Santa’s Little Helper

On Christmas Eve we drove north to see Jon’s family, and while this may seem like the beginning of a happy holiday tale it is in fact not. This is the beginning of a story about how my husband almost lost my dog FOREVER.

Chuck loves to go see Grandma because she feeds him potato chips and toast. In fact, when we drive off the freeway ramp on the way to her house he starts to run in circles in the back of the truck stopping only at the windows to press his wet nose on the glass. The back windows are consequently opaque with dog slobber and imprints of nostrils. My father would disown me again if he saw the condition of the back half of the car. I have become my father’s worst nightmare: someone who carts a hairy, ball-licking beast around town in a car that cost more than his first home.

A few months after Leta was born Jon and I had made the mutual decision to leave the dog at home when we went to see family even though he had always come with us before. The dog plus the baby plus the dog’s constant pacing and begging underneath foot was just too much to handle. But the puppy dog eyes wore us down, and the guilt of having less and less time to take him on those long walks he used to enjoy three times a day made it difficult for us to say, “No, you’re not coming with us,” which in Chuck-Speak means, “It’s time to head to the bathroom and dive snout first into the discarded toilet tissue which I will then scatter across the house.”

On Christmas Eve there was still a little bit of snow on the ground but not enough that we couldn’t stick him in Grandma’s backyard to let him have a sniff and pee extravaganza. She has a fence around her backyard (we do not), so it’s a bit of a luxury to open her back door and tell Chuck to have at it without having to stand there on guard. I was with Leta talking to Grandma in her back room when Jon let Chuck out back to pee on her flowerbed and taunt the poodle in the next yard. After about a half hour of chatting and watching in horror as I realized just where Jon got his WHOLLY ANAL AND FREAKISH present wrapping ability — he also inherited her tendency to talk to herself even when other people are watching — I asked Jon about Chuck and whether or not he had emptied his camel bladder sufficiently.

Jon explained that he was in the backyard and I asked with very much confidence in my husband and his thought-processing abilities, “Did you make sure that both her gates were closed?” Jon sort of shrugged and answered, “I’m sure they’re closed. Why would they be open?” Oh I DON’T KNOW, BECAUSE SOMEONE OPENED THEM AND FORGOT TO CLOSE THEM. With Leta pressed to my chest I ran to the backyard and began hollering, “CHUCK! CHUCK!” in my most Southern accent because Chuck knows that if I break out the accent I’m either 1) very, very drunk or 2) very, very serious about getting his ass back to headquarters, and in either situation treats could possibly be nearby, particularly if I’m both because when I’m drunk and serious I forget about the last treat I just gave him and I give him more because I’m concentrating on not forgetting.

Chuck didn’t respond to several Southern shrieks of his name, and so, in my dress-up boots I went out into the snow to see if the gates were closed. The gate to the right was clearly locked and my own life stopped flashing in front of my face. You think it would be Chuck’s life that would be flashing, but that wouldn’t take very long because all it would include is eating, pooping, sleeping, and begging for pop tarts. When I rounded the corner of the house to see that the gate to the left was wide open my life started flashing before my eyes again, and I was overcome with just how much tequila I never got to drink.

I ran back inside the house SCREAMING at Jon that THE GATE! THE FREAKING GATE IS OPEN. I hate that word, freaking. The Lord knows I was thinking FUCKING, but Grandma only allows certain four letter words in her house and that list does not include the one that describes what mommy and daddy do during “BoohBah.” Jon grabbed his coat and bolted out the front door assuring me that he would bring me back my dog. But I could feel the life in my body oozing out my wounds and I ran after him, Leta still in my arms, taking notes, realizing just how she would get our attention in the next few years. GO MISSING!

“CHUCK! CHUCK! I screamed, still thinking about where he could be, smushed on the road or kidnapped by mutt poachers or lost! LOST! IN THE MOUNTAINS! WHERE THERE ARE MOUNTAIN LIONS! and GOATS! I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was in my throat and I had already started planning Jon’s torture in my head. Slow, slow torture it would be, for failure to check on the status of the gates, for losing my dog forever. I couldn’t put a number on the times I was going to kick him in the nads with my snow-covered dress boots. And then I would take away the iPod FOR A WHOLE WEEK. SEE IF YOU COULD SURVIVE THAT ONE, BUDDY.

When I had gotten to the part in my head where I had cut off his nads and put them in the freezer we heard the familiar clinking of a choke collar. Barreling down the opposite side of the street was my dog, my sweet little lost dog, headed straight for me because I was either drunk or serious or both. Turns out he had only gone a few houses away from Grandma’s to sniff the butt of a little black Yorkie, the neighborhood whore, which was explained to us in detail later. And Chuck’s immediate reaction was not, “Hey, I missed you guys,” or, “Hey, glad to be back,” it was, “Hey, where are the Pringles?”