Southeast of Disorder


Living and Dying in Three-Quarter Time
September 23, 2008, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Dog, Galveston, hurricane

There are going to be some good, hardworking people who’ll never recover from Ike. You can recognize them on the street: They’re the ones with the hollow eyes of war survivors.

I just spoke to one while I was walking my dog outside the Holiday Inn in Seguin, Texas. She’s a single woman, middle-aged, and an evacuee from Gilchrist, a small town on the Bolivar Penninsula between Galveston Island and Port Arthur. Gilchrist wasn’t one of the Texas Riviera’s trendy beach communities. It was a country town populated by salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar working folks and farmers. The sum total of Gilchrist’s commercial development comprised a True Value hardware store, a couple of country-and-western bars and a handful of mom-and-pop diners, feed stores and groceries. Ike took almost everything, leaving only a few building shells standing.

Angie, my new friend, lost everything except her dog to Ike. Her house. Her car. Her clothes and furniture. Her job. It’s not like she had a lot to begin with, but she worked hard for what she did have, even after an auto accident last year severed the lower portion of her right leg. Surgeons reattached the leg, but it will never be normal. Through it all, Sophia Loren, Angie’s sweet Rottweiler-Blue Heeler mix, has been her steadfast companion.

Angie and Sophie were separated briefly after they were bussed to a San Antonio shelter when their aging van was washed away by Ike’s rising water. After Katrina and Rita, Texas law was changed to allow people to take their pets with them during mandatory evacuations. Sadly, legislators didn’t deal with what would become of the pets once evacuees reached shelters. A San Antonio animal welfare organization collected all the sheltered evacuees’ pets so they could be cared for properly, but the form the evacuees were required to sign gave the organization the right to place the animals in new homes if the evacuees didn’t reclaim them within 10 days.

When Angie’s head quit spinning, she read the fine print. She left the shelter, got a rental car through her auto insurance company, and headed for a motel that accepted pets. The expense, she said, is about to kill her, but she’ll manage as long as she has Sophie.

FEMA still has not approved Angie for temporary housing assistance. They need her to fax them proof she actually rented the now-destroyed “cabin” (her term) she occupied before Ike vented his fury all over the upper Texas Gulf Coast. She didn’t think to take utility bills with her when she left, and now she’s sure they’re scattered all over a narrow strip of land that’s still soggy nearly two weeks after a 15-foot wall of water wiped most life from its surface.

Someone from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office called Angie’s room this morning, she said. They wanted to know what they could do to help. “I didn’t even know what to tell them,” she told me, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Where was I supposed to start? I told them about my dog. I’m not giving up my dog.”

Sophie jumped up and licked my face. I wouldn’t give her up, either.

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Call Me Bwana
February 2, 2008, 8:49 pm
Filed under: Dog | Tags: , , , , ,

jlpstick.jpg“Don’t even think about it!”

Even before the words were out of my mouth, ears pasted themselves to neck and Dog was under the sofa, all staccato fur and scurrying claws. To this day, I haven’t figured out how he dragged that gnu under there with him, but I can tell you gnus shouldn’t be under sofas. They dislike confining, dark spaces almost as much as they dislike being wrestled to the ground by their throats. Not that Dog cared. He had captured the gnu fair and square, and he was keeping it.

“All right. I bow before the prowess of the great hunter,” I admitted as I flopped on the floor, prepared to haul Dog, the gnu and whatever else was under the furniture out by force if necessary. “The gnu is yours. Now please bring it out from under the couch.”

Two glittering eyes peered from the dark slit between the sofa and the floor. “Wildebeest,” he said.

“Wildebeest?”

“It’s a wildebeest,” he answered. “I’m surprised you didn’t recognize it.”

“Whatever. Just bring it out from under the couch.”

Dog inched his way out of the wilderness den without any sort of ungulate mammal in tow and shook himself vigorously.

“Wildegnu,” I reminded him sternly, pointing toward the bowels of the jungle. He cocked his head and observed me quizzically. “It’s a compromise,” I explained.

“Hey, I’m all about compromise — but it’s a wildebeest,” he insisted. “And it’s staying where it is.”

At great risk to my personal safety, I took a deep breath, reached into the Great Unknown, tentatively felt around until my hand brushed damp fur, and drew forth a lifeless body. Bits of popcorn and corn chips and great masses of Chihuahua fur clung to the battered corpse. “Jeez. You’ve shed a whole ‘nother dog this winter. Ew.”

Dog sniffed the carcass cautiously, then made a move to snatch it in his teeth and disappear again.

“Nope. Sorry,” I told him, whipping it out of reach just before the jaws of death clamped shut on the poor creature’s head. “The wildegnu is not going back under the couch.”

Two diminutive forepaws perched on my knee as Dog’s eyes narrowed disdainfully. Little tan brows added a dimension of malevolence to the expression on his dark face. “Oh, so that’s the way you want to play it, eh? Well, the next time you’re beset by a herd of wildebeests, don’t come crying to me.”

