Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Man's Best Friend Indeed

Despite my mother’s inability to realize or accept that her only son was a homosexual, she had no problem declaring that our dog, Thumper, was gay. Now, I’m not absolutely certain he was — my gaydar isn’t very attuned to animals — but he was definitely a conflicted canine.

Thumper was the most adorable white and beige spotted puppy, with long, crimped ear hair and a miniature black mustache. We noticed him almost immediately. His shy demeanor seemed tortured by the conditions and confinements of the cage that housed him at the North Shore Animal League America. My mother, my sister and I each took one look at him and knew we had found the perfect pet to adopt, instantly smitten by what appeared to be a precious puppy cocker spaniel.

He was so small, he could barely even walk; instead he appeared to bounce around like a rabbit, hence the name Thumper. He was a charming, playful pup, but it wasn’t long before we discovered behind Thumper’s innocent appearance lurked a darker side. After a visit to the vet, it was determined that Thumper was actually a springer spaniel—a hunting dog—who required at least three miles of running a day. Well, we lived in a residential section of New York City—there were no back woods or fields for Thumper to run freely in. As a result, he would often have sudden outbursts of energy and would frantically run around our dining room table. He also despised cats, and would leap into a fit of rage at the sight or sound of any pussycat. (How ironic.) It was so bad we couldn’t even say the word; we had to spell it out as if he was a child and we didn’t want him to understand what we were saying.

Then he started chewing anything, everything and everyone. Our brand new coffee table now had a lovely new trim—teeth marks. Almost an entire wooden arm of a chair went missing altogether. Plastic CD covers were rendered unrecognizable. Magazines and books were chewed, with pages and entire chapters missing (maybe he just didn’t like what we read?). His favorite delicacy proved to be paper products, especially tissues. Used or unused, it didn’t matter; he’d scarf them up like an addict inhaling a drug.

He would sniff through the wastebaskets, hunting for tissues. If the box were left on a table, he’d literally lick the tissues out one at a time. If you left a tissue in your pants pocket and just so happened to toss those pants over a chair at night before heading to bed, you’d awake in the morning to discover a half eaten pocket and a missing tissue. Nothing was safe.

One time during Thumper’s midday walk, he did his business as usual, but something wasn’t quite right. As I began picking up after him, Thumper appeared in pain as he scurried around in circles dragging his bottom on the pavement, desperately trying to dislodge something that remained. Fearful, I quickly held Thumper down on the pavement, reassuring him all would be fine—and then used some paper towels to grab hold of the problematic poo. As I began pulling, a long, flesh-colored object appeared, growing longer and longer. Instantly I panicked, horrified that I may have been removing Thumper’s intestines when all of a sudden —snap! It was released, and there in the paper towel appeared a knee-high stocking. Apparently, Thumper also had an affinity for women’s accessories.

As the years passed, Thumper continued to become a handful—his demeanor consistently irritable. He didn’t interact well with the women in our family at all, often snapping at them or attacking their shoes if they came too close to his long, feathered tail. At one time or another, Thumper’s teeth went through every female family members’ shoes. (Maybe he was just an envious, bitter queen?)

My father and I were the only ones unscathed, proving to be Thumper’s trusted companions, but Thumper definitely had a deeper affection for my father. Maybe even a little too deep. Day in and day out, he would sit directly at my father’s feet, incessantly trying to lick Dad’s hands, legs or feet. When Dad stood up, Thumper would follow him wherever he went. If my father went outside, Thumper would sit by the door, literally crying and whining to follow. He never left my father’s side, and it drove my mother crazy.

When Dad came home from work and greeted my mother with a hug and a kiss, Thumper would jealously jump up on my father’s leg and start whining and barking for his attention. Well, my mother couldn’t stand this and would repeatedly yell, “Thumper, you gay dog, get down.” I know it sounds odd—a gay dog—but I think my mother might have been right.

After surviving a stroke and numerous other ailments, Thumper died at age 16. As far we know, he died a virgin—his sexual preference never truly realized or understood. But during his 16 years, he provided us with plenty of laughter and bizarre behavior, ample amounts of adventure and anguish, but through it all, we still loved him. He was family no matter what. And, in a sense, Thumper paved the path of acceptance within my family, while also providing plenty of companionship—well, at least to the men in his life.

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