My family went on vacation last month and although he drives me nuts, bidding our dog adieu was surprisingly sentimental. For his fifth birthday and an exercise in gratitude, here’s an ode to my odorous doofus. I hope dog people past, present, and future will enjoy our story of rescuing Batman.
Batman’s our handsome lab/Australian cattle dog. His shiny coat’s all black save a white patch on his chest not unlike the Bat symbol and another white splotch on his left paw—his “magic paw”—the one the punk used to convince me to adopt him when I had no intention to.
Dunning-Kruger may extend to dog ownership, but we think Bat’s smarter than average. Very protective, too. Once after a late gig he woke up and ran to greet me when I walked in, but must’ve been too groggy to recognize me. For at least a minute he kept me frozen at the door, 15 feet away, growling and threatening to attack if I moved. I humored him and let it go on so I could feel what it’s like to be on his bad side—turns out he’s one scary dude when he wants to be! We were never looking for a guard dog, but I’ll admit it’s kinda cool. Otherwise he’s sweet as can be to his human housemates.
Guests still get his obnoxious side, though. Despite years of consistency he still resents visitors who don’t grant him all possible attention, and he’ll even turn on his owners when we intervene. Serious nerve. Summoning superhuman optimism, I like to think his naughtiness is a sign of vitality, and indicates he’ll live a long time while only getting better. Growing up I loved our vicious cat Otis, who lived an outstanding 20 years, mellowing with age to where I’d even miss his young jerk days. I cosmically hope Batman’s defiant nature also leads to lasting health.
Bat comes with built-in behavioral excuses, too. While he growls and barks loudly at nearly every sound, passerby, and neighbor—he’s probably too vigilant—well, he is named after the World’s Greatest Detective. And although I hate how much he pulls when we walk him, his Aussie ancestors were professional herders. Dog trivia: did you know Australian cattle dogs were bred with dingoes? Makes him a bona fide ding-Bat.
He’s also the Bark Knight, Beast, Worm, Ape, Bat Buffington, and countless more. It’s fun to be stupid for pets.
My now-wife/then-girlfriend and I got him when he was seven months old. The previous year we had to put down her awesome Siberian husky, Sugar, at age 13. Sugar was the first dog I’d really bonded with; I just wasn’t a dog guy before him. After Suge we didn’t really want to own another, so to get our fleabag fix we’d go to the GB Humane Society every so often and pick a pup to walk the trails and hang in the play cages—they loved the exercise and attention, and it was something different for us to do outside. We went five or six times.
Bat wasn’t even our first choice that fateful day. As usual we’d strolled the kennel area, checking out dogs and petting the social ones, reading their little info cards. We may have snickered at the name Batman, but that was it—we were excited to walk the one next to him. I don’t even remember that dog’s name now, because by the time we got back from asking staff to let him out with us, someone else had nabbed him. We shrugged and went with Batman instead.
Little jerk was so well behaved back then! He was a total gentleman, trotting through the woods, perfectly matching his walkers’ pace. After a while we took him into one of the cages to hang out leash-less and throw tennis balls for him.
Recall The Magic Paw. I crouch next to him, have him sniff a tennis ball, then throw it and tell him to GO-GET-IT!, but no. No deal, not interested. What do I think he is, a dog or something?
To this day I’m fake-mad about it. Instead of playing fetch, Batman glances at the thrown ball, stays put, looks up at me pitifully, and lifts a little black paw with a white splotch onto my knee. Pleading.
“Oh, please, sir!” begged his almond eyes. “Nothing in this gosh-forsaken world could be better than coming to live with you guys. I’ll be the greatest boy of all time! Puh-LEEZE!”
We couldn’t believe it. His charm was audacious, his audacity, charming.
