The Kids Want a Dog

Ninety Pounds of Rancid Fur

Story and Photos by John O’Bryan

In our thirty-five years of marriage, Kelly and I have brought into our lives a total of three dogs, two cats, five bunnies, one bird, twelve chickens, hundreds of insects, dozens of fish, and none of them could ever be considered even remotely attached to my wife—except for the praying mantis that landed on her pregnant belly and wouldn’t let go. She has this anti-animal thing going on that manifests in mutual animosity. She barely tolerates our pets, and they avoid her like she’s pest control.

I think her aversion has a genetic component passed down from her mother. Her mom used to “accidentally” let every new dog out of the house without telling anyone, in hopes she could say it had “runoft.”  Her mom loves animals now, just not her own. While Kelly has never opened the door and told one of our pets to fly away and be free, that’s clearly the message whenever her tolerance for a specific animal has run its course.

I, on the other hand, grew up with parents who loved dogs. We always had at least one of the animals running around our house at any given time and because of that, by golly, my kids would have dogs too. I was naïve and mistaken. Before you start thinking of me as the next SPCA member of the year, I need to confess that only four of the animals brought into our home ever stuck…and those just barely. The countless others were either carted off to some farm or other, given away to unsuspecting friends, sold online, let loose, or left in the freezer to die (the insects, not the cats).

It turns out that the reason I loved animals as a youngster was because I never really had to deal with animals. I experienced the warm fuzzy fun of having Dusty sleep on my bed and cuddle next to me on the couch. My parents fed, housed, walked, washed, cleaned, doctored, and scooped. I got all the good parts, but once I was a parent myself, the poo was on the other foot.

Plus, Kelly made it perfectly clear she would have nothing to do with any animal I brought into the house. Because of this situation, all the nastiness was left up to me to take care of, and anyone who knows me knows that I hate nastiness.

I blame the kids. Every pet procurement started with an oath and a promise made by the kids in all sincerity, with a hand over the heart: “We solemnly swear to feed and clean up after” the bunny, dog, cat, bird, fish, rattlesnake, pit viper, or tarantula. But I must have had early onset dementia, because my short-term memory only brought to mind the good animal memories and the kept promises.

I was always surprised at how quickly the shine wore off a new pet and how soon the kids stopped caring for it. At the end of two months, I usually found myself fully clothed in my hazmat suit, pressure washer in hand, trying to free the animal from its apartment packed with excrement. This usually led to the creature living out the rest of its life elsewhere, a.k.a. “on the farm.”

There are self-help groups I should have been attending.

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Annie with Louis the cat.
Annie works on the author's shoe.
Happy dog.
A leap.
Annie as a pup.
On the run.
Sledding with the kids.
Winter in the woods.


After it became obvious we weren’t really pet people, the continuous circulation of animals through the house baffled Kelly. The first word out of her mouth when the kids got that look in their eyes and asked for, say, a rat or a snake, was always, “No.” The first word out of my mouth was always, “Sure.” The next words out of my wife’s mouth can’t be printed here.

I’m not saying she wasn’t right sometimes. She was spot on about why we shouldn’t have had that particular type of animal in the house, or about the kids not taking care of said animal, and that I would eventually end up doing the dirty work myself. Actually, she was always right. It was those darn puppy eyes that got me every time (the kids’, I mean).

I may have never said no, but I wasn’t the kind of husband who would add another member to his household without first discussing it with his better half. She and I always aired her minuses and my pluses before I brought home our next “trip to the farm.” I credit her levelheadedness with keeping a good many bad ideas out of the house, like the de-scented skunk and the baby badger.

“Honey, the kids really want a dog,” I said at breakfast.

“No,” she said without looking up from her book.

“I think it would be good for them. It would teach some responsibility. Besides, I had a dog growing up.”


“Honey, think how fun it would be. Think how much they would love a dog.”

“You’re crazy. Why would we need another pet?” She set down her book and stared into my eyes. “We have four kids, for goodness sake!”

“It would be great.”

“No way. Not a chance.”


“We already tried a dog.”

“But that was a stupid dog. This would be a better dog.”

Our first dog, Abby, had to go for a long visit to the farm. In hindsight, the kids were way too young for an aggressive but cute lab/hyena cross that left me bleeding on so many occasions I got lightheaded from blood loss. After the boys and I and Kelly drove away, leaving Abby with the friends who had agreed to take her, it was a week before the kids noticed she was missing.

It hadn’t occurred to them that they no longer had to hold their toys and food above their heads and sprint from room to room or stand on a chair when the dog was around, but Kelly and I noticed the change right away. It was like we had been cured of leprosy. Life seemed fluffy and smooth once again.

