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Pet Spotlight: Jeremy Finley and Thor


So I’m convinced there is a class system with dogs. Our new puppy proved it to me.

Just as we in the lower and middle class look with scorn and envy at the rich, the Rescues cast distain upon the Pure Breeds. Look at you, the Dog Pounders glare from the back seat their parents’ 2002 Nissans, with your fancy price tag, riding in the passenger seat in your Mom’s Range Rover, not shedding on the leather.

I imagine, beneath it all, a true class war, complete with protests (pooping on the manicured lawns of those who pay big bucks for a something-doodle) and stump speeches (howls at night outside their windows). I’ve either just concocted the next Disney franchise or a West Side Story for dogs from different sides of the breed tracks. 

Anyhow, it’s all Thor’s fault. He’s our new dog. And when people ask me what he is, I clear my throat and reply with my hand over my mouth, “Maltipoo.”

I’m the son of a veterinarian, and a country veterinarian at that. My Dad would bring home all sorts of animals that no one wanted or needed to be cared for. We even had an injured hawk once. I dreamed us forging an unlikely friendship, with it landing on my shoulder, grateful to my father for healing it. Instead, it just pecked at me and gave me the equivalent of the middle finger when we set it free.

But my Dad encased in me the need to adopt and take care of animals that needed rescuing. When my wife and I got married, we started our family by heading to the West Memphis racetrack. That’s where we found Charlie.

Charlie’s Chance was his racing name. As anyone who has adopted a greyhound will tell you, they hug. As soon as he was let loose to us, he bounded over, stood on his back legs, put his front legs on our shoulders and licked all over our faces. Thank you, he seemed to say. Thank you for choosing me.

It was clear that he was just so happy to have a family that he didn’t need much. Just a soft place to lie and a slow walk. Yes, he was so tall that he stole the food off the highchairs of our daughters when they were infants, but it made them laugh. 

When Charlie died, we were so heartbroken that we mourned for six years. But we also quickly learned that our oldest daughter’s allergies got a whole lot better after his death. When our allergist advised us that we should never get another dog again, a part of us silently died. 

Then our friends began to whisper. You know, they breeds dogs now to not trigger allergies. They don’t shed. It’s true.

Buy a dog? I wanted to bellow. We’re a rescue family! Never shall we betray our people.

But we kept seeing our youngest daughter’s delight in animals of all kinds. My oldest joined her, begging us for a dog. Yet after they hugged and petted my sister-in-law’s labs, came wheezing and itches.

My wife began doing her research, and last November, found a breed that was small, didn’t shed, loved kids and was known to be allergy friendly.

I still puffed out my chest, declaring myself a champion of the Rescues, to which she rolled her eyes. She, too, had only ever had Rescues. But her girls wanted a dog. And it didn’t matter that these breeds didn’t come cheap.

On Christmas Eve, our daughters squealed in delight at the puppy. A Maltipoo, so small that he would never be larger than ten pounds. We, of course, named him Thor.

And this is when I learned of the class system. Unlike Charlie, who was just satisfied to have a couch to sleep on, Thor knew he was born to privilege. He, at first, scoffed at the grocery store dog food, preferring the expensive brands from Pet Smart. What’s this crate? He looked at me with outrage. There’s a spot right there on that bed. When I’m rested, I shall also pee there. 

It went on and on. Chewing a pen and leaving an ink stain on the carpet. Prancing up to much, much large dogs without hesitation to announce his superiority, like a villain in a popped-collar polo shirt from an 80’s film. There was no need for him to run across the room, when there were people to carry him.

He’s just a puppy, friends would say in his defense. But I knew the truth. My dog knows he’s a specialty breed.

Further proof of the class system arose when my mother, who is a world-class quilter, quietly mentioned that she was making Thor his own blanket. By hand.

Charlie never got a quilt. He was satisfied with the blanket I brought back from a trip to Mexico in college.

I wouldn’t call it resentment, but I do lecture Thor all the time about not thinking he’s better than other dogs. He stares and then runs off to poop on the rug.

He’s a terrible dog, I tell everyone. Terrible. People respond by leaning down to tell him how adorable he is. He knows it, too, I frown.

Then came last Saturday, when Thor, who hates water (I’m sure it’s because his bath-time temperature is too cool) ran outside to start barking hysterically when our girls started splashing in the pool.

Even when they went underwater, he lost it. Thor,I chastised. No one wants to hear you yell.

Then, it happened. As our youngest was swimming across the pool, he jumped in and swam directly for her. He only stopped barking when he licked her face.

We tested it again. If the girls splashed, Thor would go insane until they came over and he could lick them. 

He had to know they were safe. 

He did the same for my wife when she got in. He even did it for me. He goes nuts until he knows we’re not in trouble.

I became ridiculously excited. He wasn’t just some spoiled creature! He’s not stuck up! See, he is just like other dogs.

And as I saw him dried off by my wife and girls, cooing at his bravery, I swear he looked at me and winked. And I got it.

A king has no one to rule if his subjects are dead in the water.

Jeremy Finley’s THE DARK ABOVE is available now.