“Are we expecting bands of rogue wildebeests to rampage through the neighborhood soon?”

“You can’t be too careful,” he warned. “They’re treacherous. Just when you least expect it, they’ll sneak up behind you and stampede.”

I had trouble imagining a herd of any sort of hoofed animals sneaking up behind me on a hardwood floor, but I filed the warning for future reference.

“If you want to get technical,” I said, plucking bits of assorted refuse from the limp creature’s tangled fur, “it’s a stuffed squirrel.”

That did it. Dog began pacing agitatedly back and forth between me and the sofa, shaking his little head dejectedly. “All I do for this family, and all you can do is dis my accomplishments,” he whined. It was a strident whine, but it was a whine nonetheless. “You think it’s easy being the chief of security around here? You think I don’t get hoarse sounding the alarm at all hours of the day and night? You think I don’t make sacrifices to ensure you aren’t carried off by gypsies? And all I ask in return is just a little bit of praise for a job well done. Can you do that? No.”

He was winding himself up pretty tightly with record speed. “Just once I’d like to hear a bit of gratitude. ‘My, what a brave fellow you are! You laugh in the face of death with such savoir faire.’ ‘My hero! You saved me from certain doom!’ Do I get any of that? I didn’t have to give up a life of adventure to live in the suburbs and baby-sit you people, you know. I could have been the best in the business, but nooooo. I gave up a life of fame and fortune to slave away protecting a bunch of stingy ingrates who would have been somebody’s lunch by now if not for me….”

I shook the squirrel at him, pinching a spot near the tip of its tail. It let out an alarmed squeak and Dog leapt at it, fangs bared. I tossed it across the room vaguely in the direction of his bed and he ran to subdue it, growling ferociously. It took him a moment to get started because the hardwood floor didn’t provide much purchase for tiny claws, but once on the move he was like a small, hairy bolt of lightning.

The wildegnu barely had skidded to a stop against the bed’s ramparts before Dog pounced on it and gave it a vigorous shake. Satisfied with the kill, he trotted back across the distance and deposited the corpse before me with a great deal of pride in accomplishment.

“There. It’s dead now.”

“My hero!”

He squinted one eye in an annoyed frown. “No need to get snarky.” Just to be sure I got the message, he nipped at my knee. The maneuver wasn’t entirely effective as a scare tactic, because his teeth bounced off denim-covered kneecap harmlessly.

“You’d better save those razor-sharp fangs,” I told him, bending over to plant a kiss on the top of his head. “You never know when you’ll need them again to fend off a herd of marauding suburban wildebeests.”

His tongue planted a quick kiss on the tip of my nose. “You’re welcome,” he said.

“So what else have you concealed under there?” I asked, reaching into the Great Unknown again. I snagged another lump of fur and drew it forth. It was a rabbit. One of its ears was missing, and polyester stuffing oozed from the wound.

“So that’s where Bunny’s been!” The hole on the window seat left by his mysterious disappearance from the guest room had perplexed me for at least two weeks. There was no telling where the amputated appendage was, but at least I could give the majority of Bunny’s remains a decent burial. I resolved to say a few solemn words over him before ceremoniously depositing him in the trash.

“You can have that one,” Dog said, his tone unmistakably indifferent. “It wasn’t much of a challenge. Who knew badgers were such wimps?”

“That one, too,” he allowed as I dug out a porcine gray cat with leather ears. “The only reason to hunt lions is for the chase. They aren’t very tasty.”

“Such a discerning palate for wild game really is wasted around here, isn’t it?” I asked.

Dog ignored the sarcasm and sighed. “You know, it really is. But I deal.”

Next to emerge from the heart of darkness was a rawhide Chewgar. Before I saw him move, Dog had it in his teeth and was on top of the sofa determinedly poking it between the arm and one of the seat cushions. He scooted a throw pillow over the site with his nose, and just to make sure I couldn’t retrieve the prize, he planted himself firmly atop the grave and glared at me.

“OK — that doesn’t belong there,” I told him, dragging myself up from the floor and reaching for the pillow upon which he was ensconced. “Hand it over.”

“Surely you jest. You hide your valuables in the sofa.”

“If you mean the loose change I’m forever digging out of there, that’s more of an escape attempt on its part than an intentional incarceration on mine,” I explained.

“Back off, sister,” he warned, baring his teeth just in case I attempted to ignore him.

I flipped pillow, Dog and an unexpected cloud of dust in one swift move as my hand dove into the pit and captured the Chewgar.

“Hey! Give it back!” He bounced off the sofa and began energetically springing into the air to reclaim the trophy. “You can’t just steal someone’s dinosaur bone!”

“Dignity, thy name is Chihuahua,” I observed with a grin as I held the artifact just beyond his reach.

That stopped him. He ceased bouncing and sat with an embarrassed harrumph.

