R.C. Hampton

Hi, my name is RC, and I'm puppy-whipped. So. Very. There, I've said it. I've been this way for ten months, and the medical community frowns and strokes its collective chin and then mumbles that they are pretty sure that my puppy-whipped condition is permanent and there's nothing they can do. That's okay. I know I brought it on myself.

Last May my whole life—the just-over-the-top perfect cripfag condo, uncluttered and nearly spotless; the perfect cripfag vacation schedule, Key West every three or four months; perfect cripfag muscle car; perfectly solitary cripfag living situation, all with dirtbag-me loving it all—my life got blind-sided and turned every which way.

And who would have thought that it all started with a little spot of baby bunny piss on the left thigh of my jeans, about the size of a quarter? Just like that, a baby bunny pisses on my lap and everything turns weird on me. Bunny piss to conjure with. I live in the middle of the city center, what passes for urban around here. Ground floor of my building there's a little earthy-crunchy, warm-and-fuzzy Hindu-imports-and-hippie-retro-shop, and once in a while I stop in. The little girl who was working there, a sweet thing with three lip-piercings, a nose ring, belly-button ring, magenta hair and a splashy sari, was pet-sitting her friend's new little baby bunny. The baby bunny had a pretty little pink collar and leash. I couldn't resist. I love animals.

So I held the bunny and the girl and I visited for quite a while. About sweet little bunnies. About all sorts of stuff. And bunnies some more. I have a chum who owns a pet store. I bombed out there to check out how appropriate a sweet little baby bunny would be for me. She told me that rabbits have to be caged all the time because they chew things. Constantly. Forever. She dropped an Australian Shepherd puppy in my lap, and, since she is best buds with my oldest friend, we had to visit a long while, too.

The puppy breath did it. Kicked in my longing for a dog. We always had a couple in the house while I was growing up. Later, I had a wonderful dog-bud. When I was in the Army I had a good dog, too, for a while, but we were always going on short-notice deployment, so I had to give him away. Then, after I became paralyzed, I shared a house with my mom and her dog. Move in here, and I'm thinking, No grass for many blocks. And it gets awful cold here. And it snows. A lot. Not good for walking a dog in a wheelchair (not the dog, fool. Me. I'm the paralyzed one). The climate here in the milo belt tends to extremes.

Reluctantly, I gave the pup back to my chum. On the way home I started thinking . . . One of my dogs, on the rare occasions when he was left home and had to take a crap, he went into the shower in the broken bathroom off of my studio. When I came home he'd make sure I knew he hadda do that. No prob. Crank open the shower and let it run a while. No more dog crap. Why couldn't I train a dog to do that? Next day I call the pet shop. The pup had been sold.

What happened was, I went to the Humane Society. I figured I wanted a young dog (easier to train), but not a real baby puppy likely to get its toes run over by my chair and run a real risk of permanent affliction just by trying to get close to me. I wanted one who didn't bark (while the walls are thick I do have neighbors. Barks indoors are loud), but wasn't afraid of what was going on around the kennel (don't need a 'fraidy-cat), one that wasn't pacing in its own mess (those're stupid), middle-sized (I wanted a working dog- after a fashion), a mixed-breed (they're smarter. Purebred dogs are often overbred, so they can be nervous and stupid, with serious health problems), and of course pretty is always nice.

There she was, aced the course: 4-to-6-months-old, she looked to be a mix of one of
the flavors of Border Collie
and German Shepherd.

She had been picked up off the streets. She looked at me with tempered interest, but didn't participate in the general delirium all around. I noticed that she had crapped in the very corner of the run. It wasn't real fresh and it was untrammeled. Fine-boned and leggy, she didn't have those big ol' paws that suggest she'd get much bigger, and she was drop-fucking-dead gorgeous. Plus, they had already gotten a vet to spay her.

They have a big room where they let you play with the dogs and get a feel for them, but several families were in line and the shelter was only open another hour. I didn't get to spend time with "my" dog, and I was still full of misgivings about what kind of sidekick I would be for her. Could I actually train her to use my third bathroom? (Yeah, there are three. And just one crip). Was I willing to put up with the inevitable problems? I have a whole lotta space up here, but if I have more than one other person with me for more than a few hours, I'm ready to climb the walls—and I don't do all that well with just one other person, as far as that goes.

