Life is unpredictable. You can plan out every detail and be amazed or disappointed with the way things unfold, or you can roll with the punches and choose your moments to take action. You may know where or who you want to be ten years from now, but to think you have complete control over the way it plays out is incredibly shortsighted.
In July of 2010, we had to put our dog down. Woody was an English Mastiff — the huge dog from The Sandlot — with an ambiguous past. We rescued him when he was about four years old, so the first few years of his life were a mystery to us and even to the woman who’d found him in the woods (hence, the name). He was great with us; he just didn’t like certain people, and he was untrusting of strangers. I don’t think he liked the smell of cigarettes, either.
Large dogs don’t live quite as long as smaller pooches because of physical complications, especially with the hips and back legs. When we said goodbye to Woody, we agreed not to get another dog. For the foreseeable future, our home would be petless. Cleaner, yes, and at least a little quieter — but as empty as it’d felt in years.
A couple of months later, my family drove up to Lake Placid for my cousin’s wedding. My brother and I had floated around the idea of getting a puppy, but my dad wasn’t entertaining it. Mom kept her opinions to herself because she didn’t want to take sides (read: Mom wanted a dog but wouldn’t say anything). While in our hotel room, my dad’s phone buzzed. His friend had found a German Shepherd tied to a pole on the side of the road a few days earlier. Dad’s buddy was an active volunteer for a German Shepherd rescue organization and a dog owner himself, so he didn’t want his home overrun by Shepherds.
“I, uh, know you guys were maybe looking for a dog…”
My dad’s biggest mistake was showing us a picture of the pup, which was the point I made when arguing why we should take the dog. If Dad didn’t want to get another dog, why would he show his family — three people who clearly wanted another pet — a photo of an adorable, helpless German Shepherd? He unconsciously wanted the house to be less clean, less quiet, less empty.
Nothing about the future is foreseeable.
On September 6th, 2010, we officially got Lance, our new pet and family member. If you’re wondering where in the hell we got Lance from, we’d begun brainstorming names in that Lake Placid hotel room. After tossing around a few stupid ideas, my dad’s friend told us he had taken the dog to the vet and the vet said the dog only had one testicle.
That was it. We named him Lance. (Now he has none.)
So, we’d taken in this abandoned dog — about nine or ten months old — and named him after a doping cyclist. (Obviously, we didn’t know he’d cheated at the time.) This was already a good story.
For the first few nights, Lance wouldn’t come near the dinner table. He sat several feet away, patiently watching us eat. Some might say he knew his place then. But my mom gave him a new place: by her side, at all times.
She ruined him. Babied him. Spoiled him. He stood a few inches closer to the table each night until he had his head under my mom’s arm, attempting to lick the food right off her plate. She enabled him. Like the mother of a self-destructive, drug-addicted son, she was too forgiving. Delusional, even. Letting him get away with it this one time wouldn’t affect his behavior long-term, would it? But then it happened the next time, and the next time, and the next.
Lance’s drug was attention. And treats. And socks.
The dog absolutely loved taking socks out of the hamper, the dryer, drawers, off the floor, or even directly off of Jared’s feet. One time, I was bumming around on the family room couch, watching TV. Lance walked up to me, licked my face, and began walking away. When he got to the end of the couch, he paused for a second, but not long enough for me to look away from the television to see why.
A few minutes later, my mom walked into the room. “What’s that?” she asked.
“What’s what?” I responded.
“That,” she pointed. “On the floor.”
I got up to inspect. Peeking around the edge of the couch, I saw a small brown mass on the carpet.
“Is that… That’s my sock!” realized my mom. She crouched down to get a closer look. “Yep, I can see the pink stripe.”
Lance had eaten a small sock my mom thought she’d lost, and luckily he’d shit it out without any digestive problems. This is the only occasion he’s ever swallowed a sock, but he still steals them to this day. (In fact, he just took a pair of underwear out of the hamper as I typed that last sentence. We need a more efficient laundry system.)
Lance vs. nature
Though he has never caught a bird, Lance enjoys chasing them occasionally. He’s a very athletic dog, but he struggles when it comes to stealth operations like sneaking up on a group of crows or sparrows. His strategy is to pick up speed from inside the kitchen, hope somebody opens the back door in time, and leap from the top of the stairs into a full sprint directly at the birds. Unfortunately for him — and fortunately for the birds — he has never murdered a crow. (Ha! Get it?)
Ever since we first brought Lance home, my mom has had an obsession with the pond in our yard. I get it, she doesn’t want the pooch to drown. It’s a large pond, filled with frogs, turtles, some fish, and even snakes. Like any dog, Lance found this body of water interesting right away. He has never fully jumped in to explore because he’s easily frightened, but he has stepped in about chest-high to chase frogs. In his middle-aged years, he’s lost interest in the pond — he doesn’t even bother with the two ducks that frequent our yard in the spring and summer anymore.
