Stupid human trick strains friendship

Tuesday, April 28, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When I heard David Letterman's producer would be in town last weekend to audition dogs for "Stupid Pet Tricks," I called my friend Jan. "Why don't you take Marathon?" I said.

"Why don't you mind your own business?" she replied.

Things haven't been the same between us since I introduced her to Marathon, a Lhasa apso headed for the croaker. I, myself, met the dog in the SPCA parking lot on Colerain Avenue.

A cute, bargain dog

A woman, weeping piteously, was dragging a dirty white dog. This dog needed a bath, but he was cute. Very cute. The woman had not yet entered the building, so I sensed a potential bargain. Perhaps, I thought, we could reach a private arrangement, without engaging the services of the county.

The SPCA charges $69.75 to adopt a dog. This is actually a bargain already, as it includes a round of inoculations, worming, dog license, spay or neuter and a 30-day health guarantee. The woman in the parking lot said her dog was "very loving" except with her young son.

"Marathon has started snapping at him," she said, clearly puzzled.

Her son was bouncing a penny off the hood of my car, and I was feeling a little snappish myself. Then the little boy -- about 6 or 7 years old -- squatted down and twisted the dog's ear. The dog didn't bite, but he yipped. So did I.

The woman had been warned that because of the dog's history, he might not get a new home, but "they said they'd put him to sleep for $20. If you take him, you can have it." She pressed a crumpled 20-dollar bill into my hand.

Well, this was even better than a bargain. A rebate. My friend Jan was thinking of getting a dog. I telephoned from the SPCA office and described the dog to Jan's husband, Ed.

"No, thanks," he said.

I loaded Marathon into my car.

After bathing him, I told him there was one woman between him and doom and advised him to look as adorable as possible. He obligingly popped up into a begging position.

Jan fell in love with him, as I knew she would. Ed was already in love with Jan, so I figured she could get away with this. Plus, I told her, if things didn't work out she could use the $20 for its original purpose.

It has been 10 years since Marathon went to live with Jan and Ed, and they've never exercised their $20 option. They have shown remarkable restraint.

Marathon bites everybody now, not just people who twist his ear. A couple of years ago, he broke a hip when he was hit by a car. After the accident, Ed wore a flak jacket and leather gloves to carry Marathon outside. Then the dog had to be suspended from a sling while he performed his duty.

This went on for a month.

Marathon is allergic to nearly everything, and during a severe attack was on an IV for a week. This dog, Ed assures me, is no bargain. Even grooming is expensive because he needs to be muzzled and sedated.

"So just what trick do you think Marathon should perform for David Letterman?" Jan said. "Mounting a Rottweiler? He tried that last week, and nearly got us both killed."

I told her I was thinking more along the lines of that begging trick. So cute, I said.

"Look," she replied, "it's been a while since you've seen Marathon. He's deaf and incontinent. Or at least he pretends to be. But I'm glad you called."

Marathon has been a little low lately, and Jan and Ed believe that a change of scenery would be therapeutic. She says they'd like nothing better than to share their wonderful little dog with the woman who made it all possible. Me.

Ed says he'll drop the dog off at my earliest convenience. Marathon's travel kit includes special food that has to be warmed up, arthritis medicine, eye drops, a blanket and toenail scissors.

And, of course, a crumpled 20-dollar bill.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at