By Ed Staskus
Every time I found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, I would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt my dad and I would help them out together. If it was an emergency, we took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center just down Wolf Road.
It drove my mom crazy. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it.
“Someone’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever I brought another lost or hurt creature home.
If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals. I don’t think it’s anything you can really make happen. My dad had it. I had it. My mom wasn’t good with it.
Whenever I wanted a pet, I always asked my dad. I never asked my mom. We had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to dad.
Our poodle Coco hated my brother Brad. I never knew why, exactly, except I thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a little kid.
“Coco, get him,” was all I had to say if we were sitting on the sofa together. She would assault the hell out of him, growling and snapping and pulling off his diaper. I used to have fun making her attack my little brother since I knew she wanted to, and because I could.
Before Patty moved out Brad and I slept in the same room. We both had big beautiful beds with posts and a bar across the back of them. We each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for our toys.
I slept in the bed by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. My brother passed a lot of gas when he was a kid. We kept a window cracked even in winter. Sometimes it was so loud he woke me up.
“Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?”
I did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When I was in high school, I took him with me wherever I went. We were Tom and Jerry.
I played TRIP with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when I was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.
My sisters made me play LET ME HAVE IT with them. We would be in Patty or Betsy’s bedroom and I would have to say, “Let me have it.” They would pummel me with pillows. Just pummel me.
A car hit Coco when I was a junior in high school. She had gotten older and slower, but none of us saw it coming.
She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac all her living days. The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found my sister, she came to the Bay Village pool where I was lifeguarding and got me. We had to put her down.
It was awful.
When we got our Rottweiler, mom claimed she loved the dog, but we had to get rid of him because mom said the dog inflamed her asthma. My sister Patty adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so I was still able to see the dog whenever I wanted.
Growing up in our house was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, I think we were all thrown out.
Everybody in my family got married when they were 19, except me. My mom and dad got married at 19, my brother got married when he was 19, and both of my sisters got married when they were 19.
I didn’t get married until I was 34, right after my dad died. Before I got married, after I left my family’s house because of one thing and another, I babysat Patty’s Rottweiler whenever she went on vacation. His name was Wellington.
Wellington was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. We called the blankie Betty. We would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.
He loved people, just loved them.
Patty lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, and when school let out, Wellington would sit at the front door and whimper to be let out.
“You can’t go out,” Patty would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”
He was a silly beast and would cry no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob and get out. I started thinking he wasn’t so stupid.
“No, you’re not going out there,” I told him every time I was at Patty’s house, but if I was upstairs dressing for work, he would burgle the door and the next thing I knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the kids walked by there were three big slurps for each of them.
They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.
He got out once when two guys were playing Frisbee in the street. He had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself.
“You’re not going out there,” I told him firmly, wagging my finger. “I don’t know those guys.”
He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 18, maybe 19, and when they saw him running at them, they froze. I ran out.
“Throw the Frisbee!” I yelled.
They stayed stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn Frisbee!” One of them threw the bright red plastic disk. The big Rottweiler hauled ass after it.
“Sweet,” one of them said.
They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were bloody when he got home. He was an idiot, after all.
Even though I loved animals and my mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between us that wasn’t getting resolved, I was the only one of my mom’s four kids who forced her to love me. The others gave up trying.
I would come home from parties or from dances when I was in 7th grade and plop down on her bed, sprawled out and telling her about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. She would stay on the bed with me, holding my hand, listening.
A dog will love you if you throw a Frisbee. In my family I had to plan scheme compel my mom to love me. It was the way she was. I used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a small worn-out Pennsylvania town, her family poor and broken. She needed it. I could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but I could try.
Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”