Roo's journey from Hell

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Roo's hometown, Los Angeles, is hell on dogs. For one thing, it's a traffic-jammed 120-mile-wide sprawl that spans the Pacific coast from Malibu to San Diego and spreads east like a chemical spill all the way to Palm Springs without interruption. There are countless towns and cities incorporated into it, but for 120 miles, it’s nothing but stoplights and strip malls.

Other than a few chain-link parks, there's nowhere for a dog to run free. On the north side of that 120-miles are some low mountains, and if you drive a couple of hours from downtown LA, where Roo was first captured and jailed as an undocumented dog, you can make your way to some trails where you might be able to get away with walking them off-lead, though it is illegal. If you try it on any of the trails nearby, you'll get yelled at by dozens of people — especially those whose frustrated dogs are a snarling bundle of pent-up energy straining at the ends of their leashes — and handed a $300 ticket by the paramilitary-style officers summoned to the scene of the crime by emergency cellphone calls.

Naturally, this has resulted in an underground trade among the more shifty-eyed breed of dog people in Los Angeles in which information about places where you might get away with letting a dog off the leash is trafficked. Information like that is harder to come by than a box of grenades. People don’t part with it easily because the minute too many dogs show up, the place gets shut down. One such place was a short, weedy trail near LAX. Originally built to service oil wells, and when those dried up to provide a convenient place to dump garbage, most of its half-mile is a crumbled, old road.

It’s a godawful place. The weeds there could only have been grown to become as tangled and pernicious as they have as a result of a major radioactive breech in the past. As soon as a dog gets off the path the gruesome vegetation closes in on them the way a Venus Fly Trap does on a fly. But, as my problem has always been not being able to stand to see a dog live their life at the end of a leash, this was the first place, other than a dog park, where Roo ran free. As a recently tortured inmate, it was the best place Roo had ever been. She loved it. She is a predator, and even though she had never been able to hunt, it was in this corner of Hell that she discovered her true identity. She never caught any mouses there, but I’m pretty sure it’s where she got the idea that such a thing was even possible, outside of the dreams she dreamed when she hid, terrified, behind a toilet.

Since the first descriptions of it in The Inferno, the chief symbol of hell, the characteristic that hung over all the circles of it, has been the stench of sulphur that attends the sneering Devil. It’s the perfect stuff for the Devil. It tortures people, but is as perfume to him. Which brings us to the above photograph of Puppy Roo.

I was warned that there might have been a sulphur pit somewhere near that trail, but I had never seen it and I forgot about it by the time Roo and I returned to LA for a short visit a few months after we left. There were few inches of muck, hardly a stream, just backwash of some kind in a few places in the rut beside the trail. But then, originating from someplace I couldn’t see deep in the tangles, I heard a splash. It didn’t sound like water and it didn’t sound like mud. More like paint. I could tell it was bad.

Everything they say about the stench of a sulphur pit is true. In fact, I’m not sure I believe this was a sulphur pit. More likely it was septic runoff channeled there by one of the new subdivisions springing up to house the crush of people forming in the area like fungus left to itself in a petrie dish in a lab where the experimenters have all been poisoned. But maybe it was just sulphur.

Roo stank more when she emerged from that pit than she had before or ever would again. If she had spent the day rolling in a field of newly-rotted skunks (an ambition of hers), you wouldn’t have been able to smell her over the stench of this dog. 

The worst thing was that there was no place to hose her off. Water is guarded too jealously in Los Angeles. There’s no such thing as a hose bib outside that anyone might let a random person with a filthy dog use. I got her back to the car and emptied out the back to confine her there so that the car, which had cloth upholstery, wouldn’t have to be sent to the crusher. After some frantic calls, I got her to a friend’s yard and a hose, where this stuff proved too tenacious to wash out. It clung to her for half an hour of bathing. Even then, the smell persisted, and later, I had to take her in the motel shower and endure so much shampooing that the hot water gave out.

That was it. No more Hell for the Kahoo. Roo’s journey from Hell was complete. After the sulphur bath, or whatever it was I was determined that from then on she would swim, swim often, but only the way a dog was meant to swim — in wild water, in streams and ponds and lakes and oceans.

She never looked back.