All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Chapter 11

   Before Steve-o stopped blazing, he turned the younger of their two cats, whose name was Stones, into a deadhead. They started calling Stones the Stony because when he and Steve were in the bedroom together and the man was smoking weed, whenever Steve exhaled, Stony inhaled.

   He would lean up on his haunches and sniff for the smoke. The look Stony always gave Telly, whenever she caught them together, was the WTF look. He thought he was the hepcat of cats.

   Afterwards, after Steve gave up drugs, they changed his name back from Stony to Stones and he went back to using catnip. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about catnip being an introducing drug? He was a multi-colored longhair boy, in more ways than one.

  They called Sebastian, their older cat, Big Orange. He had a different take on life. He ran out into the backyard whenever he could and hunted when he was young, but later on in middle age spent most of his time eating in the basement.

   That didn’t work out too well for him. As he got older, they started calling him Fatbastian. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept eating and getting bigger.

   Steve’s uncles and dad weren’t gangsters, but his dad’s friends and his uncle’s friends were all gangsters. His dad was an attorney for the Mob. He was the lawyer for the guy who killed Danny Greene with a car bomb in Lyndhurst. But, at the same time, he was a good friend to Danny Greene for many years. His house in Little Italy was a gift from Danny Greene and the Celtic Club.

   His family always had wads of money when he was growing up. Whenever Steve smashed up a car his dad would have a new one for him the next day. Speeding tickets got taken care of. There was no need to slow down.

   Steve was using at eleven and selling at thirteen. His uncles were addicts and used to run in and hide their stashes from the police under his bed. When Steve was older, he ran errands for his dad. Once, when his dad was on the verge of going to jail, because he wouldn’t give something up, or because of a client, he told Steve he absolutely needed him to go to Columbus that day.

   “These papers have to be in the court system by 5 o’clock. Make sure you get there.”

   Steve hauled ass down to Columbus, delivered the papers, and proceeded to get trashed, tequila trashed, to the point he was swinging at and spitting at policemen who had been called to get him out of the bar that he was a making a mess of it. He was a Steve-o mess wobbling on two feet.

   They hauled him out and arrested him. They gave him one phone call. He called his dad.

   “I’m in jail,” he said.

   “I have one question for you.”


   “Did you deliver the papers?”


   “OK, sit tight, you’ll be out in one hour.”

   He was out in fifty minutes.

   Steve’s brother, Bobby, had a car lot on Carnegie on the east side of Cleveland, which he has had for going on more than thirty years. That’s where their dad Robert Sr., Bobby, and Brian got started rescuing dogs. People just dumped animals there. They rescued tons of dogs at the car lot. They would take care of them and try to find them homes.

   When Steve worked with Bobby at the car lot, they found dogs on the street, picked them up, and brought them back to the lot. Once Bobby and he were picking up a used car and saw a mistreated dog tied to a tree in the yard. He was in bad shape, barely a leg to stand on.

   “What’s with the dog?” asked Brian, keeping his eyes on the man whose dog it was.

   “Oh, he’s a bad dog, got to keep him tied,” said the man.

   Steve looked at the dog and then looked at the man and then the dog again.

   “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You keep the car, and we’ll take the dog. To make it an even trade we won’t say anything about you abusing animals.”

   “No sir, you can’t have that dog.”

   Bobby put his right hand in his pocket and kept it there. The man looked at the pocket. “Oh, hell, just take it,” he spit out.

   They untied the dog and took it with them.

   There was a pack of wild dogs living in a wooded field behind the car lot. Bobby and Steve put bowls of food out on the edge of the tree line for the dogs. One day Steve heard screaming and howling, so like an idiot he went into the woods. He found a blind dog whose litter of puppies had been mauled and some eaten by other dogs.

   “Dogs will eat other dogs if they’re that hungry. They will. They’ll eat anything.”

   He grabbed the puppies that were still left and ran. The blind dog howled for three days in the woods. There was nothing anybody could do.

   Steve’s dad died the same year Telly’s dad died. Afterwards, Steve was living with Bobby when he and his intended met. After they got married, they shared the house with Bobby for almost a year, until Telly couldn’t take it anymore.

   “He loved us living there because I grocery shopped, cooked, and cleaned. I am a clean freak. My vacuum never gets put away. That’s how much I love to vacuum.”

   Bobby and Steve have the same eyes, although Bobby is a little shorter and thicker than Steve, has curlier hair, and is a deviler. Telly has OCD, putting her at odds with the deviler. “Everyone knows you don’t fuck with someone who has OCD,” she said. “You just don’t do that! Except for Bobby, who thought it was funny to mess with me, even though I always got mad. He didn’t seem to care.”

   There was no good place to do her make-up in the Little Italy house. The rooms were weirdly cut and sectioned and there wasn’t any good lighting, so she had to do it downstairs. “I kept my make-up bag there. Freddie stuffed banana peels and old food wrappers into my bag when I was sleeping. Do you know how disgusting and dirty and filthy that is?”

   Bobby would just laugh. He thought he was funny, but he wasn’t. But Telly did not cry. It took everything she had to not punch him in the face. Her dad was somebody who always said, “Someone’s pissed you off? Go beat the shit out of them.”

   “You think you want to hit me?” Bobby would say. “Go ahead, try.”

   She used to get so upset that her fists balled up. More than anything else in the world she wanted to hit him.

   “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to lower myself to who you are. I’m still a good person.”

   Bobby wasn’t all bad, though.

   In the morning he’d say to Telly, “Pack some extra lunch meat in case I find a dog on the streets today.” She would pack both their lunches and Bobby and Steve would go to work at the car lot. Just in case a dog was in bad shape and needed rescuing that day, and in case the dog was hungry, they always had cold cuts handy for it.

Chapter 12

   Thelma met Steve, her husband-to-be, right after he got out of jail and came home for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, she was getting thrown out of her house, again, after her dad died and she threatened to kill her sister.

   They met at Mad Anthony’s, and later Steve followed her to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when she was out with her friends. The stars were bright in a clear sky.

   “I needed to get loose that night. Patty and I got into a fight at mom and dad’s house and when she tried to choke me, I told her I was going to punch her in the face and kill her if she ever put her hands around my neck again.”

   “What did you say?” Patty shrieked.

   “I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” Telly yelled when she pushed Patty off. “I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.”

   She never touched Thelma again after that, but the threat of killing her didn’t go over very well.

