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The true story of how Buck got his bath

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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000

Serious issues strike home through small, significant means.

As the rain clouds stack up purple in the sky and disappear without dropping so much as one dollop of rain, I have to tell my child she cannot dance through the sprinkler in the driveway. If she did, her mother would get busted.

Getting busted is not a concept easily explained to a toddler. It's not as hard as telling her no -- about many things, certainly -- although at this famously difficult age, the sprinkler ranks close to the top.

This will not move the water cops at the city of Tampa. My child-rearing problems are my child-rearing problems. Wait until she brings home a boy whose face I think belongs in a mug shot, they'll say.

Uncle, I'll say. You got me.

But what about washing the dog?

Buck weighs almost 100 pounds. When he lies down and gets good and comfy, he takes up enough space for a respectable metropolis. When he doesn't get a bath, the house fills up with a smell that is a mixture of dust, sweat, flaking skin, his breath after his last meal, and well, Dog. And that's before his itching gets so bad he sounds like a drummer who has put down his sticks in favor of his brushes.

When this smell fills the house, I understand what the dog trainer meant about Buck honestly regarding the place as his den. He lets us hang out because somebody's got to pay the mortgage on it.

This question about bathing the dog, in the special anti-itch shampoo with the salon shampoo price tag, troubled me deeply. I called the water department.

India Williams, the agency's consumer affairs manager, admitted without the least bit of dodging or dancing around that dogs are not addressed in the water restriction ordinance. Still, she said, "I think it would be a health and safety issue."

She thought about it for a minute.

"I guess he can't fit in the bathtub," she wondered.

Of course not.

"And then think of all the water you'd waste cleaning up the bathroom."

Not to worry. I'm a fourth-rate housekeeper. You should see the refrigerator.

"Buck doesn't slobber a lot, does he? That would be doubly icky."

My housekeeping aside, did she think I would keep a dog with no class? I have a dog who thinks the drought is great news, because the back yard is now a dust bowl, and the more dust there is, the filthier he can get.

Okay then. The word was I could wash Buck whenever he needed it. To be more accurate, I could badger my husband into washing the dog whenever I wanted.

Then, wouldn't you know, but the thoughtful India Williams started adding little qualifiers to her go-ahead.

She said if we washed Buck with a hose, it had to have an automatic shutoff.

It would be better not to wash the dog on the driveway, because the water would run off into the gutter. Wiser instead would be to wash him on what grass hasn't yet croaked.

And we should wash him on our regular watering day. "That would be in keeping with the spirit of the ordinance," she said.

Then she told me a story. It reveals much about where dogs rank in our sick, sick world. Not only are they overlooked in Tampa's watering ordinance, people don't even ask about them. They ask about their cars. The ordinance is quite specific about cars. You can only wash them at carwashes, where you have to pay. This has not gone down well with the motoring, road-raging public.

"There was a man," India Williams said, "who asked, what if it was his watering day, and his car was in his yard, and water got on his car . . .

"That kind of question gives you a headache."

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