Nanna has always had a soft spot for dogs, and she usually has two or three of them living with her at any given time. Her neighbors know that she can’t resist a dog in distress, and they are always bringing her pathetic little animals that were found on the roadside or overstayed their welcome at the pound.
Unfortunately, living with Nanna seems to bring out the worst in her pets. The smallest character flaws are magnified until the dogs lose all their charm and become out-of-control hellhounds.
For example, there was Sammy, a miniature poodle so ancient he looked fossilized. I can remember marveling about how old he was for at least ten years of my childhood. Sammy’s rotten breath and sharp claws formed an unpleasant catch-22: If you didn’t bend down to pet him, he would jump up and scratch your legs. If you did bend down to pet him, he would jump up and lick your mouth. The only thing to do was wear long pants, avoid eye contact, and hope for the best.
Then there was Buster, a bow-legged Maltese with bulging eyes and crooked teeth. None of Nanna’s dogs were very well house-trained, but Buster outshone them all with his zealous determination to urinate on every surface his little body could reach. He peed on rugs, table legs, tile floors, walls, and any belongings anyone was foolish enough to leave on the floor.
We arrived for our Christmas visit one year to find a pile of presents, each with mysterious damp spots.
Nanna sniffed at one and sighed, “Oh Lord, he’s peed on it. Well, open them anyway.”
Reluctantly, we did. Buster, showing a dedication rare in so small and brainless an animal, had meticulously sprayed every package. We said our thank yous and left as quickly as possible to throw away the presents and wash our hands.
The family keeps a cabin on the river not far from my grandmother’s house, and my aunts eventually got fed up and banned Nanna from bringing her dogs there anymore. Nanna was very offended. I remember going to a Christmas party with her around that time, and she cornered the host and ranted at length about her ungrateful daughters and the irrational prejudice they had conceived against her sweet little pets.
“Buster is just a little angel,” she huffed. “I know he cries for me when I leave him alone.”
The host expressed his sympathies, and ventured to ask what her daughters could possibly dislike about this model of canine excellence.
“Well,” Nanna said matter-of-factly, “he tee-tees on the wall.”
“Oh,” the host said faintly.
Buster lived with Nanna for years, and he never outgrew the urge to mark every piece of territory he could find. Nanna spent those years complaining that she couldn’t understand why none of her children wanted to visit her.