   Steve had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern, slinging shots and beers. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 maybe it hadn’t been forever, not exactly. Whenever anyone mentioned anybody’s name to Steve at the bar he always said, “Oh, I know him.”

   “Food, spirits, and characters” is what they say at that place.

   After the fight with Patty, Telly went to her church, Bay Presbyterian, to talk to one of the pastors. “I was born a Christian, raised a Christian, and will always be a Christian. I have always gone to Bay Presbyterian, took my family there, and I still go there.”

   She had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that they had been roughed up as kids. She was freaking out that her dad had died, and was upset, too, about her ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain. They had been seeing each other for seventeen years.

   There was no reelection on the horizon. If there had been, Telly’s chances of higher office were slim. Craig had his eye on future chances.

   “What are you doing with Craig?” her minister asked.

   “Why would you ask me such a thing?”

   “Why do you stay with him?” he asked.

   “You really want to know? I’ll let you know! I made a promise a long time ago, when I was a Young Lifer and I accepted Christ into my heart, that I would never have pre-marital sex. When I met Craig, a couple of years into our relationship, I started having sex. I said to myself, well, I’ve made my bed and I’m going to lie in it.”

   “No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not the life the Lord wants for you.”

   They started praying for the kind of guy she wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What she didn’t know was Steve was praying to meet someone at the same time. He wasn’t being as specific as Thelma, though.

   After Steve got out of jail for driving too fast too drunk, and shortly after his dad died, Bobby, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. Steve was a full-blown addict by then. When she met him, he was drinking a fifth of Yukon with beer chasers and snorting coke so he could keep drinking.

   He had started thinking life more-or-less of sucks. He hadn’t had a girl to talk to for more than two years, because he was an obnoxious drunk, and he was down, if not out. One day while he was walking the dogs, dogs that Bobby and he rescued, he started praying, which was something he had never truly done before.

   “God, if you can, bring me a woman. Please make that happen. I’m lonely, I’m miserable, and I hate my life. Please show me someone who can show me how to love you as much as I can love her.”

   Shortly after that Telly’s friends and she were out for a party at Mad Anthony’s. Steve walked in and as he went by, he locked eyes with her. After he was past, she was talking to her friends when she got that creepy feeling that someone was staring at her. After another drink she kept feeling that long steep stare. She went over to where Steve was sitting alone.

   “I’m pretty sure we went to high school together,” she said.

   “Yeah, Bay High,” he said.

   Then he asked her out on a date and five more.

   “Really, dude, six dates?”

   He wanted Telly to go with him to the wedding of a sportswriter friend of his, but he thought they should go out six times first, to test the waters.

   “Alright, alright,” she said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.” She gave him her phone number.

   “We’re going to the next bar,” her friends said.

   “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Steve. “Call me.”

   He followed them out. By the time they got to the Tick Tock he was a different person than the man she had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, getting obnoxious and loud. By then it was too much Yukon on the brain. It was all downhill.

   “I’m leaving, so piss off,” she finally told him.

   “Jenny, why don’t you come home with me?”

   “Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”

   “Jenny, Jenny, why are you going?”

   “Because my name’s Telly and that’s why I’m not going home with you.”

   As she went through the door, she shot him a look. “Great, he’s got my phone number,” she thought. But she gave him a second look. “He could be really handsome if we got rid of that huge monobrow.”

   The next morning, he called her.

   “What do you want?” she asked, ready willing able to hang up.

   “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” he said. “Talk to me.”

   “I can’t do it,” she said. “I have drugs and alcohol in my family. The last thing I’m going to do is put up with it in a boyfriend. It’s not going to happen.”

   “No, no, no, I’m good,” he said.

   They talked some more. When Steve wasn’t drinking like a drunkard, he was charming. He charmed her into a date and then another one, and another one. They always went out with a group because she wouldn’t go out with him by herself. She was leery skittish. Every time she went out with him, she left him at a bar at the end of the night.

   “You’re an idiot,” and she would leave, stamping her feet. He usually walked the east west railroad tracks home.

   But he started to get better, slowly, and as he did, they got better together, two hands tick-ticking the same clock.

Chapter 13

   Steve and Thelma used to have two cats, Stones and Sebastian, but they lost Sebastian, who was their big fat orange cat. They were out with friends on a Friday night and when they came home the first thing that struck them was that the whole house smelled like pee. It looked like a massacre had happened downstairs in the den.

   They let the dogs out and Stones, their smaller cat, was at the baby gate frantically trying to get out, too.

   “What the hell went on?” Telly asked Steve.

   In the backyard Nanook, their Husky, was all over Gretel, their German Shepherd.

   “Oh, my God, oh, my God,” Telly cried out. “Gretel’s hurt.”

   “No, no, no, she’s fine,” Steve said, after checking her out.

   They went back into the house, down to the den, sniffing around, and Steve found Sebastian.

   “Telly, call the hospital,” he said.

   He scooped up Sebastian, who was hissing and screaming, wrapped him up as snugly as he could in a blanket, and they drove him to the Animal Hospital.

   He’s not too badly hurt,” the vet said. “Although, I can see he’s wheezing.”

   “He always wheezes,” Telly said.

   “He’s a little heavy, too.”

   “That’s why we call him Fatbastian.”

   He was their cat because former friends of theirs one day asked them to watch him for a few weeks. They were moving to Chicago. “Sure,” Telly said, like a gullible idiot.

   “Do you think they’re ever coming back?” she asked Brian ten years later.

   “No, the cat is ours to keep.”

   What they didn’t know, while they were chatting in the waiting room of the Animal Hospital, was that the vet had taken blood from Fatbastian and was having it analyzed. When they were ready to leave, thinking Fatso was going to spend the night in care, one of the aides came back.

   “The doctor wants to see you in the exam room,” she said.

    Nothing good ever comes from those words, Telly thought.

   “You need to put him down,” said the vet.

   “Why? You just said he was fine.”

   “I took his sugar and it’s over 420. He’s 13-years-old,” said the vet. “You should just put him down. He’s going to take a turn for the worse, much sooner than later.”

   What happened that night while they were out was that diabetes finally caught up with Sebastian. Gretel attacked him when he started having seizures. She tried to take Sebastian out. It’s a natural instinct with dogs. “If they see you are lame, or sick, or whatever, they will try to put you out of your misery.”

   Their personal vet, who performed house calls, never told them Sebastian had diabetes. She just said he was fat, and they should put him on canned food. But, when they did, he refused to eat it. He ate all the dried dog food instead, because it’s fattier.

