Let me tell you something about Barley. My wife and I, we love him. We really do. But if someone asked us directly why we love him, theyâd hear a long, awkward moan or laugh and then possibly a half assed answer. Let me explain.
Barley is a pedigreed Basset Hound. He was an adorable puppy with his long, chubby body and short legs. He slobbered when you scratched his floppy Dumbo ears and blinked his droopy eyes that were cartoonish big in this sad, dependent way. He waddled when he ran, kind of like an old man holding up baggy pants because his skin sagged in layers over his stumpy legs. My wife and I would hold each other and giggle until he reached her arms and licked her cheek with an enthusiasm that canât be faked.
But then Barley grew older.
Instead of being the playful hound who tripped over his own paws, nipped at butterflies and nudged my thigh when I held a leash in my hand, he retired to the grass in the backyard where he sat and licked his balls until even I felt chaffing. But sometimes heâd just sit….and bark.
Barleyâs bark wasnât an obnoxious bark by any means. It wasnât like a high pitched poodleâs yap or the loud foreboding cough of a Rottweiler. No, Barleyâs bark was slow and methodical, the dog-equivalent of a stutter if you will- and time itself threatened to stop every time he opened his mouth or pursed his lips to let loose a long and interminable Woooooooooooof.
It wasnât long before Barley was barking at pretty much anything that moved like fluttering leaves in the wind, the neighborâs cat or the lizards that scurried along our fence. We could hear the woof constantly, usually breaking the midnight silence, slow and devastating like a dripping faucet.
We tried putting peanut butter in his dog food and letting him into the house at night to sleep, but nothing worked. He would still sit in the leaving room and when the lights of cars ran across the windows, sure enough, he would woof to his heartâs content until one of us turned the light on and clamored downstairs to see what was the matter. We tried feeding him a heavy meal before bed or dowsing his water with sleep aids during the day, but he would still just sat in the grass and woof.
Finally our neighbors began complaining, saying they could hear him even when he was inside the house and theyâd rather sit through a high school marching band rehearsal than spend another day having their quiet time interrupted by Barleyâs woof.
Thatâs when my wife decided to go with Barley to obedience school. We had never really trained Barley to do much more than sit, so we thought a little exercise and interaction might keep him happy and thus discourage the incessant woofing.
My wife was optimistic at first. âHeâll be great,â she said. âThis is exactly what Barley needs. Heâll be much better, just watch.â Of course I snickered when she said this, but I gave her a kiss goodbye none the less and lied when I said, âI believe you honey, have fun.â
My pessimism must have jinxed Barleyâs progress because sure as shit, he proved how he was just as stubborn as my wife. âHe would just sit there,â my wife ranted as we sat and ate dinner in front of the TV. âHe wouldnât move or do anything and he just barked at the other dogs.â
âUh huh,â I muttered as I chewed on dry chicken and overcooked vegetables, products of my wifeâs special cooking.
âAre you listening to me?â she asked.
âOf course honey.â
âThe trainer would tell us to walk our dogs and tour the store while they showed us what we should be feeding them and Barley just wouldnât move. Heâd just sit and stare at me with that…face!â
âYou know honey, you could always just quit. If heâs going to bark, heâs going to bark,â I said.
âNo,â she said and she got all worked up, poking at her vegetables with her fork like she was stopping them from jumping off the plate. âWeâre going back and damnit, if we have to stay after everyone leaves, heâs going to walk around that store and lay down when I tell him.â
Itâs a rule as a married man to agree with his wife, regardless of how he thinks sheâs wrong or is waisting her time. Itâs hard to watch, but all I can do is remain mute or Iâll spend the night getting the scowl as we crawl into bed and a silent treatment for the next three days. I love my wife, so I know when to shut up. âAlright honey,â I said.
