My grandfather had a yappy little terrier, one of those dogs that looks like a hairbrush running around on four little spindly legs. We all hated it - it would jump all over us and take nips at our ankles whenever we visited. So when Grandpa broke his hip and wound up going into care, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Jockstrap (his real name was Jockie, but we were teenaged boys who thought we were funny), would obviously go to an animal shelter or similar and that would be the end of that.
Apparently we hoped too soon. We came home from school a couple of days later to find Jockstrap running around the house, barking shrilly at anything that moved and some things that didn't.
"Grandpa asked me to take care of him," Mom apologised that night over dinner. She'd made steak in an effort to win us over (and for the record, it was working - Mom's an awesome cook). "I couldn't say no, not when he's in pain. And he loves the dog so much."
Jockstrap growled and attacked Mike's shoelaces. Mike grimaced and tried hard not the just kick the damn dog away.
We settled into a sort of routine, which mostly involved us shutting Jockstrap out of our rooms and getting really good at dodging the little monster when we were running for the bus. Jockstrap developed his own routines, which were mostly pooping in people's shoes if they tripped over him during the day and curling up on Mom's lap looking up at her adoringly whenever we were mad at him; he knew where the power was in the house. Grandma stayed in care and we gradually got used to the idea Jockstrap would be around for a couple more years at least before old age caught up with him.
Then one day, Mike called me downstairs, wanting to show me something. He had a basketball in his hands.
"Hey Sandy, watch this," he said, and rolled the ball across the room to where Jockstrap was lying in Mom's chair.
Quick as a blink, the dog was up on the ball, balancing on his hind legs with his nose in the air. He made a wobbling circuit of the room, jumped off and looked at Mike expectantly. Mike fished a doggie treat out of his pocket and threw it to him.
"Isn't that the coolest thing?" he said, grinning at me. "He knows other tricks, watch this."
Jockstrap did know a lot of tricks, all pretty amazing, like the stuff you'd see in a circus. "How do you think he learned all this?" I asked, as Mike got the dog to walk across the carpet on his front legs. "Not Grandpa. Maybe he belonged to some kind of animal trainer.
Mike shook his head. "Nah," he said, "I remember when Grandpa brought him home. He was a puppy then, not old enough for a previous owner, and didn't know one end from the other."
"It doesn't make sense!" I grumbled. "Who the heck taught him all this stuff?"
"What doesn't make sense? Who taught who?" It was Mom, home from work. She whistled and Jockstrap ran up to her, tail wagging.
"Jocksr... er, Jockie," Mike said. "He knows all these tricks and we wondering who taught him."
"Oh, that." Mom ruffled Jockstrap's ears and got a lick on the hand in return. "That was your grandmother."
"No way!" I said. "Grandma?"
"Oh yes. She used to be an animal trainer for Ringling Brothers."
Our grandmother had passed away the previous spring. If you'd met her, you'd understand the shock; she was the stereotypical grandma. Baking, aprons, blue hair, pinching cheeks, the whole enchilada. The idea of her training anything was just unreal.
"What sort of animals did she train?" asked Mike. "Just dogs?"
"Oh no, she could train anything. Seals, elephants, lions, tigers... Back before you were born, she had six cats, all perfectly trained. They could walk tightwires and ring bells and all sorts of things." Mom seemed oblivious to the fact she was completely shattering our teenaged opinions of our family as being boring and dull as she rattled off information. She put her coat away in the closet and headed for the stairs. "I'm just going to get changed and then start dinner. Meatloaf all right by you two?"
"Um, sure," I said, still trying to pick my jaw up from the floor. I looked over at Mike - he was having the same problem. Mom went off, leaving us staring at each other.
"Elephants," Mike said to me.
"Tigers," I replied. We both looked down at Jockstrap, who had decided he'd had enough excitement and was flopped in Mom's chair again. With his fur all grey and patchy and his eyes kind of crusty, he looked anything but a highly-trained animal. Even as we watched, he shifted and a noxious smell came wafting over.
"Ugh." Mike waved his hand in front of his face to get rid of the smell of dog fart. "Just when you start thinking he's a cool dog..."
"I know what you mean." I picked up the ball. "One on one out in the driveway?"
Behind us, Jockstrap drooled and snuffled in his sleep.