Kerby by Joanna C. Valente; for more information, visit
http://www.joannavalente.com

Colbert! Divorce Dog Extraordinaire

by Ana Gardner

When it became clear that their marriage train was headed for a cliff, Mom got a lawyer and Dad got a dog. 

As far as custody-battle armor goes, dog beats law degree.

I was eight. Dad brought Colbert by when he knew Mom would be at work. He introduced the dog as “Mom probably won’t let us keep him,” and I promptly fell in love like I was supposed to. Later that afternoon Mom capitulated, and Colbert ate through her favorite pair of work shoes the first night.

Mom and Colbert had a rough start, if we’re going to be honest about it.

•••

Colbert was a wriggly brown sausage with floppy ears and no housetraining.  Within a month he’d chewed through the shoe rack and Mom’s throw pillows, and peed on her French carpet tassels that we had to comb every morning and evening with a special dedicated comb. He also learned to break into the trashcan, leading Mom to devise more and more intricate security systems to foil him, until our trashcan rivaled Fort Knox, which did not faze Colbert in the least.

He was, however, a generous soul; once he’d had his fill of chicken guts and cucumber peels and hairballs, he left the rest strewn buffet-style on the kitchen carpet, for us to share.

Mom wanted to kill Colbert six times a day; however, his shenanigans distracted me from the protracted divorce battle, so she reined in her rage, gave up on pillows and shoes and clean carpets, and kept the dog. A few weeks later one of Dad’s jerk poker buddies showed up with an unpaid IOU and took Colbert away, and Mom had to chase him down and pay for the divorce dog she’d never asked for. Then, Colbert was reallyours.

Years later she told me she mailed some of Colbert’s poop to Dad along with the final divorce forms.

•••

We didn’t name Colbert. It was the jerk poker buddy, late one night when his short-haired Doxie, Myrtle, dumped a surprise litter in the space between the living room sofa and the curtains. He put her first two pups in a bread basket and named them Bonnie and Clyde, but Colbert’s arrival a few minutes later threw a wrench into his clever naming scheme. Jerk Poker Buddy couldn’t think of a famous trio, so Colbert was named after what was on TV.

I tried to change his name to “Rex” but Colbert came with a lot of opinions. He refused to answer to anything else, so Colbert he remained, to the entertainment of everyone we met. 

Colbert didn’t mind the laughs. Laughs meant attention, and he lovedattention. Out on walks he’d stop and say hello to everyone. Unlike me, who hated nothing more than random eye contact and wouldn’t unclench my jaw to talk to a stranger without the use of a socket wrench, Colbert wanted to be everyone’s friend.

•••

Colbert had separation anxiety worse than mine, which was nice of him. When Mom and I went to the pool for a couple of hours and came back to a formal noise complaint from the community association.The day of my fourth-grade piano recital we left Colbert locked in the kitchen. He knocked over a chair, hopped from it up to the table and launched himself out the window; three minutes after we’d left the house he was trotting proudly at Mom’s heels, like that had been the plan all along.

When I went to school he crawled into the sleeve of my pajamas and cried until I came back. He barked and nipped at Mom’s ankles when she yelled at me to clean my room, and when one of the boys down the street rubbed stinging nettles on my arms, Colbert peed on his bike.

The first time he met Dad’s new lady-friend he tried to eat her.

•••

About a year post-divorce, Mom had Depression. I had to go to my grandparents’. They’d signed up for one small, sad tween, but when I showed up with a backpack full of biscuits and arms full of carsick dog, they rolled with it. Colbert fell in love with Grandpa, Grandma found a neighborhood vet, and they made room for everything in their small three-bedroom. Colbert and I found new beetles to sniff, and new neighbors laughed at Colbert’s name.

My grandparents learned to live with the teeth marks on the furniture and Colbert learned to live with the dog food they insisted on inflicting on him. We all learned to live with each other, and no one else divorced or moved away. Two retired grandparents had plenty of time between them to leave neither child nor dog home alone, so the noise complaints and revenge-peeing dwindled down to zero.

Plenty of other things happened to Colbert, and Colbert happened to a few things too, like car seat covers and the neighbor’s lawn mower. But he let everything roll off him with great aplomb, even the fleas he borrowed from an over-friendly stray cat.

He didn’t mind when he got demoted: he let go of the divorce dog title easily, and contented himself for the remainder of his life to be just dog, like he’d never even had career ambitions at all.

About Ana Gardner

Ana Gardner is a writer and researcher currently living in Rhode Island with more quadrupeds than strictly recommended. My work has appeared previously in 600 Seconds Saga, The Dime Show Review, and others, and is upcoming in Argot.