Emmett & Me
He drooled, smelled bad, and had no manners whatsoever. But I loved him
Photo by Rob Howard
I never wanted a dog. I preferred cats. But it was Christmas and he was a gift and I didn’t know how to tell her I couldn’t take him. She said the breeder was a lady in town. There’d been an ad in the paper: English bulldogs, sired by a champion, $450 each. She’d picked out the best one. “How much did you say he cost?” I had a hard time keeping my voice from shaking. She didn’t ask me to reimburse her, but I wrote out a check anyway. We were both so poor it didn’t make any sense.
I named him Emmett. That first night together, I put him in a cardboard box with a blanket on the bottom. He cried so much I had to take him to bed with me. “You miss your mama?” I said. “Is that what has you so upset?”
I held him against my chest and let him hear my heart beat, and he calmed down after a while. He slobbered, though, and drool got on my sheets and glued my fingers together. He tried to suck one of my nipples and I had to push him away. When he finally went to sleep, he snored like an old man with a deviated septum. Even worse was his intestinal distress. It got so bad I had to get up and go outside for some air.
I noticed how he’d whine and paw at his ear, and how he’d give you a look if you tried to pet the top of his head, so I took him to the vet. The man tried to be gentle about it. Emmett had a bad ear infection, he said. His tubes were blocked and forming scars. “Your dog’s deaf,” he said. “But it’s not just that. If we don’t stop the infection, it’s eventually going to kill him.”
“Give him some medicine,” I said.
“I will, but he needs surgery, and not the kind I’d attempt here.”
I took him to the LSU vet school in Baton Rouge. When it was over, they carried him out to me wearing a big halo fitted around his neck. It kept him from scratching his ears. He was so excited to see me he peed on my pants and best Sunday shoes. I didn’t have enough money to pay the bill. I had to use one of those cash-advance checks a credit card company had sent me in the mail.
It’s hard enough to communicate with a dog that can hear. Imagine what it was like trying to train Emmett. You could clap your hands together in front of his face and he wouldn’t flinch, but I worked with him, I worked hard, and over time he started to obey sign language. If I caught him drinking water from the toilet, for instance, all I had to do was stomp on the floor and point at the door to get him to stop and leave the room.