He wasn’t much of a dog to look at — bristly hair like a boar’s, with spindly legs — but his giant head and fearsome teeth told me he was the right dog for me. I named him Splinter. Well, truth be told, that was the name he had at the pound where I got him, so I kept it. I brought him home, and introduced him to the family.
My then-wife Drea didn’t like him from the get-go. Drea wasn’t really fond of living creatures that required care and attention. I think that extended to our two kids, Brett and Trina, too. I’d had that idea about her ever since she took a bunch of the money we’d saved for Trina’s braces to get a tattoo of Bon Jovi on her ass. I was so pissed. I mean, Bon Jovi. What the hell?!
My daughter, Trina, hated the dog. She said he smelled bad, which, I admit, was true. I tried bathing him once but the stink came right back.
Brett used to like to torment the dog by offering and withdrawing treats until one day Splinter nipped him and made his knuckle bleed. I told him it served him right.
Our family at that time also included Drea’s speed freak brother, Corbett, and his girlfriend Deena Anne. They lived in the basement.
We had a small house at the edge of the city next to the freeway. I built a doghouse for the new member of the family and set it in our tiny backyard of dead grass. The house was surrounded by a high chain-link fence so Splinter was free to roam, dig, and slobber. He was good at all three.
Before long the yard was pocked with dog divots and turds. Splinter also woke us several times during an average night with his raspy, incessant barking. It didn’t bother me so much. I appreciated the added security, what with the skanky neighborhood and Corbett’s meth-headed associates skulking in and out. Of course, everyone else complained.
We kept the dog outside most of the time, but he’d sneak in when he could.
One warm summer night while we were watching TV, Splinter came running up from the basement and dashed out the partially open front door. Corbett was right behind him, flailing his arms and yelling through the jagged gaps of his sparse teeth.
“That goddamn dog got into my stash! That dog’s gotta go! I’m gonna shoot him!”
“Well, that’s my dog and he’s not going anywhere. If you don’t like it, you can go!” I retorted.
I thought Corbett’s dilated eyeballs were going to pop out of his head.
“All right, then. I’m out of here!” he said and ran back downstairs.
After a few minutes he was back with a duffel bag slung over his back and a wailing Deena Anne begging him not to go. He stormed out the door, slammed it shut, and we could hear him cursing at the dog as he got into his old beater Ford and drove off. Deena Anne shot me a dirty look and stomped back down to the basement.
Splinter barked ceaselessly all that night and dug a trench around the whole perimeter of the yard.
I came home from work a couple of days later to find both Drea and Deena Anne weeping on the back steps.
“Corbett’s been arrested,” said Drea, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.
“For possession with intent to sell,” added Deena Anne, her voice exploding into wet sobs.
I grunted and nodded. “I guess we won’t be seeing him for a while. Sorry.”
Now, I didn’t know whether to count that as good news or bad news, but seeing the effect on my wife and girlfriend-in-law, I counted it as bad. Plus they both insisted it was the dog’s and my fault.
One afternoon when the kids came into the yard from school Splinter cornered them against the fence and started licking their faces. As they pushed him away and ran for the door Brett stumbled and fell. Splinter jumped on top of him and rolled crazily back and forth on his head until the boy was able to get away.
The kids were quite upset but I told them that Splinter was just being affectionate.
Anyway, shortly thereafter they both got strep throat and head lice. Drea blamed it on the dog.
Then things really went to hell. Deena Anne was hit by a bus and ended up in a wheelchair. I found out that Drea was screwing Dab Schlitzing, the ratty mechanic who lived next door. I got cut back to part-time at the factory, decreasing my income by half. And to top it off, I contracted some kind of staph infection and nearly lost my leg. Meanwhile, Splinter roamed the yard barking, pooping, and digging.
I’m not normally superstitious, but the confluence of Splinter’s arrival and this barrage of bad circumstances had me creeped out.
I ended up giving the dog away to Trevor Simms, a guy I worked with. He had been making noise for some time about wanting to get a good watchdog. I laid it on thick about what a good sentinel Splinter was and how, even though I hated to, I had to give him up because the kids were allergic.
Trevor came out on a Saturday and took old Splinter away. I waved as they drove off. I never cared for Trevor, but I did feel bad when he got into that bad accident a week later and lost an eyeball.
It’s just me and the kids now. Things are getting better, though. I’m back to work full-time.
Drea took off with Dab to Milwaukee. I don’t really miss her that much. But I do kind of miss the dog.
William Olmstead is a writer based in Los Angeles.