No buddy’s puppy

They’re some of the biggest dogs in the world. Pretty Wife has wanted one for 20 years, but it’s never been the right time. It’s still not the right time, but what could it hurt to look?

The Craigslist picture was unprepossessing — a sad puppy with a blotchy gray coat stood staring dull-eyed at the floor — but his story tugged at us. The woman who placed the ad took in his dam and him from the police when he was one week old, sole survivor of his litter. At nine weeks, his puppy belly was distended and his spine stuck out like Nessie’s back plates.

Forlorn puppy“He doesn’t look too good,” I said.

“I never wanted a merle,” Pretty Wife replied.

So we drove right down there. It was only a three-hour round trip.

From the ten-foot fence in the yard, half a dozen Great Danes boomed at us like frantic foghorns, their voices trembling the glass in our little Toyota. On the lawn, the rescue woman stood with a pup trembling at her feet, ears back and eyes white around the edges. His tail was tucked so far under it tickled at his chin. He tiptoed with an uncertain wobble, hips thrust under his belly. A Great Dane, but maybe not the greatest Dane.

We talked softly to him while we chatted with his rescue mum. He finally ventured off his special towel long enough to clump over on wrinkly puppy cankles and sniff at our faces. Pretty Wife stroked him a bit. I petted him once or twice, then he lurched into my shin and leaned on me until I picked him up and realized that an infant Great Dane is the size of a medium dog.

Trembling, he put his head under my chin and pushed into the warmth. He gave me a serious look, like he didn’t know that puppies smell like buttered toast and baby toes.

“Well, we’d better go,” said Pretty Wife, for the second or third time.

“Y’all think about it, okay? He likes you guys,” said Rescue Lady. “I have a good feeling about this.”

Pretty Wife and I have a standing, pan-situational agreement: it’s my fault, but her responsibility. On the upshift from third to fourth, she said, “I don’t think that’s the puppy I’ve been waiting for.

“He was trembling and had his tail tucked the whole time we were there. ‘Fearful’ is a deal-breaker for me in a 200-lb. dog. Anyway, his conformation isn’t great.”

I watched the road. Crashing would be my fault. I shifted carefully into fifth.

“I always thought my Dane pup would be a blue or a black.”

That puppy had just been cold, was all. He clearly had character. I would have said something, but I was squinting pretty hard through the rain, so I turned up the wipers instead.

“Oh, my gosh,” said Pretty Wife. She looked closely at me for a moment. “Is he your puppy?”

I kept my eyes on the road where they belonged. The rain had gotten so bad, it was getting inside my glasses. For the next few days, Pretty Wife gently rationalized me into believing that it would be okay for me to have a puppy. Me!

The prospect was terrifying. I like dogs about the way I like kids: thoroughly housebroken, preferably college-educated.

“His name is Tucker,” I finally told her, doing my part to doom my heart.

Five days later, we picked him up. In the interim, he’d grown almost an inch at the shoulder. All the way home, he shook, drooled, and startled at passing trucks, but he snuggled close and never whined once. The picture of him sitting on my lap that first day shows my entire right arm saturated with pup spit. His mien remained morbidly grave . . .

“I dunno,” I told Pretty Wife. “Maybe ‘Tucker’ is short for “Tail Tucker.’”

The next day, 90 minutes in advance of his first veterinary visit, Tucker launched a spray of mustard-yellow horror across our yard, the long white contents of which waved at me like alien tentacles freshly exploded from Sigourney Weaver’s theretofore flawless belly. Tucker looked up at me uncertainly.

“Um … good dog?”

Good Lord, I thought.

Opting for the Powell Doctrine, I scraped up and threw away a four-foot square of turf, bleached the ground underneath it, then bleached the garbage can. Pretty Wife had to restrain me from bleaching Tucker — inside and out.

Once wormed, Tucker’s coat brightened into shredded dark patches over a beautiful blue background, with snowy white paws and chest. Merles are looked down on by the AKC and can’t be shown, but everywhere we walked people exclaimed over his beautiful coat. Eyes brightening as fast as his coat, Tucker’s appetite picked up and his energy soared into puppy overdrive.

He tentatively clumped around our living room on snow-boot paws, wrinkling his forehead curiously at every new sight and smell, and retreating to my lap at every new sound.

Tucker started looking more like a dwarf weightlifter than a Lesser Dane. His bloated belly sleeked into his knobby frame and the lumps of his spine subsumed themselves between twin ridges of puppy muscle, ideal for gnawing bones and tugging on ropes.

“Maybe his name is ‘Tugger’.”

Tucker groaned in his sleep like an old Labrador retriever. When it woke Pretty Wife up, I gently suggested to her that it was the sound of his bones stretching.

