by Jan Hugo Tragianese
It was a dark and stormy night…well, no, it really wasn’t. But it was a steamy August night back in 1996 when Frankie and I met. He was young, handsome and very cranky. He had every reason to be cranky; he was a puppy in pain. He had a nasty leg fracture with complications and he showed up with Ellie at the door to the emergency clinic where I was working.
He earned the nickname “Cranky Frankie” and was the most obnoxious greyhound I had ever met. Frankie objected to treatment. He snarled and snapped at the doctor, curling his upper lip, baring his sharp, white puppy teeth and uttering a menacing warning growl to anyone who attempted to touch the leg. But Frankie got medical treatment that night anyway despite his grumbling and through it Frankie and I came to an understanding. I understood he was in pain and he understood that I was there to help. He also understood that I adored him in spite of his bad manners. The leg was eventually amputated and he came to live with me and my pack of hounds.
I had an alpha-female, Jessie, at home who helped teach Frankie some better manners. Jessie would “tattle” on him if his nose came too close to the human table and would give him a proper scolding if he became too rambunctious in the house.
Frankie soon learned that I was “top dog” and that I could take food (or anything else he decided to chew) away from him. We had a few battles in the early stages, mostly over my shoes. Frankie developed a habit of taking one or both of my work shoes into his crate where he guarded them, daring me to get them. The obnoxious puppy growl would sound in his throat as I reached in to get my shoe. I growled back. He would grab my shoe and so would I, each of us tugging to win possession. I eventually learned that if I blew in his face, he would let go of the shoe and I would win.
Things began to settle in around the house nicely as Frankie learned the hierarchy of his new home. We began to discover lots of interesting things about each other. Frankie dislikes black olives but likes green ones. Frankie learned that I do not like him to pee in the house. I learned that Frankie likes wearing a coat in cold weather and will happily tap dance while I try to put it on him and that he dislikes it when I try to take it off and will run and hide in his crate, coat and all. He learned that other resident animals in our home are OFF LIMITS in “Chase and catch” games. And Frankie learned that he has to wait in the foyer to have his feet wiped off when it is raining out.
There are some things Frankie hasn’t learned yet. He has not learned that no matter how hard he tries, the toilet lid will not go up if he keeps bouncing it with his nose. He has not learned that the tile floor is slippery when he races into the kitchen and he will inevitably look like Bambi on ice each time he does. He has not learned that Mom does not appreciate ANY creatures he thinks would be a fun addition to the family. (or a snack between meals) He has learned that when I tell him to “DROP IT” that I mean it. This is a very important thing for him to know since he has not learned that I do not want HIM bringing in any furry or feathery creatures.
Earlier this year the command to “Drop it” came in very handy. As we were letting the hounds in from their final out of the evening, Frankie came bounding up to the back door with something in his mouth. I heard my husband yell, “DROP IT”. That was not all he yelled but that was the one thing that got my attention. I went in to see what all his fuss was about and found him standing on his tip-toes in the foyer holding Frankie by the collar. He was doing a little dance, my husband, not Frankie. Frankie was steadily staring at what he had just dropped on our kitchen floor. I followed Frankie’s gaze to find an opossum lying motionless in the middle of my kitchen. “Well, get it out of here,” I instructed my husband. He was quick to shriek at me, “YOU are the ANIMAL person! YOU get it out of here!”
As I reached for a plastic trash bag to scoop the ugly creature into, my husband squealed at me, “What is it? Some kind of RAT?” Did I mention that my husband grew up in the city? “No,” I answered trying not to show my amusement, “It’s an opossum.” As I replied, the thought occurred to me that opossums “play dead” and decided that the plastic trash bag was probably not a good idea. I decided it would be much better to take a broom and sweep him back out the door where he would eventually scurry away.
As I am making this decision, the possum starts wiggling its whiskered nose and then its feet. It jumps up and heads toward my husband faster than I can grab a broom. There was a small problem with that idea anyway. I did not have a broom, I had a “Swiffer” and just for the record, possums don’t “swiff” well. I managed to slide him close to the door but once he landed on my doormat, he dug into the material with all his claws. I left my husband standing on a chair, holding the possum at bay with the “swiffer” while I descended to the basement to get what I needed for Plan B.
