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Nearer My Dogs to Thee

Kris Cardenas

John Zmirak - published on 05/13/14

Of course, I brought him home, and named him for my favorite candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II–the genial German theologian (now pope) whom the old dog closely resembled. Now I had three hounds in a two-bedroom apartment, two of them with serious medical issues, a third with a singing career. This “problem” soon solved itself; when Koto’s original owner spotted the poor beast I’d brought in, she waxed indignant that “her” dog might get sick from contact with Ratzinger, and took Koto back. I spent about $1,500 at the vet nursing old Ratzi to health. I was back down to just two beagles, whom I hoped would cavort, and hunt, and howl as a happy team.

The marriage didn’t last. Susie tried to play, but Ratzinger mostly moped. And stole her food. And farted. And (whatever house-training methods I applied) peed in the same spot on the kitchen floor until my place stank like a subway tunnel, and the wood buckled and cracked the tiles. (Kiss that last month’s rent goodbye.) In despair, I found a no-kill shelter that was willing to take the incontinent cardinal, housetrain him, and place him. I offered to take one of their dogs instead. Which is how I ended up with Greystoke, a solemn but loving mix of ghetto pit bull and German Short-Haired Pointer. He made the pages of the New York Post (and later a charming book on mutts), because he was found roaming the platform of the F train in Brooklyn—no doubt trying to transfer to the V. There was nothing much wrong with this dog, apart from the raging, uncontrollable diarrhea.

Which, you know, the folks at the shelter forgot to mention. They were later closed down for animal neglect, but not before a miraculously housebroken Ratzinger had found a loving home. A friend of mine sighted him at a yuppie dog run in Park Slope, trying to hump some art consultant’s hapless Basenji.

Once I finished my research and explained to the vet that my new dog had Giardia, a few pills cleared up his condition, and I was finally able to get that . . . elemental scent out of the house. The parties I threw to celebrate the feasts of the Catholic liturgical year went off much better now that the guests could smell their food.

His fur the color of a blueberry, Greystoke was like those grumpy New York cops in 1930s movies, who walked the beat shouting “Scram!” at the East Side Kids. At the dog run, he’d stand around looking officious, watching for other dogs who were playing a little too rough. Then he’d rush over to break up the “fight” with a hearty growl that scared all the dogs and owners alike. Affectionate and protective, he made me feel really safe walking at night, like having Mayor Giuliani on a leash. Apart from biting the occasional dinner guest, Greystoke was the perfect pet, and it broke my heart when he came down with a massive tumor. It also broke my bank, since I spent three months’ rent for the vet to remove his spleen. But the cancer had spread. I sat on the floor of the vet’s office to pet him as they put him to sleep, and with a friend took Greystoke (curled up in a ball, wrapped in a towel, frozen stiff) to a farm in Connecticut for burial.

Like a seasoned HR manager, Susie took most of this turnover in stride. Each time a new stray arrived, she’d sulk for a few days, then promptly start to fiddle and flirt with him, until at last they were cordial, if distant, friends. But when I lost Greystoke, she seemed confused. She’d walk around sniffing, then come back to me and stare. I could almost hear her wail, in the voice of Sally Field, “What have you done with my husband?” Then she went off to chew the scenery.

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