25 January 2010


Hang out with dog people long enough, and you will hear tales to take your breath away and freeze the blood in your veins. I don't mean Lassie stories of daring rescues or tearjerkers about loyal little pups who waited faithfully by their masters' graves. I'm talking about the dog lover's version of the famed fish story: the most repulsive, upsetting, and offensive story possible involving a dog, what he rolled in, what he ate, or where he pooped. And we will tell you these stories whether or not you ask for them.

Take my friend Adrienne, for example. She had one simple question about her newly rescued dog Paul, an affable fluffy little dude who may be part chow. Did she ask us for our horror stories? Did she invite us to rehash the worst and smelliest moments of our lives? No. She just wanted to know why Paul had a poopsplosion in the front hallway.

Dog lovers, I hear you. You are already frothing at the mouth to tell me about the time your dog ate a partially decomposed squirrel and then thoughtfully barfed it back up on your brand new carpet. Or the time he got mad at you and decided to teach you a lesson by knocking over the garbage can, methodically spreading the egg shells and coffee grounds and used kleenex across your antique Turkish rug, and then – just so you wouldn't miss the point – pooped on it.

Non-dog people, I hear you too. What is wrong with us? Dogs are smelly and slobbery and hairy enough on a daily basis; why must we rehash the times our dogs outdid themselves on the scale of disgustingness? And why do we sound so giddy about it? Why are we laughing??

Here's why: When my dog Zeke was dying, I would sometimes give him warm baths to relax his muscles and soothe his constant joint pain. It was kind of a hassle to lift this 55 pound, arthritic, lumpy, tumor-ridden old guy into the tub, but the doggy smile was totally worth it.

Until that one time.

The tub was probably three-fourths filled with lovely warm water, and Zeke was relaxing, and his old bones didn't hurt as much, and I was starting to rub doggy shampoo into his doggy scruff, when it happened: my happy, relaxed, disgusting old dog had a poopsplosion of his own. In the tub. And it went everywhere.
Suddenly the bathtub was three-fourths filled with warm soupy dog poop and I was doing my best not to add vomit to the mix as I screamed “HE DIARRHEAD ON MY ARMS!” I tried not to breathe at all as I lifted the old man out of his poo stew and carried him cradled against my chest, my poopy swamp monster, into the backyard and dropped him in a kiddie pool, where I hosed him down to get rid of the worst of it. And then I got to go back inside to plunge my arm through the sewage water, pull the drain plug, and begin one of the most repugnant cleaning jobs of my life.

A half hour later, I refilled the tub with lovely warm, clean water, and gave Zeke another bath.

Non-dog people, I hear you screaming WHY? WHAT IF HE POOPED ON YOUR ARMS AGAIN?

Yes, I was facing a risk of enormous magnitude. I might not survive another bath. But I put my dog in the tub anyway, because somewhere between lifting him out of the brown ooze and making the long journey from bathtub to backyard, across the endless kitchen, through the screen door, with brown slime dripping down my arms and legs and my happy dirty dog resting in my arms, I realized: I still love this dog. This is what unconditional love feels like. He just subjected me to the most nauseating moment of my entire life, and I still love him as much as I did before that fateful bath. Maybe even more. In fact, his poop is currently drenching the front of my shirt, and I actually feel empathy for him, poor old guy! He could poop on me again, and I would STILL love him!

And any experience that allows you to feel, with sudden, extraordinary clarity, the incredible depth and potential of your humble little human heart? When you suddenly realize you're capable of much greater and purer love than you have even previously dared to imagine?

Well, it's a moment of grace.

Even if it does smell like crap.