Barley never did come around. He sat through the classes and yanked his head away from my wife when she tugged on the leash and he refused to do anything other than sit …and woof. It was all my wife could do not to lose her temper, but she kept her wits about her, God bless her. But boy, was she heart broken and lit up like a fire cracker on graduation day when the trainer handed out the certificates to the other dog owners and congratulated them on how well their dogs did until he finally reached my wife. He stared at her concerned, shook his head and said, âI suggest you and Barley come to the next class.â
That night, I rubbed my wifeâs shoulders so sheâd feel better, but she just ranted on and on about how she thought the trainer was an âinexperienced quitter who didnât give Barley a chance.â Meanwhile, as she squabbled on, Barley sat outside and pointed his head at the stars and woofed to his heartâs content. âGod, why wonât he stop with the barking!â she shouted and in that moment it seemed that my wife gave up.
âDo you think we should get rid of him?â she asked as I continued to rub her shoulders and tried to mentally drown out the woofing by visiting my happy place – a lake near Mt. Shasta where the catfish were as big as….
âWhat was that honey?â I asked.
âDo you think we should get rid of him?â
Here, now she put me in a rough spot. There were no right answers to questions like these. If I agreed, I was being cold and quitting on our dog. If I didnât, I was arguing with her and would spend the night on the couch.
âUm…â I muttered. Usually the only way to get out of this one was to answer a question with a question. âWhat do you want to do honey?â
âLetâs find him a home,â she said and that was that. We put an ad on Craigâs List and Basset Hounds must be a popular breed because we had five offers to adopt him within two days of posting the ad. I admit I was a little sad. I liked Barley, I did. Though his woofing as pleasant to the ears as the tapping of a pen on a desk, it was the only thing that distracted me from my wife.
We finally picked a couple and emailed them to come pick up Barley. Well, my wife did. Iâm not much for the computer nonsense. But I sat outside with Barley under the patio in the backyard and sipped a beer while he leaned against my leg and drooled on my shoes. But itâs okay because they were the shoes my wife bought me last Christmas. I pulled at the layers of loose skin that hung off his neck and he panted in agreement. Not once did he woof while we sat.
Once the couple arrived, Barley put on a show. He got all excited and ran up to them. He licked their faces as they knelt down and bounced about an inch off the ground, an act that reminded me of an overweight pig trying to reach the bucket of slop being poured into itâs trough. It made me laugh, but then again I felt slightly bitter, since he hadnât acted that way around us in years. Itâs like he knew.
âSo do you like him?â my wife asked, looking at them with a huge smile and she spoke with a tone that was much too friendly.
âWhy are you giving him away?â the girlfriend asked. I found it much too ironic that both the boyfriend and I were silent as if we both knew the sad truth that we had no say in the adoption of Barley.
âOh,â my wife said as she pulled at her hair and twirled it in her finger. âWeâre moving to a retirement community and weâre not allowed to have dogs there.â I looked at her in disbelief, not because of the lie but that she admitted we were close to retirement age which made me wonder if we were going to have to move into a retirement community. I nodded in agreement and wrapped my arm around her shoulders, trying to muster a smile.
âWhat do you think of him?â the girlfriend asked. Her boyfriend nodded and gave Barley a slight pat on the head. âI love him,â he said with a quivering voice as he bounced his eyes up to me. âGreat,â she said, âWeâll take him.â
That night, my wife and I laid on our sides of the bed and my wife slept soundly, more soundly than I had seen her sleep in years, as the silence made the house stand still and I strained even to hear cars on the road in front of the house. I poked my wifeâs shoulder to make sure she was asleep before creeping downstairs, grabbing a beer from the fridge, and sitting on the patio. I gazed at Barleyâs empty food dish and chuckled to myself as I noticed a slight indentation in the grass, Barleyâs favorite place to sit. I chuckled and drank beer until I began to doze, and only then did I shuffle up the stairs and go to bed.
Well, not five minutes before my alarm went off to go to work, I thought it heard the strangest thing, a long, low wooooooof that sounded like…Barley? I sat up in my bed and remained still, waiting to hear it again and wouldnât you believe it, another woof like Barleyâs. My wife heard it too and she sat up beside me. We looked at each other the way criminals do when they realize theyâve just been caught.
The woofing continued as we jumped out of bed at the same time and ran downstairs until we reached the sliding glass door and there sat Barley, in his spot on the grass, woofing. The back gate was swung open. They must have come after we went to bed. I looked at my wife. She was crying. I was laughing.