Three Dog Night

Here is the scene: we, meaning my wife, myself and our three dogs, are holed up in one of the grossest hotel rooms we’ve ever stayed in. Outside there is almost two feet of snow, and it’s yet to stop. As far as I can tell, we are the only guests in the entire hotel. Well the man at the front desk, who is also the same man who had been plowing the parking lot at the moment we arrived, claims there are other guests. But we haven’t seen them.

Less than a minute after we’d walked into this room Yoshi, our youngest dog, lifted his leg beside the corner of one of the double beds. My wife managed to stop him before he actually marked his territory, but the mental damage had already been done. There would be no relaxing in a cozy bed tonight, protected from the storm. There would only be two people and three dogs trying to decide if the floor or the bedspread was cleaner.

Atop our visions of bed bugs, and whatever else a blacklight taken to our room might reveal, was the most unnerving fact of all: we were stuck in a room with all three of our dogs, two of whom had been sworn mortal enemies for going on two years.

Yoshi was an impulse purchase. My wife and I discovered him at a local pet store one evening, in that bygone era before we had children. I still remember sitting at the McDonald’s across the street from the pet store, eating my hot fudge sundae and telling her I was up for the adventure if that’s what she wanted. We already had two dogs at home: Kito, whom she’d found through a classified ad right after she graduated from college, and Sake, who we got a few years later from a respectable breeder.

Kito, Sake and Yoshi were all Shiba Inus. My wife says they are a Japanese husky breed, but I’m honestly not sure where she got that description. If you enter “Japanese Husky Breed” into Google, with the quotes, you get a single entry for something called the HiveMC Forums, which I’m pretty certain has nothing to do with Shiba Inus. In her defense, I have always told people that they are in the same family as Akita’s, and a quick look at wikipedia just now has informed me that they actually part of a separate bloodline from Akita’s and other Japanese breeds. So, looks like we have both been characterizing these dogs incorrectly for the last 14 years. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Shiba Inus are not the friendliest of dog breeds, though their particular temperament varies from dog to dog. Kito, our oldest, has always been rather laid back and good tempered. He rarely makes a sound. Sake, on the other hand, is as high strung as they come. She is afraid of just about everything, but especially things on wheels. Still, apart from nipping occasionally at two year olds who get their faces tantalizingly close to hers, she doesn’t show any aggression.

But within a couple months of bringing home Yoshi it was apparent that something was off. It started with food – he’d growl anytime Kito came ambling by as he was eating. Soon, however, he’d graduated to attacking Kito for any minor infraction. When they fought, someone always drew blood: be it canine or human. We brought over dog trainers, consulted videos on dealing with dog aggression and tried every possible configuration of feeding, sleeping and dog walking arrangements that might mitigate potential dominance issues. All to no avail. Finally we decided we had no choice but to separate them completely.

We sequestered them into separate spheres of the house: Yoshi in the basement and Kito upstairs. We had a two-gate system, the first atop our stairs and the second at the bottom. Thus to travel between these two spheres you had to pass through one gate, then lock it again, and allow yourself to come to pressure before passing through the other gate.

This strategy worked just fine at our house, which we’d bought too big before we had any kids and therefore had plenty of room for the two dogs to live separate but equal lives. But this was not a strategy that traveled very well.

I’m not one who usually gives advice, but allow me to be so bold as to make the following suggestion: when you are considering a 14 hour drive home (in our case, from Iowa where we now lived to Maryland where our parents parents still lived), and you then learn that a major snowstorm will be developing across the very area you plan to traverse within hours, do not, under any circumstances, come to the conclusion that you can “outrun” the storm.

I speak from experience, of course. Because rather than waiting until after the storm had passed, we decided to load up our bags and our three dogs and go play chicken with mother nature. And not in an SUV, mind you, or even a minivan whose sheer weight could make up for the lack of four wheel drive. No, my wife and I chose to play chicken with Mother Nature in a Nissan Versa.

We fought the storm, and the storm won. Which is how we ended up at the hotel in Breezewood, Pennsylvania.

Another bit of advice, should you ever find yourself in a shitty motel with your significant other and three dogs, at least one of whom does an awfully good Cujo impression. Find some distractions. For us it was food.

Luckily, upon our arrival I had spotted a gas station right down the street, within snow trudging distance from the hotel. Unfortunately, after leaving my wife alone with the dogs on a scouting expedition, I discovered that the gas station was deserted. Windows covered with boards. Not to worry, I told myself, I believe the hotel has a restaurant. No doubt maitre-d’d by the desk clerk/plowman/proprietor of the establishment. But alas, when I arrived at the entrance to the restaurant I found only a hauntingly empty interior peeking out at me through the glass.

Do you know what is creepier than realizing you are in a deserted old hotel/restaurant on top of a hill in an otherwise forested area down the street from a gas station that could pass for a set piece in The Walking Dead?  Having that experience in the deadening silence that accompanies two plus feet of snowfall.

When I returned to the reception area I was intercepted by the proprietor who informed me that he’d be traveling to town on a food run for the several residents staying in the hotel that night. I had yet to actually see these “other residents”, but was nonetheless happy to give him our food order.

He’d be going to the Pizza Hut in town, he told me. Most people find this hard to comprehend – but I don’t love pizza. I like it, and sometimes I like it a lot. But if I’m ever sitting on death row and thinking through my options for my last meal, pizza is not making my shortlist. It’s probably not even making my top 20 favorite foods. And it just so happens that Pizza Hut is literally my least favorite pizza from anywhere ever.

And so that evening we dined on lukewarm spaghetti from Pizza Hut in a small and dirty hotel room with our three dogs and prayed to God that we’d make it through the night without any blood or urine being spilled.

We managed to make it to the morning without incident. By the next morning the sun had already started to work on the snow outside. As we stood near the door to our room gathering our bags Yoshi lunged at Kito, though because they were leashed up by this point we were able to reign them in quickly.

As we piled into the car, strategically placing Sake in the middle between the two males, we prepared ourselves for a tense ride home. Once we got to Maryland we’d stay one night and then pile into the car again to head down to Florida, where my wife’s parents had rented a house. At least all the rest of the places we’d be staying at had more than one room.

I don’t remember much about the dogs during the remainder of that trip. I’m sure Kito and Yoshi fought a few times, but apparently not enough to be memorable. Within a year of that trip Yoshi would be gone. Not gone, gone. Just living with another family who didn’t own any other dogs (or children).

Three dogs, it turned out, was just one too many for us.

Postscript: I wrote this draft last year – before our oldest dog Kito passed away over the summer. We are now, strangely, down to just one dog (Sake). But, we’ve added three kids, so…

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