   Gretel once attacked another dog they rescued, a dog who turned out to have cancer. Gretel kept smelling her and smelling her for weeks and weeks. “Let me help you out,” is what Gretel said one day, barked, and tried to end her life there and then.

   “We had to get the other dog sewn up. Gretel now knows, after that episode, and after what happened to Sebastian, we don’t eat other cats and dogs. I’ve made that plain to Gretel.” 

   When Telly’s sister Patty lived in West Park the lady next door was always afraid of Wellington, Patty’s big Rottweiler. One afternoon the dog slipped into her backyard, and was sniffing around, and she spotted him. She started screaming and carrying on. Wellington thought she was in trouble and ran right over. He turned his butt to her, backed her up against the side of the garage, and pinned her there.

   “What is trying to hurt you? I’ll protect you!” That’s what Wellington was trying to say. Patty heard the noise and rushed next door.

   “Your dog is attacking me!”

   “He’s protecting you, you fool,” said Patty, after sizing up what she was seeing. “Although you don’t deserve it. Your cat would push you down the stairs.”

   Patty rubbed Wellington on the head as she brought him back to the house.

   “You poor dumb dog, you’re the beast she thinks is attacking her.”


   The first dog Telly rescued on her own, once she was grown up and living in an efficiency apartment on Lake Road, was a Spaniel who was running around Patty’s West Park house. It was winter and snowing and cold. It took calmness and patience and stealth to get the dog to come to her.

   She lay on the ground in the snow until the dog finally came to her. She petted him and he followed her back to Patty’s house. She called a shelter and later took him there.

   Telly always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought she was going to have ten of them, her own pack. Then she met Steve and his brother Bobby the Bothersome. They rescued dogs and after Steve and she got married, and after they left Bobby behind in Little Italy, they started doing that, too.

   They have rescued so many dogs that people now ask them to find them dogs for pets.

   When God puts the love of an animal, or the love of something, in your head, you’re going to work with it. It’s there, in Telly’s head, and it’s in her heart, too. She cannot to this day turn them away.

   Somebody posted a picture on Facebook of a dog chained up and all alone in Atlanta. Telly asked Steve, are you ready to take a ride to Georgia? She was ready to go down deep south. “Chaining a dog up all by himself, all alone at the end of a chain, is the worst punishment anybody can impose on a dog. You can hit him, and he will come back to you. But the worst thing you can do is separate a dog from people. They just want affection.”

   When she had to send her dogs downstairs for a time out, they slowly crept back up the basement stairs and sat at the top of them. She tried to ignore them. They look like the worst thing in the world has just happened. They would probably howl, but they know full well they’re not allowed to.

   “It can be heartbreaking.”

Chapter 14

   Being a Christian means you don’t have to be a good person. You can be a piece of shit. Thelma knew that, just like she knew she was a piece of shit, but she also knew someone paid her debt off. That’s what being a Christian means.

   “Someone paid my debt for me, died for it, and then rose again. I can be a sinner, I can be a drinker, and I can be born this way and that way. I can be the person who never changes, because someone has saved me.”

   After they met, Steve began praying that Telly and he would meet some more. He got a with-it haircut and got his monobrow waxed. He became a more handsome man. Some people think he looks like Al Pacino while others think he looks like Eric Roberts. Telly thinks he looks like the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

   Every time they went out, she wrapped up whatever last date it was that night thinking it was the last time. After three months of give and take she had a party at her house, and he came to it. It wasn’t her house, not exactly, it was Craig’s house, her ex-boyfriend’s, but by then he had moved out and she was still living there, alone.

   All her friends came over and everyone stayed the night because they were drinking long and hard. They all left in the morning, except Steve. He didn’t leave, but Thelma left after breakfast. She had an appointment at Bay Presbyterian with her minister that morning.

   She told her minister about who she had met and what was happening.

   “I’m fucked,” she thought.

   “Red flags should be going up,” he said.

   “They are!” she said. “They are going up all over!”

   They prayed and her minister made a list with a good side on the right and a bad side on the left. She started checking them off, drug addict, Mob ties, can’t always remember my name, until her minister finally stopped her.

   “He’s mostly on the bad side of the list,” Telly pointed out.

   “Do you believe God can move mountains,” he asked.

   “Of course, I do,” she said.

   “What makes you think you can’t change Steve?”

   “That’s a good question.”

   “You could stay away from him, but that’s not what Christianity is about.”

   “You’re right,” she said. “Jesus hung out with prostitutes and shitty people.”

   Steve and Thelma were both abused when they were young. He went to drugs and alcohol. She went to the Lord. When Telly got back home to Craig’s house, she told Steve what her minister had said.

   “He didn’t tell you I was a piece of crap and you should leave me?” he asked. Steve was brought up a Catholic. He looked on the doom and gloom side of things.

   “No,” she said. “But he did say you should change your ways and follow Christ. He said if you would stop drinking for a year then you have his permission to further your relationship with me.”

   “I’ll never drink again,” Steve said.

   “Get out of my house, get out, and don’t come back!” Thelma exploded.

   He just gaped at her.

   “You can’t make those kinds of promises. What is the point if you don’t tell the truth? Nobody can help you if you don’t tell the truth. I’m all about the truth. Call me if you ever sober up.” He looked and looked at her. “What?” she asked.

   “I’m sorry,” he said. “But you have to give me a ride.”

   He didn’t own a car. Telly drove him back to Little Italy.

   He called her the next morning. “I’m still sober,” he said. “I’m never going to drink again. You’re my life and I’m going to marry you.”

   “Don’t say shit like that,” she said.

   They got married on St. Patrick’s Day. Steve has been dead sober for fourteen years and they have been married for thirteen years. St Patrick is the saint who said, “Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise.” He’s the patron saint of unworthy sinners.

   Steve found Christ, but the one thing he did not do was he didn’t stop smoking weed. Telly was OK with it, except it bothered her when he was getting high in the car while they were on their way to church.

   “I don’t care what the fuck you do,” she finally told him,” but don’t go to church high. I’m not going to harp on it, it’s just something I can’t stand.”

   Thelma swears like a truck driver. Steve is OK with it. She grew up with the word ‘fuck’ flying up and down the dinner table every night. She thought for many years her mother invented and patented the word. At least she made it her own, like Telly now. “I say it every day in front of my minister. There’s no fakeness. I’m very real. If that is how I’m going to talk then that is how I’m going to talk.”

   The weed was where she drew the line with Steve, although when you get everything on your go-to list answered the way you want it, down to his eye color, you don’t throw it back in God’s face saying, no thanks. But she had to draw a line in the sand.