“No more dogs.”

“Okay, fine.” I sulked and went back to my cornflakes.

The next day, I brought home Annie.

She grew up to be a ninety-pound yellow Lab but when I picked her up from the breeder, she was the cutest ball of yellow excitement on the planet. She was perfect, all paws and pudge, with a ridge of hair that rain down her nose like a long cowlick. I wanted to name her Ridgy. One of the kids wanted to name her Darth Vader. The sole concession to Kelly was that she got to name the dog.

When I got home, the boys, who were always up for an experiment, immediately cornered Clark, our tabby, and introduced him to Annie. The result was spectacular, at least in the minds of the kids, if less so for the animals. The cat was incensed. The dog was wounded. It was the beginning of a long friendship.

Kelly was not happy with me and never warmed up to Annie, at least outwardly. When Annie had that new puppy smell like freshly washed leather shoes, I would put her in Kelly’s lap and she tolerated her just fine. But when she started to get into the teenage years (Annie, not Kelly) and lost the cuteness and started secreting that stinky, oily liquid that coats the fur of Labs, any hint of emotional attachment flamed into resentment.

Our vet tried everything.  She gave us ointments and creams, which Annie loved to lick from her skin, and pills of all sorts, which Annie readily ate, but no matter what the vet tried, it did little to alleviate the oily stink that emanated from her (our dog, not the vet). She really was stinky (Annie, not Kelly). We could have attached an oil rig to that dog and lived off the product. It got so bad that the spot on the linoleum near the backdoor where she slept turned from bright white to burnt orange and no amount of scrubbing would remove the stain.

It wasn’t like we could bathe her, at ninety pounds with rancid fur which, like Gore-Tex, had been engineered to repel water. Not bathing was fine with Annie, who hated water. It seemed ridiculous to me that an animal so well suited to the water couldn’t stand to get wet. This combination of weight, stink, and aversion led us in the end to tie her up in the backyard, hose off the big chunks, and call it good.

As Annie got older, it became apparent that we might have bitten off more than we were willing to swallow. Not only did this sweet beast of a dog emanate an awful stench that kept us from snuggling with her, even her own fur didn’t want to be attached to her. The sheer amount of rancid hair she sloughed off weekly was overwhelming.

It got so bad that the floor in our basement looked like it had a layer of fog on it, only it wasn’t fog, it was fur. As you walked through this fog it transformed into something like weeds tumbling and swirling around you in the desert.

No dog in the history of dogs has ever been more suited to being outside, and more than anything Annie wanted to be outside, where she loved to wander the property looking for prey. Her prey of choice was the small, buck-toothed rodent called the vole. This beautiful Lab, bred to be in a duck blind searching the skies for waterfowl, couldn’t have cared less about birds. A flock of seagulls, the bird not the band, could have landed on her and she would have awoken for a moment and then fallen back into her coma. But she could see or smell these small rodents from an acre away.

Nose to the ground, she would find their den and then dig as if her life depended on it. We have picture after picture of her with her enormous head pushed deep into a hole of her creation. Our landscape looked like the surface of the moon and to this day as I bounce around our property on the mower, trying to cut down the weeds, I hang on for dear life.

We let her be outside as much as she wanted and trained her to stay in the backyard without any fencing or a leash. After she learned this lesson, we thought she was one of the smartest dogs ever. Turns out we were right. Months after letting her roam unattended, we discovered she would sneak around the house and greet people as they walked by, follow them on their walk, and then peel off and head to the backyard on the return journey.

We should have known it was in her DNA to be a “runoft” dog because we lived right across the street from the owner of her dad. More than once we saw him galloping down the middle of the street, our neighbor running after him, screaming at the stupid dog to stop.

We finally figured out what Annie had been doing when we got a call from a family a few blocks over, who said they had found her in their backyard, where her sister lived. Someone going on a walk confused Annie with her sister and put her in the backyard of this family. When they found two identical Labs in their backyard, they called us. When we came to get her, we found Annie sitting on the couch between two young girls, watching TV and eating popcorn.

We had never let her sit on the couch at our home and when she saw us, she looked to her new family without moving, as if to say, “I’ve never seen those people in my life.” When we told her it was time to go home, her shoulders slouched, her head hung low, and she reluctantly followed us, looking wistfully back over her shoulder.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 161 different breeds of purebred dogs. The three determinants to qualify a verified breed are popularity, how it has been recognized as a breed, and how undiluted its lineage is. The conformation of each breed has changed little over the years, and the King Charles spaniel has looked pretty much the same from regency to regency as far back as the Man of Blood himself. AKC standards are fine if you’re looking for a show dog, but if you’re looking for a family dog, the breed standards should be much different.

