Sunday, April 27, 2008

Coming home to Memphis

My wife Kara woke me up by poking me in the ribs last Saturday morning and saying, “There’s a puppy adoption event today at a community zoo about an hour from here. You want to go?”

This proposal was a change in our gameplan, as we’d already given up on adopting a shelter dog. After going through several shelters and talking to dog rescue groups, we’d been unable to find the pooch that would eventually make our home its bathroom. Instead, we’d decided to give up and get a purebred lab through a breeder, even though it turns out that purebred labs must be the most expensive things that don’t come equipped with stow-n’-go seating.

After weeks of research, we had even narrowed our search down to breeders of English labs, rather than American ones, as English labs are calmer, stockier and can understand cricket, while American labs have longer legs, burn more energy and have terrible foreign policies.

With Grand Theft Auto IV not yet released for the PlayStation 3, I didn’t have anything better to do that Saturday afternoon, so we arrived at the adoption event shortly after it opened. Inside a two-room wooden building at the zoo, we found a small crowd gathered around five puppies in separate crates (which is the canine-world euphemism for cages, as the crates in my world are made of wood and nails and contain boxing kangaroos that Sylvester the Cat mistakes for giant mice.)

We crouched down and held out our hands to the first puppy we came to, a black floppy-eared mutt with brown stripes, an upright beagle tail and two white feet. Her entire body wagged as we approached, threatening to turn the crate on its side as she licked our fingers through the bars.

Three hours later, Kara sat with the puppy still in her lap. One by one, the other puppies had begun going home with their new owners. One couple wandered into the room, played with a puppy for five minutes and said, “We’ll take this one.” I spend more time at the checkout counter choosing between spearmint and peppermint than these people spent choosing an animal with which they would spend at least the next decade.

For us, the deal was sealed when we left the room to talk it over and looked back through the window to see the puppy mournfully gazing at the door we’d just passed through.

“OK, that’s it. We have to do it,” Kara said. I nodded.

As we filled out the paperwork with one of the volunteers, I asked him if the puppy already had a name.

The man looked at her tags and said, “T72671.”

That’s a great name for a Terminator, but it didn’t have quite the puppy zing we were looking for.

“Do you know where she’s from?” I asked.

“The ‘T’ in her ID code stands for Tennessee,” he said.

Kara and I immediately started running down a list of puppy names with Tennessee themes. Elvis. Priscilla. Opry. Chattanooga. Al Gore. You have to roll a puppy name around on your tongue for a while to make sure you’ll be comfortable screaming it through several presidential administrations.

In the end, we decided on Memphis, a town that we knew absolutely nothing about, but that just kind of sounded cool, evoking images of cowboy boots, oversized acoustic guitars and missed crunch time foul shots.

As we headed to the pet store to inject our own stimulus package into the local economy with the little puppy formerly known as T72671 panting quietly on Kara’s lap, Kara said, “You know, things aren’t ever going to be the same again.”

“I know,” I replied. “Grand Theft Auto IV comes out in a few weeks.”

You can muzzle Mike Todd at

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Calm submissive state

Puppy photosynthesis:

They had to shave her tum-tum for the ol' snippy snip snip. I point that out so you know I'm not shaving our dog's privates for kicks.

Fair warning: this site is in serious danger of becoming a dog blog (or dlog, as we call them in my head). I hope that's cool.

Speaking of our dog, know what our dog's favorite show is?

If you don't recognize that show, you must not spend much time on the National Geographic Channel. Or NatGeo, as they badly want us to start calling it for some reason. The three minutes she spent watching the Dog Whisperer was the longest she's sat still since we've had her.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Like a good neighbor, but not quite

I’m not sure at what point I need to get insulted by the fistfuls of lawn service fliers that get stuffed into our mailbox daily, but I think we’re starting to close in on it. Those guys in the pickup trucks with the stenciled lettering on their doors are clearly trying to give us some sort of hint. They must idle through the neighborhood, panning slowly back and forth, trolling for lawns that look like chemical spill sites.

“Got one! These people couldn’t keep a plastic geranium alive. Quick, stuff a flyer in there,” they’ll say.

The worst part, though, is that they’re aiding and abetting my wife Kara as she attempts to convince me that a telephone and a credit card are landscaping tools.

“Why is our lawn the only brown one?” she asked me a couple of days ago.

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed,” I said, which was the truth. I’ve found that most problems are free as long as you refuse to acknowledge them. Other things I don’t notice: door dings, stains on carpets, sore throats.

“Everyone else’s lawn is turning green, and we still have last year’s leaves all over the place,” she said.

