010 – The Snowy Road to PetSmart

Dodgy Santa brings a whole new meaning to the word 'dogging'

December. Christmas shopping. Like most smart people we’ve already done the majority of our shopping online, with gifts for the in-laws and the nieces and nephew already bought and in the post. One thing we still need is food for the dog, so we go to PetSmart to pick up a hefty bag of Nature’s Recipe Chicken Chow, and perhaps a treat to tide her over the Christmas period – a brand new bone or a cured pig’s ear. Much as it pains us, we’re leaving the dog behind on Christmas day as we travel down to Virginia, home of my wife’s extended family and a couple of grumpy old dogs with a propensity for biting. Even though it’s in her best interest we feel guilty about leaving our lovely little dog behind. Picking her up a $1.89 pig’s ear is really more to ease our guilt than to try and garner her forgiveness – she’s a dog, you know? She might notice we’re gone, but it’s not like she’s going to resent us for it.

I, never having been to a pet superstore, am somewhat flummoxed by the size of the place and the variety of foods there. I took a couple of snapshots because I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I didn’t have photographic evidence. You know turducken, the dish where a chicken is stuffed inside a duck, which in turn has been stuffed inside a turkey? They had turducken gourmet dog food! As well as pot roasts, country chicken dinners and various other down-home meals for your canine chums. The dogs who eat from this store eat better than I do – no mean feat, let me assure you.

Then there were the customers. At PetSmart people are encouraged to bring their dogs on leashes to scurry around the store and shop with their owners. There are even stands at the ends of the aisles with clean-up equipment in case your dog – as Frank Spencer would say – makes a whoopsie on the floor.

But most bonkers of all, sat in the lobby of the supermarket dressed in red and white fur was – no, not Father Christmas, but Santa Claws. Shoppers who’d brought their dogs in could – for a charitable donation – have their photographs taken with him.

I know my wife. I know how she thinks, I know what she thinks of the dog, and I knew that if I told her she could have a special festive photograph taken of the dog she’d be off like a shot, bringing the dog down cash in hand, begging Santa to hunker down with his arm around her collar for picture after picture after picture.

(At this point she interjects “If I was religious I’d have baptised that dog by now.” It’s not without reason that we refer to the dog as ‘our furry child’)

But so preoccupied was she in her quest for the perfect canine Christmas present that she hadn’t noticed Santa and his photographic assistant taking a break outside the store. In retrospect I suppose I should have kept my mouth shut.

Alas, I did not.

And so, once I’d told her and we’d torn back to the flat to collect the dog, we went about trying to get the dog’s picture taken.

It did not go well.

Lilo – the dog, named after the kid in the Disney movie about a tearaway alien – is a sweet and pleasant-natured dog. The house in which she grew up also played home to a human toddler, and so she learned be tolerant of having her ears tweaked, her tail pulled, and having sticky little hands forcibly inserted into her mouth. She’s generally good with people but she can be rather excitable around strangers, and when she’s excited she barks and squeals, and is rather reticent to sit still.

So in this place filled with scary strange people and exciting new smells, the last thing she wanted to do was the one thing all of us – me, my wife, the photographer and Santa – wanted her to do.

She has terrible separation anxiety. Every time my wife tried to leave her in Santa’s care – just for a moment, just so she could step away and let the photographer get on with her job – Lilo would whimper and yowl, and fish-tail her way out of Santa’s grasp. My wife would return to her to pet her head and snout and try to calm her down before stepping away again. As soon as she was gone Lilo would stand up, yelping and whining and struggling to be free.

I’ll give Santa his due – that guy must really love dogs. As soon as we got there he and the photographer made a fuss over Lilo, and when we left to hand the charity money to a cashier I overheard them talking about what a sweetheart she was.

Whether that opinion remained intact some ten minutes later I’m not entirely sure. But even though he became increasingly sweaty as he fought with the dog, and his elasticated beard became increasingly dishevelled, his cheery demeanour never slipped. Sure, the picture we ended up with made him look like a beastophile about to abscond with our poor dog’s virginity, but other than that he did a pretty good job wrangling Lilo.

Actually, we ended up with a series of photographs, my favourite of which shows my wife looking on fondly as Santa grits his teeth and Lilo makes the classic DO NOT WANT face beloved of Internetizens everywhere.

The photographs taken, I was left holding the leash as Santa took a well-deserved break and my wife talked shop with the photographer. “She’s so energetic!” the photographer said through a strained smile. “Have you considered taking her to puppy classes?”

“She went to them a long time ago,” said my wife. “She’s eight.”

Nobody ever believes she’s eight. She has so much energy it’s difficult to believe she’s the canine equivalent of a woman in late middle age. Certainly I don’t know too many middle-aged women who care to slobber all over my face and stick their paws in my crotch every time I come home. I’m quite glad about that.

As always, there’s so much more to say about the dog, but once again it’s getting late and I’ve already given myself nightmares about randy old women in false beards, so I think I’ll end my tenth post here, and wish you all – whether you be man, woman, dog or beastophile – a belated merry Christmas.

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