Best Dog, Worst Dog

She was under a rusted-out Ford pick-up truck that looked as though it had been parked there for decades. Her sister was an ugly black and white Australian blue heeler/Brittany spaniel mix. She wasn’t much prettier.
“Are you sure you want that one?” my future husband asked.
I looked at the black spot on top of her head.
“Yes, and I will call her Mancha,” I said.
“That’s dumb,” he said.
As we thanked the farmer for our free dog, I took the puppy (they’re all cute, aren’t they?) into my lap with only a towel between me and disaster for the next hour’s ride home to Omaha. It was a bonding time. Future hubby drove, while I stroked my new pet, rubbing her behind the ears, on her back, on her black spot on top of her head. She had the longest and softest fur ever.
Fast forward two months. I was teaching full time in Council Bluffs, and in order to keep Tess from destroying my every possession, I created a fenced-in pen in my basement. The poor thing had to stay there for eight hours each day until I got home.
Then after cleaning up her pee and poo, letting her out and feeding her, it was off to the municipal golf course for her extended walk around the perimeter while the golfers laughed at us. Because she was fast. Because she was just ugly enough to be cute, because we were there daily unless it rained.
I lost weight. The walks saw to that. I had a buddy and a watch dog. Tess curled up next to me as I graded 200 papers each night for the next day’s English classes.
Then I noticed my pantyhose were gone, and in my sewing room, the zippers were pulled out of the sewing box and mangled. My record albums, locked in a glass cabinet, were not only out of the cabinet and out of the jackets but also scratched beyond hope. My girl was bored.
I had Trivial Pursuit drinking parties. She’d lie under the table until she cleared the room with one of her farts. I found those missing pantyhose in the yard, now turd-shaped where she’d pooped them out. Sometimes they got stuck, and I had to find a stick on our walks and help pull them out.
I got better about what I left in my laundry basket and what I left anywhere.
Hair scrunchy on the night table? Gone.
Pile of newspapers? Shredded.
Cake on the counter for the potluck dinner? Not completely gone, but one side of it missing. I didn’t have time to make another, so I cut off the doggie side, re-frosted it, and no one was the wiser.
I, myself, skipped the cake that night.
When the neighbor boys sneaked up to my bedroom windows on hot summer nights to peek inside while I was reading my magazines in my nighty, Tess would start with a low growl, until I shut off the light, got up and closed the curtains that prevented the night breezes but also stopped hungry teenaged eyes.
Whenever future husband came over, Tess would greet him the same way, rolling over on her back and peeing. She peed on every rug I owned, not because she wasn’t housebroken, but because she was being submissive to the big man with the deep voice.
Each of us brought a dog to the marriage. Tess was friendlier with our children. She let the kids sit on her. She ate the playdate’s white anklets. The mother would scold me for not stopping her.
“Why did she take off her socks?” I’d say. “Everyone knows Tess will eat them!”
Tess would talk to me. She let me know if I forgot to feed her, or that it was time for her walk, or that she needed some attention. Once she herded me in the back of my knee while I was moving too slowly. That cost me a trip to the ER after I dropped a dozen clay pots and hit my head on the patio.
We got another dog after my husband’s beagle passed away. Penny was a greyhound mix, and by that time, Tess was an old lady. It didn’t work out. Penny knew she was the Alpha dog – bigger, stronger, younger, but Tess wouldn’t let go of her top-dog position. They fought, and Penny drew blood on Tess’s spotted head. I got conflicting advice from trainers and my vet.
“Everyone knows you don’t get two female dogs,” someone finally said.
For the last year of her life, Tess used the front yard, and Penny used the back yard. They could never be alone together.
I took Tess to the vet on a Thursday, and after the appointment, she had diarrhea in front of Long’s drugstore. I got her into the car and went back to clean it up.
“Most people wouldn’t have come back,” a guy said, unsmiling.
The following Monday, Tess couldn’t get up. My kids helped me load her into the car, and I ran her to the vet at 4:30 in the afternoon.
“This dog is suffering,” the vet said. “We need to euthanize her now.”
“But the kids!” I cried.
“Have them come,” The vet said. “I will wait for them.”
My neighbor, Clark, saved the day. He picked them up and brought them to the vet five miles away. They cried. They argued with me. My oldest was hysterical. Tess had been hers for thirteen years.
The vet suggested they each take a lock of hair, which she cut and then taped into a bundle. The kids stepped out of the room as I held my dog while she got the shot and faded away.
It was a sad car ride home. I suggested that the older kids each make a scrapbook about Tess.
By the time their dad got home, the kids’ scrapbooks were done. He hadn’t picked up the phone at work (before cell phones), so he didn’t know. He was unhappy that we hadn’t waited for him.
Tess was the stinkiest, hairiest, ugliest, friendliest, best dog I ever had (no offense, Pepper).

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