Dogged Persistence 

Rufus sneaks in the back door and turns a tough guy into a softie

Rufus sneaks in the back door and turns a tough guy into a softie

Lately, we Jowerses have been letting our basset hound boydog Rufus come in the house. For a long time, we were scared to do it, because we were pretty sure Rufus would catch and not release cat Sassy. But when he got inside accidentally a few weeks back, we learned that Rufus, on his best day and aided by the element of surprise, couldn't catch Sassy if he had a rocket strapped to his ample ass.

These days, Rufus likes to come into the mudroom, scarf down a bowlful of kibble, lap up a bowlful of water, then find a Jowers who'll rub his tummy in a way that'll induce some hind-leg kicking and grateful moaning. All in all, dogfriend Rufus is pretty good company, and we enjoy having him within rubbing distance.

Having Rufus in the house took some long-term guilt off me, too. A while back, I wrote about Rufus barking at night and waking up my twitchy-about-every-little-noise neighbors. As soon as that story hit the Internet, I was bombarded with angry and threatening emails from California telling me that I had made my dog psychotic by making him live outside, naked, like an animal. My correspondents instructed me to take Rufus into my house, treat him like a member of the family and reason with him.

Later, I wrote about my decision not to have Rufus implanted with prosthetic dog testicles, and I got a nasty email from a guy who makes those very testicles. He told me that if Rufus could talk, he'd tell me that he's deeply troubled by his lack of a full boydog package, and he spends every day wishing somebody would cut open his scrotum and fill it up with plastic. All this put me to thinking: I need to do better for my dog.

So, I'm letting Rufus into the house every chance I get, and I'm trying to make him feel like family. I scrounged him up some clothes, mostly scarves and toddler-size sweatshirts. He liked the scarves, but didn't care for the shirts. He kept getting his hind legs hung up in the hems. I tried a few pairs of sweatpants on him, but he insists on going bottomless, Porky Pig style. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that when nature calls a dog, the dog doesn't want pants all in his way.

While I'm on the subject of nature calling my dog, I was stunned to find that Rufus is nearly perfect in keeping his business outside. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's animal pee in my house. So far, Rufus has never failed to hold his water. He's had a couple minor accidents in the solid department, but cleanup was quick and easy and Rufus showed remorse. He's on probation now, not allowed to walk on any carpet.

Wife Brenda has started training Rufus to go to the bathroom. Not to answer the call of nature, but to get a bath. Rufus knows, probably by gauging the level of his own ear-stink, when he's about to get washed. Last night, when Brenda called Rufus to come upstairs, he climbed the four steps to the first landing, sensed that Brenda was luring him to the bathtub, then slunk back down the steps and tried to hide behind me.

Brenda's bigger and smarter than Rufus, so she knew she could handle him. She came downstairs, found the dog peeking out from behind my calves and chased him up the stairs to the bathroom. She had warm water in the tub, dogbelly-deep. Brenda picked up Rufus, who's about the size of a husky piglet, and eased him down into the tub. As he grunted, groaned and shook, she soaped him up, rinsed him off, towel-dried him and set him free. Pretty much the same routine a mama would use on a toddler.

Clearly, with Rufus taking his meals in the house, getting bathed like a baby and learning to wear human clothing, he has integrated into the Jowers human family life, California-dog style. All that's left for us to do is give Rufus his wings, so to speak, and let him decide on his own coming and going.

Next week, I'm going to think through the steps of putting in one of those fancy infrared dog doors, which recognizes its dog as the animal approaches, wearing his "key" on his collar. If I'm willing and able to cut and fit the dog door, and throw down two hundred bucks for parts, Rufus will be able to come and go pretty much whenever he wants. The only exceptions will be rainy days, when we Jowers humans will exercise our lockout privileges and keep Rufus' muddy feet outside.

My only fear is that one sunny spring day Rufus will find a dead possum in the backyard and decide to bring it in to share with his people. No doubt, he'd be most inclined to do such a thing while we Jowerses are away from the house. We'd come home to rotten possum in the kitchen, rotten possum in all our beds and a dog that needs an all-day scrub-down. Still, the dog is family. If family brings you dead possum, you don't disown 'em. You just clean up dead possum.

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