Three times a night for the first week, I got up and carried him from his puppy crate to the front door, escorting him out to execute the formalities. Now that he’s down to once a night, I automatically wake up at 0300. When he finally sleeps through the night, I’ll be proud as a new parent — and just as relieved. Right now, there’s not enough coffee in the world, and he’s growing so fast that if he doesn’t start walking out the door on his own pretty soon, there won’t be enough Advil, either.

Over the next few days, he burst right out of his shell. Now Tucker veritably prances around, trying to instigate doggie games with our old mix, Auggie. Tucker also finds himself an endless stock of shoes, papers, boxes and socks to steal and chew when we aren’t looking. When he bounds across the living room, it sounds like a herd of elk stampeding through a dance studio.

Tucker’s skinny worm of a tail — so poorly matched to his Frankenpup paws — now waves as cheerfully as a Frisco rainbow flag. He’s no tail tucker! In fact, it may turn out to be a chore convincing him he’s not the alpha male around here.

Auggie would prefer to believe that the interloper is, at worst, a temporary distraction. A practical dog, though, Auggie takes the good with the bad. After the first few days of copious treats to fend off his jealousy, Auggie’s collar disappeared under furry rolls, gone to wherever it is that my belt hides when I’m wearing it.

After three days of yapping at Auggie with his chin on the ground and his lumpy hips waggling, Tucker finally got the old dog’s attention by darting for his bone. There followed — in instantaneous order — a roar, a snap and a terrified shriek. Tucker rolled up into the corner by our bed, coiled tight as a potato bug and whimpering like a spun bearing.

There wasn’t a mark on him. Auggie had bitch-slapped him with the sides of his overgrown tusks.

It’s become a regular game for them. Tails waving, they face off over a bone, Auggie hunkering over his treasure like a flatulent, overfed dragon and Tucker crouching low, pretending to hide in the grass while he yaps his fool head off. When Auggie finally roars and comes for him, Tucker skips away with a smile in his tail.

Today, Tucker baited Auggie into lunging completely off the bone pile. Then, while the old dog circled and sniffed, Tucker dashed in for the kill and emerged triumphantly with a mouthful of bones. Chuffing his jowls and wriggling his linguine tail, the pup loped over to his corner. All the way across the room, he watched Auggie out of the corner of his eye, bouncing like Muhammed Ali in the third round of a Liston bout.

Tucker is smart, he’s brave and he’s going to be about my size by late next year.

That old dog is in such trouble.


  1. I love your outrageous use of metaphors. I enjoyed the hell out of the story. You have a very cool style of writing. In my opinion, it’s almost “over the top” but that’s exactly why you are so cool to read.

    The hook at the end? The last sentence? That touch reminds me of an amateur I’m acquainted with. No, no,
    I’m not saying it was amateurish! Please don’t misunderstand. Oh, hell-

    Thanks for sharing, Jack.

  2. Much enjoyed! It was very heartwarming.Best line……….. “Oh, my gosh,” said Pretty Wife. She looked closely at me for a moment. “Is he your puppy?”
    May you and Tucker continue to enjoy the journey. Oh yeah, and pretty wife also.

  3. Message for Shasta:

    Thanks for letting Jack get a toy; every boy needs one. I have known a couple of Great Danes in my time and you just won’t believe how much drool they can produce. But if they didn’t have at least one unsavory trait, we’d all want one and the world would run out of dog food in a minute. Anyway, what a beautiful creature he is.

  4. H Marc Lewis says

    I may have to overdose on mood elevators before reading your stuff, Jack. Or stop getting old. Even your writing about a puppy brings a tear to my eye…

    If I were your Creative Writing teacher, you’d get an A+ for that one.

  5. You realize, of course, that Pretty Wife has yet to find *hers*. A pair of Danes is a Great thing 🙂

  6. ” The rain had gotten so bad, it was getting inside my glasses.”

    Great line, Jack! And I had no idea that Great Danes came in any color other than caramel. ScoobyDoo, ya know?

    Great Dane puppies don’t have good body awareness, based upon the (off-leash) puppy that took me out at the knees at Green Lake while charging playfully at Katie (who jumped behind mom’s legs). She was caramel. 🙂

  7. Great post! Thanks for sharing this post!

  8. Pamela Fisher Dutra says

    Beautiful – dog and story! I smiled all the way thru!

  9. Bob Nelson says

    I got one of your books on my kindle that ended up being one of the “can’t put it down” types. In it I found the link to here. Thanks!! I’m dog and mc crazy so the Tucker link was the first one I went to. It made me smile and tear up simultaneously. That’s the sign of a good story in my book. Keep it up.
    I’m set to retire soon (this fall or next spring), and your writings have led me to start obsessing about a long distance tour to all 4 corners of our great nation. Thanks again….I think!! Bob.

  10. Thanks for this. Laughed and cried my way through it. Laughed because of a lifetime of dog memories, cried because my old non-descript (to everyone but me) and ever fearful old pooch had to be put down a couple weeks ago. I mess her.

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