   “You’re not going to go to church anymore if you’re going to get high on the way,” she said.

   He got down on his hands and knees and asked the Lord to take the yoke from his neck and get rid of the addiction. He wanted to get clean, and it was in his heart. He hasn’t smoked for almost ten years.

   She had a dream one night that he went back to the bottle.

   “That’ll never happen,” he said. “Did I have fun then? Do I miss those days, Sure, I had a blast, it was a great time, but I was lonely and I was by myself and was sad, on top of it all. I love my life now.”

   He was a drunk then. He didn’t know a lot about sobriety, only a lot about drinking. He never had just one beer. Whenever he bought a six-pack, he drank a six-pack. He used to make her so mad when he drank like a fish.

   “I’m going to punch you in the fucking throat!” she would yell when she saw him boozing.

   He doesn’t smoke or drink anymore. He’s the first one to tell everyone that Christ is real and alive and working in all our lives every day. They still go to bars, but he just watches Telly drink. It only takes a couple and she loose as a goose.

   They don’t have to not go to bars because of Steve or leave five minutes after they’ve gotten there, either. He can go to a bar and not drink. He’s made that happen. He started getting it through his head that it was about the people he was with, especially since ace in the hole he was with her.

Chapter 15

   It was last summer that Thelma started noticing her mom wasn’t herself.

   “Something’s wrong with mom,” she told her brother Brad.

   “What do you mean?” he asked. 

   “Something’s up, maybe she’s in another drug psychosis, because she’s got issues.”

   Steve and she had gone to Florida with her mom and Pete, their stepdad, to their house there. She got into a problem then and got put on steroids. It just wreaked havoc with her. One thing led to another and she started overdoing, overtaking, and overdosing everything. It wasn’t exactly anything new. She went into a psychosis. They got her out of the hospital in Florida. They had to detox her.

   “Mom, you have to go back to the hospital,” Thelma told her getting off the plane in Cleveland. “You have got to get clean.”

   “I’m not going back to the hospital, Jay,” she said. He mom called Telly the Jay Bird.

   “Yes, you are. You’re not done. There’s something seriously wrong. You have to go back and finish.”

“If you think I’m going back to the hospital, you’re wrong, I’m not. I’m healthy.”

   She was mad as a hornet and called Telly everything but a white woman. “If you think this is fun for me, you are seriously mistaken,” Thelma said. 

   “Fuck off, Jay,” she said.

   “Maybe later, mom, but right now, I’ve got to get you to a hospital.” 

   Even though she was pissed, they got her there. Afterwards things got better, even though she wasn’t sleeping any good at night. Then she fell and broke her spine. They told her she needed surgery. 

   “I don’t want to,” she said. “I’m going to go on pain management instead.”

   “Oh, great,” she said to her brother. “She’s going to take more drugs.” Her house was already like a pharmacy.

   But, within a week she couldn’t walk. She had to have surgery because of the way her vertebra broke. It was poking into a nerve. After surgery she seemed better, but she was high all the time. She would take an OxyContin and then a couple of Percosets and be gone like a kite in the sky. Telly’s mom was 78 years-old and was tripping. It wasn’t anything new. She took drugs most of her life. It started when she became a nurse. After that it was going to the doctor, getting drugs, then seeing more doctors, and getting more drugs.

   Thelma started noticing after her mom started gettingslightly better that she was being less herself. At first, they thought she had a urinary tract infection, one thing after another. That’s why they thought she was looking sounding and acting crazy. But the doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection.

   “I just have a flu,” Alma said.

   “Maybe it’s missing the drugs,” said Pete. “She hasn’t taken any narcotics in three weeks.”

   “Why isn’t she taking her drugs?” Telly asked. “She’s a major hypochondriac. I mean, she lives to take drugs.” All of a sudden, a woman who lived to take drugs wouldn’t take a single pill. She wouldn’t take her thyroid medication or her asthma medicine.

   “You have to take these,” Telly said.

   “You’re not a nurse,” Alma said.

   “Take your medicine.”


   On top of everything she was diabetic and wouldn’t take her insulin. “Don’t you think it’s time to measure her sugar?” Pete asked Telly.

   “She doesn’t seem to have any idea,” she said. “It’s like she doesn’t know she needs insulin.”

   They took her back to the doctor’s office. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He said she might have had some ministrokes, which he was going to have to test for. When they finally got her to take her medicine, she would only take them from Telly. She had to put them in applesauce and feed it to her like that. She wouldn’t take any from Pete or her brother Brad. Brad is like their dad and that makes Alma mad. She never liked Fred.

   “Do want supper, mom?”

   “No, I already ate some” she will say, even though she hasn’t. You have to live in her world. There’s no more reasoning with her. You have to take all reasoning out of the conversation.

   Suppose she wants to have her hair brushed? You learn to use little white lies and trade-offs. “You take your medicine, mom, and I’ll brush your hair.” It’s hard to watch. It’s like seeing your mom revert back to childhood. Telly started doing art projects with her, just to keep her mind occupied.

   “My brother helps a little, but my stepdad and I take care of her. My sister Patty, who hasn’t talked to me in more than seven years, lives in a podunk town somewhere in Maine. No one even knows the name of the town. My other sister, Betsy, has a hard time with it. It makes her sad, even though she and my mom never got along. She can’t deal with it and just stays away.”

   Thelma to her mom’s house on Mondays and Fridays. She gave her a bath every Monday. Fridays were usually her bad day. Home health care comes in five days a week and makes sure she takes her medicines. She’ll take them from a stranger, although not always. One Thursday she slept for more than fourteen hours and when Friday morning arrived still didn’t want to get up.

   “I don’t want to,” she said.

   “But why mom?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “I don’t want to get you upset, but Tiffany’s going to be here tomorrow to give you your medicine. Do you remember Tiffany?”

   “I don’t forget, Jay. The doctor says I don’t. I was just there.”

   “OK, that’s what he said?”

   “He says I don’t have a memory problem at all.”

   “Mom, that’s great,” Telly said. “I’m glad you don’t have a memory problem,”

   “She can come here, but I won’t get out of bed.”

   “I can guarantee you she will be back here. You be nice.”

   “Oh, I’m nice. I’m just not going to get up.”

   “That’s not being nice.”

   “I know what’s nice and not nice.”

   There are some things she just knows. She doesn’t know, but she knows.

Chapter 16

   Thelma got ice cream for her dogs all the time.

