I regret to inform you that this is a dog column. I know. I am sorry, but this is how it has to be.
You see, there is a secret society for columnists who write about the “lighter side of life.” We meet in a warehouse and take an oath — it involves a Zippo, an ace of spades and a banana peel. We are assigned a catchphrase like “Get a load of this!” We are told to find a wacky, endearing dog to be a character in the column.
Problematic. When I was an editor and commuting, we kept our menagerie limited to the cat, Countess. Her activity level is set at “ricotta cheese.” This job is more flexible. And in quarantine, we suddenly had enough time on our hands to pave a highway.
Husband requested we get what scientists call a “brown dog,” something that came out of a laundry basket in an alley. Boxhead would ride in a bicycle sidecar and stand on the end of kayaks. Rough, tumble, sturdy, noble, athletic.
So he should have paid more attention when I flashed him the Suncoast Animal League’s Facebook page on a Friday between virtual meetings. If he didn’t drop everything to notice I was showing him an extremely tiny purebred Pomeranian that needed a foster home, well, I can’t help him.
“How is he with cats?” Josh murmured, which loosely translates to “I am noncommittal about this whole thing.”
Reader! If you see a rescue animal of interest on social media, follow instructions. More than 600 people commented on the photo of this dog, including me (How is he with cats?). But apparently, I was first to use the requested email. What felt like minutes later, staff asked if we could come to the Palm Harbor shelter today.
We had never fostered a dog. I had a dog once who I loved deeply. Stuart died six years ago and I didn’t have any of his stuff anymore. We were not ready for this. But what else were we going to do with an endless order to stay home? Parcheesi?
He was 4 years old, 5 pounds, matted, had fleas and needed to be neutered. He was hunched and crept around like a Stygian witch.
Josh is 6-foot-2 and used to be an offensive lineman. He held the warm ball of soot and disintegrated. Time to go home!
The dog came with the name Gizmo, like in Gremlins. But the first time he stood up and made voracious love to a dog bed, I knew he looked more like Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.
Look, you know this ends with us keeping him. How could we not? The finale of this column will not be the cake we made him upon adoption, the horrible, unspeakable cake that looked like a cow patty.
The surprise twist is the one in our crusty hearts. This furry piece of coal refocused our compassion for animals, yes, but also people.
We don’t know who had him before, and at first, we judged a bit. But when we went back to adopt, Suncoast Animal League co-founder Annette Dettloff recognized the raven Tribble. An old man had dropped him off, she said, struggling to get to the door. His wife was ill, and they had to move in with someone. They couldn’t take the dog.
The good people at animal shelters are carrying on through this pandemic and thankfully, more people are interested in fostering and adopting. Amid untold economic and personal turmoil, most of us are doing what we can.
I believe this pooch’s people loved him and were doing what they could. It must have been very hard to let him go with a question mark.
So, whoever you are, here’s the deal. We call him Rocket. There’s an 8-year-old who is his soulmate. They play and run and cuddle. He still makes that gurgling noise like a small dinosaur. He eats out of a soy sauce dish, one piece at a time. He plays with hair ties. He had surgery and no longer accosts pillows. He is on joint supplements. He has gained one tenth of one pound and his magnificent Pomeranian ruff is coming in.
We’re happy with him. And we think he’s happy with us.
Shortly after I finished writing this, he peed on the rug.