The First Born

The Former Congressman Chuckles has been in our lives for a little over two and a half years. He’s always been a playful dog, and whenever we’re on a walk people stop and ask how old the puppy is because he looks like a puppy and will cuddle with anyone. In some ways we think we over-socialized him as a puppy because he will play with any dog and then go over and say hello to the dog’s owner as a courtesy and to see if there are treats to be had. PLEASE, SOMEONE, ANYONE, GIVE HIM TREATS.

Chuck and I have reconnected over the last month since I’ve been home from the hospital, and he’s living proof that dogs can read and respond to silent human emotion, although a lot of my emotion pre-hospital was of the non-silent, shrieking variety. As my postpartum depression got worse I would see less and less of Chuck throughout the day, and he never slept with us in bed, scared that I would throw him off of it one more time for making that annoying ball-licking noise. I still can’t stand that noise, the slap-lapping of an empty nutsack and a dry, dog tongue. My drugs may be working but I would probably still throw him off the bed for that transgression, it’s just THAT BAD.

Now that I am better – and let me just take a moment here to address just how much better I feel (is it okay to use a colon within a dash? I don’t remember, but if it isn’t please don’t send me an email condemning me for my bad grammar): I feel THIS much better, THIS being my arms spread completely wide, wide enough that I could hug every woman in the world who is suffering postpartum depression right now and let them know that things can get better – Chuck is at my side all day long, following me once again into every room hinting that he wants to go on another walk. We take naps on the couch together when Leta naps, his head usually pressed up against my feet. At night he roams the kitchen with us as we make dinner, unafraid that I might throw a utensil or piece of burning food in his or Jon’s direction.

I don’t know if my depression sped up his aging process, but lately Chuck has become a crusty old man at the dog park and has taken to barking at more than his usual two things: 1) the neighbor, a taxidermist who comes home smelling like FRESH DEATH every night, and 2) moving trashcans, specifically the ones we drag from the backyard to the curb every Tuesday morning. I understand why he barks at the neighbor; the man kills and stuffs dead animals, animals closely related to Chuck in the evolutionary chart. I’m surprised Chuck hasn’t rounded up a group of neighborhood dogs to corner the man and take him out.

The moving trashcan thing is something I sort of trained him to do in a moment of complete stupidity. I thought it would be a fun game to play, having him chase me as I rolled the trashcan to the curb. But he took it from chasing to nipping at my ankles to grabbing my pants leg to FULL ON BARKING AT ME. I can’t even get near those cans now without a glimmer of mischief sparkling in his eye, which has become problematic now that I usually bring the cans back in from the curb while I’m carrying Leta. It must look insane, that Armstrong woman with the sockless baby in one arm, her other arm pulling the trashcan up the driveway, and that crazy dog running around her, biting her ankles and barking at her, all while she screams CUT THE FUCK OUT, DOG. I MEAN IT. STOP. NOW. REALLY. STOP. STOP. WHAT DID I JUST SAY? STOP.

While Chuck gets along splendidly with Leta — she loves to eat his tail and pat him on the back while she drinks her bottle — he can become rather jealous when we take her places and leave him at home. We used to take him with us everywhere we went because that’s what dumb, middle-class, childless people do when they have animals: they treat them like their kids. How could we leave him at home, alone, for more than 30 minutes? He might get lonely! And need us! Why don’t our friends understand that when we come over for that dinner party WE HAVE TO BRING THE DOG WITH US! He’s a part of the family! Why didn’t anyone shoot us in the head at close range?

Chuck is still very much a part of this family, but his role is now more that of a dog than that of a Prince who is heir to the family fortune. When I run errands with Leta I no longer stick him in the back of the truck because we don’t have time to stop at the dog park and that’s just too much to handle: a cranky kid and a cranked-out dog. I’ll usually pat him on the head and say, “You have to stay here and watch the house,” because then I’m giving him a job and don’t dogs thrive on having a role in life? Isn’t that what the dog books say, that dogs need jobs, that jobs make dogs happy? Well, Chuck never read that book, and when I leave the house without him he thinks I’m saying to him, “I don’t love you, and I have never loved you.” Once I walk out the door and turn the lock he proceeds to find a way to take revenge, usually in the form of taking things out of the bathroom trashcan, chewing them to pieces, and spreading them out on the bathroom floor.


(NOTE: that little green thing in there was a leaf I had to fish out of Leta’s mouth. I had to lie her on her back, and dig in with both my hands because she was DETERMINED to swallow it.)

Things that go into the bathroom trashcan are by nature awful things with awful fluids and waxes on them, so having them regurgitated and strewn about the floor is by nature unpleasant and punishable by death. But we love Chuck and the most harm we ever do to him is bring him into the bathroom to the scene of the crime and shout NO! NO! NO! several times while hitting the toilet paper and tissue and used q-tips. Trust me, it’s more painful for us than it is for him.

Recently I took an afternoon jaunt to the grocery store without Chuck in tow because hey! Dog owners! Dogs don’t need to go to the grocery store! I hadn’t yet taken him on a walk that day for reasons I don’t remember, so he was particularly pissed at me when I turned around to leave and said, “I’ve never loved you.” Later that night while Jon and I were eating dinner Chuck brought in HIS VICTIM clutched in his salivating jaws, Leta’s green stuffed giraffe now missing both pink horns and a significant amount of stuffing. It was as if he felt so guilty about the crime that he brought it to us, his head hung low, his tail between his back legs.

Now things are getting personal.

I got down onto the floor and hit the giraffe several times and screamed NO! NO! NO! and he cowered away to hide behind Jon’s legs. It took about a pound of treats that night for him to come anywhere near me. I don’t want Chuck to feel bad, but he needs to understand that Leta’s toys are not his toys, and he will not win his way into the back of the truck by seeking revenge on innocent stuffed animals. This is a lesson he needs to learn now, because when Leta is mobile and has perfected the Art of Tantrum, she may take it out on him one day. I won’t encourage that sort of behavior in Leta, biting or kicking the dog, but it may come in handy when I’m bringing in the trashcans, and it will be TWO AGAINST ONE, DOG.