She weighs 71.3-pounds. Her fur is reddish-brown with soft waves that go from left-to-right. On her under-carriage she has a soft non-benign growth that makes her look like an inverted camel. Her muzzle is stained grey from her age and she has the softest eyes of any creature on this planet.
Her name is Shelly and she is my dog.
A nine-year old chocolate lab, Shelly has both the pros and cons of the breed. She is loyal, loving and protective. Negatively, she is obsessed with food, freakishly possessive and has a drinking problem worse than anyone I have ever served behind the bar. She is renowned for parking in front of one the three water bowls in the house and draining the bowl dry in some sort of obsessive binge.
In a house with twelve paws, Shelly is the alpha pup and she is completely devoid of all of the human traits that limit our behavior. Our other dogs, Samson and Roxy, submit to Shelly’s bullish ways and recognize that Shelly might be a pill but she is in charge.
Shelly came into my life and home two years ago on New Year’s Day. We drove up to Logan Utah to our friend’s, Scott and Amy, house to investigate if this abandoned mutt could come and stay with us. I was hesitant at first. Considering that we already had the best dog on the planet, Samson the Beavergoat, cohabitating with us, I was reluctant to bring another beast into the fold. Even though we have the real estate to take care of multiple dogs, I didn’t want to disrupt the natural flow of the house with an additional canine.
I was dead on arrival.
She was neurotic, violent and dominate the moment we met her. She paced wildly around Scott and Amy’s home and intimidated their pets. Apparently, Shelly had did the dog equivalent of locking horns with one of their great danes and came away from the encounter no worse from the wear. I didn’t want another dog but something about Shelly made me reconsider it. Amy swore up and down that Shelly was a good girl. How do you argue against that? No one can get in the mind of a dog. I found myself reluctantly softening to the idea of living in a house with two dogs.
It didn’t help that I was plied with copious amounts of beer and a free lunch at the White Owl. After a baker’s dozen worth of cheap cans of beer, I found myself driving home on the first of January 2010 one dog heavier. I was cursing myself for being so malleable for taking Shelly home after a couple cans of Natural Light but I figured it what was the worst that could happen?
Oh dear God was I wrong.
Shelly and Sam had a rocky start. I woke up on January 2nd to a scene right out of Michael Vick’s garage. Samson and Shelly got into a fight over their breakfast that ended with me putting a scissors lock on Shelly at 5am. Erin was feeding the dogs prior to going to work and the dogs went at each other like reality TV stars. Lesson learned from this was that Shelly and Sam’s food would be in opposite ends of the house. I remember very specifically that if this is the first day of the rest of our lives together we might have a really long time with each other.
Fortunately, that was not the case. Shelly seamlessly fell into the routines of the house. Walks around the block became fixtures of the day and Shelly slowly found her way into the ebbs and flows of the house. We all want Lassie or Rin Tin Tin for our family pet but somehow Shelly effortlessly moved her way into our home, Without fishing Timmy our of a well, Shelly became the sultan of the house and slowly moved herself into a special place in my heart.
Her most distinct feature is this soft, half-orange sized fatty tumor on her stomach. Because of this, I call her Shelly Belly mostly because it rhythms but because she is Shelly Belly. She has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her tumor and her crazed eyes make her the Shelly Belly just as much as lighting bugs are lightening bugs. She is the middle child in a house of three dogs and acts as such. She might be a pill but she is my favorite.
We got the last dog, Roxy, in October and I loudly proclaimed that there is a twelve paw limit in the house. We either need to start having kids or open a kennel. Roxy is just a dumb dog who enjoys walks and being scratched. She was diagnosed with a thyroid problem that caused her to be beefy and extra itchy. Treatable with medicine, it became one more pill that needed to be shoveled down the dog’s throats every morning.
The house naturally found it’s equilibrium and things have been going smoothly with all of the dogs for the last five months until Erin pointed out something on Shelly’s back haunch. It was all scabby, swollen and bloody. It looked like she was scrapped across asphalt or bitten. I scheduled an appointment at the vet and took Shell Bell in.
Veterinarians bother me. I know they are doing the Lord’s work when it comes to treating animals but how the Hell do they think they know more about my dog than I do? I am not referring to blood work or resetting a broken tail. I am more upset over the tea leaf reading they do with a quick glance at my pups. We have been shopping around town looking for the right vet and I am glad we finally stumbled upon Cottonwood Animal Hospital. They’re the first clinic in town that didn’t look at Shelly as a boat payment.
We were ushered into an examination room and waited for the doctor. It’s funny that dogs know something is afoot when they make it to the vet. It’s got to be the smell—the combination of cleaning supplies and wet fur. Dr. Porter came into the room and got to work on Shelly. Examining her backside he asked me if I knew what a “Hot Zone” was. My mind immediately went to some sort of military battlefield or the space within the 20-yard line. I shook my head no. He told me that Shell Bell had to be shaved and he needed to take a skin scrapping. They left to go to the back of the clinic.
I sat in the room alone and fiddled with my phone for 40-minutes. The room is well lit, the stainless steel examination table reflects the cabinets on the wall and there are jars of wooden Q-Tips, gauze and bandages on the counter. I was sitting on a vinyl bench wondering what was taking so long. I was thinking about the first time I met Shelly and how uncertain I was if we should take her back to the house. Now, I channeling whatever thoughts I could to her so we could go back home.
The door opened and Shelly came back in with some vet techs. Oh my lord. They had shaved Shelly’s rump about 8” x 7” to exposed blistered and scarred skin. Dr. Porter came in and told me she had mites. My heart crashed. She looked like she had been dragged across the blacktop with her skin pussing and bleeding. Somehow, Shelly contracted mites from another dog (my first thought was Roxy) and she would be on a series on antibiotics, special shampoo and flea spray. Because she was contagious, I would have to treat the other dogs at the house with the shampoo and spray.
Shelly is the rare dog that when the apocalypse comes she will naturally go into coyote mode. She is all consumed with scrounging for food and consuming all of the water. Regarding her injury, she was no worse for wear. She gleefully jumped into the truck and headed home for baths and treatments
Dogs are tougher than we give them credit for. If it had been my butt that was shaved to expose a flea circus, I would have insisted upon a stop at Sugarhouse Pub for a treat before a Benadryl nightcap. Shelly and the rest of the pups endured a God awful mite spray with only the promise of a Milkbone at the end of it. Most people would be acting like John Rambo in the sheriff’s shower room at the beginning of First Blood if they had to endure what I put them through. I think they do it because they know that I am not trying to hurt them. Getting a chemical peel on their skin might hurt but they somehow know it’s for the best.
I am happy to report that Shelly Belly is on the mend.
I’ve been writing this column for over a year in my office in the basement. In a closet of a room with an oversized desk on a beat-up computer, I hammer out stories, complaints and thoughts. The world is shut off and I am free to write about whatever I want. Everyone written has my name on the by-line but Shelly could easily take a co-authorship. She has sat at my feet for every column written.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his podcast, Salt Lake City PubCast on iTunes. Become a fan of Raskin’s Rhetoric on Facebook. Shelly can drink 3-gallon of water a day.