   It started years ago when she used to go to her sister Patty’s house in West Park with their family’s Rottweiler, whose name was Chavez. She took Patty’s Rottie, whose name was Wellington, and Chavez for a walk.

   She and the dogs walked to the Dairy Queen on Riverside Drive. It’s a Cone Zone now, but back then it was a DQ. She did that every weekend without fail. One Saturday, as they were strolling past the Shell gas station on their way to the DQ, she spotted a pack of guys walking towards them. There were a gaggle of them, seven black guys, coming her way. She began to get a little nervous.

   “Shit,” Telly muttered to herself.

   As they got closer to her, they started being obnoxious and making cat calls.SheI had two thoughts going. One was that she shouldn’t make eye contact with them, and the other was, at least I have my dogs with me. But, when she looked the posse over sideways glancing, it didn’t seem like the guys had even noticed the dogs.

   Finally, when they got closer, they focused on the Rottweilers and the Rottweilers focused on them. They stopped and Telly stopped, and the dogs stopped and started to bristle. Then, just like that, they all split.

   “Thank God,” she thought. 

   One of them yelled back over his shoulder, “That’s some well-guarded pussy.”

   “You guys are getting extra ice cream,” she said to Chavez and Wellington. “You’re getting a sundae, in fact, one big one for each of you.”

   Dogs, they know, they know what’s up in the wild. They have a sixth sense. They don’t like anything that the other five senses don’t add up to. If you have something to worry about, then you have something to worry about. If you don’t, you’re fine. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from dogs.

   Steve and she had a Wolf Black Lab who was her life when there was still lots of life in him. He was the sweetest thing ever and she just loved that dog. His name was Blue. One night they ordered Chinese. The only time she ever saw Blue go after somebody was when the deliveryman came to their front door. The Wolf Black Lab chased him right back to his car. He barked at the car all the way down the street as it sped away.

   He never before or ever after did anything like that. The deliveryman obviously had bad intentions. If someone comes to the door and there’s ill will, or there are bad intentions, the hair on dog necks goes up and their blood starts to run hot.

   A woman’s intuition is strong, but a dog’s is even stronger. They know when the feeling is just not right. There have been a few times in Telly’s life when things have not been right. Every time she’s had a dog with her for protection.

   They usually have five or six dogs in the house, so a bad man would have to be out of his mind to try and come and rob their house. He would have to be absolutely nuts. Cats will offer you up as a sacrifice, but a dog, it’s all about save and protect.

   Steve found a Rottweiler who needed a new home. He was going to move it to one of his cousins. But he private messaged Telly, “My cousin’s not responsible.” After that she put the dog up on Facebook. She had a client at the hair salon who had been pestering her for a Rottweiler, so she tagged her, and she came back with, “When can I meet this dog?”

   “Let me find out what the scoop is,” Telly told her.

   Her client had just built a house in Olmsted Township. The dog was from Olmsted Falls, and he loved children and other dogs, so everything was all right there. Steve called Telly and said, “I think I’ve got someone else who wants that dog.”

   “Well, if the meet and greet doesn’t go well, you can have your shot, but remember she was first,” Telly said.

   In the end, my haircut client was wealthy, they had a good home, and they had put down their own Rottweiler a couple of months ago. They loved the new dog, the new dog loved them, and it all came together.

   Sometimes they take dogs in themselves, especially if they find them on the street. They found Gretel that way. Steve brought her in and when Telly saw her, she said, “That’s it, I love her, and she’s mine. She’s not going anywhere.” They kept Gretel, although more dogs can be a problem.

   One big problem at their house is dog hair, which is a problem because telly is a clean freak. Some dog lovers believe if you’re not covered in dog hair your life is empty, but she’s not one of them. In the years Steve and she have been married they have had six Dysons. The last one broke when she accidentally dropped it and watched it fall down the stairs, bouncing on the runner one step at a time on its way all the way down.

   “Fuck,” she thought, as it cracked and broke apart.

   Telly went on Facebook and asked, “I’m really tired of giving Dyson my money, what do you guys got?”

   In the meantime, they bought an Electrolux. That vacuum cleaner was the biggest joke. She hated that piece of shit. Even Steve hated it. He used it once and was cursing all day about it. Telly took it back to Best Buy and told them how much she hated it.

   They bought a Miele. Some people think not wanting to scare the dog is the perfect excuse for not vacuuming. Not Telly. She loves her Miele. It’s been a godsend, especially since she loves to vacuum.

   The other problem they have all the time is nose prints all over their glass surfaces, which is mostly the doors when they press their noses against them.

   Whenever she comes home from the grocery store, or the pet store, and is bringing in bags of food, they gang up on the glass. Sometimes she thinks they must think she is the greatest hunter in the world, judging by how much food she brings home. There are the two of them and usually five or six of the four-footers. That adds up to not only a whole lot of food, but a whole lot of Windex, too.

   “I wonder where their sixth sense tells them I’m getting all that food and ice cream from.”

   As long as the goods keep coming, the dogs don’t care and don’t waste their time devoting their sixth sense to it.

Chapter 17

Thelma went on birth control when she was in her late 20s. She had to be on some kind of birth control because of her polycystic ovary syndrome. As soon as she went on Norplant she broke out in bad acne. It was horrible.

   “Get those out of your arm,” Alma kept telling her.

   After that, she put on 85 pounds and it would not go away. She went on every diet known to man and beast. She would lose some weight, get down to a certain number, and then just stop, or get it all back. It frustrated her, and pissed her off, too.

   “I’m going to do gastric bypass,” she told Steve.

   “Oh, no, don’t, I love you the way you are,” he said.

   Steve is a good guy. He comes to the beauty salon every day. There isn’t a day he doesn’t stop in. He gets mocked for it sometimes, but he can take it.

   “I’m going to do it,” she told him.

   Thelma went to St. Vincent’s Hospital when she was forty-two years old, signing on the dotted line.

   “I highly recommend the full gastric,” her doctor said.

   “I’ll do whatever you recommend,” she said, although she asked him about the band.

   “If you do the band I go in and put the band in your stomach, but you don’t start losing weight right away. First you have to wait six months for it to heal, and then I’ve got to tighten it, and…”

   “Screw that,” she said. “Let’s do the one where I start losing right away. I don’t want to wait.”

   She dropped 85 pounds, which was exactly what she had put on.

   One day she went to her chiropractor for an adjustment. His jaw dropped. “Where did the rest of you go?”

