Years ago, when my daughter was in first grade, she wrote and illustrated a story, “Two Dogs for A Family,” typed and bound by the volunteer “publishing moms” at her school.
There are many different colored dogs. There are striped dogs, black-and-white dogs, and brown dogs.
I’m getting a dog. I already know his name. His name is going to be Sport. I have to brush it, feed it, walk it, and play with it. But when we move to Pennsylvania, I’m getting my dog. My little sister will get a dog too. We will have a lot of fun.
On the reader response page, where classmates and family could leave their comments, I told her how much I loved her book and how proud I was of her schoolwork. I also wrote that when the day comes, we’d only be getting one dog. I wanted it noted on paper.
It was late on a Sunday afternoon in August, and my parents and I had just seen a play in New York. I called my husband, who had been hanging out with the girls at his parents’ place, to find out where to meet for dinner.
“Just come here, and we’ll bring in Chinese food,” he said.
“I thought we were going out.”
“Everyone’s tired. It’ll be easier to eat in. See you soon,” he said, rushing off the phone.
When we arrived at my in-laws’, I was the first to enter the apartment. On the living room floor, surrounded by the adults, sat my daughters and a puppy. “Look Mommy! Isn’t he cute?” my older daughter said, holding the white fur ball tightly around the middle.
“Oh no! What did you do?” I asked my husband.
“Isn’t he adorable?” he said, pushing out his bottom lip and making puppy eyes himself.
My body stiffened. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Where’d he come from?”
“We took a walk to the pet shop, just to look,” he said. “They had a few Bichons, and they gave us this one to hold. He was so friendly and sweet, we couldn’t just leave him.”
“I can’t believe you did this without asking me!” I shouted. “We just moved!”
At that moment, I heard my mother mutter to my father, “What a jerk! How inconsiderate.”
“Can we take this into my parents’ room?” my husband asked, motioning to the girls on the floor.
In the bedroom, I let him have it. I said that it wasn’t that I didn’t want a dog, but that the timing was bad. I needed time to settle us in and was looking forward to a few hours to myself once the kids were in school. He apologized for acting on impulse and not considering my feelings. He also said his parents would take the dog if I needed more time. I knew better. I knew we weren’t leaving without that dog.
Those first weeks, I was introduced to the trials of puppyhood. “Don’t you hear that dog whimpering in his crate?” I’d say to the sleeping body next to me. “Get up!” I’d shout. My husband would dutifully get out of bed and go to the dog. Having blindsided me with a pup, he wouldn’t dare dream of shirking doggie responsibilities. However, during workdays, and on nights when he came home late, I did the dog walking. “Sport! Find a spot, get busy!” I’d command, as he leisurely circled and sniffed the grass. I cleaned up accidents and pulled socks and underwear from his mouth. Still, I found taking care of a dog easier than raising a child. “At least I can go out and leave him in the crate,” I’d say to friends.
There was play and bonding too, just as my daughter had so simply stated in her story. Sport was happy to fetch a ball or sit for a minute while the girls brushed him, part of a game they called “groomer.” They shot entire rolls of film with our pup as their model. Sport in sunglasses, Sport wearing a princess crown, and Sport sleeping.
I was proud watching them take ownership. At the bus stop, kids would come up and ask if they could pet or walk the dog. “Sure,” they’d say without hesitation and then demonstrate how Sport liked to be stroked and instruct not to tug his leash. I found myself thinking about the summer when I was 10 and lied to my camp bunkmates about having a dog. It didn’t seem like a fabrication, since my grandparents left their toy poodle with us whenever they went on vacation. Not only did these girls brag about their private schools and country homes, they went on endlessly about their dogs. I just wanted to be part of their club.
Now, I could say I was an official member. Nothing says you’re a dog owner like getting your pup to give up a squirrel that he’s hunted by offering a hot dog, using baby talk to coax him out from under a chair at the vet’s, or throwing him a party. For Sport’s first birthday, the girls each invited a friend, and I invited the Newfoundland dogs and their child companion from across the street. Thankfully, only one of the two 150-pound canines showed up, since there was only so much homemade, doggie meatloaf cake to go around.
My husband and daughters may have fallen in love with Sport at first sight, but for me, it took a little longer. It wasn’t until his rambunctious puppy period had passed that I really noticed his sweet, affectionate disposition. It wasn’t until we were settled into our new home and daily routines that I fully appreciated having a pet, one that would follow me from room to room and sit at my feet while I worked at the computer.
Today, Sport is 14. My older daughter races to him when she comes home from college; the younger one has framed photos of him for her freshman dorm room. He’s thinner than he used to be and has mild arthritis and cataracts. When I walk him after dark, along with Candy, our second Bichon (two dogs for a family, after all), I wear a headlamp to guide him. At night, he moves from the foot of my bed, to the spot at the curve in my body, and then to the edge of my pillow. I take comfort in listening to his gentle snoring. Come September, when the girls are gone, I will take comfort in having him near.