Across-the-street Paul is the best kind of neighbor. He takes his trash out on the right day, and he’s a reliable neighborhood volunteer. If a neighbor needs somebody to do a job the right way, with no whining, Paul’s the guy.
But as much as you can count on Paul to do the right thing, you can know that if his pets were human, they’d be dope-addled carnival roustabouts on a big-time crime spree.
Yesterday, Paul’s cat, Ivan, busted into my house. Using his giant cat head to bend my screen door, he actually broke and entered my domicile. He scarfed down some of new cat Sassy’s lamb-and-rice cat food and surely would have had his way with Sassy herself, if she still had any parts to have a way with. Good thing I heard the commotion and foiled Ivan’s plan, or the catted-up version of Straw Dogs would’ve played out right there in my kitchen, with Sassy in the role of Joy Bang.
All this just a few months after Paul’s Laboratory Retriever, Apollo, raided my backyard garden. I thought I had my perimeter all dog-proofed, with redundant layers of barriers, tripwires and flares. (I decided some years back that I’d just as soon encounter a turd in a punchbowl as on my lawn.) But Apollo crumbled my defenses. He broke out of his screen-porch jail, galloped full-out into my next-door-neighbor’s yard, then charged through the one weakness in my defensesthe yard-connecting kid gate. He finished loud and proud with a fully extended flat-dog splat dive into my garden pond. I left a message on Paul’s machine.
That night, Paul called. “Walter, I sincerely apologize. If there was any damage, please let me know.”
“No blood, no ambulance,” I said. “But I’d just as soon it not happen again.”
A day or two later, I saw Paul on the sidewalk. “I sent Apollo to dog reform school,” he told me. “Up in Kentucky. These people are supposed to be really good.” Paul continued, “I told Apollo he didn’t have to hold a bird in his mouth, or get up really early, or do any of that retriever stuff. But he was going to have to learn to be a good dog.”
Apollo came home wearing a shock collar. Apparently, all attempts at rewarding good dog behavior had failed, and the trainers had gone straight to Clockwork Orange-style punishment. As we stood in front of his house, Paul explained the system to me. “There are five shock levels, from a tickle to a knockdown blast. I hold this little remote and adjust the level of the shock just enough to stop him from whatever bad thing he’s doing.”
About that time, Apollo saw the poodle.
Now, I can’t blame any creature for at least wanting to tease a poodle, but Apollo ran at that dog like he meant business. Paul went to calling him. No go. Paul energized the dog shocker at Level One. Apollo never broke stride. Must ignore pain! Must have poodle snack! Shocker to Level Three. Nothing.
Paul maxed out the remote and started chasing and hollering and shocking. He squeezed the remote with every “Dammit”and the “Dammits” were coming in a pretty good stream. Apollo shuddered with each blast but kept on rocking. Fireworks with poodle snack! Luckily, the poodle had a half-block head start.
Considering my wretched pet luck, I must sympathize. My favorite animals have been head-slapped, snake-bitten or car-mashed to death, despite my heroic efforts to protect them. I know how Paul must be suffering.
I’m just hoping he doesn’t end up like the head of a similarly afflicted household back home in South Carolina. The parents were stalwart community types. The boy-child was known to be a little strange, but he’d never gotten into any real trouble. Then, the day before the prom, an ugly family argument broke out. The parents were shocked at the boy’s outburst, so they told him he couldn’t go to the prom. The boy was even more shocked at the severity of his punishment, so, that night, he got a hatchet out of the garage and did a Lizzie Borden on the parental units while they slept.
Walter’s Rule of Electroshock: A man’s got to be careful when he applies an overload to a system that was questionable from the get-go.
Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.