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Our dog won't retire.


"All of the dogs who live inAmerica have had their work taken away,' a leading obedience trainer says. "They no longer herd. They don't pull sleds. They are unemployed.'

That being the case, certainly a dog10 years of age (supposedly equivalent to 70 human years) should be all the more content to hang up his collar and call it quits. Time he began bringing his so-called master his slippers instead of running off with the man's shoe and burying it under the lilac bush. Time he spent his declining years lying at his master's feet and dreaming of that flirtatious Chihuahua that lived next door to our apartment in Indianapolis. Or perhaps those exciting winter mornings when he would close the front door on old lord and master, outside in his pajamas to pick up the Indianapolis Star. Time, at least, he gave lord and master a few minutes to meditate on the well-formed blonde who owned the Chihuahua next door.

Giving Brutus the benefit of thedoubt, we may have to take some of the blame for moving from that apartment to these 13 hilltop "achers' at Freedom, Indiana. After years of confinement, Brutus seemingly can't do enough to show his appreciation for being sprung.

Thanks to his industrious diggingin the garden for moles, he has relieved me of much of the drudgery of hoeing--he digs up plants, roots and all. By electing to take his siestas in the cool of the flower beds, he has equally relieved Lois--there isn't much she can do for a flat flower. Mulching the lawn with organic matter, which includes cow skulls, chicken carcasses, and choice bits from the trash burner, is another duty Brutus has accepted without prompting. And then there's the way he protects our home from strangers by planting both feet on their shoulders and trying to slobber them to death.

Foolishly, we had thought ourmornings of heaving ourselves out of the sack at 5:45 were over. Brutus, however, concerned we have forgotten to set the alarm, begins to call attention to our oversight at 5:30 sharp. A believer in the adage "If at first you don't succeed,' his volume increases until, by 6:00, he's into decibels that penetrate both the bed covers and the pillow now covering the master's head. Lois, only recently afflicted with an early-morning hearing problem, doesn't miss a snore.

With visions of Brutus by nowstanding on crossed legs and chewing on the doorknob, I leave the snug refuge of the bed, whack my knee on the glass top of the coffee table (a tradition), perhaps step barefoot on a T-bone or a cat-food can he sneaked in the night before, and turn him loose. It is little consolation in the pale light of dawn to observe that his urgency has nothing to do with his favorite tree. Instead, it's either to chase Flaky, Lois' cat, up a clothesline post or to dash over and wake up Gail Abrell's rooster, in case it has overslept.

Having read that older people requirefewer calories than the gung-ho generation, I had thought this would apply to older dogs as well. In fact, our reduced food budget called for us to eat less and for Brutus to live pretty much off the land--by bagging a moose, a deer, or the neighbors' chickens, in season--with maybe a few orts (as the crossword-puzzle people label table scraps) for dessert.

However, whether it's the early-morningrising or the extra exercise I get from replanting the garden, picking up the litter on the lawn, and dashing out to unplant Brutus' big feet from the shoulders of strangers, I am eating more than I ever did in the apartment. As for that dog, the closest he comes to living off the land is stealing eggs out of the neighbors' chicken coops. We are now buying dry dog food by the 50-pound sack and canned dog food by the case. He also makes sure that the cat's dish and her milk saucer are kept clean. We make restitution for the neighbors' eggs once a week.

Ignoring the weight--at least 40pounds--of her female Garfield cat, Snowflake (or Flaky, as I have nicknamed the spoiled beast), Lois had the audacity to remark, "Your dog is getting fat. From now on it's dry dog food only!'

For my rebuttal, I had only to remindher of Cookie, the dog we had acquired in Florida while I was seeking my fortune as a free-lance writer. I had done so well that at one point our larder was reduced to a barrel of home-canned peaches, the last of our estate shipped down from Michigan.

"A dog that won't eat cannedpeaches can't be very hungry,' we kept telling ourselves. But on the third day of this fare, after tying Cookie to the back bumper and walking into town, we returned to find that Cookie had somehow discovered that the trailer was made of some sort of edible composition. He had edibled a hole big enough to crawl through and was contentedly dozing on our bed.

Another thing--our meals herewere to be casual, leisurely, even candlelight affairs upon occasion. But Brutus has little patience when it comes to waiting for his orts. And for all the miracles that compose the human anatomy, the digestive system refuses to function efficiently with an impatient mastiff drooling at the diner's elbow.

We tried exiling himto the outside during mealtime; he stared at us accusingly through the window. We pulled the shade; he scratched on the door. We tied him to the elm tree; he cut loose with howling that brought the neighbors. We untied him and gave him a bone; he dug out the last of my radishes and buried them again in the garden. He was back scratching on the door before I could regain my seat at the table.

Synchronizing hismealtime with ours proved equally brilliant. Somewhere in Brutus' roots there must be a tad of hamster blood that allows him to store food in a pouch: Not even a dog his size can ingest food and be back at my elbow that fast. It wouldn't make any difference if he had just bagged a moose; he begins the pitiful moan that can only be interpreted as "Just a crust, master-- please don't let your faithful old dog starve to death in this land of plenty.'

When this fails, his next intonementis even more definite: "Come on, fatso, just one little bite of that hamburger, that's all I'm asking . . . help! . . . HElp! . . . HELP!' To spare the neighbors another trip, I give him the rest of my hamburger and blow out the candles, and another quiet dinner is shot down.

Our dreams of long, leisurely eveningshave fared no better. With the kids safely flown from the nest, we had thought our nights of waiting up and worrying were over. We had taken for granted that at age 70 Brutus' romantic rompings would be on the wane, if not waned altogether. Instead, he seems to be just hitting his stride.

At first, we sat up and waited andworried. Then we got smart and didn't let him out in the evening. That worked fine until we went to bed. When the wailing began carrying to the Abrells', I got out of bed and led him outside. One night I tried tying him to the clothesline; this cost us a new clothesline. Then I tied him to the clothesline post; this cost me the effort of not only resetting the clothesline post but also replacing the trash burner, which was wiped out when he shot past with the post bouncing along on the end of the rope.

I finally invested in a dog harnessand anchored him to the elm tree. The tree stayed in the ground, but dog harnesses evidently aren't made the way they used to be. We expect to be on the receiving end of a paternity suit any day now.

"Maybe if you can get him tiredout before bedtime,' Lois suggested one night while ensconced safely in bed. So Brutus and I went outside for a few games of Fetch the Ball, or, as we played it, Knock the Master Flat. An hour later, I fell asleep on the sofa while taking off my shoes. Brutus seized the opportunity to curl up on the bed next to Lois. She didn't know the difference until he began licking the cold cream off her face. I never do that.

"Maybe it's just a phase,' wasLois' next bit of encouragement, again from the bed. "And there must be plenty of people who stay up and watch Johnny Carson who don't even have a dog.'

So now I'm watching Carson nightlyand hoping the "phase' will peter out before I do. If Brutus doesn't retire soon, it's back to Indianapolis for us. I was getting more sleep on the job than I'm getting now. Besides, they don't allow dogs in the company cafeteria. And who knows, once back there I may be able to lay up a few cases of dog food for a rainy day.
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Title Annotation:humor
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Mar 1, 1987
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