I used to have two Labrador mutts. One tan, one black. Their names were Toast and Flapjack.
They lived up to their rambunctious names—boomeranging across the living room every morning and meeting me with their damp tongues. Their claws desperately scratched the wide pine floorboards as they’d battle each other who could get closer to the human in the room. When I sat on the couch to watch television or read, they’d slump at my feet, their sighs hot on my legs.
They were my company when I was home alone. They’d watch me as I moved around, following me from room to room and settling down wherever I landed. Some mornings, I rushed to shut their enthusiasm out of the house. I hated it when they brushed against my legs still wet from the shower. Their hair was in every corner of that old house.
Their coats smelled of cedar chips and dried leaves. If they had been swimming, then their fur smelled like mashed wet peas. Rivers, lakes, even large puddles—they weren’t discerning—their collars always rattled when they shook the water from their coats.
I sometimes had to run outside to chase them from a groundhog, or a porcupine, or another dog. A few trips to the vet to remove quills—and then there were the skunks, followed by tomato juice baths in the tub. Once, a moose came into the yard, and they stood in the garden near her lanky body, barking, as if wondering, “What are you doing here, you old cow?”
When I was at work, my neighbor used to give them scraps from the school where he was a janitor. I learned of this secret life only when the vet told me both dogs were gaining weight, even on Iams Senior. The neighbor let me in on his weekly visits when I told him the dogs seemed to be packing on the pounds. Perhaps when their bony legs trembled as they slept, they dreamt more about this magical place where they lived, where a guy from next door brought them T-bone steaks and they were free to roam the yard all day long.
Or maybe they were dreaming of the coming months when I’d have to give them away. When I got divorced and we had to sell the house, I couldn’t take the dogs with me to my new apartment. I asked my friend Bob to go to the Animal Rescue League with me. I couldn’t do it alone—he helped me fill out the long forms and told me everything would be fine. I tried to believe the earnest worker who said they wouldn’t be euthanized and they’d try to adopt them together.
I never found out what happened to Toast and Flapjack. I couldn’t bear to call the shelter and ask. But the story I tell myself is that their new life was a new kind of paradise. Because even as we walked, together, into the Animal Rescue League, the two dogs just looked at me with happy eyes, jumping and dancing at the end of a leash.
P.S. Yes, there were more breakfast foods—the story all started with Egg and Bacon, the cats. And there was also Waffle—another great dog—who met an untimely end. But that’s another story.