Copyright is held by the author.
WHEN I thought ahead to my retirement I always envisioned days of leisure and relaxation. I pictured myself spending sunny mornings on the golf course, lazy afternoons in the backyard hammock, and comfortable evenings in my man-cave. No more stress, no deadlines, no responsibilities.
Well, that day finally arrived. It was my retirement party, organized by my wife, Debbie. My friends and colleagues were there, offering their congratulations and best wishes. Speeches were made, toasts were proposed, and gifts were opened, for which I was very grateful. It was a wonderful evening, until I received my gift from Deb.
I can still picture it. She was cradling something in her arms as she approached me. With a big smile Debbie opened up her arms and showed me my wet-nosed, tail wagging gift — a beastly little puppy.
“Happy retirement, Larry,” she said to me. “Isn’t he cute? His name is Latte. He’s a Shih Tzu.”
“Shits who?” I asked. I was definitely not impressed but tried to hide my apprehension from my wife. “And what’s his name again? Latte?”
“Yes, Latte, like the coffee. It’s the colour of his fur, don’t you think? And it’s Shih Tzu. That’s his breed, silly. Oh, he’s so cute.”
“Yeah, he’s real cute all right.” I looked at the wiggling ball of fur. “Which end is which? And what do I need a dog for?”
“Well, I thought now that you’re retired you two can go for walks together, get some exercise, you know, be best buddies. Don’t you just love him?”
I took a closer look. “Are you sure he’s a dog? Looks more like a guinea pig to me.”
Debbie placed the puppy into my reluctant arms. “Here, hold your new best friend,” she said. The dog immediately growled — not a good sign. “See, he likes you, Larry.”
I cradled my new gift in my arms and the fur-ball looked up at me with what appeared to be a smile. Suddenly, I felt a warm sensation on my chest. I held the dog away at arm’s length and discovered a wet stain spreading down the front of my shirt. “Well, if he likes me he sure has a funny way of showing it.”
On our first night at home, Latte cried from inside his dog crate and kept me awake. I tried to get my wife out of bed to go and hush the dog. But one look at Debbie with her sleep apnea mask strapped to her face — that mask always reminds me of snorkeling equipment — convinced me she was not getting up. She was probably in some dream-world, scuba diving with Jacques Cousteau. I had to take care of the little whiner myself. But it was no use. Despite my best efforts I became convinced that reasoning with a dumb animal was futile. So that night, and every night thereafter, Latte ended up snuggled in bed between Deep-Sea-Debbie and me.
The days that followed were no picnic either. Our shoes were gnawed upon, even my old sneakers, the real smelly ones that should have easily put any dog into toxic shock. Furthermore, I had to constantly line the floors with fresh newsprint until he was finally housebroken. And the little shit would always tip over the trash cans, their contents chewed and scattered all around. On the plus side, I learned to create less trash and to speed-read the sports section of the morning paper.
Rain was another hardship I had to endure. Apparently mail carriers weren’t the only ones who “had to go” regardless of the weather. So, I’d be out there in the pouring rain coaxing the little pooper; better that than cleaning up a mess on my kitchen floor. At least, with little time for golf these days, I found consolation in that my new golf umbrella was getting some use after all, and wasn’t a complete waste of money.
But for the most part, morning walks weren’t too bad I guess, as long as I wasn’t seen by the other men in the neighbourhood. I have to say I was a little embarrassed by this tiny excuse for a dog. And God help me if they’d asked me his name. I felt like I’d rather be walking a real man’s dog, like a German Shepherd, or a Rottweiler named Fang. A dog that would earn the neighbours’ fear and respect, and as a bonus take a bite out of the obnoxious teenager next door. When greeted by a passerby, I would often lie and say, “It’s my wife’s dog.”
As for today, it was sunny and warm and I was feeling kind of lucky. Latte and I were out for our morning walk. As usual, I was hoping to make it back home without being noticed by my neighbours — unless, of course, it was the pretty divorcee who recently moved in around the corner. She would always bend over and make a fuss over the dog, rewarding me with glimpses of her ample cleavage. On those occasions, which were far too infrequent for my liking, the little flea-bag had shown some merit.
From the corner of my eye I spotted someone half-way down the block. I turned in eager anticipation. Damn it, it wasn’t the divorcee. It was the obnoxious teenager’s father, and Latte hadn’t done his business yet.
“Come on buddy, do your job,” I said. “C’mon, hurry up.” Latte seemed to understand and squatted down on his haunches. With mission accomplished I reached into my pocket for a poop bag. I slipped the thin plastic bag over my hand and bent down to pick up his mess. I cringed as it squished between my fingers. “Please bag, don’t tear apart now,” I groaned. Note to self: buy the extra dry dog food, the one that guarantees a turd as hard and dry as a sun-baked bone in the desert.
