Tesla’s Love is the blog for and about people who love animals. No one here cares whether it walks, crawls, swims, slithers, hobbles or knows how to fly, if there is a story about an animal that you love or loves you, this is the place to share that story. The story can be a tribute, a love story or a memorial. It can be about you, this truly is a site for people. Send your story and photos to teslaslove@gmail.com and we promise to post it here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Best Bad Dog

By Melanie Stengel

Harlie was not a good dog, but then I doubt that was ever one of her aspirations.
A rat terrier of more than dubious pedigree, she was born in the barn of a dog warden in Sommers, Conn. Harlie's mother was one of about 70 dogs rescued from a breeder/hoarder.
After my son and I looked at a dozen or so equally adorable puppies, I asked the dog warden "Which one has the most personality?"
She pointed without hesitation, "That little brown and white one."
So began a 12-year relationship that often caused me to lament my use of the word "most" over "best."
I could spend hours cataloging reasons to exclude Harlie from the Good Dog Club, but here are a few lowlights:
Harlie was a thief. Pocketbooks, jackets hung on doorknobs (making the pockets accessible), anything on a low lying table, were all fair game.
I once reached into my jacket to pay for an order at Dunkin' Donuts and found that I had no cash. A wad of bills later turned up under the bed.
Harlie was destructive. Shoes, furniture, underwear, writing implements, and rubber bands, were all part of the Harlie buffet. I once made the mistake of leaving my purse on the coffee table (see thief) and came downstairs to find a small dog wearing a lovely coral lipstick smile, smearing a chewed up tube of mascara all over the beige sofa. I grabbed the cushion covers and raced to the basement washing machine.
When I came back, one foam rubber cushion had already been shredded.
Harlie was disobedient. Despite the training that comes with the installation of an invisible fence, Harlie learned that if she ran fast enough she could break out of the yard without getting zapped. For some reason she could not apply this principal to getting back in. In her last year of life, too old and sick to make a getaway, Harlie would carry her ball to the driveway, drop it, and watch it roll past the invisible fence line. She would then bark until I brought it back. Reverse fetch - a perfect metaphor for our relationship. (The spring after her death, a single sprig of Queen Anne's Lace grew where Harlie's ball crossed the invisible fence line. It has not bloomed anywhere in the yard since.)
Harlie jumped out of a moving car and passed me on the street (she rolled down the electric window), stole a co- worker's bag lunch, and generally behaved in a way that led my friends to (somewhat) affectionately refer to her as "The Dog from Hell."
If it seems that I'm maligning a creature who was never able to speak for herself, let me assure you that I'm forever grateful that I got to share my life with this 16 lb. "Terrierist."
What Harlie lacked in goodness she more than made up for with what I can only inadequately call a zest for life.
Because of her inbreeding, Harlie suffered from myriad health problems. She took daily medication for Addison's disease. She had major dental problems that required her to wear a plastic cone on her head for four months. In a typical Harlie move, the day that the cone was removed, she chomped on a rock in the back yard, breaking her healing jaw. Said jaw was wired shut, the cone reinstalled, and I had to feed her through a stomach tube for the next three months.
Yet, through all of this, she attempted to hunt squirrels.
Finally, Harlie developed a truly horrible condition know as protein losing enteropathy. After local vets were unable to determine the cause, she was transferred to an intensive care facility in Norwalk. When I went to visit I found her lying shaved, shaking, with IV and feeding tubes. Maybe I should have let her go then, but she rose, and with what little strength she had, walked to the open cage door and stood with her forehead pressed to mine. For another week she endured more testing as well as blood and albumen transfusions. Finally, with no conclusions or hope, I brought her home to die. That night we lay together on the family room couch. Sometimes I would doze and wake to check her breathing. At 6 a.m. surprised to find her still sleeping peacefully, I slipped away to the kitchen to make myself some coffee. I heard a thud and turned, expecting the worst. There was Harlie, standing in the doorway looking for breakfast. For reasons no one could figure out, Harlie recovered much of her strength and lived for another nine months. I was going through a very low point in my life, and maybe she felt that she needed to see me through.
Ironically, the night that I returned, feeling renewed, from a retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, Harlie suffered a relapse. The vet offered to keep her for the night, but his office was cold and a storm was coming. Harlie hated both cold and storms, so I brought her home. We sacked out together on the family room couch for the last time.
I've heard the saying that all dogs go to heaven. If there is a heaven, I hope it's true. Heaven needs a dog like Harlie. I picture a heaven full of "good dogs" (think golden retrievers) being about as boring as the human equivalent of folks sitting around on clouds playing harps. When I was a child, my grandmother told me that a flash of lightning was a brief glance into Heaven. Now I like to think it's Harlie dashing through the invisible fence.


Joel Marks said...


Anonymous said...

A neat little story that says as much, or more, about the owner than the dog.

Mary said...

Reminds me of the book, "Marley and Me". I cried while reading your story. Your dog and you were so lucky to have each other. I have a dog who has had multiple (and expensive) health problems. Like you, there was never a second thought about taking care of her and doing all we could do to help her. The love of a dog can't be measured.They love you unconditionally, and a good dog owner feels the same. Treasure your memories of your beloved dog!v