King of the Pool


“What do dogs do on their day off? They can’t lie around. That’s their job!” George Carlin

I’m a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover.

The first time I saw a Leonberger I knew that was the dog for me.

After Baby, our first one, turned two, I started looking for another one all over again. Baby’s name was supposed to be Hans, a German name for a German dog. But, when I told our breeder he was a Baby Huey, he started laughing, laughing for five minutes, so in the end his name became Baby.

I had been saving and saving, and when we got our income tax return I told Brian, “I’m ready to get another Leonberger.”

“Have you lost your mind?” he asked.

We went ahead. We got another one.

When we had Baby flown in from Missouri, he was laid back when we got him out of the crate, so chill, like a rock star. When we got Veruca she was a little afraid at first. I could tell we were going to have our hands full.

The first thing she did after shaking off the scariness was go after my diamonds and rubies. She tried to eat my necklace, my bracelet, and my earrings, everything. We thought, oh, we’ll call her Zsa Zsa, because of her love of jewels.

After a week we re-christened her Veruca, after Veruca Salt in Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

“I want it now!” She’s a brat.

Veruca is a big one, bigger even than Baby. She’s already got 10 pounds on Baby at the same age. I used to put buttered rice in Baby’s food because I thought he wasn’t eating enough, wasn’t growing, wasn’t getting big enough. Eat, Baby, eat!

With Veruca, the little fatty, I don’t have to do that.

All food all the time is fair game for Leonbergers. They’re taller than counters and tables. If I leave butter on a counter, it’s gone. If I set dinner out for Brian, but don’t push it back out of reach, they’ll go up and get it. It’s gone.

Veruca ate all my Malley’s Chocolates one day. She ate a whole box of them and didn’t even get diarrhea.

She comes charging into our living room, a runaway puppy train, and tries to jump on the couch, but can’t get her fat ass up there. She flops on her stomach and then flops on me. She’s going to be 200 pounds.

Baby has never been disciplined or corrected, not really. Leonbergers don’t like that. He has never been spanked because he’s so good. At least he was, until my birthday. Walking into the kitchen I heard slobbering and crunching.

“What the hell’s going on?” I thought.

Baby had his big fat self up in the air, on the counter, and was eating my birthday cake. All I could do was put my hands on my hips. “Baby!” I said. He jumped back, started crying, and threw himself down on his back.

“No, no, no,” he cried. It was ridiculous. You would have thought I was beating the dog with a log.

Veruca is different. When I corrected her for eating my chocolate, she barely paid attention.

“I ate your chocolate? Is there something you’re going to do about it?”

She’s been corrected one hundred thousand times, but she doesn’t care. When I correct Baby, he’s on the floor. Veruca, she just sits there defiantly. “This is it?” She does not care, does not care.

She’s the honey badger of Leonbergers. She doesn’t give a shit.

They are powerful dogs. When Baby stands on his hind legs he’s over my face. One afternoon he got so excited when I got home that he jumped up on me and we both fell through the back door.

My nephew Kyle is teaching Baby to slow dance. It’s ridiculous how much Baby is in love with his cousin. Kyle sat down on a white plastic chair on the patio. Baby was so glad to see him he ran out and jumped on Kyle’s lap. The legs of the chair shot out, the chair collapsed, and both Baby and Kyle landed sprawled out in the back yard.

“Is my kid hurt?”

“Which kid?”

Veruca has the same heavy paws, the same heavy forelegs, as Baby. I’ve already gotten a little bit of a fat lip from the big Veruca paw.

Kyle taught them to wrestle. When we’re in a park or at a festival little kids are all over Baby, rubbing his belly as he rolls around. Veruca is usually sitting next to him. God forbid Baby ever relaxes. If Veruca sees he’s getting too much attention she’ll start wrestling him, grabbing him by the neck, and shaking him. She’s a brat.

Baby, Veruca, and Grayson, our Lab, wrestle all day long. It sometimes sounds like our house is going to explode. They will be talking all at once and then barrel out the door. There’s an empty pool in our back yard. It used to be filled with water until the dogs destroyed it.

We cannot have nice things. I broke down against my better judgment and bought a new futon for the basement. They destroyed it. It’s gone. Sometimes dogs are famous for missing the point.

They run to the empty pool and whoever gets there first is the King of the Pool. The other two try to get in, they bark, and chase each other. It drives my neighbor, Dawn, crazy, which is a good thing. She’s awful. There’s nothing nice about that woman.

After Mary and Josephine died next door we got new neighbors on that side of us, who bought their house, a Puerto Rican couple in their 60s. They love both our dogs and us. “Don’t they drive you crazy?” I asked.

“We like it,” they said.

They weeded our yard one day and afterwards I sent over a plate of stuffed cabbages I had made. They raise chickens in their back yard, have a fire pit, and roast the chickens. They’re very sweet people. It’s great over there.

“Dawn doesn’t like Puerto Ricans,” said Chuck, Dawn’s boyfriend.

I pushed Baby, Veruka, and Grayson out the door.

“Go play King of the Pool,” I said.


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