This may be true, but it’s not my fault that our trees stubbornly hang onto their time-release leaves well past the end of raking season. I can’t be held responsible for any leaves that touched ground after Labor Day.

Since we’re obviously not going to curry any favor with our neighbors through our botanical gifts, Kara and I recently decided to try actual gifts instead. Our next-door neighbors recently sold their house and moved out, an event that rarely happens these days. Judging from the programming on weekend cable TV, most homeowners have given up on selling their houses and have decided to become professional bull riders instead. Not wanting to miss out on the golden window of opportunity to meet the new neighbors and snoop around their house, Kara and I put together a basket with some goodies from a local bakery with the honest intention of delivering it to them.

“What if we go over there and it’s still the same people living there? We’ll go introduce ourselves and find out they didn’t even move,” Kara said.

“We saw the moving truck. It was parked out there for three days,” I said. I did hesitate, though. The shame of it was that even if it had been the same people living there, we wouldn’t have recognized them. We lived about fifty feet from them for nearly a year and the only member of their family we ever met hung out in their driveway and wore a dog collar. I think he was an art student or something.

Determined to avert a similar fate with the new neighbors, Kara and I gathered up the courage to go over and meet them.

“Is this a weird thing to do? I don’t think people do this anymore,” she said, not budging from our couch.

“Are you trying to wimp out? There’s only room for one wimp in this marriage,” I said. Our other neighbors had brought us a basket after we moved in, and now they’d need to pick up a hobby in cannonry for us to ever hold anything against them.

So like a scene out of Mayberry, Kara and I headed over to the new neighbors’ place with our baked goods in tow. We heard music coming out of the upstairs window, but the volume must have been cranked up pretty loud because nobody came to answer the doorbell. It seemed too John-Hughes-movie to throw small pebbles at the window to get their attention, so we gave up and went home.

Shortly afterwards, Kara gave me a look as I came into the living room munching on one of the giant chocolate cookies from the basket.

“Well, we can’t give them stale cookies,” I said.

You can put a flyer in Mike Todd’s mailbox at

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Introducing: Memphis!

All we know about the puppy we just adopted is that she came from Tennessee, so we named her Memphis, 'cause Chattanooga takes too long to yell.

More pics and words to follow soon. I have to go scrub the carpet now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Doggedly determined

In the two weeks since we had to say goodbye to our pet ferret, my wife Kara and I have confirmed beyond a doubt what we already suspected to be true: being petless is not for us.

You know who cares when we come home from work now? Nobody, unless you count us, and maybe the electric company. They probably appreciate it when we flip a few lights on, but, if we’re being honest about it, the phone company is a much better companion, if only because it’s running out of friends so quickly.

Of course, our parents might argue that human children would probably care when we came home, but that argument doesn’t really hold because you can’t leave your children at home alone in the first place, or they’ll have their friends over to drink all the beer in your garage, and you won’t find out about it until you move a couch to vacuum three months later and you find a bottle cap on the carpet underneath. At least that’s how it worked in my house.

So we’ve been preparing for canine companionship in the most responsible way we know how, which is, of course, to read a copy of “Dogs for Dummies.” This country might be facing troubled times due to the credit crunch, but we are in absolutely no danger of an impending dummy crunch. Our dummies are numerous. They’re also, surprisingly, voracious readers, requiring crate loads of big yellow books to explain the world to them. And by them I mean us.

There doesn’t appear to be a conceivable topic that doesn’t have a corresponding “for Dummies” book. Just browsing for the appropriate book on dogs, I saw titles on the following subjects: Annuities, Catholicism, Search Engine Optimization, RV Vacations, Fibromyalgia, Forensics and 70’s Soul Music. I wasted an entire afternoon in the book store learning how to teach my hypothetical dog to Get Up Offa That Thing before I realized I was reading the wrong volume.

As we prepare our house for the slobbering behemoth-to-be that we shall shortly invite, I’m tempted to reflect on why exactly we are planning to do this to ourselves. Perhaps it’s because the house just somehow doesn’t seem in balance when there’s nobody around to trash the place but us.

We’re proceeding into this whole idea cautiously, knowing full well that while pets can freely offer their love and affection, that love and affection usually comes bundled in a package that will most likely find a way to destroy your couch at some point.

A friend of mine from work once had a twenty-pound bunny as a pet. Before she told me that, I had no idea that bunnies could grow to be that size without first being Thanksgiving turkeys. This gigantic bunny had an unfortunate taste for electrical wires, and no amount of bitter apple spray could dissuade him from gnoshing on them.

