I always had a dog growing up. Well not me personally, but my family — an English springer spaniel and later a yellow Labrador, who still vigilantly patrols the boundaries of my parents’ property. But growing up with a dog is not at all the same as owning one, and bearing all the responsibilities entailed.
This year I’ve sort of adopted one of my own — a handsome pointer/pit bull mix named Linus that my girlfriend, Hope, rescued two years ago.
For Linus and me, it was not love at first sight. He was abused as a puppy and as a result is fearful of men he does not know. It took about three days of encouragement from Hope before Linus would allow me to approach him.
Sadly, a stigma surrounds rescued animals, especially pit bulls (some municipalities have gone as far as to ban the breed). I had no previous experience with either before meeting Linus. He is an absolutely wonderful dog — energetic, loyal and remarkably clever (we affectionately call him Stoffels, after the shrewd honey badger made famous in a BBC documentary).
An accomplished escape artist in his own right, Linus has twice unzipped his travel crate from the inside. On a recent walk in Vergennes, he found a rotund woodchuck out in the open and chased it to the tree line. I jogged over to find that the rodent had escaped through a woodchuck-sized hole in a chain link fence. Linus, undeterred, inched underneath the fence on his back, sucking in his belly to fit through the six-inch opening. I grabbed his hind paws and pulled him out. Otherwise, that woodchuck was a goner.
Needless to say, Linus has purged our yard of rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and any other vermin bold enough to venture onto the premises.
He’s sustained a number of battle scars in his few short years. Twice, he was quilled by New Mexican porcupines, and also sustained a cut on his belly while chasing a doe through a marsh. He’s currently recovering from his most recent injury — while tearing apart a dead log to ferret out a chipmunk, he split a nail on his right paw all the way to the toe. He tried to downplay its severity by licking the blood away as it formed, but we dragged him to the vet, who removed the nail surgically. The post-op rules: house arrest, seven to 10 days. This does not sit well with him.
His paw wrapped in bandages, Linus has spent that time moping around our condo, sighing every so often to alert us of his displeasure. He stares longingly out the windows at the yard, where the vermin have begun to return. Just this morning, two squirrels had the audacity to perch at the edge of the driveway. They will rue the day.
Life is never dull with Linus; his precociousness ensures that. The 60-pound hound stores energy as a camel stores water, and his gait, and full gallop, spans some six feet. But despite his lust for vermin chasing and the outdoors, he is not an early riser, and assumes the disposition of a jellyfish when I drag him up from the bed in the morning.
He loves Hope deeply while recognizing my potential as a Milk Bone dispenser, belly rubber and running companion. He also has his flaws, including an incident we seldom speak of where he christened our new rug with vomit. But we forgive him.
I had never thought of adopting a rescue dog, and I am grateful I now have one in my life, even though he occasionally burps in my face and does not apologize. There are far too many dogs without loving homes — the Humane Society of the United States estimates between 6 million and 8 million — and I will look to adopt one in the future. But for now, one Stoffels is enough to handle.