Matt Keenan — Before long, a houseguest becomes part of the family

04/01/2014 5:48 PM

04/01/2014 5:49 PM

Over the years I’ve become accustomed to many guests staying at our home. Most arrive over the college breaks and have the social habits of a possum.

And so the notion that one of the boys would bring another guest home for spring break barely moved the needle. Until I met him. He didn’t say much but sure was excited to meet me. He was Roy. A shepherd lab mix.

With a beautiful blonde-tan coat, broad paws like a teenager whose shoes foreshadow a growth spurt, Roy still had that adorable pup look. Yet you could almost see him grow before your eyes.

Adopted from a rescue shelter in Columbia, Mo., by my son Robert’s roommate, who hadn’t yet told his parents in St. Louis he is bringing home a new family member.

So Roy was hiding out with us for a couple days. Roy was very capable of adapting to our house, since he’d been living in a comparable environment since January: a fraternity at KU, whose leaders likewise were unaware of the four-legged occupant. In the meantime, Roy was ours.

And so on Saturday morning I took Roy out to take care of business. I got my first chance to get a sense for his personality. When you made eye contact, he tilts his head, ears spiked as if you were about to open a birthday gift. “Let’s go, Roy,” I said. He jumped to his feet and briskly walked to the door, “like an obedient, well-bred shelter dog,” Lori observed.

The wind was sharp and my time was limited. Roy walked ahead a few feet and stopped to look at me, as if I was going to do something. “Go potty —go,” I said. My loyalties were undivided to Bernie, who had been family for 12 years.

Roy saw something in the yard and ran about 10 feet and returned at my feet. In his mouth was a stick. I felt this wave of emotion as he waited for me take it. He was thinking of me when I was thinking of, well, you know. “This is no ordinary dog,” I said to myself. And I reached down and rubbed him between the eyes. The tail wagged furiously. He walked away and found another stick. This was a scene from a Far Side cartoon — he was thinking, “Hey old man — is that all you think about?”

Roy finally obliged me, and once inside I studied his bag of food, which travels with him, like a sack lunch packed by his nurturing owner. It described ingredients with bison, lamb meal, fruits and vegetables. Akin to a shopping list at Whole Foods. Something called Taste of the Wild, with “unique animal protein sources. Bison, lamb meal, sweet potatoes, egg product, pea protein, roasted venison, blueberries, raspberries, ocean fish meal.” That diet didn’t discourage Roy from chewing some socks, a ball of yarn and some blind cords. Maybe he needed some fiber.

But clearly this dog has come a long way from Harpo’s. As the weekend continued, Roy mingled with Bernie. It was like Roy walked in John Knox Village and started to push around a guy with the walker. The play was akin to sumo wrestlers, paws, jaws and fur mixing on the hardwoods. Bernie, with both knees reconstructed, had a decided disadvantage but wasn’t about to give his ground to some townie from MU country. Plus Bernie’s diet is largely soft foods fitting for her age — prunes, dates and stewed cabbage.

When Roy had left on Sunday morning, I asked Robert. “What’s the story with Roy?” And this is what he said: “The Columbia, Missouri, humane society found him on the side of the road as a puppy. He was malnourished and in a bad shape. My roommate’s sister volunteered there and noticed what a sweet dog he was and called her brother and said, ‘This dog needs a home. You should adopt him.’ And he did.”

For three days, Roy was part of our family. I miss that dog. We all do.

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