The details are fuzzy. But somehow I was roped into abandoning the solitude of my little townhouse to dog-sit a 180-pound Great Dane named Zeus and his "little" sister, Elsa, for a week. They are massive. Zeus's head is the size of a car tire. Their presence is heralded by the shaking of heavy furniture and the rattling of china in the kitchen. Barking is serious; it's the booming staccato of a broken fog-horn.
My initial concern was washed away in a slobbery wave of welcome, and our first few days together went well. Elsa took possession of a stray red sand bucket and refused to let anyone else touch it, although she desperately wanted attempts to be made. Zeus stranded himself on the sofa several times, as it's surrounded by a sea of slick wooden floors. He can get aboard, but his legs slide out from under him when he tries to debark. At first I put a small rug by the couch but traded it in for the large one in the kitchen when Zeus's foghorn at 2:37 one morning alerted me to the fact that the small rug was insufficient.
Saturday evening, I raced through dog chores, hoping to catch the symphony in town. I dumped food in the doggie bowls, propped open the door to the mudroom, ran down the narrow basement stairs to grab my car keys, galloped back upstairs - and was brought up short by a horse with his two front paws on the top step.
Elsa and Zeus can only reminisce about their primes. It never dawned on me that either dinosaur would forgo food to leave the mudroom, cross the kitchen, and maneuver their massive bulk in a 90-degree arc to line themselves up with the basement stairs - in 30 seconds. Zeus did.
What does one do with a huge, slobbery, shedding dog who seems incapable of backing up? Especially when you are wearing nice clothes and have so far remained Great-Dane-hair and slobber-free?
Here's what I should have done: whip off my black sweater (the dogs are a fawnish tan), prop my shoulder under his chest, and hoist from my knees.
Here's what stopped me: Zeus's teeth are big and his jaws are well-muscled. An older dog who has probably never been lifted in his life might not appreciate it now. Plus, I didn't think of it. Letting him descend the stairs with the idea that he'd turn right around and go back up seemed logical and feasible.
Zeus had gravity working with him on the way down. But going back up didn't seem like such a hot idea to him. He shuffled around, exploring, waggled his stub of a tail at me and, after venturing to the bottom stair, turned around and lay down on the carpet. I cooed, clapped, yelled, begged, scolded, encouraged, pulled, and pushed on his hulking, immobile form.
Leaving him downstairs with the basement door open seemed like a good idea, except that Elsa was still up there. Having one dog stuck in the basement was marginally better than two. Also, Zeus had just had some dinner. Expediting his arrival in the great outdoors was prudent.
Four hours later, having missed the symphony, I was getting desperate. Elsa had already been out twice on errands of necessity. Zeus snored on in the basement. I hunted for a weapon to combat his inertia, and found it in a jumbo package of bacon. I chopped up some greasy tidbits and left one morsel on every stair. Zeus got right up and gobbled every chunk - up to the fifth stair. Now his stature couldn't help him further. He snuffled and licked the empty air, leaned as far as he could, stretched his neck as far as it would go, stuck out his tongue to its very end, to no avail. He hadn't climbed a single stair.
A dog that won't make the leap for bacon is going nowhere fast.
So I skipped his palate and went straight for his gut. Having found an old towel in the basement, I looped it under his belly and heaved with all my might. Zeus remained stationary.
There was only one thing left to do: Go to bed.
The next morning, Zeus still lay in an immobile heap on the basement carpet. After putting his breakfast and water right by his face, I helplessly withdrew. Soon, though, Zeus stood patiently before a food bowl that had been licked clean and a water dish that looked decidedly slobbered in. He was calm as I hugged and patted him, telling him what a marvelous, perfect little doggie he was, that God could've started and stopped with him, and that every doggie wishes he were a Zeusy doggie.
Now it was just after 11 Sunday morning. Zeus and Elsa's owners had left an emergency number that seemed appropriate to call after 16 (accident-free) hours in the basement. Help arrived soon, and I'm pleased to report that my belly-sling idea was incorporated into the rescue plan. Two of us slung the towel underneath Zeus's belly while another person pulled on his leash. We carried and dragged Zeus up the stairs, through the house, and straight outside.
Things have been quiet since then. Elsa will occasionally stomp on Zeus when he's sleeping in her spot, and I often feel like a rowboat between two ocean liners as I sit in a deck chair reading when other creatures clearly think I should be patting them. Soon these will all be pleasant memories: the comforting sounds of enormous scary-looking canines snoring outside the bedroom door; Elsa rolling her eyes as she stands just out of reach with her prized red bucket; the way Zeus wags his tail so hard he can't walk straight. And I'll return to the boring quiet of my little townhouse.