I had other concerns, too. See, I was also covering my ass. I've been a para for thirteen years. I have been ruthless on my arms from the get-go and the docs have been wanting to cut on the carpal nerves in both wrists for twelve of those years. I have never been willing to take the risk of a failed operation just to keep my hands from numbness. I'm not even convinced that the operations are the answer to the nerve damage. Last February I had a fall that wrecked the ulnar nerve in my left arm. That adventure paralyzed, for all practical purposes, all digits except for my index and middle fingers, as well as part of my forearm. The neurologist said no more gym. Get this: "No movement of the shoulder or elbow." Oh, fuck me. I already told you, I live alone (duh), but a brace forever-and-always just wasn't workin' for me.

I compromised on modified hockey arm-gear. Hey! It distributes the insult of daily pressure on the ulnar equally along my forearm. As for the wrist and hand braces they have been trying to get me to wear for years, I had 'em made in black leather with lacings, so they look kinda like gauntlets. It soon became clear that the feeling and function wasn't coming back. My hand withered. I began to think . . . middle age has done come up on my ass with a vengeance and without the gym my physique will begin to soften in a most unwelcome fashion. Alright, so it already has. For years yet I had hoped to have young-uns say, "Hey, check out the big guns on grandpa." Alas, it is not, most probably, to be.

And so I started to think about a Task Dog, but, while there is a school for the blind a few blocks away and I see students with their new dogs often, and have known 'plegics with Task Dogs and know that those dogs do unwind a bit when off duty, I loathe the way they always look like organic appliances while they're working. I know that dogs, being more highly evolved beings than we humans and possessing a true desire to give service to the less spiritual, like to please.

But working dogs look like they hate it. They may be using their senses, all of them, but their body language is utterly foreign to the rest of dogdom. Ears that would ordinarily be moving, don't. Tails that would otherwise express their emotions, don't. They avoid eye contact. Their heads are held at an odd height. I would be wracked with guilt every time I saw my dog-friend looking like that. Anyhow, I was hoping to train my dog myself. I really don't need much now. Just a dog that's well behaved enough to go into restaurants, theaters, clinics and, well, everywhere. Picking up stuff I drop at the grocery store when I have the basket in my lap would be a bonus. I have had success training other dogs, although I suspect it was more them than me. If I proved to be utterly inept, by the time I need real help even I should be able to train the dog to meet my needs.

So, the next day I dragged my mom along with me when I went back to the shelter, to keep me from being rash—an exercise in virtue I seldom exhibit. After all, we had the dog's life to think of. We got to spend quite a bit of time with the dog, and she showed a keen intellect. She was quick. So quick. But I saw my mom giving me the eye to the negative. Regarding me, my mother is seldom wrong, to my everlasting regret. In the end, even with the propitious omen of the kennel worker being a baby dyke who recognized kith, I gave the dog back to them with a sinking heart. That was Monday.

Tuesday a couple of things happened that made me revisit my decision. First, I discovered in a big pet supply store that hospital chucks, which cost a good deal in medical supply stores, come in bales for not too much and are marketed as "Pee-Pee Pads". Then I stumbed on a product that some wonderful upscale Gen-X-er breeder had invented (no disrespect, you guys with kids), called "Diaper Genie". It's this cool canister with a snap-back top and a cartridge that holds what amounts to a mile of garbage bag. You wad up the diaper, stuff it into the Genie and spin the rim, twisting off the bag. No stink. No germs. Holds lots. The canister gets full, you take this swell plastic circular knife, spin it and cut the bag. Open the canister and pull out what amounts to a string of pearls. Drop it in the trash, no fuss no muss. I have an epiphany: even if I can't train the dog to go into the shower to take care of "bidness", so to speak, I can use the chucks in the "Diaper Genie"!

Taking this as a sure sign from God(dess/whatever), I buy the Genie, race to the pet supply store for the "Pee-Pee Pads" and bomb out to the shelter, certain that with these talismans, despite what a wonderful dog "my" dog was, nobody would have taken her. Ah-ha! The baby dyke was there again! And . . . okay everybody, exhale . . . so was the dog. I spent a lot of time in the family room, since there were no other people there looking for dogs. I had done my very best in the last two visits to charm the hell out of everybody who worked there, and they were anxious to tell me that while "my" dog had been called out a number of times, nobody liked her! The fools. I took her on a leash to see how she would or would not be distracted by the outdoors. She was faultless.

I just could not go away and leave this dog again.

