by Mike Finley
My mom, before she left for a lengthy trip to Kentucky, paid off her car lease and gave me the keys. It was a pretty red Taurus with honey-colored upholstery. We were grateful for the gift, but unsure of her one qualification:
"Don't let the dog in the car. I'm coming back in the winter, and I want it to be in good shape."
We agreed, but we knew we would likely violate the order. Because, how do we get our big poodle Beauregard to the park, which he likes, without driving him there?
So I violate the request, and after a month, no great damage is done to the car seats. I'm down at Hidden Falls with Beau. He is looking up at me sheepishly, my signal that he needs to take a dump. I take out my plastic bag, and wait for him.
The pedigreed champion squats in a primitive shape—his ears lower even further, emphasizing the humiliating nature of the task. But there's a disgusting hitch in the action, as Beau can't quite shake free of the thing he's getting rid of.
I must explain the problem with poodles. Unlike other dogs, their coats never stop growing. That's why they need grooming. But poodle hair grows everywhere, including the hairy hindquarters, right up to the abyss. What is happening has happened to me before, usually about two months after a grooming. It is the day the hair back there has grown to just the right length to obstruct the free flow of poop.
Still hunched over like a hissing black cat, Beau looks back at his butt, at the suspended poop, and then back again at me, imploringly. Then he steps in a half-circle and stumbles into a patch of burdock.
"Oh, Beau, you stupid dog!" But it wasn't his fault. It's just the way his butt worked.
I am sorry to say that things got worse.
Usually I have something like a paper towel or plastic bag with which to perform the poop-dislodging procedure. I have used a decaying newspaper found in the woods, an empty McDonald’s coffee cup, even a set of three check deposit slips with my name and address in the upper left-hand corner, fanned out to maximize their surface.
I used a handful of fresh-fallen snow once. Beau crossed his eyes over that one.
But today, all I have is the plastic bag. I use it for a few seconds, then for some reason I don't want to keep using it, and the problem is still not solved, and all I have left is two twenties, which I don't feel like breaking.
Exasperated, I uproot a fistful of grass, and use that to improve matters. It is a mess, but at least we succeed in getting the main poop portions out of the dog and into the world at large.
So we're limping back to the car, him on the leash, his backside still badly blotched.
But then I remember: my mother's new car. I see it ahead of me, gleaming brick red in the first rays of October sun, like in a commercial. What a beauty!
I may not know everything about this cockamamie thing we call life, but I knew this: My mom won't like if I smear dog shit all over her upholstery.
So I open the trunk, take out a blanket I was saving for deep-winter survival, tuck it around the back seat. There isn't enough to cover the backrest part, just the seat cushion. So I leverage the dog, very slowly, onto the blanket and sit him down.
"Now you lie down!" I tell him sharply. He complies with the request. I start the car and head up the 150-foot high hill leading out of Hidden Falls and back up the river road.
The shift in horizon causes Beau to stand up, with his butt touching the honey-colored backrest. I glance at the upholstery, at his butt, at him.
"Lie down!" I command in the rear view mirror.
He stares at me. "Beau, you lie down right now!"
"Goddammit Beau, you get your ass on that blanket and lie down right now!"
He is paralyzed with uncertainty. Oh, we have only practiced the "lie down" command all of 10,000 times. But now he's frozen in the high beams of my fury, and he can't recall what it means. "Lie … down ...?" Is that the one involving chicken? Where's the chicken?
I stop the car, put it in park, open the front door, get out of the car, open the back door, grab the dog by his neck and hindquarters and force him to his knees (and elbows) on the car seat.
"Now you LIE DOWN."
He lies down. And he stays that way, like a sphinx in disgrace, all the way home. Whereupon I lead him inside, take him down in the basement, fill the laundry tub with warm water and soap and load the curly blue animal in, and spray, and sponge, and scrape, and brush, and then finally, both of us exhausted, I let him out.
He dashes up the stairs, shaking the water from his legs and butt, and makes a beeline for the studio couch. I let him go, and lean against the basement wall and sigh.