Four Runs

A little personal narrative I wrote for a class last week.

Bay Creek Pet Care Center sat like a metal Hun on the back end of our ten-acre lot. My parents, after years of scraping to get by, tapped their histories and erected the monster when I was eleven. The main pole building was long and narrow, flanked in chain-link runs, thirty per side. It turned out that my folks were the best at what they did in Northwest Indiana and the business, after a few years of growth, exploded: all of those held animals, the mewling cat room was full, and the six runs they installed against our personal pole building were regularly full. Take stock: that’s around seventy dogs (when our own didn’t have pups) and a dozen cats versus two adults to manage them.

Jared and I were young; ten and eleven, and we helped where we could. He most times would hose runs (which paid fifty cents per) or walk dogs and I would make rounds in the yards with the pooper-scooper (twenty-five cents per). We both saw it all, but were largely ineffective in lightening the load. In grooming them we had no hand, we couldn’t teach them obedience, marketing bloodlines globally was beyond us, and finally we couldn’t really keep customers from walking past our driveway gate after hours and knocking on our house door. In a lot of ways, they were more of a burden than their animals.

Take greyhounds. One gray morning (weatherman banks on Michiana gray mornings) my folks admitted a greyhound for the first time, and I flew out to the kennel building from the house to see. They’d already kenneled her up so I asked whether she’d be alright with someone in with her. Of course, they said, and so I eagerly sought her out. I entered the outside run; she was inside (they had the choice) and padded out when she heard me. I froze, and cursed my parents. The moment she’d seen me her lips curled back, revealing a razor stockade of canines and incisors. She didn’t rush me, or growl. My armpits immediately became moist. It wouldn’t be my first grapple with a tenant, but this breed is notoriously limber. Her tail began to wag.

Greyhounds, I shortly discovered, are one of the few breeds that smile like humans do. She had stood at her end of the run and I’d stood at mine, unsure who was to make the first move. I took a step forward. She watched me, tail going and going. Inertia-swept, I laid my hand on her head and soon I was hugging her, face inches behind that killing muzzle. Later we’d take Sadie out and run her, which is important for greyhounds. No metal gates had slapped her hairless backside in years, but they don’t ever forget how to run. She buzzed around us and our other dogs, who liked her well enough for her novelty.

Meanwhile, in a large run on our barn building a pair of female sheepdogs, the Crapper Queens, had shat themselves crusty; it was their way, and I’ve not seen anything like it since. They were both guilty: hunching their backs in tandem, and the moment all of it was out on the concrete they’d antagonize and encourage each other, racing back and forth barking, smearing shit from toe to tip and all about their runs. Shit clung to the chain link, the metal siding, their tails and eyebrows, and everywhere else. Every day a shit-stravaganza, and every day we’d hose their runs, hose them, shampoo them, and on and on. Monthly residents.

I found old Charlie one evening around supper time, sleeping in his run. An ancient cocker spaniel, he’d gone salt-and-pepper long ago, and now he spent a lot of time down on his modest pillow. He didn’t raise his head upon seeing me, but raised a white eyebrow and thumped his tail once against the ground. I let myself in, and sat down on the other side of his little inside room and just watched him. Outside the sun was setting, and I could smell my dad grilling chicken by the pool. I hadn’t been there a minute before Charlie groaned and hauled himself up, wobbled over to me, and like a cat climbed onto my lap. I held his head with one hand and laid the other across his tired flank.

We sat there together for awhile, Charlie and I. His was a brand of exhaustion I’d never encountered before then: the weight of years laced into his bones and sinew, inextricable and leaden. All that was left was to rest some, get by, and wait for tomorrow, should it come. Charlie was Autumn then, and by now Winter’s taken him, and probably spring.

After six long years the work became too much for two adults. Due to constant grooming duty my mother’s arches fell, and both of my parents developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Their marriage almost ended, and Jared and I often were left to our own devices. As our family unraveled thread-by-thread the business burgeoned day-by-day. When they finally sold it to an optimistic couple from Illinois they made a killing, and we moved to a polar county within the school district.

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