I am not a dog person. There are many things I'd rather do with my time than pick up warm poop—such as, stand in line at the DMV. However, I made an exception when a friend asked me to mind her cockapoo, Mr. Dino, for a long weekend.
"He needs to be walked four times a day," Suzanne said, showing me where she keeps his poop bags.
Why did I volunteer for active canine duty? Mr. Dino is an elderly pooch with the energy level of a hassock. He spends the entire day quietly sprawled on the sofa or marble floor, gazing out from under his shaggy white coat with eyes glistening like Kalamata olives. He rarely, if ever, barks. Instead, Mr. Dino occasionally makes soft whimpering sounds, indicating a desire to go for a "walkie" or to be fed.
But it wasn't Mr. Dino's low-key manner that caused me to snap up the opportunity. It was his abode: a modern, luxury townhouse on the Jersey shore with a spectacular view of the bay.
Needless to say, such extravagant digs are way above my pay grade. I reasoned that being on poop patrol for five days was worth the posh accommodations. Suzanne said I could invite guests and suggested I choose a "dog person." When my first and second choices turned me down, I extended an invitation to Ellie, a single mom, and her 7-year son, Zack. They own a Bernese Mountain dog the size of an Alfa Romeo. That was reference enough.
"His mother will supervise him, right?" asked Suzanne, "You don't want a kid climbing the railing on the terrace."
"Sure," I said. What mother wouldn't keep an eye on a small child when a fall could result in serious injury or worse?
As it turned out, Ellie didn't believe in setting boundaries for her son. Nada. Meanwhile, Zack exhibited the self-control of a monkey on meth. I watched, open-mouthed, as he repeatedly scaled the terrace railing, precariously tipped over a recliner and pounced on poor Mr. Dino with ear-splitting shrieks.
"He's 7," Ellie said, rolling her eyes. "A friend told me that the best thing to do was just ignore him."
Huh? My vacation in paradise quickly turned into Hell Week as little Zack raced around the pool with a water gun, turned miniature golf into a contact sport and interrupted adult conversation by climbing up his mother's body and placing a stranglehold on her neck. After the first day of sheer panic, I decided to follow Ellie's lead. If she didn't set limits for her son, I would ignore him too.
That plan lasted until the following morning when, after placing my coffee and toast on the dining table, I went back to my bedroom to retrieve my glasses. I returned to find Zack in the dining room.
"Look what Mr. Dino did," he said.
My coffee mug was lying on the cream-colored carpet surrounded by a dark brown stain the shape and size of Guatemala. WTF? My eyes darted from the mess on the floor to the comatose dog on the sofa in the adjacent room. If Mr. Dino grabbed food off the table, as many dogs do, he would've gone for the toast—not the Columbian dark roast blend. Plus, there was no coffee spilled on the table. Using skills gleaned from binge-watching "Prime Suspect," I deducted that whomever committed the crime had picked the cup up off the table, then dropped it. Just try that without opposable thumbs!
"OK," I said, feigning acceptance of Zack's story. "What's another possibility?"
The kid's eyes widened. His mouth dropped open.
"Uh. I dunno," he said, shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Nobody else was here. It had to be Mr. Dino."
"Nobody?" I prodded with the cool intent of a Congressional investigation. "What about you?"
"No, no, no! I wasn't here. It was the dog."
His mother was still sleeping. I was tempted to tell the kid to go play on the terrace railing. Instead, I grabbed a container of stain remover, got down on all fours and scrubbed furiously. When Ellie finally appeared, I told her what had happened. Zack suddenly raced into the room.
"What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"I was telling your mother what a bad dog Mr. Dino is," I said with just a twinge of irony.
Ellie smiled indulgently at her child, "Is that what happened, sweetie?"
"Uh huh," said Zack. "The doggie did it." That was his story and he was sticking to it.
That is when the tectonic plates of my feelings about dogs shifted. I began to look forward to my solitary walks with Mr. Dino. Under a full moon that hung like a golden disk in the night sky, he appeared to be no more than a fluffy, little cloud that had fallen to earth. As Mr. Dino went about his business, fastidiously sniffing trees and fire hydrants, I realized that picking up poop is a form of meditation, especially in the company of a Good Dog.