There was the (nominal) cost to pay. I signed a contract about vets and shots and stuff. I learned about the ID chip implanted in her neck that was programmed to me. They gave me a swell "going home" care package.


After all this, I was certain of one thing: no trips to Key West any time too soon. I had not the slightest idea how to get there with a dog. It's hard enough to fly in with a wheelchair, and I will not abide putting a dog in the baggage compartment. I always stay at a place in Key West called Big Ruby's, and love it. To focus my attention right here and on the dog, I named her Ruby.

Immediately we began our training. I needed a full-service word that would mean a number of things: heel, let's go, stop it, turn left, turn right, pay attention. Chose it, and began using it. The second word we needed was something that would serve as sit, lay down, and most important: stop behaving in a manner that was perfectly alright for a dog, but not one riding in a car driven by a man using hand controls who could not reach over and grab a pup who was just sticking her nose where it would do the most harm and who might get tumbled if I had to make a sudden turn or stop. Again, Ruby was a natural. Most of the stress on the way home was because I couldn't believe she could be this good at riding. I had been prepared for anxiety or puking or, well, a whole list of things.

We made a stop at my chum's pet store. I called from the lot and she came out to meet Ruby and admire her. I asked Tina to set us up with whatever we would need for a while. Her choice of the best brand of dry food, toys, stuff. Tina fitted us out right. She also gave us the "family" discount, and by that I didn't know whether she meant that I was part of my oldest friend's family and hers as well, or whether she was speaking of "Family," since she is a big ol' dyke herself.

We went home. Ruby was cautious of the heavy doors coming in from the parking garage and skywalk. In the elevators, which are fast, I was braced for trouble that did not come. We live on the ninth floor, almost the top. Our building is the second or third tallest residential building in town (go ahead and laugh, big-city boys. I do). But from here you can see virtually clear across the state and to Denver. The prairie is about that interesting, but I digress. I always do.

We settled in to get aquatinted. And to learn from one another. Wednesday we didn't go out. I discovered that Ruby didn't like to get brushed. Not because she didn't like the feel of it. Until she saw that it was a brush I was using she was fine. Suddenly she was a frightened mess. Not only was it the brushness of the thing. I found that while she didn't like any brush, she was truly undone by square ones. I began to suspect some abuse issues. She caught the idea of the bathroom pretty quick, but she most certainly would not consider the shower. It wasn't the smell. It wasn't that she didn't want to please. In fact, when she caught the idea of anything, she was joyous. Again, it seemed to be shape. That shower is boxy and about the size of a closet. She quaked and cowered, which I had already seen was not her natural tendency.

This place is as large in square footage as many houses, but it's mostly open, since doors not only offend my sense of space but I have little use for them and they are a bother to open and close. Because Ruby's bath has more than one door it couldn't be closed into a discrete unit. So on Thursday I decided to put her in the "company" bathroom while I went to the abilities expo that was opening a few blocks away. I was not ready to test Ruby in large crowds, and neither trusted the furniture to her yet nor the bathroom gig. The company bathroom is generous and well lighted. I shut her in and took off. I was gone a little less than two hours. When I came home and opened the bathroom door, the fastidious Ruby was a horrified, panicked, filthy mess. It appeared that the moment I shut the door every sphincter in her poor little body opened, and she had paced circles through it all. We cleaned up, while I reassured her. I had to go to the store across the street to get a scrub mop and a big brush. I really had little choice than to do the awful thing and shut her up again, but I loved on her and petted her and calmed her in the room first, and assured her I would be right back as I shut the door. I spoke soothingly to her for a while after I shut the door so she wouldn't think she was bad. After all, I reasoned, she had to be all out of shit. I was sadly mistaken.

When I returned in about fifteen minutes, it was a repeat performance. I cleaned her as best I could, and she wouldn't stay out from under me while I cleaned up the mess. Clever me . . . I had begun to deduce a pattern. I suspected that wherever she came from she had been punished with a brush and shut in either a closet or small room, or a crate and left there. I can't imagine what kind of person would treat such a loving creature that way. I vowed never to leave her home alone again if I could help it at all. I have read many training books and I always seethe when I read in almost every one that the responsible dog owner will crate the dogs when they leave them at home, and that all dogs, really, like this. They feel safe. Not my little girl! The only other time Ruby has been shut in the bathroom was when, after she had been with me for three or four months. I had a medical emergency and had to call 911. I had hoped she could come with me, but I lost that round. By then the chief reason she had to be shut up was that she wouldn't leave me and they couldn't haul my ass outta here with her under the wheels of the stretcher.

