I'm kind of a gruff guy but there is one thing that turns me into a big mush. It's snuff films. No, I'm kidding, it's dogs.
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I have two, both black and white whippets. Rudy, my oldest son, is from royal pedigree. His full sister is a past winner of the Westminster Dog Show "Best in Class." He was bred to run or show, and since he has all of his — shall we say — equipment he was highly sought after. Making it even better was Rudy was the pick of the litter. We'd get phone calls from all over the country, and even one from England. One guy from Florida named James was very interested.
"Mr. Murphy, I understand you have the brother of the winning black and white whippet?"
"That be right," I replied, sounding, for some unknown reason, like Fred Sanford.
"I was wondering if you would be interested in flying down and mating your whippet with Daisy, my whippet."
"Wait I second," I said. "You want my boy to come down there to mount your bitch? You smokin' crack, boy?"
He was confused, for some reason. "Well, I just thought that . . .
"You thought wrong, dude. You tell that ho of yours if she want a piece of my boy to get her big ass up here to New York 'cause I got bitches lined up out here waitin' on him."
Flushed with Rudy's popularity, Karen decided to get another black and white whippet. The asking price was $1200. I said no. The breeder dropped it down to $900. I said no. This kept happening until the breeder said she would give him to us. Then she offered to pay for the flight up from North Carolina, too. I should have known.
As soon as we saw Garcia (Karen insisted on the name) we knew he was not like other dogs. To put it kindly, he wasn't going to win any shows any time soon. We made up a few affectionate names that reflected his lot in life: Tardo, Dumbo, Stupid, Dopey, Clumpy, etc. Soon, the barrage of insults got to Karen.
"Don't call him Dopey," she'd say. "It hurts his feelings."
"He's not smart enough to have feelings," I replied.
Garcia grew. Whippets are about 32 pounds. Garcia topped out at 55. Garcia snarled and snapped. We took him to a doggie psychiatrist who cost $150 an hour. "Don't let him sleep in your bed," the guy told us.
We were walking out of the office and I said to Karen, "Are you going to tell him he can't sleep in the bed?"
"No, " she said. "He'll bite me."
Rudy looked at the whole situation with a cynic's eye. The two dogs would fight frequently, and Rudy would use his guile to survive. I figured out years later Rudy would goad Garcia into a fight, and then we would sympathize with Rudy, who played the victim. Then we'd yell at Garcia while Rudy looked hurt except for the smirk on his face.
Slowly, imperceptibly, Tardo, I mean Garcia, got with the program.
The way I have it figured, life will never get better than today. Towards that end, I eat like a king, sleep like a baby, and have as much fun as I can. We treat the dogs the same way. Karen has lush blankets on the couches for them. They get fresh meat for dinner. They run around the yard and play.
Eventually, he realized life was pretty good, and all the growling and the biting was a reaction to some far-away nightmare, some terrible experience he survived as a puppy. The fear of more torment made him suspicious and scared. He would strike out before being struck again.
He got really sick about a month ago. He was shivering, and coughing profusely. The vet took x-rays. His lungs were cloudy with pneumonia, but there was something more, a mass in the upper left that looked like a tumor.
His blood work came back normal. I'm not a doctor, but in the absence of an infection and an elevated white cell count it probably meant the tumor-like mass was the real thing.
He took two kinds of antibiotics. Two weeks later he rebounded and was for a few precious days his old self again, running around happily and eating profusely.
Then, a few days ago, a relapse. Coughing. Sneezing. Lethargic.
It was a terrifying development, because if the antibiotics didn't kill what was in him it would confirm my fears that the tumor was so large he was having trouble breathing.
I took him back in. I was evasive to Karen, but she sensed the worst. Rudy was beside himself, watching his brother go out the front door, possibly for the last time.
Ten hours later we still didn't know what was wrong, but there were new x-rays. I spotted his left lung on the screen as soon as I walked in the room. The mass was gone. His lungs were clear.
I brought him home. Rudy was running around like a lunatic, jumping on everybody and everything. Garcia happily ate kibble and sucked down water. Then he took a long snooze on the couch in his velvet blankie while I cooked us up a steak.
I got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water (OK it was vodka) and I saw him in his mother's arms, his head on her breasts. He was sound asleep with a smile on his face.
Maybe he's not so dumb after all. Dumbo, it seems, has allergies.
Kids. It's always something.