Family dogs should be categorized on one thing and one thing only: the size of their waste—and I don’t mean the circumference of their middle. In my system there would be only three categories, Cat Sized Poop Dog (CSPD) Medium Poop Dog (MPD) and Huge Poop Dog (HPD).Any dogs larger than HPD would be classified as 2HPD or 3HPD, depending upon if it was the size of what a Great Dane or a bull mastiff would create.

Annie started out as a CSPD but soon transitioned into a MPD before graduating summa cum laude into a full-fledged HPD. I eventually found out that she had magical intestines, and not in a good way. That dog could eat through a forty-pound bag of dog food and in the end (no pun intended) I would pick up what seemed like fifty pounds of not dog food from the yard. She was a factory with a troupe of Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas marching through her intestines, working overtime to increase daily output by twenty-five percent.

Annie’s appetite knew no limit. The voice in her head never spoke up: “Okay, step away from the bowl, you are at capacity.” Way too often, she redlined her intestinal system and this finally caused Kelly to reach out and touch her, on purpose, for the first and only time—and, boy, did she ever touch her. It was Annie’s first Thanksgiving. Wanting to participate in the festivities, she pulled the turkey carcass out of the garbage and proceeded to drag and fling it around the kitchen and dining room like a toy. There were turkey parts stuck to the ceiling, the wall, and we even found pieces when we moved the piano years later.

When Kelly touched Annie, there was so much touching going on that I had to let the petrified animal escape out the back door. After that incident, Annie was so afraid of turkey we had to switch her to lamb-flavored dog food to keep her from losing weight.

Her eating soon resumed and a number of times it nearly killed her, so I wasn’t too surprised to find her at the back door a few years later, dreadfully ill. I was sure she had eaten poison and surmised that her gluttony might have finally done her in. I felt awful for her and when I opened the back door, her head hung low and she barely made it to her bed before she flopped down, with a sigh, and lay deathly still.

Her stomach was distended as if she were in the throes of labor and drool formed on her lips. I suspected rat poison. I put a bowl of water next to her and left her for the night, worried I would have to bury her the next day.

In the early hours of the morning, I was awakened by our son Christian.

“Um, Dad, Annie threw up.”

I was groggy. “Can you deal with it, son?”

“Um, I think you should come see this. I don’t think I can do it.”

Fully awake now, I quickly pulled on my pants and went downstairs, expecting the worst. What met me wasn’t a dead dog—it was the largest vomit pile I have ever encountered. It was as big around as a garbage can lid and three inches thick. It was like an enormous oatmeal raisin cookie.

I looked over at Annie, who thumped her tail against the wall, proud of the gift she had deposited onto our new carpet. The pile in front of me turned out to be composed of bile and horse feed. The stupid animal had gotten into the molasses and oats that we fed the horses and had gorged herself to the edge of the abyss. I had to use the snow shovel to scrape the epic mass off the carpet.

Eventually, we did take Annie to the farm, but it was our farm. We had always wanted to have a bit of land to call our own and we finally made that happen. Her last few years were enjoyable for her and even though she slowed down and couldn’t quite dig deep enough to get the rodents, she still tried.

She was still the sweetest, stinky-cheese dog ever and was by far the best pet we brought into our house. Even though Kelly never really warmed to her, she cried when Annie died.

We all were sad Annie was gone but we also settled into a nice pet-free rhythm and were pretty happy that we didn’t have any animals to deal with. Our foray into the world of pets was over.

And then Pippa happened.

“Honey, the girls want a dog.”

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John O'Bryan

About John O'Bryan

John O'Bryan was born in southeastern Alaska, moved to Moscow in 1984 to attend the University of Idaho, and never left. He is a husband, dad, granddad, photographer, and fly fisherman—in that order. John can often be found with a camera around his neck, or chasing steelhead on the Clearwater River, or fly fishing Idaho’s blue-ribbon trout streams.

5 Responses to The Kids Want a Dog

  1. Rebecca - Reply


    thank you for sharing this story it was really good I always have to have a dog in my life, right now I have 2 of them

  2. John OBryan - Reply


    Hi Rebecca! Dogs are amazing friends!

  3. Peg Bowen - Reply


    Love this guys stories!! He’s hilarious!

  4. Amy Arnhold - Reply


    You never cease to make me laugh out loud with your stories. The enormous oatmeal raisin cookie statement brought tears to my eyes….soooo funny. God bless you John and never stop writing. I’ll never forget the day Annie died because it was on Lee’s bday and she somehow blamed herself for your loss.

  5. john - Reply


    Thanks Amy! We celebrated her birthday last week and that did come up!

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