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© 2011 Susan J. Kroupa, all rights reserved
Here’s why I like Molly. Other than the fact that she’s quick to give treats, that is. She’s the one who got me the new job.
I met her the day the new boss came to my trainer’s to find a bed bug dog for his business. Miguel de Castillo, that’s my trainer, brought them into the barn where all of us trainees lived.
Miguel limped in—he has a bad leg from an injury years before in a place far away he calls Nam. Behind him came a bearded man in jeans and a T-shirt, who smelled of coffee and mown grass. And beside the man came a brown-skinned girl, her hair in pigtails, which I later learned has nothing to do with pigs or tails, but means she uses little rubber bands to hold her hair on either side of her head. She snapped her camera as the new boss (of course, he wasn’t the new boss yet) walked down the long aisle filled with our cages, looking over all of us dogs with a critical eye.
“I read that beagles are supposed to have the best noses,” the new boss said. “They’re short-haired and shouldn’t shed too much. And they’re small.”
All of which is true, except I would dispute the best nose part. I’ll put my nose up against any dog’s. But beagles are good at bed bug detecting, no doubt about it, and over half of the dogs around me that day were beagles. Most of them, like me, came from animal shelters.
Miguel shrugged. He never was one to play favorites with us dogs.
Anyway, the new boss stopped at every cage with a beagle, while Miguel told him how much the dog would be, what the dog’s personality was like, and so forth.
Sometimes Molly would wave her fingers in the cage and call a dog over, talking to it in a low voice. I watched with interest, especially after I saw her slip one a treat.
The boss saw it too. “Remember we’re not getting a pet,” he said, something he continues to repeat all the time. “We need a working dog.”
“I know.” Her voice didn’t make it sound like she knew at all.
Pretty soon she came to my cage. I scooted to the edge, hoping maybe she’d have a treat for me. “Oh,” she said, her eyes widening. “You’re beautiful!”
Our eyes met. And I felt something I can’t quite explain, but was something along the lines that she’d be a good human to live with. A very good human to live with. Which, to be honest, made me uncomfortable.
Because here’s the thing. Some dogs, especially in the service industry where I originally came from, regard serving the bosses as a labor of love, a higher calling. I’m not one of those. To me, what I do for the bosses is a job. Do the work. Get paid. Nothing more, nothing less. No dishonor there. (But try to tell that to the service dog people.)
“Dad, look at this one.” Molly waved a hand toward my cage. “I bet he’d be good.”
The boss and Miguel came over. “Ah, Doodle,” the trainer said. “I could give you a great deal on him.”
“He’s. . .” the new boss frowned a little “. . .big. A standard poodle?”
“Labradoodle. A rescue from the animal shelter. Australian labradoodle, actually. I don’t know if you know anything about labradoodles, but they were created to be service dogs.”
I’d heard this before. “All the warmth and bonding of a Labrador retriever combined with the intelligence and the hypoallergenic coat of a poodle,” the breeders would say when they brought potential bosses to look at us pups.
But I seem to have missed the Labrador part. At least that’s what my first boss said. He claimed I had an excessive amount of poodle independence.
“Too much doodle. Not enough labra,” is how he put it. Just because, during one of the last weeks of service dog training I smelled something really intriguing and broke loose to give chase. Yeah, I heard him calling, but, hey—this was important. And I’m proud to say I caught—well, cornered—it, although that particular time it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. Turns out it takes a lot of bathing to get rid of skunk smell and though I’m usually partial to strong odors, this one was not pleasant.
Miguel opened the door of my cage and rubbed under my chin, something I’ve always liked. “I looked up his records from his microchip,” he said. “He’s what they call a ‘career-change’ dog.”
Both Miguel and I know what the service dog people really mean by “career change”: fired. They said I had the wrong temperament. Not just because of the skunk episode. There were, in the words of the evaluators, “too many to count.” Thing is, for the life of me there were times when I couldn’t see why I should do as they asked. I mean, what good is all this famed poodle intelligence and this really great sense of smell if I don’t use it?
So I was put on the market as a career-change dog but my second home didn’t work out at all and I ended up in the animal shelter. That’s where Miguel found me. Good thing, too, because according to him I was scheduled for euthanasia the next day. Don’t know what that word means, but I gather it’s bad.
Molly followed Miguel into my cage and began to stroke my head. “He has the poodle coat which means he won’t shed. And I really like him.” She looks up at the boss with big brown eyes, her expression every bit like a dog begging for a treat.
“I could let you have him for five hundred dollars less than either of the others you were interested in,” Miguel said.
The new boss raised his eyebrows and studied me with new interest. “Five hundred dollars!” And then in a more suspicious tone, “Why so cheap? How’s his nose?”
“Excellent,” Miguel said. “As good as any of my beagles.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“And your daughter is right, he won’t shed. But you will have to get his coat groomed and trimmed every so often.” Miguel hesitated as if reluctant to say more. “He’s discounted because he can be, um, independent. If you take him, you need to make sure you establish your leadership early on. Let him know who’s boss. If you do that, you should have no problem. I can teach you how to do that during the instruction classes.”
He’ll be the boss if he pays me my wages. Simple as that.
“I don’t know.” The new boss turned and looked back toward the beagles.
Miguel leaned down and scratched me under the chin a few more times. “On the plus side, he’s not a bit aggressive. He’s really quite a sweety.”
Sweety! I don’t know about that.
But then Molly’s arms were around my neck. And she leaned her head against my shoulder. I took in her scent, which, as I’ve mentioned, is a very nice one. “Please, Dad. He’s cheaper, which means we’ll start making money sooner. Please? I really like this one.”
“He’s not going to be a pet, Molly.” Despite the stern voice, the new boss’s eyes softened as he stared down at his daughter, something I later learned happens a lot. He sighed. “Five hundred dollars?”
“Yes!” Molly breathed the word into my shoulder, then sat up and surprised me with a kiss on my nose.
And that’s how I had another career change and went from being a bed-bug trainee to a full-fledged bed-bug detector in a new home with a new boss. And Molly.
© 2011 Susan J. Kroup