17: Monster

17: Monster

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Monster

If your dog doesn’t like someone you probably shouldn’t either.

~Author Unknown

Twenty years ago, Mia’s little friend Holly stood at our front door and yelled, “Happy Birthday, Mia!” Then, Holly pushed a hairy, squirming puppy into Mia’s hands. “We got him at the Humane Society. He’s six weeks old. Isn’t he cute?”

I swallowed hard.

Of course, Mia squealed with delight.

Legs running, pushing air, squirming, with his tongue slurping at anything in reach, he was too rambunctious to hold. Mia dropped him to the floor, where he squatted and peed.

Screams erupted again. The girls turned and ran for paper towels.

I couldn’t hide my horror.

Holly’s mother saw my face. She flinched. “You said it was okay to get a dog.”

“Yes, but. . . .” I exhaled. I wanted a dog that would be sweet and gentle with us. That would let us put pink bows in its hair and paint its toenails when we painted ours. I needed a dog that would fit into our new all-female post-divorce world.

I didn’t need this giant Mastiff in the making.

A cough, a gag, the hairy beast heaved twice and upchucked onto the floor. And, with a sad look, he flopped down in it.

“He’s sick.” Relief flooded through me. We could take him back.

“Kennel cough. They were going to put him to sleep.” Holly’s voice caught as she swiped at the goo with a paper towel. “We had to take him. We saved his life.”

Undeterred, Mia swooped the puppy into her arms.

“Mom, we have to keep him. He needs us.”

There it was.

Mia named him Coco. I called him Monster.

Monster grew, and grew . . . into a wild looking dog: part Chow, part giant, and a lot of whatever got over the fence. I guessed wolf. His head hung low between his well-muscled shoulder blades as if he had no neck. This caused his fur to stand up, creating the look of a lion’s mane. His walk made strangers believe he was rabid. He swaggered sideways, unable to walk a straight line. Monster’s head remained cocked stiffly to one side, like his muscles had atrophied and locked there. Worse, when he growled, and he growled a lot, the coarse hair running down his spine bristled straight up. He was the image of power and insanity all wrapped up in one dog.

Strangers never messed with Monster. They called Animal Control. Some even called the police.

He was one ugly dog. This turned out to be a good thing. Since nobody messed with Monster, nobody messed with Mia. He stayed by her side wherever she went. Watching. Brooding. Growling. Loving Mia.

Monster won my admiration.

Like most divorced mothers, I worked, which left my kids alone after school. They had to fend for themselves. Not by choice. But with sporadic child support, and nobody volunteering to help, I didn’t have a choice. Staying home was not an option. Even then, sometimes, I couldn’t make it. I called my dad twice for help.

I lived scared, knowing that every day we were one paycheck away from homeless.

Monster gave me the ability to go to work. He became the protector of our home. Monster kept us safe. He provided comfort. He loved us when it seemed no one else did.

One day, Mia came running down from the hill behind our house. Terrified, she gulped out, “Snake.”

“Were you bitten?” I grabbed her and searched her arms and legs.

“No, but Coco . . . he jumped in front of me.” She sobbed.

I pulled her close, kissed her, then took off yelling for Monster. Mia wiped her tears and followed.

Within seconds Monster loped around the corner and crashed into my arms. Frantic, I clawed through his thick fur.

“Did you see it strike?”

“Yes.”

Monster flipped over, presenting his belly. Frantic, we both searched every inch of him and didn’t find any teeth marks. I assume his thick fur protected him.

Later, we went up the hill to where Mia saw the snake. There it was. A rattler. Torn to shreds. Monster sniffed it, hit it with a paw and then stood proudly back, as if to say, “Don’t worry . . . it’s dead.”

After that, Monster slept in Mia’s bed with his head on her pillow. I guess he figured she needed extra protection. I probably should have objected, but with constant money problems . . . I didn’t fight the Monster-craze. There was no point. I was as sold on Monster as Mia was.

He comforted me too. Sometimes I’d wake up hearing the house creak and creep out of bed, only to be met by Monster, smiling his scary-looking grin. I’d know we were fine because the hairs on his back weren’t standing straight up.

You see, Monster didn’t like solicitors or, as Mia grew older, any of the pimply-faced boys who showed up on our doorstep. But he never bit anyone. He didn’t have to. He’d just smile, baring his teeth.

Monster grinned all the time.

It was unnerving.

Time passed. Things improved in our little female enclave. I got promoted. Our money problems eased. We collected all our back child support. We had options, like college for Mia.

Both Monster and I were sad when Mia moved away. Monster crawled into her empty bed and moped. I tried to coax him into mine. After all, I was lonely too. I offered dog treats and hamburger balls, all to no avail. He stayed true to his girl even when she wasn’t home.

Mia acted like most college kids, dashing in and out in between semesters and summer breaks, delighting Monster and me. Then one day, Mia brought home a lanky young man. Monster sniffed him, high and low, and walked away. Then, he flopped on the floor, at Mia’s feet. No growl. No snarl. No nothing.

I almost fainted when that same young man reached down and patted Monster’s head. His tail wagged. A blessing formerly reserved solely for Mia.

Mia married that young man and they had a child.

I fell in love, married and moved into my new husband’s house. I gave our home to Mia. Monster stayed in the house with Mia and her new family. By then, he was an old dog and settled in his ways. But he was happy. He spent his retirement lying around, somewhere close to his girl.

One day, Monster died. Devastated, Mia and I cried and cried.

We buried Monster in the back yard, under his favorite tree.

Mia has another dog now. But, I am sure Monster hasn’t given up his post. He still watches, protecting Mia, as he always did.

~Karen Ekstrom

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