   It was right after she lost all her weight, although it was more about her getting rid of it. She had no intention of ever finding it again.

   “I know, I know, it’s great,” she said.

   “There’s nothing left of you.”

   She had always been a small person before the implant. Most of the women in her Bible study group had eating disorders and weight issues. “I know what it’s like. I was anorexic in high school.”

   “My brother Brad’s wife is 38 years old. She’s a double zero and she’s lost all her teeth because she’d made herself throw up so many times. All her teeth corroded, just eroded out, and she’s lost her esophagus. So, that’s gone. Then she had to get a double mastectomy because she found out she has the x marker. She’s teeny-weeny, but her mother is heavy, and her sister is almost five hundred pounds. Her sister’s husband used to be normal, but he has put on a lot of weight since they’ve been together, too. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, but she stinks. She stinks to high heaven. How do you bathe when you’re 500 pounds? She’s the sweetest person, but she knows.”

   She wanted to have a hysterectomy because her ovaries were so bad. “My female parts are diseased and horrible, but they won’t do it.”

   “You should keep all your parts, like you keep your teeth,” her doctor always said.

   “Why would you want me to keep them?” she asked her. “You pull out rotten teeth, don’t you?”

   But her doctor said she wouldn’t do it. She gave Telly three options.

   “You can go back on the pill.”

   “I’m 49 years old,” she said. “No.”

   “We could try an ablation.”

   “I’m not doing that. I probably have cystic ovarian disease. And I have anemic cyanosis. It’s only the inside of the uterus. I’m not doing that.”

   “All right, we can do an implant again.”

   “Fuck that,” she told her. “I’m never doing that again, gain all that weight, so forget it.”

   The diet she follows is the blood type diet. It’s the eat right for your type diet. Anybody can get any disease, any ailment, any affliction. But there are some blood types that get some more than others. More of the O’s, like her, are going to get more blood clotting, rheumatoid arthritis, and have more sinus issues. A’s have heart issues, high cholesterol, heart disease, and all the things that go with that.

   Her chiropractor told her about the blood type diet.

   “If you’re willing to do the gastric, are you willing to go a step farther?” he asked.

   “I can try anything for a month,” she said.

   After a few weeks Telly started to feel good. After two months she noticed she hadn’t had a sinus infection for two months, so she kept going.

   Steve went on the diet, too. He follows his blood type diet, which is awful since he has to be a vegetarian. He hates it, but on weekends he completely splurges, and eats whatever he wants.

   Ever since Telly started following it, she hardly ever got sinus headaches anymore. She used to get them all the time. In the last seven years, since she has been on the blood type diet, she’s had a sinus infection exactly seven times. There’s something to it, although her husband’s aunt, who is their doctor, doesn’t believe in it.

   “It’s funny,” Telly told her, “how I used to see you all the time, but now I never see you.”

   She just shrugged.

   “Steve has to be a vegetarian, but I love my meat. I’m a Christian and I believe animals are here for me to eat. I’m not about vegetarianism. At the same time, I think there’s so much in our food we don’t know about, like preservatives and chemicals. Why do they have to torture animals before killing them? They inject them with drugs and rip their feathers out while they’re still alive.”

   Treat them humanely, at least, she believed.

   Last Christmas they were a out for a party with friends, driving around in a limo, all lit up like Christmas trees. They were hammered. When wtheygot to their restaurant Cheryl’s husband went right to the bathroom and threw up.

   Steve ordered veal, since it was the weekend, and since she had never had veal, she wanted to try it, so she did. She stuck a piece in her mouth, but she has a thing with texture. It was just not steak texture. She didn’t like it. Steve must have seen the look on her face, because when she spit it out, he picked it up and popped it into his mouth.

   Everybody at the table laughed, but that’s love.

Chapter 18

   Thelma was almost 22 years-old the morning she drove face first into a cement truck. She was driving a 1976 Monte Carlo that a girlfriend of hers at the Bay Deli, where they both worked, had sold her for one hundred dollars.

   “Thank God it was a big, big car.”

   She had gotten up late that morning and wolfed down a hot dog and Fudgsicle for breakfast.

   “I better go,” she said to herself.

   Her roommate and she were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake. She was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy. She bolted out to the car.

   When she got into the Chevy, she couldn’t wait for the windows to defrost more than the little bit of one inch you absolutely need to look through. She was squinting through that inch of windshield when she hit the cement truck head on.

   “I never touched the brakes.”

   The truck was parked on her side of the street, the front end fronting her. That was a surprise. She knew she was on the right side of the street since she could see out her side window. At first, Telly didn’t know what happened. When she tried to get out of the car she couldn’t. She was wearing a skirt and when she looked down to see why she couldn’t move she saw the steering wheel between her legs. She was sandwiched between the wheel and the seat.

   Some days you are the dog and other days you are the fire hydrant.

   Thelma finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to her suddenly scrap-metal Monte Carlo, looking at the man in front of her, she realized why no one had come to help her. He was white as a ghost. The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were seeing a ghost, too. They thought she had died in the car. 

   “I tried to wave you off,” one of them said.

   “Hey, here’s a little clue, I didn’t see you and I didn’t see the truck,” she said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.”

   The next thing she knew a woman walked up to her and shoved Kleenex up her nose.

   “You better sit down,” she said.

   “That’s OK,” Telly said. “I’m good, I’ve got to get to school.”

   “No, you better sit down. I’ve called an ambulance. They should be here in just a minute.”

   “Seriously, thanks, but no. I just bumped my nose.”

   She sat Telly down and when she did her skirt rode up and she saw her banged-up knees.

   The convertor radio underneath the dash had slammed into her legs. Even though she couldn’t feel anything totally bad, not yet, at least, she could see both shinbones and a thighbone. It had only been a minute since she had gotten out of the car. There was bloodshed everywhere. It was after the excitement that she went screaming banshees.

   Then she lost her eyesight.

   “Everything’s getting fuzzy, like an old TV.”

   “Just close your eyes. The paramedics are here.”

   “OK, open your eyes,” one of the paramedics said.

   “Are they open?” she asked.

   “Yeah,” he said.

   “Are you sure? Because I can’t see anything.”

   “Is it like in a closet, or more like the basement, with the lights all out?”

   A closet or a basement, she wondered. Oh, my God, this guy is such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?

   They laid her out in the ambulance and, suddenly, her sight came back.

   “It was just the shock,” she told them.

   “Quit self-diagnosing,” the medic said.

   “I was a lifeguard. I know my stuff.”

