Chapter 22

   Thelma is a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover. The first time she saw a Leonberger she knew that was the dog for her.

   After Baby, their first one, turned two, she 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 she told her breeder he was a Baby Huey, he started laughing, land stayed aughing for five minutes, so in the end his name became Baby.

   She had been saving and saving, and when they got their income tax return she told Brian, “I’m ready to get another Leonberger.”

   “Have you lost your mind?” he asked.

   They went ahead. They got another one.

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

   The first thing Veruca did after shaking off the scariness was rustle after telly’s diamonds and rubies. She tried to eat her necklace, her bracelet, and her earrings, everything. Steve thought, OK, we’ll call her Zsa Zsa, because of her love of jewels.

   After a week they 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. Telly used to put buttered rice in Baby’s food because she thought he wasn’t eating enough, wasn’t growing, wasn’t getting big enough. Eat, Baby, eat!

   With Veruca, the little fatty, she didn’t have to do that.

  All food all the time is fair game for Leonbergers. They’re taller than counters and tables. If Telly leaves butter on a counter, it’s gone. If she sets dinner out for Steve, but doesn’t push it back out of reach, they’ll go up and get it. It’s gone.

  Veruca ate all her Malley’s Chocolates one day. She ate a whole box of them and didn’t even get diarrhea. There was no remorse.

   “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. Leonbergers don’t like that. He has never been spanked because he’s so good. At least he was, until Telly’s birthday. Walking into the kitchen she heard slobbering and crunching.

   “What the hell’s going on?” she wondered.

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

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

   Veruca is different. When Telly corrected her for eating the chocolate, she barely paid attention.

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

   She’s been corrected one hundred thousand times, but she doesn’t care. When Telly corrects Baby, he’s on the floor. Veruca, she just sits there surly and defiant. “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 looms over Telly’s face. One afternoon he got so excited when she got home that he jumped up on her and they both fell through the back door.

   Her nephew Style is teaching Baby to slow dance. It’s ridiculous how much Baby is in love with his cousin. Style sat down on a white plastic chair on the patio. Baby was so glad to see him he ran out and jumped on Style’s lap. The legs of the chair shot out, the chair collapsed, and both Baby and he 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. Telly has already gotten a little bit of a fat lip from a big Veruca paw.

   Style taught them to wrestle. When they are 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 bully.

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

   Steve and Thelma cannot have nice things. She broke down against her 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 Telly’s neighbor, Dawn, crazy, which is a good thing. Dawn is awful. There’s nothing nice about that woman.

   After Mary and Josephine next door died, they got new neighbors on that side of them, who bought the M & J house, a Puerto Rican couple in their 60s. They love both the dogs and them. 

   “Don’t they drive you crazy?” Telly asked.

   “We like it,” they said.

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

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

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

   “Go play King of the Pool,” she said.

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