That Friday, seventy-two hours after I brought her home, she was completely self-assured in the convention room in a crowd of hundreds. Loud noises, kids, wheelchairs, power chairs. She was great. I've always had to get by on whatever charm I could manage. Now that I feel mine ebbing she steps in and does it for me. And she just keeps on getting better.

We have used some professional trainers for a few things. Mostly ideas. I don't have all the things I might want Ruby to learn thought up. And we needed to get her some nose time with other dogs. She really is starved for other dog company, so we needed a little help in the socialization thing. At first she was so happy to see other dogs she would lose a little of the attention she pays me. She doesn't like to be out of line of sight of me, or very far away. We worked on stretching that a little. It took me a few tries before I found the right trainers. Most of them do the "You are the Alpha Leader" Nazi thing. I wanted a partnership. I want a friend, I don't want an employee. If I wanted that shit I'd have hired a nurse.

There have been problems.

Although she wasn't real bad at it, she was a chewer. Still is, but she has learned what not to chew on. All things considered I have gotten off pretty light.

My furnishings are mostly glass, stone, iron and some bamboo stuff, but there are also three hefty leather couches, two of them white. If I had any carpet there would have been some cost there. She trashed the rug under the dining table, but it wasn't much of a rug to start with. She wrecked the edges of one of those little video rocking chairs, but I never cared for that, either. She chewed some bed sheets. She ate my cell phone. The only big-ticket item she ruined was a pair of Sony Glasstrons.

Then there was the morning I woke up and had to perform emergency abdominal surgery on myself because she chewed the inflation valve off of my indwelling catheter and it came out of the stoma. They told me years ago when they installed it that if the catheter was ever out for more than twenty-minutes-to-half-an-hour they'd need to reinstall it surgically. Mine had plainly been out for hours. I figured that if I could do it myself there would be no need for the ambulance and a hospital stay in Omaha. I would have to go through the skin (in an area I can feel just fine, thank you), the fascia between there and the muscle, the bladder. The hole was already there, I just needed to line everything up again.

Called my mom and told her what I was gonna do, and to stay on the line. If it went badly she could call the paramedics while I worked on damage control. I did it. It wasn't all that bad. The trouble was, "Whatcha doin'? How come? Can I sniff? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Really ? Why're you makin' faces? Can I sniff now ? Are you mad? What's this? Is that blood? Can I sniff?"

One night she buried a bone under my ass. A well chewed one with sharp edges. I suppose at the time it seemed like a good idea. To keep it safe from the hands or mouths of the ravening hoards of feral dogs or vandals or general sneak-thieves that might slip though triple security doors, sneak up nine floors and creep into my bedroom without waking either one of us. So, when I woke up in the morning and sat up and stretched double to work out the kinks I was rubbing the flesh against that sharp bone with my full weight, never realizing. The skin was not actually broken. Very much. Which was good, but it needed some nursing and attention paid to it.

For you guys out there who are not paralyzed, something like 50,000 crips die every year from problems secondary to skin integrity breakdown. By that I don't mean that they spy a pimple on their asses and go, "Oh my God! I see a pimple on my ass! I'm light-headed... having trouble breathing... (gasp, gasp) gotta... call... 9... 11. Must... must hurry (gasp, gasp). Pain in my chest... (gasp, hack). This is it... the end... finito... (oh, fuck! If I croak now my roomie will get all my poppers!)." No. What happens is that when you have skin breakdown below your line of paralysis where the ability to heal is compromised, even a tiny sore can blossom into a nasty one that quickly lands you in the hospital, where the microbes are tougher. Also, lying around an awful lot puts you in line for one of the several flavors of pneumonia, and that, then, would be just one of the several things that can shake you loose from this mortal coil. I refuse to die a lingering death because a puppy stuffed a bone under my ass.

Apart from the chewing there is the clutter. Before Ruby came to me this place wasn't cluttered or dirty. Since I find housework tedious, distasteful and difficult, it makes better sense to not make a mess in the first place. With the coming of cold weather Ruby has started shedding. Although she doesn't look frowsy, she has turned into a one-dog fluff factory. I could fill a bag a day with the stuff. She doesn't eat enough each day to crank out that much hair. I can't keep up, so I have let my standards slide. There is hair all over everything. That constant feel of something very akin to having a cock-hair stuck at the back of your throat. I've been thinking of reading up on spinning and weaving. I would be able to turn Little Bit into a cottage Industry all by herself.

