I honestly can’t believe that I have become the cliché:’ a stinky, hair-covered woman who talks in a baby voice to her new puppy. For years I was a pet-less person, and then I reluctantly became a cat person—reluctantly because I was working long hours at the time; but when a customer walked into my café’ with a kitten and told the sob story about how it had come from a broken home, I took the kitten home, and then decided the kitten needed a friend while I was away all day. 17 years later they both passed away, and after my husband facetiously responded to my five-year-old that she could have a dog when the cats are dead, here we are with a dog, our lives turned upside down.
We got her from the second worst place to get a puppy, the puppy store (though we were assured with paperwork that she came from reputable breeders). We had gone in there as an activity on a Saturday, and, like many families that walk through those doors to window shop, we left with a dog in hand. Impulse buys are of course the whole reason puppy stores exist. My husband picked her out and I deferred to him. Since we’d met eight years ago, he has maintained his position as a dog person-- though he tolerated my cats (and oftentimes, when he thought I wasn’t looking, snuggled with one in particular). I am also a dog person, if I believe something I read recently in dog literature (voracious, if not obsessive, reading about dogs and dog training is another perk to being the clichéd dog-owner-- as is, apparently writing about the subject). The source said that adults, when deciding on a companion animal, are more likely to choose the species they grew up with. In my case, thanks to my animal-loving hippie parents, I grew up with both dogs and cats: a black poodle named Ebony and a white poodle named Marcus,-- yes, it always annoyed me too that Marcus’s name wasn’t Ivory, but I suppose it was a decade before the Paul McCartney song—and an ebb and flow of cats. There was Priscilla, an orange tabby who liked to curl around my head on my pillow when I crooned Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful,” and a handful of extremely vocal chocolate and lilac Siamese: Taffy, Thai, and Haley—all of whom would eventually die one by one from living in that basement with us—no joke. Between the noxious oil burner fumes, the cigarette smoke, and the Lysol to mask the smoke—all with the casement windows sealed shut-- those delicate creatures did not stand a chance.
My husband, Jon's, pet list was much shorter, but packed more of a punch. His stand out pet was his twenty two year old dog, Cookie, a mixed breed who turned out to be quite a celebrity. After the death of Jon’s father, Cookie travelled with Jon and his family to bury their patriarch during a particularly cold Boston winter. Cookie often travelled with the family to Boston to visit family and she knew the surroundings well; so when she scratched at the door to be let out, she was obliged. A week later, Cookie was nowhere to be found. The family hung flyers, and knocked on neighbors’ doors, and eventually returned home to New York, in double mourning. A week later, a Boston family called to say that they had found Cookie. For the last week, their own dog had been stealing bits of food from her bowl and disappearing into the woods. Curious, the family followed their dog to find Cookie, trapped at the bottom of a ravine, cold and famished, saved only by their hero dog.
For me, my husband’s empty promise of a dog notwithstanding, I think secretly, I had started internalizing the idea of getting another animal because of the tribute/roast for Betty White I saw recently. Like my daughter, Betty White was an only child, and her longtime dedication to helping animals could be traced back to her childhood companions who never let her go lonely. Either that, or the recent incident of my daughter thanking the couch for “catching” the balloon she’d been volleying made me feel that we might be in the market for a living friend.
On the way to the store, however, my husband reminded my daughter—and me-- that we were not buying anything; we were there to say hi to the puppies. I completely agreed. With our Julia slated for kindergarten in September, we had just reached that incredible point in our lives where we were all but done with the physical labor of raising a small child, and had weathered the exertion on our marriage-- and a sense of freedom was before us. As a nifty threesome, we could travel efficiently and affordably; we could eat out and stay out, whenever and wherever; there was nothing to rush home to. For Valentine’s day, my husband had given me a silver pendant of three people—big, medium and little—with their arms intertwined. Though we had tried to be a larger group at one point, three was what we had been granted, and the truth was, it felt right.
At the puppy store, my daughter gravitated toward the smaller dogs, and one brown toy poodle in particular. We had been there for about twenty minutes, and she was on her third dog in the designated pen, coddling the brown fuzz ball, and alternately lifting its front legs up and down making horse neighing noises. “Come on girl, lets trot,” I heard her whisper, hoping the store clerk hadn’t. We were that annoying family treating the pet store like a sightseeing trip to the zoo; and at this point, had become obvious; it was time to go.
My husband was occupied in another pen. Being a tall man, he had been eyeing the huskies, the labs…and one goldendoodle. We had seen her a month prior, and she had grown substantially since. He was sitting on the floor with her; she chewed at his shoe heel, then flopped into a submissive position. A strange smile overcame my husband’s face—one I had not seen with the cats, even the snuggly one. He asked me what I thought, then asked Julia to play with her. I knew then that we were becoming a family of four.
Julia named her Goldie, a name my husband’s grown kids resisted. “You might as well name her Retrieverie,” Eddie said, which made me crack up. We offered his kids 24 hours to blow our minds with a new name. The best they could do on such short notice was “Sandy,” which, their good intentions aside, reminded me way to much of Olivia Newton John.
Within the first few days, I felt we had made a colossal mistake. The crate, the accidents, the need to stay home. Goldie was also not the lap dog we could cart around, nor the small dog Julia could boss around. Clearly Goldie had yet to learn that Julia was not a pack member, but a pack leader. I will say that, at three months old, she at least seemed to understand that these crazy people around her were trying to communicate rules to her, but I would be lying if I said I did not consider giving her back. Would there realistically come a time where this four-legged poop machine could become my daughter’s loyal companion and protector?
There would come a time, a week or so later, in fact, where the potential for that scenario at least, seemed possible. To make a direct analogy between small children and dogs is not linear. What takes children to accomplish in two years (potty training for example), takes dogs a few weeks. This poop machine is learning about the merits of going on the grass.
And so I have entered the sub culture of the dog world. I talk to people about collar leashes versus harnesses. I post internet videos of my puppy discovering the piano or digging up a bone. I go to Saturday PETCO class for dog training where Miss Jackie, whose British accent makes her sound way more authoritative than she probably is, teaches us that Goldie’s particular bark is an invitation to play. I bathe my dog and talk to her like a child; I pick crust out her eyes, and I fight through the sleep deprivation that Goldie’s early rise has caused. Our sterling silver twining of three has been compromised by fighting with my husband about the well being of our pet—something that feels way too familiar. “She’s hungry she needs to eat now!” I’ll tell him. He responds: “She can wait five minutes!”
Entering this new phase of cliché’ in my life should not come as such a surprise, considering that I have been there before—the rebellious teenager, the ambitious underdog, the gushing bride, the dreamy honeymooner, the scared shitless (or inadequate) new parent, followed by the relaxed parent. I guess that’s why clichés exist, and why they connect us. What has come as a surprise is how reconnected I feel to my own dog roots. It’s been so long, that I had almost forgotten how much a dog gives back. …how happy she is to just be in our presence, something living with cats and their aloofness had not given me. Of course, I will have to be careful not to fall into the trap of being the dog owner who speaks out against cats and touts the virtues of dogs. But they are way better, don’t you think?