The neighbour passed by as I was bent over scooping and he muttered, “Good morning.” But in my compromising position I was in no mood for pleasantries, so I refused to greet him. “You missed a piece, Larry” he added smugly. I was embarrassed enough to be hunched over, fumbling with poop, so I didn’t need his smartass comments as well. Missed a piece, did I? I wished he had stepped in it.
Then I got to thinking, who’s the master here anyway, me or this dog? And if I’m the master then why am I the one picking up the poop? Thoughts like these convinced me that dogs were quite intelligent, in a devious sort of way, and played their owners for fools. In their manipulative way dogs would drop a load whenever they pleased, just to watch their owners stoop down to this dirty little task. A conspiracy amongst dogs — I’m sure of it — perhaps revenge for their unwelcomed castration.
“How are you and Latte getting along?” Debbie asked later that day during lunch. I thought of telling her how I really disliked being a dog owner, especially to this one, but I was afraid of hurting her feelings. The thought of letting him run off during one of our walks had often crossed my mind — can’t find him anywhere Deb, he just ran off — but that would be cruel. Besides, with my luck, Latte would find his way home, and then punish me with an unforgiving barrage of bad behaviour.
“Oh, we’re getting along just famously,” I replied. I shook my head as I examined the veterinarian’s bill sitting on the kitchen table. “Four-hundred-and-fifty-two dollars for neutering, rabies and distemper shots, blood and stool testing, heart-worm medication, flea and tick immunizations. Wow, it’s a good thing I’m saving money on golf this season.”
“What’s that, dear?” asked Debbie from the kitchen sink. “Something about golf?”
“Oh, nothing. Who needs golf when I can get my exercise walking the dog?”
“Well, that sounded sarcastic. You know, I’m beginning to wonder if you really do like Latte.”
“Of course I do, Deb. He’s your gift to me. And now it’s time to take my little buddy out for his afternoon walk. Thanks for lunch. We’ll see you in a bit.”
This time, I was actually relieved to be out with Latte. If I’d spent another moment in the kitchen I surely would’ve cracked and told Deb my true feelings about this little shit-head and his invasion into my ideal retirement. I’ll have to tell her sooner or later though. Sooner would be better. Tonight then, at dinner. I’ll break it to her gently.
A sudden tug on the leash pulled me out of my guilt-ridden thoughts. Latte had stopped walking and was sniffing at a patch of grass in the park. He began to dig furiously, his tail wagging non-stop. He kept looking up at me with his dirt-covered snout, as if to say, I’ve really found something here.
“Whatcha got there, boy? Found yourself a bone?”
Latte had clenched onto something and was shaking his head back and forth, trying to pull it free from the hole he’d just dug.
“Here, let me help you, boy.” I knelt down beside Latte and saw an old leather strap clenched in his teeth. I took it from his mouth and gave it a good yank. From the hole popped out an old pocketbook covered in dirt. I brushed it off and opened the flap. Inside, wrapped in plastic, was a thick bundle of money. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Must be hundreds, maybe thousands.
Latte gave me a sloppy lick on the cheek. I could have licked him right back. “Good boy, Latte!” I said, patting him on the head. “This will be our little secret. No need to tell mommy about this, okay buddy?” I looked around, checking to see if there was anyone watching. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I tucked the pocketbook down the front of my pants, kicked the dirt back into the hole, and began to walk Latte home.
I was so overjoyed, so preoccupied with finding all this money, I stepped right into a busy intersection without even looking. A large courier truck was barreling down the road, heading straight for me. Latte pulled back sharply on the leash and barked, making me take notice of my impending doom. I quickly jumped back onto the curb. The truck, blasting its horn, brushed past me with a whoosh of hot dusty air.
“Holy shit! You just saved my life, Latte,” I said shakily. I re-adjusted the pocket-book in my pants. “Let’s get home. After I hide all this money I’m going to give you a well-deserved treat.”
At dinner that night I didn’t say a word. Breaking the silence Debbie asked, “Are you sure you’re happy with Latte? I can’t help but notice your resentment towards him lately. And I know he’s keeping you from playing golf.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “Latte’s my best friend. Besides, golf always frustrated me.”
“You know, I’ll understand if you’d like to give him back. I spoke to my sister and she said she’d be happy to take him.”
“Don’t be silly, hon. Latte is here to stay.” I looked down at Latte who was sitting patiently at my feet beneath the dinner table, and tossed him another big piece of steak. “I love this dog. He’s a real life-saver. I couldn’t possibly tell you all that he’s given me. Why, he’s brought me a wealth you’ll never know.”
Debbie looked down at Latte, but he was gone. “Latte, where are you, baby?” she asked. He came trotting back into the room as proud as could be, head held high. In his mouth was a wad of one-hundred dollar bills. Deb stared at Latte for a moment and then turned to me with a suspicious look on her face.
“Okay, Larry. Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“Yeah, I hate this dog.”