Dust Comes Home
by Terri Florentino
As Susan and Sarah followed the young lady into the house, Susan said, “I’d like to meet our puppy’s parents.”
“I’m sorry,” she said over her shoulder. “We don’t allow anyone to go to the area where the dogs are housed. You might bring germs in on your feet, and the dogs could get sick.” She looked back again, wrinkling her nose at Susan.
“Oh. Of course.” Susan had been hoping for a glimpse of how her pup would act and how he might look as an adult.
“You wait here,” the girl ordered. Then she turned to Sarah, grinned, and said with false gaiety, “I’ll be right back with your new puppy!”
As the young lady disappeared behind a door, Susan and Sarah beamed at each other. When the door opened again, they were breathless at the sight of the adorable ball of curly fur in her arms. Susan reached for the puppy. She hesitated. The puppy looked tense and pulled away from her. “Why does the puppy seem fearful? His tail’s not wagging.” Susan didn’t know how to feel or what to do. She had sent a non-refundable deposit and invested a five-hour drive for this puppy; turning back was not an option.
“He’s just nervous, nothing to worry about, he’ll settle down.” The young lady kissed him on the head. He didn’t seem to mind that.
Gingerly, Susan took the rigid puppy and cradled him in her arms. Mechanically, the girl went over the contents of a basket of puppy food and other new-puppy essentials. By the time she was done, the puppy had relaxed. He even gave Susan a little kiss on her cheek. The affection offered her some relief. The fact that he was as cute as a button didn’t hurt either.
“Well, if you don’t have any more questions,” the girl said, in a way that invited no further questions, I’ll see you to your car.”
Susan hesitated; she felt full of questions, but couldn’t think of any in the face of such a brusque remark. “Well, we do have a long drive ahead.”
“Can I hold him? Can I hold him in the car?” Sarah said. “I can’t wait to show him his bed and his bowls and his toys!”
Out at the car, the pup went stiff with fear again as Susan opened the back door. She placed him in his new crate in the back seat, said goodbye to the strangely aloof girl, and headed on their way.
On the way home Sarah and Susan discussed what name they liked best for their puppy. The pup was mostly white, with a small stripe of very light tan down his back, and some tan fur on his ears that looked like dust. Susan suggested calling him “Dusty.” Once the entire family arrived home later that evening they all sat around and discussed various names. Everyone liked “Dusty.”
“The first two weeks weren’t what we had expected,” Robert said.
“What exactly do you mean?” I asked.
“When they brought Dusty home, he seemed depressed,” he said. “Normally a puppy would run and play, but Dusty just lay around. I wondered if he was sick. I got down on the floor to wrestle with him, and all he did was sit and stare at me.”
“We were worried. I called the breeder,” Susan said. “She said Dusty just needed more time to adjust. Something didn’t seem right, so I took him to the vet, but she just assured me we had a healthy-looking puppy and that we needed to come back in a few weeks for some vaccines.”
Inevitably Dusty settled into some of what anyone would constitute as normal puppy behavior. He chewed on whatever met his mouth, got the usual puppy “zoomies—racing around and like he’d gone completely haywire, and started the puppyhood biting, or “mouthing.” The mouthing was so severe, they called him, “land shark.” Dusty grabbed and nibbled on hands, legs, pants, and feet. It was difficult to walk him; he got furious tethered to a leash and made every effort to chew through it to free himself.
By the time Dusty was six months old he started to exhibit “resource-guarding behavior;” when he had food or a chewy, he growled and snapped dangerously at anyone who came near him.
“I was taking Dusty for a ride in the car,” Robert said. “He grabbed a tissue from the console between the seats, and I didn’t want him to swallow it. I reached to get it out of his mouth, and he grabbed my hand in his teeth—not just once, but again and again. He bit down as fast as he could, over and over, slicing me up. In the blink of an eye, there was blood everywhere!”
“I was devastated when Rob told me what Dusty did.” Susan got up and fetched a box of tissues. She dropped it on the dining room table and helped herself to one.
“Careful!” Robert joked. “Don’t let Dusty near it!”
“I didn’t dare admit it at the time,” Susan said, glancing at the button nose behind the baby gate. “But I simply could not enjoy my puppy.” She blew her nose. “How sad is that? He was never cuddly or affectionate. Nothing we did made him happy. There was nothing normal about him. He was bold, pushy, always had to have his way–or else! It was like he was terrorizing us. I had no idea what to do with such a mean and nasty puppy.” Susan began to cry again. “I couldn’t believe it. Who’s ever heard of such a thing?”
Robert squeezed her hand.
Susan pulled herself together. “It seemed like he was only putting up with me and the kids, but he outright hated Robert.” She laughed and sniffled. “I’m sorry, Honey.”
Robert smiled. “I know it’s true. I guess I didn’t smell right.”
“I understand how some dogs are intimidated by men who are authoritative and commanding,” she said. “But Robert is gentle and kind. He was sweet to him. He got down on the floor with him, talked in a high-pitched voice. He did everything right. He really tried. I thought maybe Dusty was resource-guarding the children and me from Robert.”
“When Dusty and I where home alone together, he was fine with me,” Robert said.
“That’s right,” Susan said. “When I was home, Dusty would never leave my side. When Robert came within a certain distance of me, Dusty growled until he backed away.
“Then he started trying to keep me out of certain rooms.”
“Okay, that’s interesting,” I said. “How did you each handle Dusty when he acted inappropriately?”
“I’m embarrassed to say,” Susan said. “But there was this trainer I saw on television who emphasized the importance of being a pack leader. I followed his advice.”
“Okay, I see.” I looked at the angry little mop-head glaring at us from behind the baby gate. He had hardly moved a muscle the entire time. “I think we see where this is going, don’t we, Dusty?”
He didn’t even blink.