Some suggest it was inevitable we’d fall for a dog that day, what were we thinking, should’ve known, etc. But like I said, we’d gone to walk dogs countless times, especially enjoying the lack of responsibility. We’d have a bit of fun and leave, and although I still remember some of them (Hi, Cashew! Hi, Macintosh! Hope you’re well!), adoption never actually came up. My wife also had our weirdo cat (Foxy), so we really weren’t starved for a pet. Nor were we ready to consider getting a dog, yet this little dork was forcing our hand with his magic friggin’ paw.
If there were any chance we wanted Batman as our canine companion, we knew if we didn’t claim him right then that someone else could, swooping in as nonchalantly as whoever’d taken the first dog we wanted to walk that day. When we brought him inside we figured we’d just ask some harmless hypothetical questions. We learned he’d arrived from Indiana, which at the time was euthanizing a lot of dogs due to overpopulation (I’ve got a couple of friends whose dogs came from there). Also, he’d come with his brother—Joker(!)—who had tan fur except for his face, which was all white. Joker had already been adopted.
The Bark Knight Crises
We also learned that someone else had already put money down on adopting Batman. Holy heartbreak! But, if the depositor didn’t pick him up by closing time—7 p.m.—that night, the claim would be forfeited and money refunded. Okay. And, we’d be able to check online to see if Batman were still there—so long as that funny little face showed up on the Humane Society website, it meant he had not yet been adopted. Well…? Ah, it was still such a long shot. We said our goodbyes to Batman, reasonably sure we’d never see him again. It was only late morning, after all. Maybe we’d glance online later to confirm he was gone.
Just once. Just to check.
…Have you ever obsessively refreshed a website? eBay, perhaps? It’s a helpless position. I had to go into work until 7 p.m., and naturally spent the entire shift checking the site repeatedly (as did my wife at home). Still there. Still there. Still there! Somehow.
For whatever reason the picture of Bat was slightly stretched, giving him a sort of “Hey Arnold!” football head, and it made the activity feel that much sillier. I’d only just met him—did I even really want him? Had the drama made me more possessive, like a kid who only wants to play with a toy because his sister does, too? Nonetheless, I kept clicking and that dopey, deformed dog face kept staring back.
Finally, incredibly, it was 7 o’clock, and Batman was still on the site! Futilely I tried calling the Humane Society to see if he were indeed still there, but since they’d just closed no one answered. We had no way of knowing if the person who’d put the money down had picked him up at the last minute—perhaps staff just hadn’t taken his picture down.
My wife had found out, though, that a number of Humane Society animals would be moved to a local pet store early the next morning for a pet adoption promotion. They didn’t know if Batman would be one of them or not, but since the event began before the Humane Society opened it meant I could go to the pet store early and check.
It was a bright Friday morning in September. I had the day off, and I was nervous—my wife and I hadn’t stopped thinking or talking Batman, shocked at how suddenly we’d set our hearts on getting this dog. But if he was in fact still available, I was to adopt him.
First stop: the pet store he was potentially at. I was familiar with the store, so I hustled in soon as they opened and went straight to the dog area.
…But no Batman. I ask an employee—turns out in my haste I hadn’t noticed the giant setup of canopies and animals in cages in the parking lot. I power-walk out, head to the event area, and start down the big L-shaped row. Potential moment of truth time. Nothing yet, then, amazingly, right there in the corner, is a little black dog whose tail starts wagging as I approach.
“Hey, Batman!” I say, excitedly but gently. He, of course, has no clue about the previous night’s click fest, or how much I’d thought and talked about him in the last 20 hours.
Alright! He stays in the cage while staff get me started, and there I am, writing a check and filling out paperwork in the sun. I can’t believe he’s here, and I’m getting him! My heart thumps and I can’t calm myself, still bracing for a clash—there was no way the person who put money down on Batman wasn’t going to appear. I know in my nerves there’ll be a showdown.
And, as if on cue, suddenly, Thunderously, HE arrives.
I’m at a picnic table about 25 feet from Batman, scribbling away, several sheets to go, when I hear The Voice, and of course it’s huge and booming and furious.
“SOMEBODY TOOK MY DOG AND IT’S DAT BLACK ONE IN THE CORNER.”
