About two years ago, I adopted Zola, saving her from a kill shelter down in Nashville. She’s an Alaskan malamute, which means she’s a large (95 lbs), powerful, beautiful, regal-looking animal. Initially, walking her, it entered my mind that she could be a chick-magnet, providing entrée to the world of dog owners, and an easy conversation starter with attractive female ones. But I should have taken the hint from one of my early encounters that my fellow dog owners might not be the group for me.
I was walking Zola up at Camp Hero, an old army base in Montauk (at the tip of Long Island, where I live) that’s now a little-known New York State park. It was a cold January day shortly after I got Zola, and I’d been training her in this fairly remote place where I hadn’t previously encountered anyone.
There was an old white, windowless van in the gravel parking lot. Outside, a burly guy with disheveled hair and an untrimmed mustache was throwing balls for a skinny yellow lab. He said his dog was friendly, so I let Zola loose. As they played around, I noticed that the yellow lab kept stopping and intensely scratching himself.
“A little skinny,” I say. “A puppy?”
“About a year,” says the guy. “We can’t get her to put on any weight. But there’s nothing wrong with her.”
“What’s with the scratching?” I ask.
“Fleas. Can’t seem to get rid of them. Got um in the house. The van. Give her baths all the time. Fumigate. She wears a flea collar.”
The dog just then stops right in front of us, twists around and gives his left side a few vicious swipes with his hind claws.
“Just won’t go away,” the guy laments.
So here I am letting my thick-coated, totally healthy new dog run around with this mangy purebred with a chronic case of fleas. If this was Star Trek, I would have had Scotty beam me and Zola out of there ASAP. Without that option, for some crazy reason — like I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of a guy who’s just knowingly exposed my dog to fleas — I executed a more polite retreat. So, kind of nonchalantly, I walk over to Zola and slowly, while still chatting with the guy, I clip on her leash. Passing the guy as I head towards my car I say “we’ve got to get going.” From behind me, he says “It’s the fleas, right? The fleas.” Astute, I want to say. Astute.