“There's a big difference between being stupid and acting stupid,” I explained.
“No, I've been around a lot of dogs,” said the nephew, who claims to be a dog whisperer. “And it takes a pretty smart dog to act stupid when he's not.”
“Bullshit,' I retorted. I was miffed, having observed Wilbur, who is at least 12, operate. Nobody likes to have their dog accused of being stupid—it's a bad reflection on its owner—though I must confess that a disobedient out-of-control dog is a terrible reflection on its owner, who might be suspected of being undisciplined and reckless himself, besides stupid, which I feel I am not, at least in a general way. So I added, “Labs are usually fairly smart, as dogs go.”
“Not Wilbur,” my nephew insisted. “He is not even an average dog as smarts go.”
“Well, my last Lab, Marley, was really smart.”
“Marley was definitely a very smart dog,” the nephew admitted.
Well, maybe this nephew, who I might add owned a dog everybody, including dogs, hated, fails to realize that a slyly nefarious dog, like Wilbur, like most criminals, has to have some heightened degree of intelligence. Also, most career thieves, which Wilbur certainly is, execute their thievery with smile on their faces, which Wilbur is especially gifted at.
It didn't work with this woman on the Cayucos beach that veers south from the pier the other afternoon, when Wilbur spotted a man around 40 flinging his ball at his young black Lab, who, after chasing it down in the ocean, dropped it at his master's feet. Wilbur, a hulking brown beast who lumbers at barely over a trot, watched from afar and perfectly timed a last second surge where, just as the ball dropped from the Lab's mouth, he pounced on it and took off.
I explained to the man that Wilbur was a notorious Cayucos thief and produced a tennis ball from the pouch of my hoodie as a replacement. He said, “Well, my dog likes that colored rubber ball, he'll usually refuse a new ball.”
I had forgotten biscuits to coerce Wilbur to drop the ball and snap up the biscuit, though sometimes he gulped it so fast he managed to snare the ball before I could place my foot on it. No human can pry a stolen ball from Wilbur's jaws. He growls and is stubborn and will not give it up under any circumstances. This man, however, was understanding, accepted the tennis ball and his Lab seemed to have no problem retrieving it. I went my way and he went his way, and when I arrived at the area a hundred or so yards from the pier after a 40 minute walk, his wife awaited me with hands on hips and a pinched, angry look on her attractive face.
“I want that ball back,” she demanded.
“He won't give it up,” I explained. “Once he steals something, it's gone. I gave your husband a replacement ball.”
Wilbur looked on, drool dripping in long strands from the ball secured in his mouth for about 20 minutes at this point.
“That ball he has is my dog's ball and it's easier to bite on. I don't want your ball. I don't want a tennis ball for my dog. That ball your dog stole is the only one of its type we have left. I want it.”
Her husband flashed me a helpless look. “Well,” I said. “I'll do the best I can.”
I headed toward the parking lot, where my car was parked. In the back seat were 4 identical balls to the one Wilbur had just copped, as he prefers these balls to the tennis balls I save from my matches. This woman was not the first to be miffed by Wilbur's theft of their special ball, but everybody had been amused and understanding and even charmed by Wilbur's treachery and possessiveness.
The woman followed me almost to the parking lot, where, from my car, I found a biscuit which Wilbur quickly chomped, the ball falling out of his mouth. It was slimy with drool, but I snatched and tossed it to the woman, who scooped it up without as much as looking at me or issuing a thank you and marched off toward the shoreline, holding the ball by thumb and forefinger.
Wilbur's willful disobedience and my evident negligence and failure as a master showed up the other day on a busy Sunday morning on the dog beach, where several dog owners have witnessed Wilbur's thievery of their dogs' balls. I never put him on a leash because he wants to make friends with humans and sniff their pockets for biscuits, literally basks in the glory of pets and hugs and seduces mostly women who claim he is “cute, sweet, handsome, adorable. beautiful, wonderful, a great dog...” so that Wilbur feels he can get away with just about anything, including feasting on dead seals or birds, some of which have been rotting on the beach for weeks, even months, and I have to scream at him when he takes off in a limping sprint to pounce.
I cuss him, scream at him, call him an asshole as bystanders look on. One woman said, “If he's out of control, why not put him on a leash.”
“It's his social hour,” I explained. “It's HIS time. I want him to be free to explore and enjoy himself.”
“I understand, but, well, he did steal my dog's ball the other day and refused to give it back, and my dog doesn't really like that tennis ball, because it's too big, he's just a little thing.”
I nodded. Wilbur stole a tiny ball from her 20 pound dog and has it on my deck where he plays with it. In fact, there's a lot of stolen toys on this deck, one of which is a rubber duck filched a month ago from a woman who used to be a fellow employee of mine a decade ago. It was early morning, and I was walking Wilbur through town for a 15 minute tour so I could play tennis at 8:30 in Morro Bay, when he discovered Jeannie's little VW rag-top stopped at the crosswalk as she waved to me. Sitting beside her was some sort of toy dog of a high pedigree. Wilbur immediately sprinted to her door and placed his paws on the top of the door and allowed this sweet dog lover to pet and cuddle him, but when Wilbur suddenly craned his neck and face past and to the left of her I realized he was up to no good, especially when his snoot reached the dashboard and he quickly extracted himself from the window and had in his jaws the rubber dog-toy duck and made a beeline to my car, which was parked on the main drag, and stood by the back door, in a hurry to make his getaway.
Fortunately Jeannie is a good sport and felt Wilbur's latest thievery was cute, and she was still chuckling when I opened the door and he quickly leaped into the back seat. I shrugged, throwing up my arms, and she wiggled her fingers at me and drove away as her little dog gaped at us from the window Wilbur had vacated.
Anyway, it was difficult facing the lady who was very nice about Wilbur stealing her dog's undersized ball, which I fear he might swallow some day and present me with another massive vet bill. So I told her how a month ago Wilbur ripped a rib bone from a dead carcass and refused to give it up, growled at me, ran from me, refused to continue his walk as I cursed him and threatened this time not to waste money on a vet bill. Angrily, and for the first time ever, I had stormed off, taking my two mile walk without Wilbur, and when I returned, he was still on his belly finishing off the bone. (He was sick for 3 days afterwards)
“Asshole!” I barked.
“You shouldn't call your dog names like that,” a man said, as his well behaved poodle pranced alongside him, sans leash. “It doesn't do any good.”
“I know, but he's driving me crazy. He'll be sick for a week, with the runs and throwing up, and I'm not taking him to the vets this time.”
The pleasant fellow decided it wasn't worth pursuing the subject and moved on. Lately, when I sense Wilbur is sizing up a ball theft, I yell at the potential victims to snatch their ball, or grab Wilbur by the collar and haul all 95 grudging pounds of him past and for at least a good 20 yards before letting him go. This is not easy for a person limping along with a bad hip and knee and torn shoulder. I also take note of dead carcasses on the dog beaches throughout the 3 mile stretch of Cayucos and collar him when I can, but once he's stripped a dead rotting putrid body of a bone or gristle of whatever is left there's no getting it away from him, and I hate having to starve him for 2 or 3 days and explain to him that if he insists on feasting on tainted corpses he'll just have to suffer the consequences.
So he's not necessarily a stupid dog, just a bad dog, a disobedient dog up to nefarious doings who knows he won't be punished.