could have turned around at any moment and bit me, or unleashed a herd of fleas onto my previously flea-less home, or flinched and caused my inexperienced grooming hands to impale him accidentally.
But none of these things happened. Instead, this little pile of matted fur was kind, and sweet, and seemed to know that something good was happening to him. He seemed to trust me. About halfway through, when his head and the front half of his body were mostly uncovered, he began to lick my face and hands manically, as if suddenly possessed. Little gremlin-dog was becoming unearthed, and he was being super cute about it.
This was during final exams at the end of the semester, shortly before we were leaving for our trip to France, and we were in no position to keep a second dog. He was a sweet dog and all, but—just no. THIS CANNOT HAPPEN.
So I called virtually every no-kill shelter in the state, and nobody would take him. One place, about four hours north, agreed to take a look at him under the condition that I go get him a rabies shot and as long as he was friendly, without “a million health problems” and “not super old,” they would probably take him.
So we went to the vet, where he got his rabies shot and a once-over, where the vet noted his dire need for dental surgery and estimated his age to be between 9 and 11 years old.
As we were leaving the vet, and I was fearing that our single remaining option might be drying up since it turned out he was quite old and did have some significant health problems, I got a call from my amazing friend Anna, who said that her Mommy was willing to take the little dog under foster care for a month. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but it bought us some time to figure something out after Max and I got back from France and solved the very short-term pressures. So the next day Anna and I loaded Fritz, Bruno, and the little dog in the car and went up to Newburgh.
I cannot think of a better possible situation for this dog to have been in. Anna’s mommy (whose name is actually Kristina), is—and I do not exaggerate here—absolutely one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met in my entire life. Added to this, she is also Swedish, incredibly patient and caring, and didn’t complain at all when confronted with a new little animal peeing all over the walls of her house and demanding to sleep on all the furniture. Since Kristina was, thus far, going to be the closest thing this dog had to a permanent owner, we decided she should be the one to name him. After some debate, she chose “Linus,” a name she’d basically been saving since the 60s when she almost used it for her eldest son.
Kristina took amazing care of Linus while we were away, but when we got back we all decided that he really needed to have his dental surgery done (and get neutered at the same time) as soon as possible. And, of course, while we were away Max and I had some thoughts. Maybe we could be a two-dog household after all? It wasn’t so crazy, right? I mean, people do this sort of thing all the time, albeit perhaps not within 6 months of adopting their first dog. But we had grown inordinately attached to Linus in the few days we’d had him before, and it’s not like people were jumping up to take this 10 year old dog with a huge impending vet bill off our hands. And we did just win $5,000, and what better use of that money could there be than a dog fund, right?
So we pulled the trigger, very cautiously, which is why I haven’t posted about Linus until now. As much as we loved him, what if things didn’t work out? What if the dogs didn’t get along, or taking care of both was too intimidating, or Martha Stewart came along and wanted to adopt him?
When I brought Linus home from Kristina’s house the night before his big surgery, Mekko did some exploratory sniffing before looking at me with the deepest look of confusion and sympathy in her eyes. “Wait,” she seemed to say, “come again? You want this thing to actually live with us? And I’m expected to like it? Am I on Candid Camera?”
So Linus went off to surgery, got neutered and ended up having fifteen teeth pulled, and over the coming weeks as we dealt with potty training (again) and learning how to walk two very different dogs at the same time, and trying to get the pickiest little stray rescue dog on the planet to eat some kind of semi-nutritive food, we grew more and more attached and more and more convinced that maybe this whole fucked up plan was OK, after all.
At first, Mekko basically wanted nothing to do with him and decided to approach the change as though he wasn’t there.
But now, I know they’re buddies. They’re actually a great pairing, if a bit unorthodox—they don’t really play, but I think they do calm each other when we leave the apartment, which helps both of them since they’re each a bit separation-anxious. Mekko likes to turn around and wait for Linus to catch up while we’re out walking, and she always lets him steal little bits of food from her big bowl at mealtime.
And the sort-of-almost cuddling between them—it doesn’t get much cuter than that, am I right? I’m right.
And Linus is just the sweetest. He is my little shadow around the apartment and is so absurdly cuddly (Mekko is pretty cuddly, too, so I spend a lot of time cuddling now). Like a very tiny little old man in a lamb costume is how I like to think of him.
So now we have two dogs.