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It can cost you dearly to love a $13 mutt

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

by John L. Smith

Our Genevieve was just a $13 dog from the animal shelter, a mutt so homely we couldn’t help falling in love.

I’d have an easier time speaking Greek than describing her breed. If forced to bet, I’d guess from her narrow face and clump of whiskers she was related to a terrier, or Groucho Marx. Her white and black splotches looked more like motor oil stains than a Dalmatian’s spots.

No taller than a foot rest, she was barrel-chested and stick-legged.

And how she stunk. Her fur was matted with a stench that made our eyes water. No amount of standard scrubbing could dent it, and only a professional dip at “Dogs by Cindy” cured her.

She weighed about 15 pounds and was covered with bites when my wife and daughter brought her home from the shelter after paying a few bucks. I looked once at the quivering cur and swore mother and child had been taken like carnival rubes.

Genevieve. A less likely moniker a canine never had. Our Amelia was thinking of “the Noblest dog in all of France” when she named her new mutt after the brave pooch in the “Madeline” story. It was like giving a pauper silk pajamas, but in the months to come Genevieve grew into the name and sneaked right into our hearts the way good dogs do.

After she stopped shaking, that is. Genevieve had a terrible case of nerves, practically stuttered when she barked, and sprinkled nonstop.

“Nice,” I grumbled to my wife. “I say ‘no dogs’ and you come home with one that’s blown a gasket.”

But Tricia had fallen to Amelia’s powers of persuasion, which far exceed those of a team of U.N. hostage negotiators.

In short order, Genevieve stopped leaking, most of the time, and limited her barking to prowlers, real and imagined, and her own fitful sleep. She immediately attached herself to our 7-year-old.

Genevieve bossed our 80-pound hound Sparky from the start. She ran his life the way Gladys Kravitz harassed Abner on “Bewitched.” And my wife and daughter had been right: That big dog had needed a little company – even if the little dog was forever stealing his food.

She was a “Hogan’s Heroes” worthy hole-digger and was an accomplished mouser. Genevieve caught backyard rodents, lazy pigeons, and rounded up countless tomatoes from the garden.

She ran the yard like Patton, harassed Sparky, and investigated anything that wasn’t securely fastened. We came home one afternoon to find she had wedged her head into a three-gallon, clear plastic jug that left her enough room to breathe but made her sound like she was barking from a distance. She looked like a comedic astronaut with an oversized helmet.

When I took the dogs hiking at Mount Charleston and found myself one leash short, I used a wildly colored tie for Genevieve. It wasn’t needed. She remained at my heel the whole way, her funny face and trailing tie making her resemble a four-legged vaudevillian.

After a year, we wondered how we had laughed so much without her.

So, when she took sick, we naturally thought it was indigestion. As a former street dog, Genevieve ate anything and was constantly hungry. But after three days, we grew so concerned we took her to the vet, who diagnosed her with pancreatitis.

The question was, did we start spending money on a near hopeless $13 dog, or cut our losses and put her to sleep?

We spent increasing amounts on hospitalization and all manner of tests, anything that might help her bear the odds. The vet worked two weeks to try to save her, and by then his staff had fallen in love with little Genevieve.

In the end, hundreds of dollars later, we faced reality.

On an otherwise ordinary afternoon, we held her and hugged her one more time, and let her go.

They say people who have pets live longer than folks who go through life without chewed shoes and clawed furniture. Overall, I’d say that’s right. Pets are good for the human heart, even if they do occasionally break them.

Rest easy, sweet Genevieve, faithful pal, $13 dog.

John L. Smith’s column appears Friday and Sunday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.