Over the course of a single year, I have become the reluctant guardian of not one, but two ill-tempered canines, despite wanting exactly none at all.
For the entirety of my time in Philadelphia, I have shared a home with the same human being. His name is Aaron. He is my best friend, by both choice and by default. During our first month at this university, he and I made some sort of blood pact to room together for four straight years, an agreement we have inexplicably not wavered from. I know how often he shaves.
Aaron is a well-read, slightly stout human being that occasionally exhibits the common sense of a candied yam. In the same breath, he will offer a biting critique of the prose in “Watership Down” before realizing that he’s left a pot of fusilli congealing on the stove since breakfast. He is a charismatic human being, one that is particularly skilled at coercing me into making awful life choices, like spending my last year as a college student housing a complete stranger and his 100 pound, razor-jawed Samoyed named Sam.
This is not to say that I particularly had a choice in the matter. In May, our previous roommate Matt made the sure-footed decision to move back in with his father in Maryland after being pick-pocketed for the second time in two weeks, losing both his iPod and cellphone. Matt bolted, we needed a roommate, Aaron found a student that came with a snuggly-looking animal and I really didn’t have a separate option to bring to the table.
Whilst I was away careening through the American South in August, Kyle and Sam unceremoniously moved their things into our tiny home. Kyle contributed a wood-lined stereo system and an extra sofa, while Sam arrived with a 20-pound bag of Iams Senior Blend Kibbles for which we did not have a large enough pantry.
Outwardly, Sam is an adorable creature. He lumbers around our home slowly – mostly due to his age – and appears to be covered in the same material that lines the wings of cherubs. No matter his emotional state, his eyes broadcast the unthinking gaze of a fileted supermarket salmon.
That being said, he greets the morning sun with the huffing, barbaric grimace of a scorned lowland gorilla. Sam spends the majority of each day perched on the floral loveseat in our living room gnashing his fangs whenever anyone brushes hair from his or her face. If someone attempts to actually share a sofa with the beast – an apparent affront to Sam’s singular worth as an adult male – he or she may legitimately part ways with a chunk of forearm.
Sam is a bad dog, and not in the way that Marmaduke and Beethoven are bad dogs. Sam will look me dead in the eyes as he relieves himself on my carpet. His urine smells like formaldehyde. Though I doubt he’d ever seriously harm someone, he has snapped at three of my friends.
As I type, Sam has positioned himself like a sphinx around a syrupy plastic tin that used to house a pre-cooked supermarket chicken. I assume he’s stolen it from the garbage, and by that I mean he has strewn eggshells and crumpled napkins around the living room floor like a trophy wife packing for a weekend trip to Boca Raton. He will bite me if I attempt to touch anything, and is staring at me as if he’d like me to try.
Thankfully, there came a point somewhere around November when Sam and I had developed enough of a rapport in which I was allowed to occasionally place my hand on his skull without having my digits removed. At that point, a second dog was added to my home.
Aaron is an impulsive human being. Two weeks ago, he sold our printer without telling anyone, thus preventing me from properly filing my tax documents on time.
A few days after Halloween, I was treated to the following text message:
“Guys, I did something bad,” he said. “It’s not really that bad, but you won’t be happy. You’ll see when you get back.”
As this type of language is typically used in the aftermath of a mid-grade grease fire, I rushed home, only to find the bewildered eyes of a four-week-old puppy staring back at me from my sofa. In honor of Aaron’s childhood hero, the pup – a German Shepherd and Husky mix – had been named Cal Ripken III. Aaron found him on a joyride through suburban Pennsylvania that afternoon.
I should have put my foot down then and there, as none of us are currently capable of providing a wild animal with discipline and structure. I am a man who works 40 to 50 hours a week. Instead, Cal fell asleep in my bed that evening.
Cal is a wonderful dog, in that he is constantly in the mood to snuggle and has never openly expressed an appreciation for Janet Evanovich novels. I am nothing short of stunned that this is the case, as his only companion growing up so far has been a frost-haired sociopath with no concept of English grammar.
All told, Cal and Sam actually get along fairly well together. We’ve had to remove multiple pieces of furniture to give the pair ample room to play in our apartment, which the dogs utilize by galumphing up and down the home’s singular hallway, careening into closed doors and barking at each other at a volume reserved for Alpine yodelers. Playtime is apparently most fun at dawn.
Cal will initiate a romp with Sam by crunching down on one of the Samoyed’s ears, and thankfully, Sam has made the conscious decision to refrain from dismembering the pup each and every time. Sam will instead gape his cavernous maw and lather Calvin in spittle, transmogrifying the mutt into a wriggling salamander that will then towel himself off in my sheets. When dry, he is crusty.
The puppy – now six months old and the size of a duffel bag – has taught himself to scale our furniture and onto the kitchen counter where his food sits. He has eaten three entire bags of puppy chow this way, and has broken our only two ceramic mixing bowls.
I am now afraid to bring strangers into my home, since when I did so in January, we arrived to find Cal humping a stuffed bear as Sam chewed off one of the toy’s eyes.
I move out in August. I’m going to be lonely.
Jerry Iannelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jerryiannelli.