Meet Dexter (or, Lincoln’s Uncanny History with Pets)

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Chirping bird at 5AM--cute when you're five, and bored. When you're 18 and home on leave during Army Basic Training? Not so much.

When this weekend comes, it’ll mark two weeks of dog ownership in the Crisler house. I’ll introduce you to the little guy in a minute or two–but I’m certain most of you don’t understand what a milestone this is, both for me and my family as a whole. So bear with me a bit. Most of you read this ’cause you like my storytelling anyhow, right? Right?

Pets have always been a big deal in my life; sometimes a good one, sometimes not so much. When I was a child, I had a few. My first cat was named Frisky. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I remember him being taken away one day. After that (I don’t remember how much time elapsed) I got a bird for my birthday, a cockatiel named Sammy. My mother’s owned a couple other cockatiels since, and in my opinion, they’re much more enjoyable when you’re seven than when you’re seventeen. Sammy flew out the window one weekend while I was visiting my father.

Some time after Sammy took off for greener pastures, my mom and stepfather got me a turtle. I named him Dino, short for Donatello. My previous anecdotes indicate a poor history with animals, but up until now, none of the misfortunes were my doing. I can’t say the same for Dino. One morning before going to school, I turned up the water heater in his tank, thinking to make him more comfortable, and when I came home that afternoon, the water was too hot and poor Dino was dead.

I was mortified. Stricken with fear. My heart was a block of ice as my mother and stepfather tried to revive it in the bathtub with cool water. No bueno. How the heck was I going to own up to this one? Luckily, my mother, odd bird that she is (God love her) blamed the building super, a crotchety old woman who lived a floor below us and had a master key. Mom figured old Doris came in and did it, just to be a mean bitch. To this day, I’ve never told her anything different. You read it here first. To replace Dino, my mother got me a new turtle. I named him Mikey (after Michaelangelo). He had a mean temper and a tendency to snap, however, and we soon returned him to the shop.

My mom’s not this bad–but we knew a chick who was WORSE. At least a hundred cats–straight up–and all the associated filth you’d expect. And you folks wonder why I write the scary stuff.

My mother’s always had cats–multiple ones, copious amounts of cats–in the house from the time I was about 13 or 14, up until now. She’s the quintessential cat lady; lives alone, upwards of five cats in a one-bedroom apartment, pays to get them cremated when they die and keeps the ashes, etc. She’s always had good luck with her animals, though. She loves them, they love her, and they live long lives.

When I moved out for the second and last time at 17, I took my cat, Lucifer, with me. I rescued that cat from the yard next door to the home of my then friend-with-benefits, a girl named Katie, and named it after her until I discovered it had a scrotum. I had to leave Lucifer behind when I joined the Army. I hope my roommate took care of him. The guy moved out by the time I came home to visit after training. From 2000-2005, I had no pets–you can’t have them in military barracks, and the one attempt my ex-wife and I made at feline ownership ended (in less than 48 hours) in the cat running off into the woods during a pagan ritual after slipping the leash (Megan insisted on bringing it with us).

In 2005, Connie and her daughter (now my adopted daughter for over five years) Cheyann moved in with me in Watertown, when I got stationed at Fort Drum. Cheyann brought a cat, Mocha, with her, that she’d had since she was five. I tried to like Mocha. I really did. Mocha was a beautiful animal. But she hated everyone but Cheyann. I tried to get Connie to let me find it a good home, but Cheyann’s feelings came first. I was finally able to find Mocha a new home in 2010, while stationed in El Paso, Texas, when Cheyann grew unattached to the cat and it began urinating on furniture. To this day, it is one of my sweetest victories. Cheyann was fine with the cat’s departure, and she was in good hands less than twelve hours after I posted her on Craigslist. Everyone won.

Buy my books or the dog gets it.

In 2007, while still stationed in Watertown, Cheyann and I acquired a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy, to the tune of around a thousand dollars–the cost of the dog, it’s plane ride, roundtrip gas to New York City and back when I miscalculated the destination airport of choice and the vet bill for when Chupa (short for Chupacabra) ran under Connie’s feet while Connie was carrying a basket of laundry. Cheyann and I had wanted a Corgi for the past couple of years, since before we’d met, and we’d decided to get one after I came home from Afghanistan. A month later, I gave the bloody thing away to a neighbor after failing to housebreak it. In 2008 or -09, my brother-in-law brought us his dog to keep in El Paso when he could no longer house it. It dug out from under our backyard fence and ran away the next day while we were taking my mother-in-law to visit her childhood home in Albuquerque.

Before leaving El Paso in 2010, we bought a baby turtle which moved to Augusta, Georgia with us. We named him Pollo–Spanish for chicken. About a year after we got him, he ran away while I was cleaning his tank. Read that again, folks–my damn turtle ran away. I put him in the backyard, in my son’s water table so he could stay moist. It took me under fifteen minutes to clean the tank. No more Pollo.

Obviously, the Crislers aren’t meant to own pets. Cheyann and I have good intentions, but piss-poor luck. Connie doesn’t even like pets in the house, and only tolerated Mocha for Cheyann’s sake. The dogs and turtle acquired during our marriage each came with their own uphill battle.

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to try again, and Connie agreed to give it a try. I was shooting for a kitten–much easier to housebreak–but she shifted gears to a puppy overnight. My lovely wife actually did the legwork on finding us a kickass Doberman puppy–he looks to be 6-8 months old, but we’re not sure. Some country folk rescued him from a ditch and gave him to us for $25. He had bright eyes and good teeth and his coat shined after three back-to-back flea baths and brushings. So far, so good. And after a couple days of accidents, he learned to walk on a leash (I don’t think he’d ever been on one, before living with us) and is mostly housebroken. It took him a week or so to become fully confident, but he now barks when he hears other dogs in the distance, and when someone comes into the house unexpectedly (Chey had a really late night at work Tuesday).

So, meet Dexter. Cheyann named him, after the television serial killer whose show Connie and I have watched every episode of. I think this one’s gonna work out.

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