Lance is fascinating to watch interact with other animals, especially ones foreign to him. Sometimes, he’ll come across a tiny frog on the patio. I’m always afraid he’ll accidentally step on it or just straight up eat it, but he’s pretty gentle. Skittish, too. He sort of just sniffs them and jumps back when they start to hop around. He’s even made friends with a large turtle who was making his way across our yard after a storm.
We also have woods behind our house, beginning at the end of our fence. One time, my mom heard Lance barking in the back of the yard. When she looked outside, she saw him chasing a baby deer toward the treeline. She ran out and grabbed Lance by the tail, creating the most hilarious tug-of-war scenario imaginable. The baby deer was unable to jump over the fence in time, so Lance had the fawn by its bushy tail and my mom had the dog by his tail, trying to pull him away from the poor thing. Lance eventually let go, saddened by the fact that he’d probably never get to play with his new friend.
Lance vs. society
While Lance gets along splendidly with most wildlife, he doesn’t do well with some manmade items. For example, I am confident that if he ever escaped our yard, he would run directly into a passing car.
Anytime we’ve walked him around the development, he finds himself intrigued by these large, four-wheeled machines. Though he loves riding in cars and doesn’t seem to have a problem with cars driving away from him, Lance tends to lunge at vehicles coming his way. For this reason, we make sure we have a tight grip on his leash when traffic nears.
Lance also doesn’t understand when someone is trying to focus on something. One of the biggest mistakes my mom has made — aside from spoiling the dog completely — was purchasing dog toys that squeak. In the wake of these unfortunate circumstances, my dad has established a new rule: No squeaking during football season. We give our best effort to hide Lance’s noisy toys on Sundays before 1pm.
Lance vs. dog
One night, I was driving home from work and received a text from my dad. I usually refuse to text and drive, but I peeked down at my phone to see what was up. After seeing the words mom and hospital, the rest of the text became irrelevant. I pulled into a Wawa parking lot to call my dad.
Earlier that day, my mom had been taking our pooch for a walk around the block when a stray dog charged at them and attacked Lance. It was December of 2013 — mid-afternoon, snow on the ground. The dog lived in our neighborhood and frequently escaped from his owners’ yard. He’d even made it into our yard before. But he wasn’t looking to play this time.
Lance was able to fend off the loose dog, and with nobody around to help, my mom knew she had to get our dog home. After a few steps, the dog again lunged at Lance’s throat. My mom tried to separate the two, but the stray bit her glove. Lance must’ve gotten a good shot in on the dog because he eventually retreated.
On the walk home, my mom noticed blood in her glove. She removed it and looked at her hand, realizing that the tip of her pointer finger remained in the glove. Acting quickly, she threw some snow on it and got Lance back home. She immediately called my dad to take her to the hospital.
After I’d gotten off the phone with my father, I headed directly home. Though I worried about my mom, my responsibility was to take care of Lance. I expected to come home to blood all over the kitchen floor — a mess I was not looking forward to cleaning. I walked into a house filled with complete darkness.
I turned the light on.
The white tile floor was clean, save for a few specks of blood by the door. Lance was lying on his bed, afraid and alone — how I imagine he looked when somebody had tied him to a pole and left him. I could tell he thought he’d done something wrong.
He was covered in dried blood on his neck and ears, with a few scratches on his face. As I cleaned him, I realized that hardly any of this blood was his own. I channeled my inner Robin Williams and told him repeatedly it was not his fault. He cheered up once my parents returned home.
Lance vs. self
My mom had created a monster through appeasement, yes — but that spoiled German Shepherd is a monster who’s made a drastic impact on our family and her, personally. To this day, she claims the dog saved her life.
Once Lance came out of his shell — a process that only took a few weeks in our home — we realized he had a lot of energy. He almost always wanted to play when he was younger, and he’d literally run figure-eights around the yard after being cooped up in the house for too long. Lance needs to be told no, but my mom is rarely willing to go that far. For this reason, she’s had to put up with him jumping on her and mouthing her wrists and ankles.
A couple of years prior to the dog attack, Lance was so excited to see my mom that he jumped up and headbutt her in the boob. His mouth hit her hard enough to leave a scratch mark— a minimal price to pay for what she found next.
Upon inspecting the mark further, my mom noticed a lump that wasn’t supposed to be there. She had breast cancer.
Nothing about the future is foreseeable. And after countless doctor’s appointments, a complicated surgery, and over a year of wondering what was next, we knew that.
When we put Woody down, my family was heartbroken. We didn’t even want to think about getting another dog. We couldn’t have predicted finding a German Shepherd who desperately needed a home, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted the impact he’d have on our lives.
Sometimes, the best things are the ones you can’t predict.
There are times I miss those days when our home was cleaner and quieter. Lance has caused more problems and stress for our family than any animal I can remember. But I’ll take the mess and the noise that little son of a bitch brings with him because he’s filled voids we didn’t even know we had. And that’s what a family dog should do.