“All right, keep it then,” he said presently, popping to his feet and trotting away with a dismissive toss of his head. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you when that T. Rex’s mate comes looking for the missing father of her children.”



A Conversation With Dog
October 2, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Dog | Tags: , ,

“So how’s what’s-his-name?” my brother asked. Even through the phone he sounded distracted.

“What’s-his-name? You mean my significant other?” I asked.

“No, no. Not Crabby. The little one — you know, uh…. Oh, the Mexican hairless!” he finally spat out in exasperation.

It’s usually a bad idea to take a big swig of liquid while talking to my brother. Some of the iced tea ended up on my shirt, and some ended up across the room. “Did you just say ‘Mexican hairless’?” I couldn’t suppress a chuckle.

jlpbandito2.jpg Dog raised his head from the couch, his ears standing at attention and displeasure in his eyes.

“You know who I mean,” Brother informed me sternly. “That little dog thing you have. Never mind. I don’t care anyway. Gotta go. Bye.”

“‘Mexican hairless’?” Dog asked, cocking his head and raising one eyebrow. “What kind of thing is that to say?”

“It’s an antiquated term for Chihuahua,” I told him.

“It’s rude,” he said, scowling. “Clearly it’s incorrect, and it’s ethnically insensitive.”

“Of course it’s incorrect,” I began blithely. “Wait a sec…. Did you just say ‘ethnically insensitive’?”

“I did,” he replied. “That sort of language is what leads to profiling.”

“Aw c’mon,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Let’s not start this. Surely you’re not going to tell me profiling is a problem for you. The only thing you’ve ever been ‘profiled’ as is small and cute.”

He sat up tensely. “And yappy and nervous and ill-tempered and helpless and foo-foo….”

“I am well aware of the power of words,” I interrupted. It wasn’t the first time we’d had this discussion. “But the only way they can hurt you is if you let them. Their power is all in your head.”

“Hmph,” he snorted. “And I suppose ‘Mexican hairless’ doesn’t carry any baggage.”

“I said it was antiquated,” I responded peevishly. “That means hardly anyone ever uses it.”

Dog was not to be swayed. “Next thing you know, he’ll be insisting I get a green card, mow his lawn and have myself neutered.” He shook himself from end to end to resettle his fur, jangling his tags in the process. “I’m not even from Mexico! I was born in Conroe.”

“You speak Spanish.”

Un pocotito.

“You’re not helping your argument,” I told him.

“Besides, we perform a vital function in this country,” he continued. “We do the jobs other dogs don’t want to do.”

“I realize it must be a terrible strain on you to be peppy, portable and precious at all times,” I said, “but I assure you, The Man appreciates your sacrifice. Besides, it’s not like your civil rights are in jeopardy.”

“Hmph,” he repeated. “Let my people go.”

“This people is going into the other room if you’re going to be such a sourpuss.”

“I’m just sayin’,” he continued. “We’ve been stereotyped for generations, and it’s about time that sort of behavior stopped — before things get ugly.”

jlpbandito_100207.jpgI was only vaguely disquieted by the suggestion, but I had to ask, “Ugly?”

He curled one side of his upper lip so just the tip of one fang showed. The sudden image of a pack of tiny canine guerillas clad in bandoliers and serapes flashed before my mind’s eye.

I sighed. “Okay, then, what would ‘your people’ prefer to be called?”

“Chihuahua-Americans,” he pronounced succinctly, slipping in a sneeze at the end.

“I’m not sure I can get the punctuation right,” I told him. I’ve never been a particularly adept sneezer. “But I’ll spread the word. And what do I get in return?”

“I shouldn’t have to make deals in order to loose the unjust shackles of society’s oppression,” he said, laying his ears flat against his neck and gazing up at me with big, sad Chihuahua-American eyes.

“And I shouldn’t have to feed you homemade treats precisely at 7 p.m. daily, either.”

“You do that because you love me,” he responded, climbing into my lap and licking my wrist.

“Yes, and you should make the deal because you love me, too.” I scratched him behind one diminutive ear. “How ’bout no more scooting under the bed to avoid capture? I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.”

“Even when it’s time for a bath?” he asked, turning his head so I could scratch behind the other ear.

“Especially when it’s time for a bath.”

He stood on his hind legs, placed two tiny front paws on my chest and gazed directly into my eyes for a good, long while. I think he forgot we weren’t playing “Alpha Dog,” because when I spoke it surprised him. “Well?”

“Oh, all right,” he said, a bit miffed. “I’ll do my best to respond positively to the voice of doom. Satisfied?”

“One small concession from Chihuahua-American kind; one giant boon to bad knees,” I replied, grinning and extending one hand. “Shake on it?”

“How ‘bout we seal the deal with a snack instead?” He stretched languorously and then hopped down from the couch and trotted toward the kitchen, his nails making little clicking sounds on the floor as he went. “I’m in the mood for some yogurt.”