Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Ugliest Dog

Speaking ill of the dead is usually considered bad form, but, if I'm going to write truthfully, unflattering facts will need to be addressed from time to time. The fact is, the first dog I ever got on my own, with Karen, in the early 80's, was an unattractive, unintelligent, pretty much altogether unappealing, beagle mix of some horrible kind or the other, whom we named, Holden. I don't have any pictures of Holden, so those posted with this article are approximations.

Holden wasn't grotesque like the dogs in the ugliest dog contest. He was just an ugly dog. He was represented as a "beagle-mix," but exactly what that meant was anybody's guess. He was about standard beagle size, and he had floppy ears, but the resemblance essentially stopped there.

Like Levi, Holden was a yellow dog. But Levi's yellow is a bright one, evoking sunlight and gold, while Holden's yellow had a dullness, like dead leaves on a forest floor. It was a muddy yellow. He had a dark, saddle marking, visible across his back, not enough to make him two-tone, just enough to make him muddier. 

His coat was short and bristly, like a pig's. His eyes were beady. He was fat, with bad breath, and gassy, to boot. On top of all of this, Holden was dumb as a doorknob. He had a certain slyness he could call upon to do things, like escape from the house, but nothing that would indicate anything that could reasonably be termed intelligence.

The day before we got Holden, Karen and I had moved into our first apartment, a tiny second-story walk-up in a 100 year old house on Monroe St. in Bloomington, IL. The first thing we had to get was a dog. We'd been in dorms, and, setting out on our own, we were going to have dogs with us. Karen was going to get her first Seeing Eye dog in a few months, so we wanted to get a dog immediately, so it would be acclimated by the time the new Seeing Eye dog arrived.

It was early March, and when we looked through the newspaper, usually full of free dogs, we were disheartened to see very slim pickings. In fact, in the age and size range we were seeking, there was only one choice, and it was about 25 miles outside Bloomington in a little town called Rantoul. We got in our completely unroadworthy car and drove to meet our destiny.

We got to a manufactured home with a poorly constructed wire fence around the yard. It was cold, so no dogs were outside. We rang the bell and a howling arose, the likes of which I honestly haven't heard since. It was the howl of at least a dozen dogs, every one of which matched the description I've given of Holden almost exactly. They were all ages and colors, and it seemed like a dynasty of dump dogs had been assembled in this humble home.

We were shown the puppies, two of which remained for adoption. The ad had said they were three months old, but with my subsequent knowledge of dogs, I'd venture Holden was at least six months old when we met. His sister, our other choice, was too badly socialized to even approach us. Holden did, and so we took him. He proved to have been badly socialized as well.

I'm a terrible shopper. I'll always take the first one I see that meets my needs, whether it's a pair of jeans, a used car, an apartment or a puppy. I try to have someone with me during these important purchases now, but that day Karen was my companion, and she was blind, so I don't think she fully appreciated the lack of attractiveness of Holden. Or, maybe, like me, she was determined to get a dog that day, and, having no other options, it was going to be Holden.

After vomiting and urinating on us several times during the ride home, we brought him in, where he proceeded to act like a petrified freak for a week. Of course he finally came around, and grew to love us, then his sisters, Lyric and Chelsea.

I adored Holden. I doted upon him like I now do on Levi. I objected vehemently whenever anyone else pointed out that Holden was ugly and dumb (he was bad, too, but examples of that are for another day). He was my dog, and I loved him, and that's all that matters. He didn't have to do anything but be Holden to be loved, and with all his deficiencies he seemed to understand this basic fact. I think back objectively about Holden, and, as you can see, I can't exactly articulate a redeeming quality, but somehow I loved him with the same devotion as I now do Levi, who happens to be the best dog in the world. 

That's the thing about dogs and people. It doesn't matter to one if the other is ugly and dumb any more than it mattered to me that Holden was. He was my boy, and that's about the end of the story. 

And when I remember Holden, before words like "dumb" and "ugly" and "smelly" come to mind, I remember that I loved him with everything I had, and thinking about him does nothing but help me revisit the glow of an old friendship. The faults of dogs, or people, that we love, don't die with them, but neither do they diminish the love we feel for them. With twenty years distance, I can look back and see Holden for the poor specimen he was, but I don't feel any less love for him than I did when he was my dog. 

Excuse me. Holden will always be my dog. 

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands


Raven said...

I actually had tears in my eyes by the end. I think sometimes it's easier to love our pets unconditionally than it is to love other people unconditionally. Not always, but sometimes.

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