It is with great trepidation that I reveal this tale. The mere moments to hastily type this out could result in dire consequences, disturbances so great, I fear for my appendages and mortal soul. I dare not awaken the beast napping mere centimeters from my mouse clicking hand. Time has become my most prized possession and “Quiet Moments of Reflection” are the stuff of dreams and wistful fantasies, relegated to the artists and the unencumbered.
It all started last June; June 3rd to be exact. We were literally three days into our new move, with eighty percent of our belongings still in boxes, the prospects of decorating still draped the air where curtains would soon be. My wife and I were almost as giddy as newlyweds with twice the required limit of Epsom salts and liniments for aching muscles and Ibuprofen.
I had unpacked the kitchen with a newfound domestic territorialism I wasn’t aware I possessed, hissing at my wife when she came near my spice racks or dry foods, like a feral housewife. Being the main meal planner and preparation of culinary delights meant that the kitchen needed to be organized in a way that would make sense to me, not for someone with fabled “common sense”.
It was here, in mid-revelry and visions of projects completed, where our “Welcome” mat was unceremoniously seized and lobbed three counties away by the austere introduction of an 8 pound orphan.
She was a rescue dog in every McLachlan sense of the term: found in a field, scraggly, wrapped in a blanket of fleas, subsisting on the scraps of tamales and the kindness of a Mexican woman who took her for 48 hours. A friend of ours had heard we would someday be looking into getting a dog. (a “Dog” and “someday” being the operative words here.)
We had no idea that signing on to adopting this little ball of “yip” and baby fangs just entered us as contestants in a game show where we just picked the goat behind curtain number 3, instead of the trip for two to Tahiti behind curtain number 1.
Welcome to our new lives and Let the Games Begin!
As brand new puppy parents, we were about as prepared as the Pope at a Swinger’s convention. There was the emergency trip to Petco, the bedding, the food, the chew toys, the harness and leash, and the new crate. There were sprays to neutralize pee, and sprays to keep them from eating your linoleum, baby gates to keep your puppy contained, and learning toys to keep them entertained. Then there were the puppy obedience classes, the vaccination schedule, spaying her, and all the vet visits in our future. I believe we blew our daughter’s college fund the first week, along with our retirement.
“Name that Dog Breed!: The Family Edition”
We had no clue what kind of dog breed this ball of fluff was, and that alone provided my wife with months of OCD entertainment. She was obsessed. Every day was a new guess and a new epiphany. Every Google search made her more of an expert on dog breeds and behaviors. “She has a little boxer in her. Look at how she boxes with the other dogs.” “See how she chews up our mail? She sorts it categorically into 3 distinct piles. Only a terrier would do that.” “Will she pay the bills though?” I asked snidely.
Whatever breed that strangers would label our dog, would put us into a new mode of trying to decipher what kind of behavior we could hope for or guard against.
“Maybe she is a Basenji. Those are bark-less breeds. Does she bark?”
“Like the hounds of Hell.”
“Maybe not. She might have some Terrier in her. They are really smart but difficult to train.”
“That would explain the 16 weeks of puppy training, and the chewed up graduation ribbons she pooped out last week for “best improved” and “thanks for showing up”.
“Does she show any ‘herding’ instincts?”
“Does grappling our legs before we go down the stairs and hip checking us into the landing count? I just thought she was trying to kill us.”
For Christmas I gave my wife a DNA test for our beastie. We waited 6 weeks for the results and my wife was on the edge of her seat like test results for the Maury Povich show. The up side was that there was no hint of Chupacabra or Antelope that I had been guessing all along. I was a little disappointed. The downside was she was implicated in a drug bust in Vasalia. We quietly burned the papers in the backyard.
“The Pup is Right”
There are “cat people” and there are “dog people” and you should never assume that because they were your friends before getting a pet means that they will take your side in any incident; a divorce, yes, a puppy, no. The subject of admonishment of a four legged family member can be a topic more taboo than a discussion about Roe v. Wade, or Star Wars vs. Star Trek.
People we couldn’t recall “friending” on Facebook suddenly came out of the woodwork once we introduced our newest furry family member. Soon I found myself embroiled in a defensive posture against a Cheerleader I knew from Jr. High and the neighbor 3 moves ago who sold me Scentsy lanterns over upbraiding the dog for pooping on the couch.
Our friends divided into doggie training camps while Flame Wars were instigated over “Crate training” vs. “paper training” the likes that have not been seen since the Great Charmin vs. Cottonelle War of 1987. As tempers flared, the opinions dropped like Crisco on Grandma’s griddle.
I have made the neophyte mistake of asking my Dog loving friends for sympathy over a shredded sock, or a mangled oven mitt, or disheveled dish towel. I am still licking my wounds. As it is written in the First Hymn of Dog Training: “There is no greater sin to a devout dog owner than to blame the dog and there will be zero fucks given to the puppy owner.” There will be no sympathy for you and your ancestral furniture or sentimental attachments like toothbrushes.
Bygone are the days when one could castigate the canine, or reprobate the Rover, or become punitive with the pup. Bad Human! Bad! The new school of thought is that the onus belongs to the owner for everything and praise and treats are their rewards for putting up with your incompetence.
Puppy pees on the floor? Praise and treats for the puppy! Shame on the puppy parent for not seeing to their needs sooner.
Puppy chews up your child’s 2nd grade Mother’s day creation? More treats and praise for the puppy! Rub the puppy parent’s nose in their own filthy distraction of showering between the minutes of 3:00 and 3:12! Why didn’t you nail those Mother’s day gifts to the ceiling like any good puppy parent would do? Or better yet, just burn all your belongings. They are just entrapments of your old life. See? All better.
Dreams of a Den Mother
I didn’t intend on being a Pack leader. My wife doesn’t even allow me to pack a suitcase, so I seemed less qualified than most, to lead a pack or a puppy. But like it or not Dear Reader, this is my life 8 months to the day later.
This stair herding, hell hound barking, privacy stealing, oven mitt chewing, high jumping, spying Nosey Neighbor, made us her parents from day 1, and me her pack mama from the moment I held her.
She has pushed every single one of my sanity buttons, including some I didn’t even know I had access to. Even through my yelling fits of “This is why Mommy drinks!” while she clutches my Victoria Secret bra in her teeth and into the back yard, even my threats to sell her to the Pirates, the Gypsies, or the Boogie Man, this pup has Never left my side. Not once. She snuggles our feet at night, “chaparones me” whenever I leave the room, and whines when we leave to the mailbox as if it’s breaking her heart.
It has taken me 8 months to write about her, on account of her incurable habit of laying upon my mouse-clicking hand. Truth be told, I needed that time to process what taking in a stray dog meant to me. It is easy to fall in love with a snuggly puppy. It is not easy to stay in love when your whole autonomy has been hijacked, and your new found privacy and boundaries are relegated to the dust bin. Love didn’t happen all at once. Love was a daily choice to keep her, through many hard and difficult months where I really didn’t like her, and I really didn’t like me.
The most annoying saying I’ve ever heard Dog People say to me is “You don’t train a puppy. A puppy trains you.” I resented them for that. I didn’t want to change who I was for any animal. I thought I was fine just as is. But she did train me. She taught me to be a better person, a more compassionate person, and taught me to view life through her ever curious lens. She definitely broke me of my material attachments.