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Selected Podpieces

Returning Thurber

Do you know that feeling that looms up in your chest when you realize you’ve made a mistake? I mean a big mistake, one that will change your life. An irrevocable mistake, the kind where you can’t say, “Oh, never mind.”

That was the feeling that hit me when we came home with Thurber the Rescue Dog. We had been assured that he was a sweet, gentle boy, and from the moment the Rescue Group introduced him to us he had been friendly and calm. He stood agreeably while I buckled him into the car safety harness and sat quietly in the back seat for the two-hour drive to the Cape.

But at home, when I unclipped the harness, he burst out the open car door faster than a speeding bullet. He raced past Oakley, our ancient golden retriever, who was eagerly waiting to meet him, knocking him to the ground, and hurled himself at new puppy Pippin, seizing him by the throat. In the mad cacophony of barking and growling and squabbling that ensued, we were able to grab Thurber’s leash and haul him away. He stood panting and grinning at us as if to say, Whaddaya think of them apples?

We decided a walk would use up some of this dogly energy, so we headed down the street toward the nearby conservation land. As long as we were on pavement, Thurber trotted along nicely. But the moment we entered the woods he turned into a wild man, straining to lead the pack, leaping at branches and leaves, growling in frustration at the leash. He is a short-legged 30-pound dog, less than half the size of many dogs we’ve had, but it was all we could do to control him.

We got through that walk, and we got him home. But inside, when we took off his leash, he raced into the living room and jumped up to dance merrily around on the sofa, a place where no dog had gone before.

By then that black cloud of despair in my chest had mushroomed into a thunderhead. How could we have been so dumb? This uncontrollable dog was far too energetic for an aging couple with a quiet life. And how could we have inflicted this maniac on poor old Oakley in his last days and baby Pippin in his first ones?

We’d signed a contract agreeing that we would never take Thurber to a pound. But there was also a clause that said if we had to give him up, we were required to return him to the Rescue Group from which we’d gotten him.

I was too ashamed to actually talk to the people at the Rescue Group, so I emailed them. I said we’d made a mistake. Thurber was more than we could handle. He was a sweet dog, but he needed a more active family. He would make a great dog for some athletic young person. Could they tell me what I needed to do to give him back?

The reply came within minutes. Oh dear, it said. Please give him another chance. It takes time to adjust; he needs a good home. Please try it for a couple of weeks!

My heart sank. They weren’t going to make it easy. I went out to the living room where My Companion was reading the paper. Thurber lay at his feet, gnawing on a Nylabone.

“They want us to keep him for a couple of weeks before they’ll take him back,” I said.

My Companion looked up. “You want to return him?” he said in disbelief.

“Honey,” I said, “we can’t manage him and the puppy and Oakley.”

“Give him a chance,” My Companion said. “He’ll be fine.”

My heart sank lower. We had saddled ourselves with an incorrigible dog, and now My Companion, after twenty-two years of marriage, had gone soft in the head. He doesn’t even like dogs as much as I do; he’s a cat person. Did he think that a wild, uncontrollable dog would magically calm down just because he was living with us?

Thurber got up, stretched, and yawned. He walked over to the sofa and lifted his leg.

“No!” My Companion and I cried in unison.

Thurber grinned a fiendish grin.

It would be a long couple of weeks.

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