Our house began to stink. Somedays, when the wind blew just right, it smelled like dog pee and feet.
We somehow managed to keep the house non-animal smelly for months. But something changed. It could be Max’s inability to make it more than a foot out the door before he pees - or sometimes he doesn’t make it out the door at all. It could also be the fact that we have three dogs that had not been brushed in weeks - there is nothing quite as smelly as the undercoat of a dog - garbage truck with a hint of something rotting under the porch. The main culprit though, we decided, was the couch.
It sat in the entryway and greeted you as soon as you walked through the door, its broken down appearance assaulting the eyes while its aroma became a tangible thing that reached out and smacked you about the face. It had essentially become a giant dog bed that could not be thrown in the washing machine. We needed to get rid of it. Plus we’re pretty sure there was a giant spider living inside it, there had been sightings.
I guess the couch never stood a chance. I see that now, after throwing ten animals at it.
It started innocently enough, though, when it was just Bear and Morgan and I, and the couch was new - well, new to us anyway.
After a few snowy months gathered around our gas fireplace, sitting in lawn chairs with Bear curled up on blankets on the plywood floor, the couch was a shiny orange jewel. A focal point for our tiny living room that distracted from the battered old chocolate brown recliner we bought at the same time.
The recliner looked like a well-loved stuffed animal. The faux leather back pulled away from the frame where sharp staples poked through. I thought Morgan was kidding when he said he wanted it. The chair became his, the couch was mine and Bear’s. We spent long hours snuggled up on its cushions, me under blankets with a mug of tea and a book, Bear sprawled out with her head in my lap and all four feet straight up in the air, prepared for the possibility that at any moment someone might indulge her in a belly rub.
It never occurred to me there would be other animals.
They all kind of just happened. In the span of three short years, nine more furry bodies would traipse through our door. Not all of them stayed long, but they each left their mark in one way or another.
Quincy was the first. He was planned; a foster dog we decided to take in that first spring in Thunder Bay - much to Bear’s chagrin.
His real name was Prince. A Border Collie-Lab cross, his face was very much like Bear’s, but longer hair fanned out in a mane at his neck. He had a white chest and feet, and his ears sat higher on his head, pointing up before falling out to the side where they bounced up and down when he ran.
He was the only dog at the Humane Society not climbing the walls of his kennel. Instead, he lay motionless, chin resting on paws, staring into the distance. We took him home that afternoon and he spent the evening under our bed, where his bones rattled against the bare wood floor. Bear lay on the couch in the living room, shooting sideways glances at the bedroom as if to ask, How long is he staying? They rode home together in the back of the car, Quincy ignoring all of us and Bear trying to make herself as small as possible in one corner of the back seat so she didn’t have to touch him.
We changed his name because he didn’t look like a Prince, it didn’t suit him, but also we thought it was a good way to give him a new start. Quincy sounded similar but was just different enough.
Of all the animals we would alternately welcome and grudgingly allow into our lives Quincy was perhaps the most elusive, the most independent of the bunch. He kept his distance at first, didn’t want to know us. He spent most of his time outdoors doing his own thing, reclining in the shade of a tree or sitting in the river with the water flowing over his knees. Quincy was like a ghost, slipping silently from room to room or disappearing on one of his jaunts without a glance back.
But he always returned and slowly he became a part of our small family.
The day he made his first bid for the couch was the day we realized he felt comfortable with us and in our home. We had, however, decided earlier that the couch would remain Bear’s special place since we had imposed on her solitude with another animal. Try to explain that to a dog.
On the few days Quincy stayed inside he would inevitably find his way onto the couch. He and Bear seemed to arrive at some sort of agreement to not acknowledge each other in the house. Bear took up residence on the bed where she gazed out the bedroom door into the living room, sighing every once in a while to remind us she was there, while Quincy slunk silently onto the couch, always ready to jump up and disappear as a wisp in the air.
But that wouldn’t happen for a few more months, after the swollen head, projectile pus and the kittens.