I don't tend towards good organization, so there has always been a certain amount of clutter on my desk, around my computer, and on the sideboard. With Ruby's stuff scattered all around I have just kinda . . . let my stuff pile up too. This place is big. It will take a while for the clutter to overwhelm everything.

There've been a couple of speed bumps in her toilet regime. As it happens, being pretty active, the only bowel routine that works for me is the go-get-it gig. Second advisory for you non-'plegics: being paralyzed means I not only cannot control my bowels, I can't feel them, either. Three times a day I sit on the can and put on a glove and go up in there and drag out whatever I find. In a rare stroke of convenience, Ruby's guts work on exactly the same schedule. As I've said, she caught the right idea from the beginning. However, after she was here maybe four months she decided that she had to crap at a certain spot in the living room. Always. I tried ignoring it, aside from cleaning it up. I tried scrubbing the floor with nasty-smelling stuff. I tried hollering. Ruby's confusion was evident. She was distressed that I was not happy with what she was doing, but equally sure that her line of thought was the right one. After a few weeks, I don't know what happened inside her head, but she got right back on track again, and there were no problems for months.

Then one afternoon after a spell of bein' cooped up in here by the weather we had an evening where we had several new people up. A realtor had approached me about selling this place. Hey, the guys got the money I want, maybe. Bring 'em up.

Ruby was beside herself, since she loves company. All three people, the woman realtor and a pair of gay men a little older than me. Poor little Ruby was so eager to make the acquaintance of all that she just crouched and pissed copiously all over as if to say, "Hey! I'm Ruby and this is what I smell like. Please feel free to step up and take a sniff. I will be circulating the room slipping my nose up your butts and doing my best to engage you all in conversation. If you would like a refreshing beverage please ask the cripple, since I am not only too short to reach either the glasses or the refrigerator door, but he has the thumbs in the family anyway."

Her toys. Her many, many toys. So very many. I can't help but notice that a whole lot of them look like they came from the Doc Johnson workshop. Chew bones look a great deal like dildos of various sundry sorts, sizes and weights, and the "Monster Kong Chews" look a whole lot like enormous triple-ripple butt-plugs. I know, I know, I need to get out more.

Then there are the squeak toys. Gotta hate 'em.

Somebody figured that if we could put a man on the moon, we should be able to make an immortal squeaker, and did, to my endless anguish.


One of them is stereo, and looks and sounds like what might have happened if Barnum & Bailey and the Three Stooges got together and designed a double-header dildo. Big bumpy nubs in neon colors all over the head, with squeaks a couple of notes apart. This is truly sick. One of Ruby's squeaks I got because its little rubber spines solved the brushing problem. It is her toy, and not square, and since she plays with it Ruby doesn't have trouble with it. The little rubber spines grab the hair real well. The exact same thing isn't in stock anymore, so I got a little football that had similar properties. But the damned noise! I decided it had to die. I tried to stab it to death with a sharp knife, but the rubber kinda heals. I went for the squeaker itself. What's happened is that when you squeeze it, it doesn't squeak any more, but when you let go it makes this awful wheezing wail. I feel guilty for having tried to assassinate a fucking squeaky toy! Finally, however, Ruby gets the bang for the buck from tennis balls and socks.

Ruby does things with a real intensity. "Did you say we're going somewhere? Okay! Yes, lets go. Lets really go! Did you ask if I want to play ball out in the hall? Yes! Lets play. Lets really play ball! Did you want to lounge? Okay, lets lounge. Lets really lounge. On the vary rare occasions when she actually barks, they are intense vocalizations that just burst forth before she can catch them.

Ruby loves with as much intensity as she does anything else. She's the ideal companion and playmate. I don't think that I've had sex in twenty years for any reason other than to get somebody to nibble my neck and ears for a while. Ruby does that a lot. She can lick an ear without doing that nasty wet-willie thaing that people do. And, while she uses her hands a lot, lacking a thumb she can't use a pen, so she can't bounce any checks off of my account.

Ruby is, simply, joy.

©2001 R.C.Hampton


R.C. Hampton, former hustler, former dancer, former dirt-bag street-creep, former entrepreneur X 3, former soldier, former bi-ped, lives in Nebraska, where he is settling into an early and tenuous geezerhood.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2001