The story of everything.

Our brown beasts

The dog ate my boot.

Understand that it is the nature of many, if not most, dogs to chew things. Sometimes they chew the things we human companions give them to chew. Rawhide bones. Squeaky plastic toys. Greenies for good breath. But often dogs also chew the things we humans absentmindedly leave lying around: Treasured stuffed animals. Brightly-colored board books covered with  sticky, Honey Nut Cheerios fingerprints. Undergarments from the laundry bin.

Shoes; so many shoes.

In my experience, many, if not most, dogs eventually stop chewing the things they aren’t really supposed to chew, at least most of the time, though not always.

Recently I had to discard a cherished pair of leather boots. I had to discard the boots because one of the boots was destroyed by my dog, whose name is Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown Dog is one of a pair of discarded, chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever dogs we rescued years ago from a shelter in Arkansas, through a foster home in Mississippi. It is a Southern tale; locations matter.

Charlie Brown and his sister, Callebaut, and another sibling were thrown into the street from the bed of a pick-up truck outside of Marion, Arkansas. A bystander tried to chase down all three, to rescue them; but one got away, and only two were retrieved and transported to the shelter, where a local rescue group immediately placed them in foster care and posted their picture on PetFinder, hoping to attract suitable humans, which we, eventually, happened to be. And the rescue people named these two rescue dogs Charlie Brown and Callebaut.

When they came to live with us, both Charlie Brown and Callebaut (Callie, for short) were entirely unfamiliar with things we expected would be entirely familiar: names and designated bathroom spots. They were beautiful and wild and utterly stupid.

As if beautiful and wild and utterly stupid were not enough, both dogs were also heartworm positive and required extensive, expensive treatment. Callie sailed through without a hitch; Charlie almost died. In the process of almost dying, he lost the pads on his rear feet and chewed off one of his toes. For six weeks I had to spoon-feed him, morning and night, a mix of Greek yogurt, chicken and rice that I prepared carefully in my kitchen while instructing my real, human children to feed themselves cereal or Oreos or whatever.

Since the special diet wasn’t enough on its own, I had to coat Charlie’s hind feet, morning and night, in honey, wrap them with gauze, and then cover them with adhesive wrap and tape. Twice a day, every day, until his feet recovered. We used red, white and blue wrap for the 4th of July; we used camouflage wrap in celebration of my son’s 9th birthday sleepover party.

The visible damage was limited to his feet, but in also in the process of almost dying, Charlie went – and, really, there is no polite way to put this – completely batshit crazy.

To Charlie the world is filled with hostile invaders: the vacuum cleaner; the pest control man; all forms of motorcycle and delivery truck; the cat in the window next door; my sister, visiting from out of town. Such invaders frighten Charlie, and when he’s frightened he behaves badly, usually by barking ferociously though often by being merely spastic in ways that lead to broken glass and dented furniture.

But what frightens Charlie most of all is a thunderstorm. Neither medication nor a Thundershirt can take the edge from his fear. He trembles and quivers and pants and searches for a small, dark, quiet, safe place. His instinct is to burrow his shivering self deep into the covers of my bed, under my knees.

But, if it is night and we are home in the bed, Charlie’s favorite safe hiding place is underneath the bed, on my side, because that is what Bernard taught Charlie to do instead of jumping under the covers with me. I take care of Charlie; but Charlie listens to Bernard, who does not particularly like Charlie because Charlie, as I mentioned, is batshit crazy. Also, as my daughter would tell you, I am Charlie’s dog and not the other way around.

It’s possible you might wonder: why keep such a dog? And that’s possibly a very normal thing to wonder if you aren’t a dog person. But if you are a dog person, then you probably know exactly why a such a dog is still around: because I love him, strange, broken dog that he is. And I am confident that Charlie would take a bullet for me, even though Bernard says I am counting on the protection of a dog who lives in abject fear of both rain and the 10-year-old Dyson.

This same dog rarely leaves my side. He sleeps at my feet when I write, and he sleeps on the bath mat when I shower, and he sleeps at the edge of the kitchen door when I cook dinner. And when I leave him to walk with his sister, whose feet are fully intact, he waits at the front door, panting, and does not leave the front window until I come home.


Recently, however,

one day late in the afternoon, I ran into the house and quickly changed from my work clothes, including my boots, into my walking clothes so I could get a bit of exercise before a gathering storm hit. And I left Charlie Brown, my scaredy-cat, broken, batshit-crazy dog, alone in the house, while bright flashes and dark clouds built in the distance, while I walked with his sister, the dog who sleeps through storms and has nary a care in the world.

And while I was walking, Charlie Brown, frightened by a rumbling sky, hiding in my closet, feeling quite abandoned, took comfort in chewing a soft, well-worn bit of leather that smelled like his favorite person in the world.

It is easy to become complacent, to forget that chewing is in the nature of the dog. It is easy to take things for granted, to neglect fragile interdependencies. It is easy to lose perspective, to forget that things are just things, easily replaced.

The dog ate my boot; that is all.

Food | Week of March 21, 2016

  1. Spring Green Risotto | Bibb Lettuce Salad
  2. Lamb Meatballs | Green Beans | Sweet Potato Wedges
  3. Honey-Roasted Brussels Sprouts | Warm Blue-Cheese Slaw | Steamed Broccoli | Cauliflower with Parmesan
  4. Fritatta with Ham, Gruyere and Onions
  5. Bittman’s Refried Beans | Rice | Cilantro Salad



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