Marc and I knew our Christmas vacation was finally over when we stopped by the Downtown Vet yesterday after work to pick up our wacky fur-baby, Barkley, from “camp.” The system is that you go in the front door to pay and then you go back outside to the side “kennel door” to pick up the beast. We’ve got it down. So we went outside, carefully arranged the blanket in the back seat to protect it from the impending dog slobber, and waited patiently for the kennel door to open. Suddenly, the door flew open and there appeared Barkley, straining against his leash like a wild boar (if wild boars wore leashes, that is) and nearly dragging the technician behind him. This is how it usually goes with Barkley. He’s not the most refined dog, and he has a little trouble containing his excitement…the only problem being that, well, just about everything excites Barkley. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to go through life with such enthusiasm, but even thinking about it makes me tired.
Anyone who meets Barkley typically says, “He’s a great looking dog.” And he is. But what I’ve come to learn is that it’s a little like the times when a friend tried to set you up on a date and can say only about the prospect that he or she “has a good personality.” Barkley is not a gentleman; in fact, he is the bull in the proverbial China Shop that is our home. In the world of manual transmissions, Barkley would be stuck in fifth gear…on an Indy car. But I don’t want to give him a bad reputation, at least not one that he hasn’t already earned by jumping on our friends’ children or eating Marc’s Burberry scarf a couple of years ago. Truly, it is Marc and me who are to blame–because when it comes down to it, Barkley really is a smart dog. He has selective hearing and chooses to acknowledge only his favorites words, like “treats,” “goodies,” or “go do business [aka go potty].” He even drops what he’s doing to check the front and back doors when you ask him if Daddy’s home. Commands such as, “No!,” “Down!,” and “Drop It!” fall on deaf ears.
Marc and I thought that we would give training a try. We even enrolled Barkley in the Humane Society’s “Puppy Kindergarten.” After four weeks (one day a week), Barkley graduated, only to eat his diploma in the car on the way home. We should have known then that Barkley was a renegade…a dog not bound by the conventions of dog training. The James Dean of the canine world. But he was cute, and we loved him, and after all…he was part of the family.
In my mind, I’ve often revisited the telltale signs that might have quietly whispered, “Turn back now…” We purchased Barkley from Tornado Kennels in Galva, Illinois (about a four hour trek from Indianapolis). When we were literally five minutes from the kennel, I made Marc stop the car at a gas station, because I was so nervous that my stomach actually felt sick [sign #1]. After we arrived, Lisa and Mark–the puppies’ human parents–asked if we wanted to see Barkley’s dad, Taos. We complied and headed out to the fenced in area just outside of the individual dog runs. The area was divided into two sections: one with all of the bitc…excuse me, Girl Dogs, and the other where the studs could strut their stuff. When they opened Taos’ run, he bolted across the yard and up to the fence where all of the “ladies” were oogling him with ga-ga eyes and wagging tails. He put on quite a show for awhile until he turned, and as if guided by some crazy cosmic dog spirit, locked eyes with us. If you’ve seen footage of the Running of the Bulls in Spain, then you might be able to grasp what came next as Taos took off mad-hell towards us with a full thirty yards or so to build up speed. I saw my life pass before my eyes as all 105-pounds of this massive dog came bearing down on us. I might have even closed my eyes, half expecting to be pummeled. At the last minute, he playfully broke to the side…as if he knew exactly what he was doing the whole time [sign #2]. While we were there, Barkley made another dog cry [sign #3], peed on the floor [sign #4], and refused to get in his crate [sign #5]. Once in the van, he barked the whole way home [sign #6], and then repudiated our attempts to get him to go potty at the rest stops [sign #7].
With all of that said, though, the last three years with Barkley have been fun. Sure, there are moments when he entirely lives up to the Tornado part of his heritage…days when he sneaks upstairs and raids the kitty box, or takes it upon himself to make sure the garbage is up to code. But he also has his moments, like the times he rests his head on the the arm rest between the two car seats and raises his eyebrows in a certain way…or when he jumps up onto the window seat in the dining room to “get lovin’s.” I’ll be the first to admit that Barkley is not a dog for the faint hearted; you cannot be stuffy with a dog like him. But if you’re looking for Bluto Blutarsky from Animal House…he’s your boy.