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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meeting Knucklehead

What do you call a malnourished, hyperactive, A.D.D. one-year-old who wriggles around like a worm, crawls under cabinets like a cat, and goes to the bathroom wherever and whenever it pleases?

If it's a beagle, you call it "Knucklehead."

There's an old song by Tom Waits called, "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You." It goes like this,

"Well, I hope that I don't fall in love with you.
'Cause fallin' in love just makes me blue."

I know, I know-- rhyming "you" with "blue" isn't exactly W. S. Gilbert territory, but it's a great song, about the rough, down-n-out people Tom Waits knows so well, and loves almost against his will. The song's about people, of course, eyeing each other in a bar, drinking and smoking, and missing the chance to connect, and, even though it probably would have ended in disaster, regretting it forever. The song, though, could just as easily have been about setting eyes on a dog. After hearing a brief summary of this beagle on the phone from the adoption agency on Monday, I knew one thing very, very clearly: I should not, under any circumstances, go down and meet it.

Yesterday, I met the dog that I quickly named "Knucklehead." He bounded into the smelly, kennel-filled room as if there were a lit firecracker up its ass. Nose diligently to the ground, in typical beagle posture, it proceeded to vacuum every square inch of the room with its nose, barely acknowledging my presence. Until I said, "Hey, you knucklehead!" His head perked up and he pounced at my knees and immediately fell onto his back and lay there until his belly was appropriately rubbed. His eyes rolled back into his head as his rear legs twitched with delight.

"Well, you two kids have fun," the adoption agent said to me, smiling, as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

"God, I hope this fucking sucker takes that crazy-ass beagle," I'm sure she said to herself.

I didn't know exactly what to do with the dog, who was now standing on its hind legs, trying very hard to get at a fat black cat who was in a locked kennel marked "QUARANTINE."

"Uh... no! You don't want to go in there, Knucklehead," I said as my eyes scanned the room for something to distract it. I found a little tug-of-war knotted rope toy.

"Here!" I cried, "look at this fucking thing!"

Knucklehead turned his distinguished nose and brow in my direction and his eyes lit up like a nuclear winter. I'm 6 foot tall, and I swear to God this little dog leapt right up to my hairline as I jerked the rope-toy up into the air. He proceeded to do another series of Olympian vaults as Quarantine Kitty watched him warily from inside her forced confinement.

"Sonofabitch! You can jump!" I yelled as he latched his jaws onto the toy, his tail fiercely wagging. I looked at Knucklehead, obsessively chewing on the rope-toy and I thought two things, "Uh-oh, is this love?" and "Charles Schulz never set eyes on a fucking real beagle in his life."

"No!" I said and, immediately, is mouth opened. He stared at me and said, "NO? I'M A BEAGLE, MOTHERFUCKER!" This he said by a series of classic beagle howls-- but short, controlled ones. But tenor, nevertheless.

"No, Knucklehead. Sit," I brazenly commanded. And this dog, who, for nine months of his life was left out in some asshole's backyard, almost completely untrained, sat.

"Holy shit," I said, out loud. Then I uttered the more traditional, "Good boy!" and gave him the toy he desired. Then he proceeded to climb into an empty cage and smell it from corner to corner.

The adoption agent came back in.

"Sounds like a party in here," she said.

"He sat for me," I said.

"He knows sit?!" she exclaimed.

She made no bones about this dog. "You're about to meet the worst puppy in the world," she said, but with a smile.

"Are you the worst puppy in the world?" I asked Knucklehead, as he wriggled around in my lap and attacked my face with his tongue.

Didn't seem likely, but how do you know until it's too late? Well, fortunately, with an adoption center, it's never "too late," they'll always take a dog back rather than read in the paper that you smashed its head with a cinder block after it ate all your mortgage papers and throw pillows.

"I can't emphasize the importance of crate-training enough with this guy," she said, "but he will grow out of this teenager stage and he will make an outstanding dog," she said, turning up the sell. I looked around the room.

"Where the hell is he?"

"He's crawled underneath all the cages-- he likes to pretend he's a cat."

The long-and-short of it? He's on hold for us until Friday at 3:00pm. That's the witching hour. I know that bringing Knucklehead into our home and our lives will turn our home and our lives upthefucksidedown. I know that a one year old, un-housebroken beagle will be something like a medium-sized nightmare. I know my wife will flat-out say "no."

"I want a dog, I don't want a project." Well, Knucklehead isn't emotionally damaged or disordered like the charity-case dogs her mother insists on adopting every seven minutes, but emotionally and developmentally, he's probably about half his actual age, which isn't much. But he's affectionate and energetic and re-directable. He's part dog, part project.

This is what I do. This is my nature. I fall in love with cars that are totally impractical-- make absolutely no sense for my needs or my lifestyle and I try to bring them home. The house we bought, we bought mostly with our hearts-- our brains were somewhere around the block, struggling to keep up. Fixer-uppers, not-quite-theres, from the dubious to the out-and-out insane, my heart is a wayward, untameable, nonsensical beast-- rather like Knucklehead himself. I've never been in the position to have to make a dog out of a puppy before-- Finley came to me at five years old-- already a stately gentleman.

And, yes, he's still very much here. So what would he make of Knucklehead? Would Knucklehead give Finley a second puppyhood? Finley's still kind of having his first puppyhood, inspite of the odd goiter here and there. What would these two nutjobs do with, and to, each other? I just don't know.

I've got beagle fur all over my pants. And I miss him already.


  1. Adopting a dog is so great. There are so many animals that need good homes. Also, I saw on Facebook that Pedigree is doing some adoption drive thing, so if you become a fan of theirs, they donate a bowl of food to a shelter dog/cat. Become a fan, if you're so inclined. But what you're doing, adopting, is really commendable.

    (So much for me not complimenting you anymore!)

  2. I tried to adopt from a shelter 4 times and they turned me down because I've never had my own dog. And probably because I wasn't married to my boyfriend. It really upsets me that even in a high euthanasia rate shelter they wont let people adopt that aren't "experienced" enough. I ended up finding a wonderful puppy on craigslist and had to pay lots of money for him but he's the greatest and I'm sure when we get a second dog we will adopt.

    Our dog now is puggle (beagle and pug) and American bulldog. He is a bundle of energy and from all the articles I've read beagles and American bulldogs are very stubborn so I got lucky and it's taking a little while to train him. I still love him all the same though. :)

    Knucklehead sounds like a bundle of joy.

  3. We took in a half grown Jack Russell terrier stray. You know that book/awful movie "Marley and Me"? This dog makes Marley look like a rank amateur. She destroyed curtains, blinds, mattresses, and a laptop, not to mention every pair of underwear and pants in the house before we got her halfway trained.

    She's a complete jackass. And we are absolutely crazy about her.

  4. You know...we adoped Milo from a shelter...
    And look how well that worked out for US!!!

  5. I adopted my little lab/whippet mix at the tender age of 9 weeks and I should have known from the squirming and biting and flailing when we met that she was going to be a handful, but no, puppy love wins each and every time.

    There is nothing more amazing than 'saving' a dog. Congrats.

    Enjoy your knucklehead.

  6. My family dog growing up was a beagle named Morgan. She was the runt of the litter, was born with a hernia, suffered a compound open fracture when she was less than a year old, and lived to be 16 years old.

    She was absolutely the best dog in the whole world.

    I really hope you decide to bring Knucklehead into your home. You won't be disappointed. Beagles are tremendously loyal and it sounds like he already loves you.


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