Salty Dogs

Written By: Gary  Shiebler

Two years after my last great summer in Montauk, I got married. My new bride, Linda, a San Diego native, had also fallen in love with the east end of Long Island and we decided to hold our small, mostly family-attended marriage ceremony in the beautiful white Presbyterian church on Main Street in East Hampton. It was a perfect spring day in May.

We also chose to have the wedding reception at my old stomping grounds and former workplace, Gurney’s Inn. There’s something quite redeeming about being on the other side of a table where you’d once obediently cleared dishes and served German chocolate cake to bossy patrons on summer vacations. Besides, how could I pass up the package deal they’d offered me for a custom wedding cake, seafood appetizer bar and a prime rib dinner entrée?

As an alternative to a honeymoon vacation, we rented a small weekend cottage for the summer within walking distance to Ditch Plains Beach. On our way back to the cottage from the reception, the muffler fell off my grandmother’s 1967 yellow Ford Fairlane, which we’d chosen to use as a hip alternative to traveling by limo. I can still see Linda standing in the middle of that greasy Texaco garage in her white wedding dress as a couple of mechanics did their best to fix the problem. Once back on the road, we headed down to the docks to grab a late-night snack and a couple beers. While sampling a platter of fresh little necks on the half-shell, Linda promptly cracked one of her rear molars on a rogue piece of shell.

“I hope this isn’t a precursor of things to come,” she said, while feeling around the back of her mouth with her finger. It wasn’t. This year we celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary.

Towards the end of that first summer together, Linda and I started talking about getting a dog. Since we’d be spending most of our time in the city, Linda strongly lobbied for a smaller breed. Having grown up with shepherds and golden retrievers, I wasn’t very open to the idea.

“A medium-sized dog, maybe…” I said reluctantly.

On a trip to the IGA market in Montauk, we saw a sign tacked to the bulletin board just inside the automatic doors: “Free to good home. Six husky/lab-mix puppies. Can view at Montauk Marine Basin.”

“Wanna go take a look?” I asked.

“Sure,” Linda replied.

A word to the wise-if you’re not serious about getting a dog, never take a trip, anytime or anyplace, to see six puppies. Odds are that you’ll be going home with something furry in your lap. Such was the case with our trip down to the marina. Problem was, we left with the wrong one.

Home of some of the biggest shark fishing tournaments in the country, the Montauk Marine Basin was a short drive from our cottage. When we arrived, we were directed by a couple fishermen through a maze of dry-docked tuna and charter boats to a small outbuilding where the puppies lived. A salty old gal wearing rubber overalls greeted us.

“You here to see the puppies?” she asked, casually lighting a cigarette.

“Yes, we are,” I said.

“Well, c’mon,” she said. “They’re right over here.”

Sporting a noticeable limp in her left leg, she motioned us to follow her around the corner of a weathered fishing shack that was surrounded by aging lobster pots and orange buoys to where the puppies were kept in a small, makeshift wire-fenced enclosure. They were all sleeping in a great big heap in the center of their little yardlet.

“C’mon you lazy rascals. Time to wake up. You’ve got company!” she barked.

One by one, they uncurled themselves from the pile. Some stumbled sleepily over to the half-empty water bowl; others waddled over to the fence to see what all the fuss was about.

“Three males, three females,” she said while lighting another cigarette.

A cute little puppy with tan eyebrows trotted right up to my extended had, tail wagging. Sometimes it can be as easy as that. She was the one.

“They’re all available except that one,” she said, pointing to my first choice that was now gently nibbling my fingers. “She’s heading out to sea on Thursday. Gonna be a tuna dog,” she laughed.

“A tuna dog? I asked.

“Yep, a tuna captain picked her out yesterday,” she said. “How are your sea legs, little rascal?” she joked while tussling the pup’s floppy ears. He shied away in protest.

Needless to say, I was disappointed but went about the task of finding another.

“How about that one?” Linda asked, pointing toward the corner where an ink-black puppy sat all alone. She was smaller than the rest of the litter.

I walked over and gently scooped her up.

“It’s all right little girl,” I said, trying to comfort her as she trembled in my arms. I’ve always had a soft spot for the ones that are most afraid.

“You want her?” the old sea gal asked rather gruffly.

“Yes, we’ll take her,” I said.

“Good luck,” she said and disappeared around a stack of lobster pots.

Curled up like a pincushion in Linda’s lap, we drove back to the cottage where she immediately disappeared under the bed. I tried coaxing her out but she wouldn’t budge.

“Maybe she just needs a little time to adjust,” Linda said.

I’ve been around some insecure puppies and dogs in my life, but this little girl was inconsolable. Despite my tireless attempts to soothe and reassure her, she whined and cried the entire night, a steady, unyielding series of high-pitched wails and howls of fear and dismay. I was sure that there was something else going on with the little puppy that we’d named “Allison” (after Allison Portchnick from Woody Allen’s classic film “Annie Hall.”)

“I think we need to bring her back to her littermates,” I said the following morning after a night of little or no sleep. We drove back to the marina and immediately saw Rosie the Riveter moving some crates around with a forklift.

“Back again?” she said lighting up a cigarette.

I explained what had happened the night before and how she might need to be adopted out with one of her litter mates.

“You’re probably right,” she grumbled as I handed Allison back to her. “She’s damn near scared of her own shadow.”

She plopped Allison down in the enclosure and she quickly burrowed into the safety and familiarity of the furry mound of her brothers and sisters sleeping in the corner.

“Listen, about that other puppy that the tuna captain wants…”

“Take her,” she interrupted. “He backed out yesterday five minutes after you left.”

Sometimes, “it was meant to be”, takes a little work.

 

A few weeks later, we stopped at IGA to pick up some odds and ends and saw a young woman taking down the original “free puppies” sign we’d answered.

“Did they all find homes?” I asked while grabbing a shopping cart. She turned around and smiled.

“As a matter of fact, they did,” she replied. “Somebody even adopted a pair of them.”

Allison. A warm feeling of relief washed over me.

“My wife and I adopted one of the females,” I said. “We named her Squeeze.”

“After the band?” she asked.

“Yep,” I replied. “Kind of a silly name, I guess.”

“Well, at least they’re a really good band,” she laughed. “How’s it working out?”

“Oh, she’s perfect,” I said, lying a bit. “She does have some separation anxiety issues, though.”

“I’m not surprised,” the young woman replied, while stuffing the faded sign in her jacket pocket.

“Why do you say that?” I queried.

“Her mother was killed two days after they were all born,” she said. “We had to hand-and-bottle feed the entire litter for six weeks.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” I said quietly, thinking about Allison.

“Well, it was nice talking to you,” she said turning towards the parking lot.

“Same here.”

“Oh, by the way,” she called out while removing a flyer from her windshield. “Who showed you the puppies?”

“Some salty and cranky older woman,” I replied.

“Ha!” she laughed. “That would be my mother. She’s a piece of work, isn’t she?”

.“Yep,” I smiled. “She sure is…”