I try to be a good dog owner. I really do. But my dog is such an asshole. His name is Steve. We got him while we were living in Ecuador. We lived in a really rural mountain town where packs of stray dogs were constantly wandering the streets. There were puppies everywhere. Maybe one out of every two hundred puppies actually made it to be three months old. All of the little kids in town would keep the puppies and play with them until they got to be too big, and then they would toss them out on the street and find a new puppy to play with. This little girl who lived next door to us had this puppy and, after about a month, her dad told her it couldn’t stay in the house anymore, so she asked us to take care of it. So we did. That wasn’t Steve, that was Gladys. Gladys didn’t make it back to the US. Let’s just say that veterinarian care in rural Ecuador isn’t exactly what it is here in the States.
So Gladys died and all of our neighbors thought we were crazy for getting so upset. What’s the big deal? There are puppies everywhere. Look. Here. And the very next day after I had to put Gladys in a sack and drag her to the woods and actually dig a deep enough hole to bury her, one of our neighbors showed up at our house with this … thing. It looked a hamster. It was maybe the size of a softball. It was covered in fleas. Like, I thought his fur was grey until I looked closer and saw just swarms of tiny insects living off of this thing’s skin. We didn’t really want it, but this thing would have survived maybe another hour or two if we didn’t adopt it right then.
So we named him Steve. He actually looks like a Steve. I know that’s a crazy thing to say, but if you saw him, you’d agree. But like I said, Steve is also a huge asshole. He’s not mean or anything. He’s probably one of the friendliest dogs you’ll ever meet in your life. The problem is that he has way too much energy. Like, he never gets tired, ever. And he’s big. When we first got him, he would fall asleep in my sneakers. But now he’s pushing eighty pounds. And he’s lean, all muscle. Seriously, sometimes I don’t know who is walking who when he’s on a leash. He’s energetic, big, and he’s also pretty intelligent. That’s to say, he knows how to open doors and get inside places and make us think that he’s a good dog just long enough for us to let our guards down for a second, so he can then surprise us and wreak some havoc.
He’s intelligent and completely remorseless. I think that generations of street breeding have resulted in Steve, literally, the fittest to have survived on the streets of Ecuador, where so few dogs make it past puppyhood, where only the strongest, most resourceful, most willing to eat anything dogs have a chance at seeing another day. And I’m not talking about mean. Mean dogs get put down. Seriously, someone will just put out a bowl of poison soup and that’s it. Successful street dogs have to make humans think that they’re friendly, all while waiting for the perfect opportunity for you to look the other way while it jumps up and steals an ice cream cone right out of your hand.
Steve knows he’s not supposed to eat our stuff. Steve knows that he’s not supposed to jump on the furniture. He knows all of these but he doesn’t care. He cares about getting caught, and that’s it. We’ve totally given up on keeping him off the couch. It was the most losing fight I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life. He would jump on the couch. I would push him off and tell him no. He would wait ten minutes and jump on again. This pattern repeated itself, without pause, for about two months. Are you surprised I gave up? I’m surprised I lasted that long. Steve could have kept it up for the rest of his life.
He eats anything. It’s in his DNA. When I take him out, he has his nose constantly to the ground, ready to chomp at anything he’s lucky enough to get close to. He eats grass until he throws up. He rips apart and eats a whole rope dog toy in a day, those rope toys that normal dogs play with for years. One time we bought him a rope toy and the next day it was missing. Disappeared. A few days later he starts gagging like he’s going to throw up, and the whole toy finally came out, like he had swallowed it whole. And he just starts going right back at it again, determined to have it pass through his entire digestive system.
He tricks us all the time. Twice now he’s acted fine without any behavioral problems for a week or two. So we think, OK, it’s about time that we can leave him out of his cage when we’re not around. I always feel bad locking him up while I’m at work, so it was a relief to have him be able to at least hang out on the couch. And for the first four days or so he was fine. But then I came home one day and he had totally destroyed the couch. Stuffing everywhere. Back to the cage buddy. But then after a few months he started behaving again, so I figured I’d give him another shot at freedom. I really liked the way I’d come home and he’d be at the door all jumping up and wagging his tail. But again, after four days or so, I come downstairs one morning and he’s sitting next to a pile of debris. He had jumped on the table and found my wallet and all the cash I had in my pockets, and he made confetti out of all of my credit cards, my driver’s license, my money. And I start yelling at him, but he probably did it hours ago. He didn’t remember. I was yelling at him and he’s just wagging his tail.
I’m pretty sure that, somewhere along his family tree, one of his descendents started to become undomesticated. They strayed just a little too far from civilization and realized that they could survive without being completely obedient to humans. So Steve isn’t completely feral, but he’s just feral enough that when he’s sitting next to me on the couch, and I call his name, and he realizes that I’m not giving out treats, and he completely ignores me, I’m wondering, what is this wild animal that I’ve let inside of my home? What is he capable of? What kind of trouble is Steve the Destroyer going to get into next time? Because there’s definitely going to be a next time. I can’t be totally vigilant. It’s too much work. He’ll just wait me out every time.
I try to be a good dog owner. I used to be really confident that, if I were just consistent with my behavior towards Steve, if I just tried really, really hard, I’d somehow will him into submission. I’d tell people, “No, he’s getting better. Steve! Stop it! Stop! Steve! He’s getting better.” But now I’m just resigned to the fact that he’s probably only going to be a good dog when he gets so old that all he wants to do is sit around and sleep. And guessing by the resourcefulness of Steve’s lineage, that’s probably not going to be for another twenty years or so.