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Wednesday, 19 April 2017 15:28

Chaos comes in several shapes and sizes

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As all successful couples understand, the key to happiness is mastering the art of communication. When facing a Big Decision — like whether or not to foster shelter dogs, for example — the successful couple will sit down with flexible minds and full hearts, outlining all of the issues in neat and revealing columns, so that each point can be thoughtfully and compassionately considered and, if necessary, debated until compromises can be forged and a decision is reached.

As Stephen Covey, the esteemed author of the bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote, “People will support what they help create.” Or maybe Calvin Coolidge said that. I forget, but it seems like a good idea in theory.

So when my wife sent me a text last week that read, “I am on my way home with a surprise for you,” naturally, I assumed that she had bought me a new recliner for my aching back. Or had picked up pizza and a movie, since it was my night to cook.

Next came a quick succession of three photos of a small, black and white, but moderately overfed, dog with enormous, pointy ears that were on full alert as he stared at birds or cows or whatever through the passenger window of her car. The last photo reminded me of my sixth-grade school picture, his head slightly askew, eyes puzzled, and mouth open and not quite smiling.

“His name is Marty,” the next text said, as if this bit of intelligence explained everything.

“I thought maybe you were getting me that recliner,” I texted back. “He looks more like an ottoman. With ears.”

My wife has been talking off and on about fostering dogs for the past two or three years. She even picked up some brochures and an application a while back, but I didn’t think much of it, figuring it was just a phase of some kind. We already have two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and a fish. We barely can keep up with them. For that matter, we barely manage to keep our plants alive. Why would anyone entrust us to foster a dog? Isn’t our ecology fragile enough as it is?

Compelling as these questions might appear to be, they changed nothing of the reality of the moment, and at the moment, Tammy was pulling into the driveway with Marty riding shotgun. It had become official. We were now dog foster parents.

If I were given just one word to describe Marty, it would be “gregarious.” He immediately set out to make friends of every person, animal, and thing in our house, sniffing, pawing, and licking everything and everybody in sight, his cinder block body gyrating madly and his tail whirring like a bee’s wings.

Both of our children fell in love with him immediately, fighting over who would get to sleep with him first. Our beagle, Walter, also bonded with Marty instantly, although in all fairness, Walter is about 105 in people years and will make friends with a pine cone if there is one nearby when he is stretched out in the noonday sun. He seemed to regard Marty as a bizarre toy or a cartoon, the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny set loose in his back yard, spinning out of control. Marty would dart around him, lunge, back up, fashion a figure eight, and then come back to see what kind of impression that made. Walter just sat, clearly amused.

The real test would be Frody, our miniature dachshund, who tolerates Tammy and me on good days. He can barely disguise his disdain for the kids. Now, he and Walter are old friends, but he is deeply skeptical of every other living thing, be it man or beast. Regardless of how many attempts Marty made to engage him, Frody rebuffed him, keeping a wary and respectable distance. Or as Deputy Barney Fife of Mayberry once put it, he was “giving this interloper the big freeze.”

Marty ended up staying with us for a couple of weeks and, due to an adoption snafu of some sort, was eventually joined by an eight-pound chihuahua mix with the best name I have ever heard bestowed upon a dog: Steely Dan.

Now the house is in complete chaos, of course. The dogs seem to have worked out a manageable truce, though I believe that I can detect certain cliques beginning to form. Even Frody has taken a softer stance toward these visitors. I think he secretly enjoys seeing the people in the house utterly overwhelmed by the animals, but maybe I’m just being paranoid.

There are rumors that both Marty and Steely Dan might be adopted this week. I must admit that we’ll miss them. Like Frody, I was learning to adapt to this new, frenetic environment. One day, when the chaos reached a level I could no longer stand, I grabbed the keys and made for the front door.

“Where are you going?” my wife said.

“I’m going to get that recliner,” I said.

I’m going to name it “Lynyrd Skynyrd.” The foster dogs will probably love it even more than I do.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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