With random appliances throughout the house ceasing to function, my friend was at the end of her cord. She called her mom in tears, looking for some support.

“This rabbit is driving me insane! He’s chewing on all the cords in the house, and I don’t know how to stop him. I think I’m going to lose my…Mom, are you there? Hello?”

She looked down to see her rabbit chewing on the phone cord, with two newly created ends falling out of his mouth. I didn’t think bunnies with that kind of destructive capacity existed outside of Monty Python movies.

Even though animals can make our lives so much more difficult, we’ll keep letting them stay with us because, in our collective heart of hearts, we’re just not that smart. I may catch on eventually, but first, it’s time to find a puppy.

You can housebreak Mike Todd at

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A requiem for the varmint

When our ferret Chopper first started having health problems just over a year ago, our veterinarian told us that the little guy probably had about six to twelve months left. I treated this estimate much like one received from MapQuest: a challenge to be bested, not an accurate gauge of the reality to come.

Chopper had already easily blown past the low end of the life expectancy range given to us at the pet store back in 2001, so we naturally figured that he’d just keep chugging along, munching peanut butter and sleeping in our crumpled sweatshirts until some point way off in an indeterminate future, some time when robots would serve us vitamin packs for dinner and the national interest in American Idol would have finally worn off.

It’s difficult to grasp the peculiar charm of living with a weasel without trying it for yourself. After we taught Chopper to roll over for raisins, he quickly discovered on visits to my parents that Mom didn’t cap his raisin salary. He’d walk up to her shoelaces and stare up until he had her attention, then roll over repeatedly until he got rewarded, which never took long. We’d become used to blankets and T-shirts on the floor randomly springing to life. Chopper had the uncanny ability to detect which jacket you’d need in an hour so that he could fall asleep in its sleeve.

I was anxious about looking after the little guy in the beginning; I’d never owned a pet before that didn’t ultimately report to my folks. We settled into a comfortable groove after a while, though, and rarely has a walk been taken down the hall in the last seven years without a little carpet shark following close behind. Even in his old age, he’d hobble into the room to see what we were up to, then wait patiently until we wrapped him up in a blanket and set him down at our feet for another nap.

Some people have pets that could win a longevity contest against a redwood tree. When we recently visited some of my wife Kara’s old neighbors from back home, Kara did a double-take at a small gray bird that was hopping around and chirping in his cage in the living room.

“No way. Is that Petey?” Kara asked.

The neighbor replied, “It sure is. He’s eleven years old now. He should live to be about sixty.”

So Petey was eleven in people years, but in bird years he was really more like twelve. That bird will be in their family longer than their great-grandmother’s armoire.

Unfortunately for our little family, Choppy didn’t have the same Methuselah gene that Petey did, and our veterinarian’s original estimate turned out to be only slightly pessimistic. Thirteen months after the original prognosis, we found ourselves back in his office last week, hoping that he’d recommend one more appointment but knowing that he wouldn’t.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, and the whole event was peaceful enough to really be considered an anticlimax of sorts. Still, back out in the waiting room afterwards, I found it impossible to keep from breaking my personal rule of never crying in front of a cashier unless there’s a chance it might get me 10% off.

As we drove home in sniffling silence, I let go of Kara’s hand to punch the radio on, making the obvious mistake of leaving the dial on the country station.

“What kinda gone are we talkin’ ‘bout here?” the man sang. “What kinda gone?”

I remember driving home as a teenager from our golden retriever’s last visit to the vet’s office as Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” played on the radio. Either radio stations somehow know when to play appropriately depressing music, or that’s just what’s always on and I only notice it after being traumatized. In any event, saying goodbye to a beloved pet at thirty turned out to be no easier than it had been at sixteen.

As Kara and I continued driving, the next country singer mournfully implored: “Fall, go on and fall apart,” and we dutifully obliged. About halfway through the song, with tears flowing freely, we looked at each other, realized what was happening and simultaneously lunged for the power button.

“Okay, maybe no more country music for a little while,” I said, which is probably sound advice under any circumstances. Kara blew her nose and nodded in agreement.

After a few days, we began to understand that we had just been through the final act of the best-case scenario for our pet. Three years and many fun times ago, I nearly flattened Chopper when he was hiding in a quilt on our couch, an event that I’m pretty sure disquieted us both equally, though he was quicker to forgive than I might have been. Fortunately for all of us, that day turned out to be chapter five instead of the epilogue. Eventually, though, even great books have to have an ending.

You can give Mike Todd a Kleenex at