His name was Nuke.
It was short for “Nuclear”, on behalf of the UC Davis Department of Radiology who used him on a weekly basis to teach the vet students how to take radiographs.
When word got out my sophomore year of school that I was looking for a dog, my friend Dan pulled me aside and told me about this awesome dog he heard about from the head radiology technician, Barb.
“Nuke is so great,” she said before taking me to meet him. “He’s a 10 year old coonhound, and we all just adore him. But, it’s time for him to retire.” She opened the door to the kennels. “He’s lived inside his whole life, so he’s not really used to the outdoors.
“But he’s not housetrained so I think he’ll need to be an outside dog.” I peered inside.
And this is what peered back:
When I was looking for a rescue dog, I was thinking young-ish, maybe 2 or 3, maybe a retriever, or a pug of some sort. I certainly wasn’t thinking of a geriatric agoraphobic hound dog. But there he was, and there I stood.
“Oh, if it doesn’t work out, just bring him back,” said Barb, with an all-too-knowing glance. “If he gets put down at least he had a chance, right?”
One week after adopting him, my husband and I were out of town for the weekend at a wedding. A classmate house-sat, leaving Nuke outside while she was at work. We got home to an, ahem, strongly worded missive from the neighbor alerting us to our new hound dog’s baying capabilities and his wife’s strong displeasure at said morning serenades.
He spent the next week getting used to the garage. He seemed OK with that, since it wasn’t really all that different from the place he had spent his whole life, but I didn’t think that was a great option either.
So I crate trained him. Without the benefit of 10 years of internet wisdom to tell me otherwise, I had no idea that was considered un-doable, so I just did it. (Conventional wisdom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.) Sure, he had an occasional accident that left my husband grinding his teeth, but for the most part, he did pretty well. And once he was secure inside the house, the baying stopped.
I took him to training classes. Nuke wouldn’t sit. Neither treats, nor cajoling, nor praise would dissuade him. I spent $400 on radiographs (oh, the bitter irony) to confirm there was no orthopedic issue making him reluctant to sit. They insisted I sign an estimate for sedation before taking the rads. “Can you please just try it without sedation?” I asked.
An hour later, they called back in amazement. “He was so good for his x-rays,” the vet said. “He’s an old pro,” which of course he really was. “Nothing wrong with his hips. I think he’s just stubborn.”
So that became our training sessions. “Everyone, put their dogs in a sit,” the trainer would say. “Except Nuke.” She would pat his head and give him a cookie, and he would spend the hour just standing around.
I never figured out if it was all the radiation that addled his brain, or if he just didn’t care. I know I didn’t care. I didn’t ask much of him, me with all my hours spent in the house studying. He was my footrest while I watched “Sex and the City,” sitting in my sweats and Uggs eating microwave popcorn and wondering why I wasn’t in New York being fabulous instead of coming home smelling of cows.
Nuke was my companion while I memorized the difference between domitor and acepromazine, my affable and oh-so-adoring compatriot, the world’s worst guard dog, my greatest admirer. He taught me the zen art of just being, and the good things that come out of just making the decision to figure things out as you go along with the assumption that somehow, you will make it work.
He taught me one more thing, that I wish he hadn’t. “That looks like a splenic hemangiosarcoma,” I said as I watched the vet ultrasound the mass I had just noticed, two weeks after graduation and 800 miles away from my safety net of specialists.
“Oh, it could be lymphoma,” she said, I assume trying to be encouraging.
“That’s not what it looks like,” I muttered, my hours in the radiology department soaking up their knowledge tapping at the back of my brain. And unfortunately, I was right.
I had a dog for three years. Talk about ‘less adoptable.’ He had nothing going for him, other than his sheer and utter wonderfulness. Oh, how sad it would have been to have missed out on the quirkiest love of my life. Miss ya, Chukies.