For those of you who are regular readers, you’ll remember how heartbroken I was when we suddenly lost my dear companion, Hector, back in August. While the pain isn’t so acute, he has definitely left a hole in our family which shall be forever his. He was the patriarch in our pack for many years.
You may also recall our crazy trip down Interstate 5 to pick up Tank, a humongous black dog who I felt insanely compelled to rescue after seeing pictures of his pitiful condition and reading about his near-death encounters after a bout of double pneumonia and chemical buns. I say “insanely compelled” because as everyone knows I already have a more than full plate with Monkey, my job and another Lab, Electra, but she was so depressed after Hector died it broke my heart even more. So, despite all rational counsel from concerned friends and family, I went ahead anyway.
So here we are on Thanksgiving Day 2013 and my first thought as I blink myself awake from a much-needed long, deep sleep and ask myself what am I thankful for, is that I’m surprisingly thankful for Tank. Why surprising? Well let me explain…
The first time I met Tank, in the parking lot of a truckers’ motel just outside Bakersfield, I thought, “OH MY GOD. He is HUGE!” And he really is. I’m not just saying it. Monkey says we have one Labrador and one cow. I’m often asked if he’s a Newfoundland, not because he has a shaggy coat, but because of his sheer stature. I’ve always felt you should own a dog you can hold back in event of an emergency like say, in the face of a passing dog, and honestly, I just wasn’t sure that I’d be a match for this 95lb heap of black fur and drool.
But I’d made a commitment and a six hour drive, so we sneaked him and Electra into our motel room, feeling guilty about the fact we were flagrantly overlooking the 30lb dog rule – by over 60lbs in Tank’s case. And when I say sneak, there’s really no way to sneak anything as unruly as an untrained giant Lab into a motel with video cameras on every doorway, but still we gave it our best shot until Tank broke free and charged down the corridor. Stressful? No this wasn’t stressful.
The minute we got in the motel room, he tried to pee. And then he barked at everyone he heard walking past our room. Which got Electra barking. So then I had a nervous breakdown and checked myself into a rest home and have been there ever since.
Actually that would have been a pretty good plan, but what I did instead was look out of the window every five minutes to see if the foster “mom” who had dropped Tank off was still in the parking lot. I was debating apologizing profusely and then asking her to take him back home with her. How could I possibly take on a dog who wasn’t house-trained, didn’t know basic commands like “sit” and could take me for a walk anytime he chose? And then I checked out the window again, and instead of her mini van full of kids and dogs, there was a blank space, and excuse my language but I thought to myself, “Shit”.
Here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a crappy motel with Monkey who was starving hungry and two panting, half-crazed dogs, facing a long night before an even longer drive back to the Bay Area. I really must be crazy. There’s no other explanation.
The foster had told me that Tank loved being in a crate, so despite the fact the one I had in my car was the appropriate size for a regular Lab, not a Shetland pony, I decided to stuff Tank into it. He went in willingly and immediately went to sleep in the fetal position, which was the only way he could fit. I put Electra next to him for company and went back inside managing to get a few hours of shut-eye before our journey. Of course, I worried incessantly that he’d get pins and needles for being so cramped, or that something worse would happen, but it didn’t.
The next morning, we fed and watered the hounds and let them take care of business. I discovered that Tank likes to pee while he’s walking. And in case you’re wondering, that means the pee gets sprayed fairly liberally around him – let’s say in a one to two foot radius, and yes, if you’re standing too close, you get the benefit of this shower. Fortunately, this is not the end of his talents.
We made it home and with much trepidation followed him nervously around our home wondering what he’d make of it. We were still unloading the car and I turned around to find he had somehow clambered inside an open car door and was sitting on top of a suitcase as if to say, let’s go!
The next few days I was full of anxious questions. Was he going to pee in the house, or worse? Was he going to eat anything he shouldn’t like the sofa? Would he fit in the bigger crate we had? (Negative.) Would he steal food when we weren’t looking? (Positive.) What would he be like with other dogs we met? Would he come back if I let him off the leash? What would the vet say when he met him? And so on, and on and on…
Life With A Tank
Within the first hour he walks into our sitting room and tries to eat the phone and the remote control. He stares at us whenever we are in the room, in particular he moons at me like he’s deeply in love. And if we don’t pet him, he barks at us. Monkey says to him: “Tank, I love you but I can’t pet you every single second of my life”. And, (there are so many “ands”) if we put him in his crate he barks and barks, and barks. And then somehow he figures out how to get out of his crate. I keep wishing I had a doggie-cam to figure out how, but judging by the buckled metal bars he must just barge the door until it caves under his enormous weight.
Everywhere I go Tank is glued to my calf and he’s a serious trip hazard in the kitchen. He really doesn’t know “sit”, “stay”, “leave it” but it turns out he does know how to steal tomatoes off the vine in the garden and quickly teaches Electra to do the same. Infuriating.
He is also shockingly weak in his rear. I watch him fall over at least five times the first day we have him at home, particularly when he tries to climb a few stairs. It’s heartbreaking to see this big bear of a dog collapse and then struggle to get back up. Again, I question whether I can keep him and call the foster to ask about the falling. “Oh yes!” she says merrily, “He does that all the time, he’s fine! Just keep giving him the glucosamine.” Got it.
And so we embark on a round of training, trying different leash-like devices to help me control him and constantly needing to know where Tank is at all times. It’s like having a gigantic puppy. I wonder if we have fallen into some Alice in Wonderland-type universe.
A few days after his arrival I’m upstairs taking a much-needed soak in the tub and I hear a loud clatter and crash. The perfectly ripe piece of stinky goat cheese I had left on the counter in anticipation of guests had fallen prey to Tank. All that was left was a tiny piece of cellophane and a broken plate. My other Labs would just never ever do anything like this, so I realized I was having to train myself to act differently and give him plenty to chew on.
Slowly but surely we settle into a new rhythm accommodating space in our house (his giant new crate takes over an entire room) and our hearts, for this lumbering, lovable giant. He really does steal your heart. He stares at me for hours – I think he has a savior complex – and when I come downstairs he greets me like the paparazzi spotting Kate Middleton and Prince William. He is just thrilled to bits. Best of all he doesn’t bark when people come to the house. He just stands there wagging his tail. I guess when you’re that big you don’t need to rely on other intimidation tactics.
As he loses more weight, and builds muscle from our regular hill climbs, he gets stronger (good and bad) and his arthritis seems to diminish due to the many supplements and exercise. Now he spins circles on the spot whenever he thinks we are heading out for a walk. He is a quick learner and will sit and ‘leave it’ when being fed, knows to stay out of the kitchen when we are eating and is generally eager to please. Although he wants nothing more than to be close to me, so if I ask him to stay in one spot I will typically turn around to find him slinking right behind me, trying to make himself as small as possible so I won’t notice he’s moved. He’s hilarious.
But he has just one major flaw. There’s no accounting for tastes but he loves to eat leather. He just can’t help it. To-date he has destroyed three baseball gloves, which has elicited major meltdowns from Monkey who lives for his baseball (I came home to this note not long ago), an Ugg, and my leather jacket. It’s infuriating, not to mention expensive. So now, if you come to our house you’ll be advised to put all your leather goods upstairs where he can’t get them.
Despite this, I’m thankful that Tank found his way into our lives. Happy Tanksgiving to you all (sorry, couldn’t resist).