Michael : I think of our home as a sanctuary from the madness of the outside world, a place where our family can soothe our frayed nerves every night.
But each day, even before I can close my car door, the illusion is shattered by the shrill yipping of my daughter’s Yorkshire “terror” (not a typo), T Bone. As much as I may have looked forward to entering the threshold of my home all day, the cacophony that awaits me on the other side of the two doors repels me. I dread the next 12 steps through the mud room where the furry fury bares gnarly teeth in his lower jaw, growling at me as though I were a burglar ready to ransack the joint.
Then I maneuver across the terra-cotta tiles, careful not to land on one of the ‘tootsie rolls’ he daily deposits anywhere but on the 2×2 absorbent “training “pads that we dutifully place on the floor every morning, hoping for a different result. It is the only four foot square area in the house where “T bone” does not do his business. I often wonder whether we would be better off carpeting all of the floors with these training pads, leaving a 2 x 2 area of exposed tile upon which he could relieve himself.
In spite of our years of failure, we patiently walk him several times a day, and are rewarded by his squirting a fresh puddle on the hardwood floor as soon as he gets back in the house.
Every night as T Bone winds up his barking crescendo, our golden retriever, who only barks when there’s a real reason to do so-a stranger at the door, or one of our neighbor’s cows, Guinea Hens, goats or donkeys meandering through the yard-looks askance at his canine cousin as if to say: “Shut your under-bite.” Chai, our good dog, saunters up to me and rubs her head against my knee, asking for nothing except a little attention.
Chai surpasses T Bone physically and intellectually by an exponential of 10. Yet whenever I fill their shared bowl (we used to have a separate kitty bowl for T Bone but he insisted on eating from Chai’s bowl) Chai waits patiently for the runt to fill his puss with several pellets of food, then watches the teacup scamper over to a corner to crunch his stolen pieces before returning to the trough, where he noses Chai out of the way for another mouthful.
If Dante Alighieri ever lived to meet the likes of T Bone, perhaps he might have created a tenth ring of hell populated with Yorkshire Terriers. To live every day with this dog is to suffer a sort of hell, but for what sin I have been assigned this punishment remains the unanswered question. Perhaps it is the sin of timidity.
When my wife approached me about getting this dog for our daughter at Christmas four and a half years ago, I immediately rejected the notion. But my wife would not let go of this idea, insisting that we could not deny Michaela the years of pleasure this dog would bring. So after receiving email photos of the dog from its breeder, and after more entreaties from my wife, I ignored my deep misgivings and surrendered, hoping that my wife was correct when she said this was a gift that would keep on giving.
My wife was right about one thing: this dog has brought great joy to Michaela’s life. If she has had a tough day at school or a falling out with one of her parents, it is always T Bone who comes to the rescue. On such occasions, it is common to see her holding him in the crux of her elbow, talking to him like a baby. T Bone trusts my daughter implicitly, and will allow her to handle him or scold him in ways that none of the rest of the family could get away with. Each of us has been bitten at least once by this menace, yet Michaela can flip him on his back and rub his underside so that he falls asleep with all fours poking in the air. And if you try to steal a kiss from Michaela at bedtime, you better make sure that the limp lump stays under the covers or risk getting your face ripped off.
She totes him around in her pocketbook with just his head sticking out of the bag where he seems very content, except on the one occasion she sneaked him onto the New Haven – New London train, and was ejected by the conductor in Old Saybrook because of the dog’s incessant barking.
Michaela, the biggest germ-phobe I know, will hold that shaggy haired, urine soaked, fleabag next to her face and let him lick her with his sand paper tongue. And if you speak to Michaela in a harsh tone, the dog will set his lower jaw forward in his intimidating fashion, unleashing his guttural growl.
There are some things in this life that I cannot pretend to understand: I must accept them. Michaela’s unconditional love of T Bone is one of them. Another is the average life expectancy of this cruel breed is 12.8 years, another 8.3 years to go, but who’s counting. And while I would never overtly harm any animal, I have an enduring fantasy that is often triggered when I step out of our shower and land barefooted in one of his chocolate messes. I imagine one of the red tail hawks that circles high over our home almost daily, swooping down upon T Bone, who is in the backyard, unattended during one of my momentary lapses. The hawk digs his talons into the scruff of the dog’s neck and soars skyward, the mutt’s strident yaps becoming more muted with each flap of the hawk’s wings, until the only sound is the sweet whisper of wind through our black walnut trees. Then a piercing yelp punctures my happy reverie, causing my focus to dip from the heavens to the mudroom floor, where T Bone is standing in a new puddle, his head slightly cocked. The gift that keeps on giving.
My dog is my baby. He is my favorite thing in the world. He always makes me happy no matter what. I love him to death. He follows me wherever I go. I always know when someone is coming up behind me because T Bone tenses up and lets out a small growl. When T Bone barks he isn’t being a nasty and mean dog: he is protecting his mom. My dad just can’t seem to comprehend that. When he hears T Bone protecting me, he seems to assume that the dog is going to gnaw his head off, irrationally fearing that this five pound terrier, which is smaller than my dad’s head, could maul him. Of course this is the same guy who screamed and jumped around the yard like a schoolgirl this morning when I told him that there was a mouse sitting on his foot in the garden, where he had been pulling weeds. But I digress…
I admit, I may have something to do with T Bone seeing my dad as a threat. I taught him to bark and growl at people when I give him our secret signal, and it just so happens that I signal him a lot when my dad is around. Like whenever my dad tickles me or wrestles with me, I will sic T Bone on him. So now, T Bone automatically sees him as a threat, and my dad does not seem to care much for my baby either. He has shared with me some of his fantasies about T Bone slipping his leash, never to be found again, or one of the hawks that scours our yard almost daily stopping by for a chomp. The story usually ends with my screeching, and I bet you can guess who comes to my rescue.
Even the sound of my dad’s voice seems to alarm T Bone, especially when my dad goes into our downstairs bathroom. I can always tell when my dad is on his way into or out of the shower, when he bellows: “Michaela! Your dog left another present right outside of the shower! Ugh!!! I swear Santa was on crack when he brought you that shaggy little rodent.” Really Dad?
Then he grumbles about how he stepped in the mess. Wouldn’t you think after almost five years my dad would look before he steps? I never have that problem. And besides, his poops are smaller than tootsie rolls. Then my dad threatens to “drop kick the rat into next week” and “make him into a real T Bone”. Very funny dad.
My dad and T Bone’s relationship reminds me much of Tom and Jerry: T Bone being the cute little mouse and my dad being the raggedy old cat. My dad constantly finds ways to harass the poor thing. Harnessing him to the zip line and sending him whizzing through the trees in my yard, putting him on the slide in the play set, placing him atop of a six foot snow drift, that quickly swallows him when my dad lets go, leaving me to dig out my scared baby.
One time, I snuck T Bone into Walmart in an Adidas bag without my dad knowing it, until T Bone started barking, at which point my dad quickly walked away, acting as if he didn’t know me.
He pretends that he wants nothing to do with the dog. But on occasion I will come home from a long day of riding or playing lacrosse and find my dad asleep on the couch, with my baby curled up happily in his lap. When my dad realizes I am in the den, he looks up with a slightly embarrassed, if not horrified face and quickly swats away T Bone, as if I didn’t walk in on a man- to-man snuggle “sess”.
Deny it all you want dad, but even you love my cute little fluff ball. And just remember, T Bone is expected to live another eight years, and I intend to keep him for every second of it. Buckle in dad.