Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The parade begins

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.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Couch, meet dogs

This story begins with an ending.
It was the end of our couch, our first couch, all seven feet of its ‘70s orange stripyness. We’d kept it so long for sentimental reasons.
It was our first couch. My husband and I bought it together for our first home together, a ramshackle rented cottage on the edge of a river in northwestern Ontario. We discovered later, through an emailed picture, it was exactly the same kind of first couch my husband’s long-lost brother owned with his wife years earlier, before either of them knew the other one existed. But also, it was from the era of long, skinny couches made specifically for stretching out weary bones and napping in the middle of the day. They don’t make couches like that anymore.
We bought it for $50 at the Salvation Army four years earlier after spending four months furnitureless, living in our lawn chairs. The couch looked brand new, as though it had been kept in someone’s “good room”, it was barely used. Its pinstripes of oranges and browns and whites still captured the eye, its richness of colour invited you to sink into its soft velour finish that shone like a gift wrapped in Christmas paper when the light hit it just right.
Three years later it was trashed. It was home to 10 different animals during that time, 12 if you count my husband, Morgan, and I, but none was harder on it than the last, our youngest dog, Murdoch. Though the six kittens did a number on it too.
We stood in the entry way with the door of our house propped open and the couch poised to make it’s last exit and I would be lying if I said we weren’t sad to see it go, even though it had taken on a grayish hue and smelled like wet dog.
When we moved to our new house, a year earlier, the couch was relegated to the entryway as temporary storage while we decided what to do with it. I had stopped sitting on it eight months before that after adopting Max, an old German Shepherd who dragged himself on to the couch at every opportunity, while our Black Lab, Bear, slept at the other end. There was just enough room for two big dogs. Then Max pooed on it one day. It was an accident - the first of many as the degenerative condition that was stealing his ability to walk progressed. After that, even with a good cleaning, I saw it as the dog’s couch and always chose to sit on the bean bag chair.
In the entryway of our new house, Murdoch - a puppy found on the side of the road, ill-mannered with a possible violent streak - spent long hours in his kennel beside the couch that held boxes from our move. As the boxes cleared and Murdoch spent more time free from behind bars, he quickly claimed the couch as his own.
The holes he chewed in it were strategic. I never caught him with his teeth actually sunk in to the fabric, he was too smart to do it when we were around and too smart to tear off huge hunks that would be noticed right away. Instead, he worked diligently to pick small holes into the armrest and then carefully tore a thin strip off the backrest. He chewed into the seat cushions from underneath so they looked completely fine from the top but if you picked one up it hung in tatters, and that’s when you noticed half the foam was missing. He focused his attention on the pre-existing wear marks that showed on the extremities where fabric pulled tightly over edges of the wooden frame beneath. We didn’t notice his handiwork until stuffing began to creep out from behind taut fabric, and then we couldn’t remember if these were holes started by the cats or if Murdoch had found a new hobby.
The cats had already torn off the black, webby fabric underneath the couch and picked a forest of individual threads along the front where they sunk in their claws and pulled themselves along the floor on their backs as though scaling a mountain on its side. They had also tested the potential of one of the arms as a scratching post.
The couch had seen better days, and as we stopped to contemplate which angle would be best to get it out the door, our guilt fell heavily on our shoulders again. How could we have utterly destroyed a piece of furniture in such a short time? What kind of people are we? Now we will drive it to the dump where it will become yet another piece of detritus from our wasteful, throw-away society when the only thing wrong with it, really, is the fabric. The frame was in great shape, the wood carefully crafted into gentle curves and smooth straight lines. It would be a perfect couch to re-upholster, except neither of us knew how to do it and we had a list of 500 other, more pressing, projects needing done.
What if we could find someone who does want to do it? I wondered aloud. Maybe we should ask around. Morgan thought the idea was crazy, quite sure no one would want this couch, but we had found another option, even if it was a faint light on the horizon. We compromised and threw out the cushions, then shuffled the couch back into its spot in the entryway, where Murdoch tested the springs and seemed to delight in it's squeakiness.