   St John’s Hospital must have thought she was younger than she was, underage is what they thought, so they called her parents.

   “You did what? You called who? I’m 21-years-old. You didn’t need to call my parents.”

   “It’s done.”

   “You rat bastards!”

   Telly was beyond mad. She hadn’t talked to either of her parents for almost a year.

   “Fuck off and die” had been the last thing she said to them the year before.

   She planned on moving out as soon she turned 21, but her dad didn’t want her to grow up or move out. Telly wanted out, Fred and Alma both wanted her out, too, but they didn’t want her to go, either. When she told her parents that she would be leaving the day of her birthday, first, they beat the shit out of her, and then threw her out of the house. They literally threw her out. She had no money, no clothes, and nowhere to go.

   She called her dad about picking up her clothes.

   “If you come grovel for them, you can get them out of the trash,” he said.

   “You keep them, dad, I’m not going to grovel.”

   At the very least they raised a stubborn kid. Telly never knew if Fred really threw her clothes in the trash because she never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.

   Her mom burst through the emergency room door at St. John’s at the same time as her dad got her on the phone. Before that she had been joking with the doctors, saying she cut her legs shaving.

   “Oh, my God, look at her legs!” Alma started shouting.

   “Who let that woman in here?” Telly blared.

   “Who’s the president, who’s the president?” her dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead.

   The next thing she knew her whole family, sisters, brother, dad, were all in the room, and the adrenaline wore off fast, completely fast. She had been sitting there, not too panicked, when all of a sudden AAARRRGHHHHHH!!

   Betsy started crying and everyone got so upset about her crying that they put her in Fred’s lap. Thelma was left laid out on the table alone in pain and agony until they finally wheeled her away to surgery.

   No one paid any attention to her being gone.

   In the end, it wasn‘t off the charts. She broke her nose and hurt one of her knees. It had to be operated on. They told her afterwards if she had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front she would have been decapitated.

   If that had happened and she had been driving a custom convertible Monte Carlo instead of her hard shell, then “HEADLESS GIRL IN TOPLESS CAR” would have been the headline in the next day’s Bay Village Observer.

   “At least I kept my head,” she told Steve years later.

   “That’s what you say,” he said, ducking his head.

Chapter 19

   Thelma went down a dog when Izzy left her house to go live with Alma. “It’s all right because Izzy is helping her. She takes care of my mom.” When Telly goes to Alma’s house the first thing she asks is, “You’re not going to take Izzy back, are you?”

   After Alma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, she went downhill fast. On top of that she fell down and had to have surgery. After she recovered from the surgery, Telly took her to see her Alzheimer’s doctor.” I was shocked when he told us she had had Alzheimer’s for at least five years.”

   Izzy is a Pom. She has a job to do and that’s to take care of Alma. “She makes her very, very happy. She watches her, sits with her, and sleeps with her. Mom shares breakfast with Izzy.” Neither of them eats dog food. Mom hasn’t forgotten she’s a person while Izzy doesn’t believe she’s a dog.

   “Do you want your dog back?”  her mom asked Telly.

   “I’m here four times a week,” she said. “I see that spoiled brat all the time. I’m good with her taking care of you.”

   At first, Telly visited her mom twice a week, bathing her on Mondays. Now she visits her four times a week and bathes her Mondays and Fridays. Izzy loves shower time. Her favorite part is when Telly lotions up Alma. That’s when Izzy licks the lotion off her legs.

   After bathing Alma sits on her chair in the shower, a towel wrapped around her, and as she dries off, Telly starts to lotion up her legs, back, and arms. When she gets out of the shower and is getting into her underwear and socks is when Izzy runs up and starts licking away.

   Telly asked her vet if it was OK.

   “A lot of times the store-bought lotions are kid-safe,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily taste good, but you’re not going to die from it.”

   “She can’t wait to get at it, although we don’t let her lick a lot,” Telly said.

   “It must taste good to her,” she said.

   When Thelma was growing up her mom didn’t like kids or dogs. She grew up being raised by a mother who hated her. “She never in a million years would have let any of this go on before. I don’t know if she’s forgotten all of it, all of the past, although that’s very possible. It’s like a gift from God now loving her like I’m loving on her and taking care of her the way I take care of her.”

   She got a kick out of it. 

   “It absolutely cracks me up. When you have a parent with Alzheimer’s you’re supposed to live in their world. I like her world, most of the time. It can be fun.”

   “Well, I went to Pick-n-Pay,” Alma said.

   Pick-n-Pay was a Cleveland-area chain of supermarkets. There were more Pick-n-Pay’s back in the day than there were Fazio’s or Stop-n-Shop’s. But then the owner was murdered when someone tried to kidnap him. The last store closed in 1994, more than twenty years ago.

   Alma doesn’t leave the house, never, no. “You went to Pick-n-Pay?” Telly asked her. One of these days she’s going to say she just came home from work. That’s how the progression of the disease goes.

   A neighbor told Thelma the best way to deal with Alzheimer’s was to not argue with it. “She sees flying monkeys outside the window? OK, what are they doing? What are they wearing? Where are they flying?”

   They see what they see. There’s no reasoning with it. It’s deteriorating your brain. Her peripheral vision is not there anymore. She only sees straight ahead. Telly doesn’t approach her from the side.

   “It’s time to take a shower,” she’ll say

   “I’ll take a shower, but I’m not going to get wet,” Alma says.

   Or she’ll say, “I’ll take a shower, but I’m not taking my clothes off.”

   “We can do that, but it’s going to be awful getting out of the shower with your wet clothes on.” 

   “Oh, yeah?” she says.

   She sees Telly all the time. She sees Brad all the time. But she may have already forgotten who Thelma’s sisters are. Patty lives in Maine and never comes home. Betsy never comes over, although she came over for Christmas. Nobody knew if Alma was going to be here mentally next year, so it was kind of maybe a final Christmas. It was horrible.

   Telly’s stepfather Pete asked her to stay over one weekend after Christmas. He had to go to Florida. “Sure, can’t wait,” she said. What he forgot to tell her was the code for the ADT alarm system. Although she wasn’t in her right mind to set it, Alma somehow set off the alarm. Telly slept next to Alma and at 4 o’clock in the morning the shrieking went off. Alma wasn’t in the bed. Telly’s heart went in her throat.

   She found her mom standing in the hall by the back door. “Mom!” she screamed.

   “Oh, my God, that’s loud, Jay.”

   “What’s the code?”

   “I don’t know.”

