pet parenting

Remus, the Dog Who Thinks Trash is Food

Well-behaved dogs rarely make history. 

Or at least, I think that's the quote. Either way, it applies to Remus, my 2-year-old Chocolate Lab who is half-terror and half-hilarious. 

When we brought Remus home two years ago, the weekend after Thanksgiving, he immediately helped himself to a razor in the bathroom. I found him on his little bed, with bleeding gums and a guilty face. He hadn't swallowed a blade, but he got time in the kennel anyway. 

Since then, this everything Remus has eaten, to my knowledge: 

  • So much toilet paper
  • Cotton balls, all of them, even the ones soaked in acetone 
  • Paper
  • Coffee grounds
  • An entire banana peel, except for the stem
  • Styrofoam
  • The metal piece off a manilla envelope
  • Several toys, including one of hard plastic
  • A tampon
  • A panty liner wrapper
  • At least five dryer sheets
  • All of the lint that I remove from our dryer

Garbage cans are irresistible to Remus in the way a big plate of donuts are irresistible to most humans. They are his appetizer, his snack cupboard, his everything. Even when I am right there, he will stick his head into the trash can and sniff around. 

Things came to a head over the weekend. On Saturday morning, I noticed a disturbance in the master bathroom. Mainly, the trashcan was considerably... emptier since the night before. As I was doing laundry a few minutes later, I noticed that the trashcan in the laundry room was also... really empty. Hadn't I emptied the lint container at least twice in the last week? 


We think he ate about 15 cottonballs, multiple q-tips, and several pieces of floss, as well as a fair amount of lint. I was mainly concerned about the floss -- I mean, it can't be good for the digestive tract, right? The lint is also concerning, as it is heavy and fibrous and decided not a food item. 

I fed him a cup of brown rice and a cup of canned pumpkin after consulting the internet. Nothing in his behavior suggested he didn't feel good -- in fact, I think he felt quite pleased with himself. Mom and Dad were paying lots of attention to him and he didn't even get in trouble, really! How could I punish him? I hadn't seen him do it, but I knew he'd done it. 

The thing about Remus is: right now, he's my baby. Since I can't have a real human baby yet, I have a big, brown, monster of a dog instead. And he is a monster. As sweet and cute and lovable as he is, he is also an absolute monster sometimes. He is unruly, rarely listens to me, and can be downright snotty when you don't pay attention to him. He hogs the bed (yes, all 85lbs of him sleeps on our bed, it's like sharing the bed with an annoying 11-year-old) and his breath really stinks.

He has his moments, of course: he sits to be fed and he stopped jumping on me so much (he still does, however, when he's exciting or thinks he'll get a treat), he doesn't have accidents anymore and he's also stopped throwing up to get my attention. No matter what though, he's my baby and I worry about him almost constantly. 

A few weeks ago, Danny and I came home to the carbon monoxide alarm going off. Our system is one that talks (it's so annoying) and when we got home from work, we heard the beep but not the voice. I thought a battery was dying. We walked inside and Remus didn't make a sound. When I could finally hear the automated voice, I realized it was saying carbon monoxide. I immediately started crying and raced upstairs. Remus is never quiet when we get home and it was so strange for him to be. I was sure he was dead of carbon monoxide poisoning! But no, there he was, sitting in his kennel, being quiet like a good boy for once in his life

I worry about leaving him all day. I worry about the food we feed him and the treats he gets (I recently switched from his favorite chewies to a smaller, more expensive brand because the originals were made in South America). I worry about his paws and his claws and his anxiety over having his paws touched. I worry about what would happen if he ran away. I worry about his back and his hips. I worry about the bald patches on his weird elbows and on his chest. I worry that he's dehydrated, too hot, too cold. I worry about the texture of his paws. I worry about everything

Which is why it is so, so annoying when he eats the trash. 

"Remus," I say, "Can't you tell that you shouldn't eat the trash? Doesn't it smell poisonous to you? Don't you know how hard I work to keep you safe?" I hold his big head in my hands while he lie on the couch. He wags his tail and tried to lick my hand awkwardly. His big, golden eyes are full of love and admiration. (Not to brag, but I am his favorite in the house. Sorry, Danny.) I imagine his reply: But it tastes so good, mom! He does not understand my hysterical worrying. He also does not understand anything I say to him. He probably knows that his name is Remus (or at least sounds like something with an S on the end), but he doesn't know who I am. That's the problem with dogs. They are naked and clueless 100% of the time, but to us, they're family members. 

My dog is an ill-behaved mess and he loves to eat trash. So I spent a weekend watching him to his business in the backyard and, like the dutiful parent that I am, sorting through it. (Just kidding: it was Danny who did the actual sorting.) We identified clumps of tissue, floss, whole q-tips and cottonballs. All the culprits of my worry. Nothing lodged. 

As a punishment to Remus and potentially myself, I bought all new trashcans -- $50 worth of trashcans, to be precise. Remus has sulked around the house ever since, ruefully chewing on blankets and pillows and bits of wood from the fireplace. 

But at least he can't eat the trash now.