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Watch Your Step: The Real Peril of Pets

by Douglas PageŠ

Dogs destroyed my marriage. Now they're threatening another relationship. My girlfriend wants a puppy. Here we go again. I've had to put my foot down. The last time I did that it doomed the marriage.

The dog issue stretched the length of that union, snapping after the condo move, when I put my foot down.

For years my former wife and our three former kids hounded me about pets. Always I acquiesced. Those were the years we had yards and fences, the children were tykes, and the house was one big litter box anyway.

We were never without a dog. There were Gretchen and Sunshine, then Nova and Cobol. Later, as the marriage started to show some wear, we had Stormy and Blue, then Burgundy and Brandy. The entire marriage saga can be summarized by the names we gave dogs. I'm surprised there wasn't one at the end named Toxin. We had at least eight dogs over the years. No one knows how many cats, although we are mentioned in the Little Friskies Hall of Fame.

When we moved to the condo I made my stand. "No more dogs. Dogs have fleas."

The family thought I’d gone senile. Fleas didn't bother them. My sons never noticed a flea. They wouldn't have noticed a water buffalo. The women - my wife and daughter - claim never to have seen a flea, either. For some reason the fleas were all over me.

"Stop eating so much dog food," one of my sons coached. The women suggested I shave my legs.

True, the fleas seemed to love my white socks and hairy legs. My wife said it was my imagination. "The creature doesn't exist that would go near those socks without tongs," she chided.

The socks served as their transport up on the bed where they'd wait, then flip across the paper Sunday morning, taunting me.

Unlike most pests, fleas can't be managed by flicking or slapping. Flea bodies are harder than coconuts. This is the reason humans have fingernails. The problem is, legs are not made of porcelain. My shins were a battleground of contusions.

I retaliated. I stationed water glasses in strategic positions, then skated across the carpet in white socks. As fleas landed on me they were plucked and dunked.

Alas, fleas float. Unless the water is hot - which can't be sustained - fleas just paddle around until they reach the rim, then climb out. To drown them they have to be induced to cling to something. Pencils work best. Fleas will cling to a pencil underwater. No one knows why. It's a fatal mistake. But performing this ritual is tedious and tended to confirm the family's insanity suspicions.

I adjusted the water solution. Salt water or soapy water worked better, but both were a nuisance and invited ridicule. Highballs worked best but were a dreadful waste of whiskey.

My wife put her foot down at this point. Someone was always putting their foot down around there. Even I had to admit, though, there was something repulsive about serving orange juice in a glass previously used for exterminations. I went underground.

I deposited dust balls from under the bed and hair from the bathroom brushes along with some white socks in empty mayonnaise jars, then seeded the culture with poodle fleas. I intented to study the fleas in nature, then develop a cheese diet that would render them too fat to jump.

Alas, the fleas died. Overnight. I never learned why. I suspect sabotage. "Maybe you should have used clean socks," was all the sympathy I got from her.

Nothing remained but a pet boycott. When we moved to the condo the menagerie was exiled, and we took up residence without pets for the first time in 14 years - thereby dooming the marriage.

My wife withdrew, stroking imaginary pets on her lap.

"Maybe you should join Parents Without Pets," I offered.

"Maybe you should join Sex Without Partners," was the reply.

My daughter carried a stuffed bear with her and the boys whispered what sounded like "assassin" whenever I passed their room. Animal Rights stickers appeared on my mirror.

I tried reason on them, which is as futile as explaining the perils of excess to an addict. "We have no fleas. We have no fleas because we have no pets. Get it?"

The wheedling continued. I made the Flea Speech.

"Look, what kind of place is this for a dog? We live in a condo. Upstairs. We have no yard. A dog needs a yard. No kittens, either. They get to be cats before school is out. How long do you think they're going to be satisfied locked up in here? Once they shred the couch sharpening their claws they want out. How many more cat fights do we need in this neighborhood? I spend half my nights as it is out on the deck lobbing charcoal into the darkness trying to scatter cat fights and the other half trying to shut up the dogs."

"Okay," they consented, "how 'bout fish? Fish don't get fleas or make noise." They squinted smugly.

"Oh, no," I said. "I know about fish. It's easier and takes less time to change oil in a truck than it does to clean a fish tank."

I've started making the same flea speech to my girlfriend. It's not working. I think she knows for Christmas that year I gave my wife two Persian kittens.

Douglas Page writes about marriage peril from Pine Mountain, California - above the Flea Line. It's a full time job.

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Comments? Questions? Assignments? douglaspage@earthlink.net
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