   Telly wanted to freak out. “My chest hurt, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Lucky for me I punched in the same code for their garage door and the alarm shut up.”

   “I don’t know how that fool thing went off,” Alma said.

   “You opened the back door!” Alma probably thought, in her shrinking head, she was letting in the dog, and right after that couldn’t remember a thing.

   Alma loves having slumber parties and having Telly sleep over. One day she said, “Mom, I can’t, I have to go home and cook dinner for my husband,”

   “You’re married?” She was surprised. But now she covers it, and says, “Oh, that’s Steve, he’s a good guy.” She hides what she doesn’t remember.

   They were playing cards one night and Telly asked her, “You know who would have loved Izzy?”


   “Nana Buescher,” she said. Nana Buescher was Fred’s mom. She died many years ago.

   “I know, I send pictures of Izzy to her every week.”

   “Oh, do you? And Nana loves Izzy?”

   “Oh, yeah, she just loves that little girl.”

   “How sweet is that, that she loves my puppy.”

   Alma will sit and stare at Izzy, just stare at her, telling Thelma how precious and pretty she is, how Izzy gives her a leg up.

   One big problem she has with her mom is getting her to take her medication. The medication helps, but sometimes she refuses to take it, especially if it’s the home health care worker trying to give it to her.

   “I just won’t get out of bed whenever they get here,” she said.

   “Why are you such a little stink?” Telly asked. “You have to have home care and you have to take your medicine.”

   “I’ll kick them out,” she said.

   “Mom, do you remember the doctor telling you that you have Alzheimer’s?”

   “Uh, huh.”

   “How do you feel about that?”

   “That’s the hand I was dealt with,” she said, with a sickening feeling.

   When the home health worker hands Alma her medication she almost always takes it. She knows the hand, just like Izzy does, that isn’t trying to bite her. She knows the hand.

Chapter 20

    Everyone’s always asking Thelma, “How did you train him to be like he is?”

   She always tells them, “That’s how they come. That’s exactly how he got off the plane as a puppy, as calm as can be.”

   That’s just how Leonbergers are. That’s just how Baby is. He never says a thing about it.

   Which is a good thing, being calm, because they grow up to be as big as lions. He is a lot of dog. They’re well behaved, even though Baby can be headstrong. It’s a good thing they’re smart, too, and know how to heel. They can pull and push you off your feet. If they lean on you, you better be able to lean back. They are Lean-on-Bergers.

   Telly is a dog lover of all nationalities, but she is a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover. Little dogs are yappy and prissy. She gave her Pom to her mom and Alma ruined her, turned her into a total punk. Telly had Izzy trained like a big dog. She used to think like a big dog, but now she’s turned into a princess.

   Thelma likes big animals. They are crazy, but Steve and she have hand-fed bears in the wild. The first time she saw a picture of a Leonberger she wanted one. She showed the picture to Steve.

   “Oh, my God, I want one.”

   “Sweet,” he said.

   Getting Baby was no mean feat. It’s absolutely ridiculous what you have to go through to rescue a dog. You have to jump through hoops. You have to have a vet. You can’t have other dogs at home. They come and check your house. They want to check the house, that’s fine. They should absolutely make sure there’s no dog fighting. That’s great, but, for real. It’s harder to adopt a dog than it is to adopt a baby.

   “What kills me is that there are so many unwanted dogs. If I have four other dogs, which I do, they’re like, no. Fuck that. I’m a good parent. I love animals. They’re all going to be spoiled rotten in my house.”

   They knew if they wanted to adopt a Leonberger nobody was going to give them one. So, they decided they were going to pay for it, and get it as a puppy. They wanted the dog to be young because they don’t live long.

   Leonbergers come from Leonberg, Germany, although theirs came from Missouri. They are a cross between a Newfoundland and a Saint Bernard and a Pyrenean mountain dog. It’s a three-for-one deal. They’re farm dogs, a water-resistant double coat, and Baby, since he’s a male, has a mane.

   They got him from a breeder. It was hard because it’s something they don’t believe in. It went against everything Steve and Telly believe in, but they felt they had paid their dues rescuing the 600-or-so dogs they have rescued.

   He cost them $2300.00.

   Telly had him shipped in. Then, after he was delivered to Cleveland, she found out there was a place in Medina, only a half-hour away, which breeds Leonbergers. She was pissed.

   The dog is just a few months older than two years now, but when they got him, he was less than a few months old, just older than about five weeks. He was packed up in a little crate that was shoved onto a plane. They picked him up at Cleveland Hopkins, although it was actually behind the airport, on the road towards the IX Center.

   When they got there, Telly started getting nervous. She thought, “He’s just a baby, I wonder if the plane ride scared him?” Another lady was picking up her dog. By the time she and her husband got him out of the crate he was shaking, twitchy, a basket case.

   “Oh, my God,” Telly said to herself, my poor dog.” She opened the cage and he blobbed out. He lay on the concrete floor, looking up at her, loopy, goofy.

   She thought, “Right.”

   He rolled over on his back.

   She thought, “This is a chill dog.”

   There was grassy stuff in his crate, still warm, a food dish, and a water dish. He had been given plenty of food and water for the 8-hour trip. Even still, the grub was all gone.

   When she picked him up he wanted to play. He fell back down to the floor and she picked him up again. He rolled over in her arms. Telly rubbed his belly. She thought he was going to be as shaky as the other dog, scared and petrified. She was wrong, totally wrong. He was so cute, although it was easy to tell he was going to be about mischief and mess.

   He was jumbo-sized right out of the box, long fur that was ready to shed, not for a neatnik. After they got him home, they found out he loved water and loved dirt.

   From the very first second Telly opened his cage door they were both in love with one another. “We’ve got a yard for you.” He liked that. He wasn’t a studio apartment kind of dog. That was obvious.

   Leonbergers grow fast, 7, 8, and 9 pounds a month for the first two years. He’s always been about, “When do we eat?” He’s been a growing boy most of the time they’ve had him. It’s always dinnertime somewhere in the world is how he looks at things. When she can’t feel his ribs anymore is when she will know it’s diet time. He can smell any food leftover left over anywhere in the house.

   Baby has been a calm dog from the day they got him. When he sees people other than them, or dogs other than our dogs, he is cool. He loves being with people and other dogs, rather than by himself.

   They even take him everywhere, which is where their SUV comes in handy. He’s even gone to Cleveland Monster games, in the stands, and Cleveland Indians games, right down on the field.

   It’s like he’s high, or something. High on life. He is chill.