When I returned to the kitchen with a cat carrier, my husband visibly paled. “We are NOT keeping him, are we?” I had to laugh. I am not sure which was funnier, seeing him standing on the chair while trapping the possum with a Swiffer or the thought that he believed I wanted to keep the creature. I answered him through my laughter. “No,” I said and described my plan to “swiffer” him into the carrier and release him outside. Much to Frankie’s obvious disappointment, this plan was a success. Frankie stood looking out the window of the storm door long after the possum left.
Frankie had another late night run in with a wild creature this year, too. It was a beautifully cool & clear summer night. My husband, Carm, and I were watching the last bit of the evening news when it hit us – that pungent odor that permeates a neighborhood and could only come from one animal, a skunk!
I RAN to the back door praying I would be able to get the dogs inside before it was too late. Silly of me to think that. It was ALREADY too late. One look at Frankie…drooling…eyes squinting…shaking his head and I knew. HE was the one causing this nauseating stench in the air. We corralled him in the kitchen, stripped him of his collar, and carried him straight to the bathroom where he was doused with warm water and a concoction of Peroxide, baking soda and dish soap. The stench burned my eyes, stung my nose and made me gag. It is not easy to make me gag.
I instructed Carm to toss Frankie’s bed into the basement so any remaining odor after his bath would not stink up his bed and to bring up a blanket for Frankie to sleep on for the night. I continued to lather Frankie in this pasty mixture. Frankie got it square in the face; even his breath smelled like skunk. I rinsed his eyes with saline and then put in a lubricant to help relieve the irritation and protect them from the harsh mixture I was scrubbing him with. We spent an hour locked together in a small bathroom scrubbing, rinsing and gagging.
When I was satisfied that the worst of the skunk oil was removed from my obnoxious dog, I hoisted him out of the tub and dried him off. I led him to the kitchen to his new bed of blankets But wait, there was a definite problem there. There were plenty of choices in the basement, the old tattered Mickey Mouse blanket that I used for Diesel Dog when he was sick or the old twin size electric blanket that we’ve frequently used as a dog bed. But Carm chose the nice fluffy CHRISTMAS QUILT with the hand-stitched appliques that we put on OUR bed every December. What was he thinking?
Frankie has long since lost the nickname “Cranky Frankie.” We have since dubbed him “Frankie, the Three-Legged Wonder Dog.” We have several other four-legged animals in our house but it is only Frankie that catches the wild animals for us. Frankie is about 8 years old now and has had more x-rays and more surgeries than any other healthy dog I know. After witnessing Frankie inhale a chicken bone off the plate I was clearing, I brought him to work for x-rays. I found nothing on radiograph so my boss did not believe that I’d watched him swallow it. But I was right there, scraping my plate after dinner, when in a blink of an eye, I watched him snatch a thigh bone and swallow it in one seal-swallowing-a-herring motion. It was that quick. My boss politely accused me of being paranoid ever since Frankie swallowed the Koosh Ball.
I didn’t see Frankie swallow the Koosh ball. For anyone unfamiliar with children’s toys, a Koosh ball is a rubber pom-pom the size of a tennis ball. The pom-pom is securely fastened in the center with a metal ring, which was a real blessing. Had it not been for that tiny object, we would not have seen the Koosh ball on x-ray. One night Frankie was fussy over dinner. By the next morning he snubbed his nose at cookies. Something was wrong and I hauled him off to work with me. Three hours later he was in surgery and I assisted as my boss removed the Koosh ball from his duodenum.
Frankie had emergency surgery this year, too. (Nothing is ever planned with Frankie). I had come home on my lunch hour to let the hounds out and when I opened the door, I discovered that my white kitchen was splattered with blood. Happy to see me, Frankie wagged his tail and sprayed more blood everywhere. I do not exaggerate when I say that I cleaned blood drops off the ceiling fan.
Once again Frankie was hauled into work with me. My boss simply shook his head as he followed the trail of blood to the treatment area where Frankie and I waited. He took one look at me and rolled his eyes. I looked much like my kitchen by then and so did my jeep. Once Frankie was sedated we were able to get a good look. Frankie somehow managed to both crush and lacerate the tip of his tail. I still do not know how he did this. We sutured the laceration but the doctor was doubtful that it would heal well since the crushed tip was likely going to need amputation. We tried saving it anyway since the Three-Legged Wonder Dog actually uses his tail as a rudder for balance. Unfortunately, our efforts were in vain and Frankie had about six inches of his tail amputated. He is fine now.
Frankie the Wonder Dog never ceases to amaze and amuse us. I am only hoping this coming year is just a little less eventful.