Holy…NO! A veritable mountain of a man shuffles behind me toward what may or may not be my new dog and I think, is my paperwork—now half-complete—void? Or, if it’s technically official, do I get selfish, hold tight, and fight? I have no idea and I’m panicking while my handwriting gets worse.
“YUP. DAT’S THE ONE.”
I can’t even look up. He ambles closer, a worried female employee hovering near. I hurriedly whip through the papers, signing, dating, and initialing blindly, agreeing to who knows what.
“YUP. SOMEONE STOLE MY DOG FROM MY YARD,” says The Voice.
“Well, okay, let’s just make sure first,” suggests the employee, whose skittishness rivals my own. They close in on Batman.
I’m confused, though—stolen from a yard? I’m expecting a person who put money down on my would-be dog, not this. It was like Stone Cold stormed the ring while I looked out for the Undertaker. And unless the Humane Society had lied, no one had owned Batman since he came to Wisconsin. I’m almost done signing…
“YEAH—YUP. DAT’S HER ALRIGHT.”
“But, sir, this dog is male.”
“HAH? …OH. WELL DAT AIN’T HER DEN, HUH. WHAT ABOUT DAT ONE DERE…”
Wow! Had this guy really just lost a dog that looked like Batman? Or was he just out trying to get a free dog? Either way, trembling at whatever just went down, I exhaled and signed the last line.
To the Batmobile!
I paid just under $200 for the adoption, a leash, and dog food. And that was it! I came without a dog, and was leaving with one. I led him to jump into my backseat and closed the door and it hit me:
There’s a dog in your car now, dude. And it’s your dog. Anything that happens to him is now your fault.
I get in, close the door, and I’m alone with a dog, in my car, for the first time, the rush replaced with silence. Or not. In the blur of the transaction they’d mentioned Batman had kennel cough. This dog I’d found so cute was now behind me hacking and gagging like an old human.
And that wasn’t all. The stress of moving around had also affected him, particularly his stomach. He farts and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever smelled.
WHAT HAVE I DONE.
Bat and switch indeed. I’ll never forget my then-roommate commenting on Batman’s “zen” when I first got him, and as Bat quietly lay on our deck, impressively independent and self-assured. Now he absolutely spazzes if I go for a jog and don’t bring him with. The kennel cough and indigestion went away soon enough, but then he just kept getting bigger and bigger—I was worried he’d get too big for us to handle. He weighs 65 pounds now, up from 35 when we got him.
I’m thrilled Batman’s part of our life and he assures us it’s mutual. Early on my wife had brought him to a dog park where I’d meet them after work and surprise him. They’d been there a while, and I didn’t know where they were (the park is a fenced-off hunk of hilly woods), so I just called his name out. Sure enough, from a football field away, his little dog head perked up and he sprinted right at me. We’d only known each other weeks!
I do feel bad for whoever had put money down on Bat, but I can’t imagine he’d have a better life than what we provide. Other than the time he chewed up my $80 laptop power cord instead of ANYTHING else in the room, and picking up his guano, and whatever else I described earlier, he’s been just great. Loyal, fun, funny, and definitely protective. He curls up by me when I’m up late ghostwriting! Yes, I am grateful for the mutt’s existence.
I get why people want to call themselves “parents” of their pets, because animals can be very demanding, and you care about them a lot. Those early days were especially trying, but it’s been very rewarding.
An unexpected result of co-managing Bat’s life was confidence that I may not suck at raising young beings, and that if my wife and I worked well together with a puppy, maybe our partnership could work for a baby. Parenting’s totally different of course, but so far so good! In general, and also unexpectedly, I’ve only felt happier as I’ve taken on more responsibility, and my dog’s been a step in that. But if caring for a dog made life ten times better, raising kids brings a thousand times that joy. (“Lady and the Tramp” nails this.)
That, as they say, is a blog for another day. Hope you liked this one! Feel free to add your own anecdote of dog acquisition as well.