Monday, January 13, 2014

Dog days of winter

“Please, no, not the filet mignon,” was the only thought in my mind as I scrambled across my in-laws' living room.

My sister-in-law Jill had sounded the alarm moments earlier.

“No, Memphis!” she yelled as she leapt from the couch, and I knew something serious was happening, on account of all the yelling and running around.  When you’re a perceptive student of body language, you can glean important information from a gesture as simple as someone waving their hands over their head, screaming and hurdling the coffee table.

“What’s going on?” my mother-in-law called from the kitchen.

As I hustled to join the commotion, I saw Memphis’ paws sliding off the dining room table and her head disappearing beneath it.  Jill and I converged on my dog from opposite sides of the table.  The wine, already poured, vibrated in the fancy glasses like the T-rex from Jurassic Park was joining us for dinner.

Up until that moment, Memphis had been the good dog in the house, a rare position for her.  My wife’s other sister, Sarah, had brought her sweet, mild-mannered golden retriever, Jackson, on a road trip from Virginia Beach.  On their first night in the house, Jackson had a bit of an upset tummy, which, when mixed with his formerly harmless predilection for spinning in circles while relieving himself, resulted in my in-laws’ finished basement turning into a piece of artwork that looked like a collaboration between the Marquis de Sade and Jackson Pollock.

“Do you have any more paper towels?” Sarah asked as she emerged from the basement after the third round of cleaning.

“Do we need to call ServPro?” my mother-in-law asked, invoking the name of the company that guts your house after disaster strikes, and setting a new bar for gauging the success of a holiday get-together.  If your hosts don’t need to call ServPro after you leave, it’s been a successful visit.  (In the end, paper towels, carpet cleaner and active suppression of the gag reflex turned out to be sufficient to remediate Jackson’s dabbling in the art world, so this visit easily cleared the ServPro bar.)

While our somewhat high-strung Memphis might generally have suffered from a direct comparison to a healthy Jackson, for this particular visit, all she had to do was not destroy anything, like, say, a fancy meal to celebrate the rare coming together of four geographically dispersed families (or one big family, depending on how you count it).

As I dove headfirst toward Memphis, fearing that she'd just consumed the dinner my father- and mother-in-law had spent many days preparing, I wondered if somewhere inside that tiny canine brain, Memphis' life was flashing before her eyes.  Because it should have been.

“What does she have?” I yelled, sliding onto the floor and putting Memphis in a headlock.  Memphis chewed with renewed vigor, sensing that her meal was coming to a close.

“Oh man,” Jill replied, looking at the half-eaten platter on the table.

I reached into Memphis’ mouth and scooped out as much as I could with my fingers, denying her what remained of her ill-gotten gains.

“It’s the pumpkin bread,” Jill said, helpfully identifying the glop in my hands.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  A side dish.  It was only a side dish.  Life would go on. 

In the post-debacle review, we determined that Memphis had eaten somewhere between 3 and 8 pieces.  There were still some apparently untouched pieces on the platter, and they left them on the table so we wouldn’t feel bad, but you’d be surprised how little space everyone had on their plates for pumpkin bread.  Those mashed potatoes really needed some elbow room.

Next time we visit, we’ll have to call first to make sure their house is still a pet-friendly establishment.

You can dive on Mike Todd and scoop out whatever’s in his mouth at

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