Lang’s World: Man’s Best Friend

My first clue that something was up was when my phone actually rang. It was almost 11:00 p.m. on a Friday night, so when I heard my OutKast ringtone start blaring, I scrambled for my device. Who could be calling this late? (I should note here that as the General Manager and Head Coach of Grizz Gaming, I have six young men living in downtown Memphis for whom I am responsible, something I am constantly dealing with. This is what keeps me from sleeping with Do Not Disturb turned on.)

Sure enough, it was Joel, one of my gamers, who was calling. I answered, hoping for the best but bracing for anything. The words he said were not what I was expecting to hear.

“Lang, we just saved a dog.”

To make a long story short, the Grizz Gaming guys were walking the few blocks home from our practice facility that evening when they were approached by someone on the street trying to sell a puppy for $100. The puppy was tiny and was screaming and seemed like he desperately needed help. The guys were heartbroken, so they negotiated the price down and brought the little fella home with them.

It was right about then they realized they weren’t sure what to do next. So they called me, their coach, the man with all the answers. Joel and I switched to FaceTime so I could better assess the situation, and I saw the puppy was pocket-sized, no more than a few weeks old and definitely too young to be away from its mother. He was jet black with a few flashes of white on his chest, and looked like a classic Memphis mutt (a pit and lab mix, maybe?). Since it was so late at night, I told the guys to give the dog some water or maybe some cold cuts from the fridge, and we’d consider our options the next morning.

A day later, my wife picked up the pup and took it to our own dog’s vet, where we discovered he was likely not even 4 weeks old, too young to get even his initial round of shots. I started researching local dog shelters, and found that because of COVID-19, they were closed to incoming dogs for the time being. As this was just when quarantining was beginning, and we were preparing to hole up for the time being, we figured we would bring the puppy home with us at least for the night, until we could find a good home for him. One month later, he’s still here.

Rocket sleeping

I’ve adopted two dogs in my adult lifetime. The first was in New York City, when my wife and I rescued Starbury. We had her for about 16 years, and she changed our lives in every one of the best ways that having a pet can change you. When Starbury passed, we waited a few months, then rescued a lab mix here in Memphis that we named GG (short for Good Game, or Grizz Gaming, or Grit Grind, or Good Girl, whichever you like).

When we got GG she weighed about 9 pounds, and the people at the shelter thought she might get up to 40 pounds, which was larger than Starbury but still seemed manageable. Two years later, today GG weighs 70 pounds and is the size of a direwolf. We have a nice-sized house and a yard, but having GG indoors all day is sort of like trying to keep Mr. Ed in the living room. She has energy to burn and needs space to run, or else she goes crazy inside our house, and when that happens it’s kind of like when the deer woke up in the back seat of the car in Tommy Boy.

After a few days with Rocket, we fell into a rhythm. We worked on training him to use a pad when he needed to pee, and tried to teach him that there was a time to play and a time to rest. Rocket started sleeping nearly through the night, and my wife volunteered to take the overnight shifts, for when he woke up at 4:00 in the morning hungry or playful.

Today the puppy, named Rocket by my son and his friend, is bigger but still small, and is sleeping on the floor beside me as I write this column. To be honest, having a little puppy is about as cute as it gets. Sure, they pee and poop all over the place, but it’s so much fun to watch them stumble through the yard or attack a pencil on the floor that you’re willing to put up with the mess they perpetually generate. I got pissed when Rocket pissed atop a throw pillow on the couch, but an hour later when he snuggled up against my leg, all was forgiven. Mostly.

After a few awkward days where GG mostly ran from Rocket, they’ve developed a spirited relationship, playfully fighting over socks and wrestling in the tall crabgrass out back. It hasn’t been a completely smooth process — last week GG bit Rocket’s face when he wanted to play and she wanted to sleep, which seemed a bit of an overreaction — but they mostly seem to have found a way to co-exist, an older sister grudgingly accepting the arrival of a younger brother.

Rocket laying under chair

Adding a dog to a household is very similar to adding a child, only if that child couldn’t wear a diaper. For the most part, a baby and a puppy have the same basic, simple needs: food; water; bathroom; sleep. And if you can keep those needs met, you’ll have a happy little one. Figuring out which particular need they’re whining about at any one moment is most of the work.

As it has turned out, getting a puppy during the middle of a global pandemic has been a good distraction for my family. We can’t leave our home, but we brought new life inside it. Having to constantly clean up dog waste during an international paper towel shortage isn’t ideal, but the good moments outweigh the bad. (Including the other day when the robot vacuum cleaner ran over three fresh poops, smearing them all over the floor.)

Adding a second dog to our family unit wasn’t something I’d ever dreamed of doing, but it has been a wonderful distraction, particularly for our seven-year-old son. We would love to give Rocket a forever home, except we already have GG. At some point Rocket is going to grow, and then I fear we are going to find ourselves outnumbered and/or outweighed. I hate the thought of giving him up, but we can’t keep Rocket forever.

He’s only a few weeks old, but Rocket’s life has already been one wild ride, and I don’t know what the future holds for him. I can’t express it to him, but I also know that exact feeling, especially with the way the world is right now.

Maybe the best thing we all can do is just sit tight, persevere and do our best to adapt to what life throws at us.

And if you have a puppy to cuddle with, well, that’s pretty good, too.

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