Healing Weintraub has a way with dogs, and he’s good with cats, too. A lifelong resident of Mercy, a small town on the far north coast of California, Healing is fifty-seven, not quite six-feet-tall, and has short brown hair going gray. He makes his living as the manager of Good Groceries, a small worker-owned food cooperative.
When not working at Good Groceries, Healing can usually be found on his two-acre property at the south end of town where he lives in a hundred-year-old house and has two dogs, four cats, three tortoises, two parrots, and seventeen chickens. He takes his dogs on walks twice a day, sings in the community choir, plays the accordion, works in his big vegetable and flower garden, and gently pursues Desdemona Garcia, who works at the bookstore and adores Healing, but can’t imagine being in a relationship with him.
Another thing Healing likes to do is help people with their dogs, and vice-versa, and thereby hangs this tale.
On a sunny Sunday morning in July, Healing leashes his dogs Benito and Carla and takes them for a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, a patchwork of little old houses and newer mansions. Healing’s house on Nasturtium Road is one of the little old houses, a two-bedroom bungalow wherein both Healing and his older sister Jean were born and raised, and Healing’s daughter Tova, his child from a long ago marriage, was also born and raised. Tova now lives in Portland, Oregon where she is a veterinarian’s assistant and actress.
Benito is a seven-year-old Chihuahua Poodle with pointy ears and light brown fur, Carla a large five-year-old Black Lab Dane with floppy ears and glossy black fur. Both Benito and Carla know Healing has a dog consultation later today, and they know this because they listened intently to Healing speaking on the phone yesterday with a woman who wanted to bring her dog to meet Healing, the conversation ending with Healing saying, “Good. Then we’ll see you and Tarzan tomorrow.”
When they reach the edge of the bustling commercial district of Mercy, Benito and Carla and Healing turn around and head for home via the overgrown dirt and gravel track known to locals as Nameless Alley, a fabulous place to pick blackberries in August. And knowing the dogs are curious about the upcoming consultation, Healing tells them what he knows so far.
“His name is Tarzan,” says Healing, speaking with a trace of the British accent he inherited from his very British parents. “He’s a four-year-old Siberian Husky Golden Lab. His primary human, a young man named Brian, went off to college a year ago and left Tarzan behind. Brian is the only child of Joan, an interior decorator, and Larry, a venture capitalist. They live in a fancy neighborhood in San Rafael and now that Brian is gone they’ve hired someone to take Tarzan for a run every morning. Otherwise Tarzan just mopes around in the backyard. Joan told me that a year ago Tarzan started barking and growling at Larry whenever he sees him, and Larry is furious about the situation and wants to have Tarzan put to sleep.”
Benito frowns at Healing to say Larry bad, and Carla makes a whimpering sound to agree with Benito.
Later that morning, Joan and Larry arrive at Healing’s place in a silver Mercedes station wagon, and Healing goes to greet them. Joan is in her forties, a platinum blonde wearing dark glasses and a silky purple blouse and blue jeans. Larry is in his fifties, chubby and balding and wearing a crimson Harvard sweatshirt and black sweatpants.
“Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with us on such short notice,” says Joan, shaking hands with Healing.
“You’re very welcome,” says Healing, offering his hand to Larry. “Thanks for making the long drive.”
“Long drive is right,” says Larry, giving Healing’s hand a cursory shake. “Four hours to get to the middle of nowhere.”
“Having lived here all my life,” says Healing, laughing, “I tend to think of Mercy as the center of the universe.”
Larry snorts. “And you purport to know what dogs are thinking?”
“I purport to understand dogs,” says Healing, not at all surprised by Larry’s skepticism. “I was born into a family of four humans, counting me, and five dogs my mother and father and sister related to as equals, so I’ve always related to dogs that way, too. If you know what I mean.”
“I don’t,” says Larry, shaking his head. “We only got this one because our son was depressed and the psychologist thought a dog might help. He loved the puppy, but after the dog wasn’t a puppy anymore, the depression came back. Meds finally fixed it and now he’s in college and we’re stuck with the dog.”
“Angela said you helped her so much with… oh…” Joan grimaces at not remembering Angela’s dog’s name. “Her dog.”
“Herzog,” says Healing, smiling at memories of the affable pooch. “A charming bull terrier cocker spaniel.”
“He barked all the time,” says Joan, smiling obsequiously at Larry. “And after Healing worked with him he didn’t bark so much.”
“Barking is not the main problem with this one,” says Larry, sneering at the car wherein waits Tarzan. “He’s vicious.”
“Can’t wait to meet him,” says Healing, moving to the back of the car. “Shall we?”
“He doesn’t like strangers,” says Larry, lifting the rear door and revealing Tarzan, a large silver gray dog sequestered in a travel cage too small for him.
Tarzan growls ominously and Larry backs away.
“I’ll get him out,” says Joan, showing little fear of the dog. “We don’t know why, but for some reason he started growling at Larry.”
“He growls at everybody,” says Larry, glaring at Joan. “Not just me.”
Joan opens the door of the cage and clips a short black leash to Tarzan’s collar – the dog baring his teeth at Larry.
“Look at him,” says Larry, backing further away. “He’s a psycho. This is stupid. We should just have him put down.”
“Hello Tar,” says Healing, speaking quietly to the dog. “I’m Healing. Very glad to meet you.”
Tarzan looks at Healing and his snarl subsides into a solemn gaze.
“Shall I bring him out now?” asks Joan, anxiously.
“I’ll do,” says Healing, taking the leash from her.
“I’m warning you,” says Larry, pointing at Healing. “He hates strangers, especially men.”
“Hey Tar,” says Healing, speaking soothingly to the dog. “Aren’t you beautiful. Yes you are.”
Healing gives the leash a light tug and Tarzan moves out of his cage and jumps to the ground where he gently takes a treat from Healing’s hand.
“We’re good now,” says Healing, placing a hand on Tarzan’s head and turning to Joan. “There’s a nice café five blocks from here. Café Brava. If you’ll leave Tarzan with me for an hour we’ll get things figured out.”
“How much is this gonna cost?” asks Larry, amazed by Healing’s ease with Tarzan.
“Nothing,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I don’t do this for money.”
“What?” says Larry, grimacing at Joan. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“I didn’t know,” says Joan, fearfully. “I’m sorry, dear. I honestly didn’t know.”
After Larry and Joan drive away, Healing leads Tarzan through a gate into the backyard where Benito and Carla await them.
“Tar,” says Healing, stroking the dog as he unleashes him, “the big girl is Carla, the little fellow Benito. They’re both very nice and eager to meet you.”
Tarzan bristles as Carla approaches, for she is larger than he.
Carla wags her tail and smiles as she comes near, and Tarzan ceases to bristle.
Now Benito rubs noses with Tarzan, and after a bit more sniffing of Carla and Benito, and they of him, Tarzan understands that Benito and Carla are the owners of this place and are fine with him visiting.
“Let’s show Tar the pond,” says Healing, gesturing for the dogs to come with him.
As is his custom, Benito races ahead while Carla walks beside Healing on his right, and Tarzan walks on Healing’s left.
They traverse the vegetable garden and enter a grove of sixty-year-old Japanese maples surrounding a large pond from which Carla and Benito drink.
Tarzan walks to the water’s edge and gazes in wonder at the sparkling pool before tasting the delicious water.
Healing sits on a wooden bench and holds out his hand to Tarzan. “Tell us about your life, Tar. We want to know all about you.”
Tarzan comes to Healing, and Healing asks, “Did Larry hurt you?”
Tarzan gazes forlornly at Healing and sighs profoundly.
Healing rests his hand on Tarzan’s head and senses the dog’s anguish and exhaustion from living in constant fear of Larry.
“Lonely without Brian?” asks Healing, stroking the dog’s back.
Tarzan barely reacts to the name Brian, and Healing understands that even before Brian went away, Tarzan was neglected and afraid.
Now Carla approaches Tarzan and caresses his snout with hers, and Tarzan makes a low moaning sound that speaks of his life with a woman who doesn’t like him and a man who hates him.
When Larry and Joan return to Healing’s house, they find Healing waiting for them on his front porch without Tarzan.
“Where’s the dog?” asks Larry, grimly.
“He’s in the backyard with my dogs,” says Healing, coming down the stairs. “I think he’s a good dog and I would very much like to have him if you will give him to me. I don’t think he can be happy with you in the absence of your son or another dog, and I don’t imagine you want another dog.”
“He’s so lonely,” says Joan, her eyes filling with tears.
“Yes,” says Healing, knowing she is speaking of herself, too.
“You want him?” asks Larry, gaping at Healing.
“I do,” says Healing, nodding. “Very much.”
“Great,” says Larry, clapping his hands. “Now that was unexpected.” He beams at Healing. “What a relief. I didn’t really want to put him down, but things were getting untenable. I insist on giving you some money. He costs a small fortune to feed.” Larry laughs. “This is so great. Thank you.”
And that is how Tarzan came to live with Healing and Carla and Benito in the little old house on Nasturtium Road.