I always had a dog growing up, and I remember loving my dog like it was part of the family. But somewhere along the way, after getting married, I got wrapped up in the idea of having a pretty house, free of stains, chaos and, God forbid, smells.
But hanging out at my sister’s house got me thinking it might be time to try out a dog (she has three). For the kids. It had nothing to do with me and the fact that both of my kids had exited babyhood and I needed a new warm body on which to slather my maternal butter.
And so the search began. I scoured Craigslist and Petfinder, researched different breed temperaments, and DVR’d all the Cesar Millan shows. In a few short weeks, I was a dog expert, and had several candidates lined up. I only needed to get the green-light from my husband the bacon-bringer-homer. He was more against having a dog than I’d been.
Then it hit me: he loves dogs, he just doesn’t want the responsibility of owning one! So I had the brilliant idea of presenting the concept to him in writing, in such a way that I volunteered myself as the primary care-giver for the dog. I promised him I would not ask him to lift one finger for the dog. He would never have to pick up poop or wipe up pee-pee, or even take a trip to the vet. I would do everything. This promise is saved ad-infinitum in his inbox, to be kept for reference for all eternity, or as long as the dog shall live.
So that night as we vegged on the couch, my husband said somberly, “I read your email…” Big Fat Pause (He’s very dramatic)… “…about the dog.”
I was afraid to say “And?” because I didn’t want to jinx anything. If he didn’t agree to getting a dog, my dreams of being a mom again having a dog would be crushed.
Finally, he said, “If you really want a dog, and you’re really willing to do all that work… by yourself… I guess I’m okay with it too.”
To which I promptly responded by turning the laptop toward him so he could see my top six candidates. “Not that one. It’s ugly,” he said to my first pick, dashing my hopes for a non-shedding white wire-haired medium-sized already-housebroken young adult dog. We browsed together. “That one’s cute,” he said about the 8-week-old Rottweiler puppy. Great. He doesn’t want a dog, unless it’s a giant, black (WHITE CARPET, HONEY), slobbery, shedding, pissing-all-over-the-house, chewing-up-all-our-stuff, stubborn beast. Yay.
I snatched my laptop back and continued my internet search for the perfect dog independently. There was an adoption event that coming Saturday, at the local PetSmart. I rearranged the family schedule and planned for the baby to skip her nap so that we could go check out the inventory. I timidly informed my husband that he was coming along, treading lightly lest he retract his approval.
I don’t think they normally have such a huge inventory of adorable puppies at these events. But there was a veritable smorgasbord of astonishingly cute eight-week old lab pups that smelled as good as… well, puppies. But I ruled them out quickly because they really were wayyy too young. It would be just like having a human infant: I’d be up all hours of the night on pee-pee duty.
I called my sister for moral support and she admonished, “don’t fall in love with the first adorable face you see! Remember your criteria and stick to it!” Oh right!My criteria… They were: Medium-sized, young but not a puppy, calm, must love children, must not be a food-guarder. (I let go of non-shedding.) My wise younger sibling – I would be lost without her. If not for her, I would have walked out of that place with a four-month old black Greater Swiss Mountain Dog with larger-than-average paws.
I was all amped up with puppy-love and no puppy to give it to. I wanted to try the shelter. “Right now?” my husband asked.
“Wait. Are we getting a dog today?”
“Not necessarily,” I laughed nervously. “It’s highly unlikely that we’ll stumble upon the perfect dog the very first day we go out looking!” I was trying to act nonchalant, but praying fervently that the perfect dog was waiting for us at the shelter.
The shelter was full of Pitt Bulls. I might like to rescue a Pitt one day, but right now while my kids are still so young, it’s not an option. But I thought with sadness how probably most of them would be dead in a few weeks. A hound caught my eye, and passed all the initial ‘tests’ as it were, the ones I learned during my self-taught crash-course in dog-ownership, and I asked if we could spend some time with him. We were taken to a fenced-in area which obviously had been inhabited by many, many a person and dog, however briefly, as evidenced by the hound’s nonstop sniffing the entire time we were in the enclosure (except for when he was lifting a leg to urinate all over the fence).
“What are those things hanging by his butt?” wondered my inquisitive six-year-old. “THOSE are his testicles,” my husband said scientifically.
“He’s not neutered yet,” informed the employee.
No shit. That dog’s nuts were so huge they were embarrassing.
There was a handsome brindle boxer we considered, too. My husband especially liked that one since he looked ‘manly.’ But when he jumped up frantically on the door of the cage and let loose a tirade of shrill barking on us, I vetoed him. I hate barking.
It was just notour day. I had to accept it. I ruffled my six-year-old’s hair. “Maybe another day, bud.”
Then my son pointed and said, “What about him?”
There, cowering in the corner of the cage, a little white fuzzy thing. The stall had been empty when we first passed it, or maybe we hadn’t seen him because he was so little and unassuming. He looked like he wanted to disappear into the floor. The little dog came to the front of his cage, head low, ears perfectly flat. My son broke the rules and stuck his fingers through the wires and the little dog licked them gently.
“Can we look at this one?” I asked, and as the shelter worker quickly opened the cage, I saw out of the corner of my eye my husband frantically shaking his head no. Whoops.
“I want this one! I love him, and he loves me!” my son was already shrieking. The shelter worker told us the little dog’s story: he was a six-month-old Papillion-Pomeranian mix (they call them ‘Paperanians’) and had been dropped off that morning because his owners’ other dog had attacked him. The dog had been an expensive gift to the wife. A thick patch of fur on one side of him was still matted with what appeared to be slobber, seemingly confirming the ‘attack’ story. His ears stayed flat and he didn’t make a peep as we settled into a small room to get acquainted.
The dog was much prettier than what I had imagined for our family. And judging by my husband’s face, WAY prettier than what he had had in mind. Mostly white, with blonde patches here and there, a freckled snout and black eyes with eyeliner and mascara. Transvestite dog. In fact, he was so pretty, it took us a while to stop calling him “she.”
He passed the playful, kid-loving, quiet, calm, non-food guarding tests. The only problem was that he was so frickin’ teeny. What if one of the kids fell on him? They would totally squish him! I hemmed and hawed, trying to make a rational decision, all the while trying to ignore my son’s pleading. My husband sat stiffly in his chair, checking into his mental happy place.
The little dog jumped up in my husband’s lap. My husband pushed him down. The dog jumped up again, licked my husband’s ears. My husband smiled just a weensy bit and didn’t push him down.
“We’re getting him,” I said.
After several hours, as our new little dog started to relax, his ears slowly unfurled. They were enormous. Man, I just realized we should have called him Dumbo. Crap. Missed opportunity. Well I didn’t think of that at the time, so we went with ‘Gizmo,’ from the 80s movie Gremlins, with the creepy alien creatures that can’t get wet. It suits him. The kids liked it. (Damn, what is it with me and aliens?)
We bought Gizmo a crate to sleep in. I had to push him in that first night (think cat/bathtub), but he didn’t utter a peep the entire night. At dawn next morning, I woke up feeling sorry for him, since he was trapped in his crate. But he hadn’t made a peep the entire night! Figuring he must need to pee, I took him outside. He didn’t pee. In fact, for twenty-four hours, the damn dog didn’t pee. We walked and walked and walked and walked… he pooped a couple of times (tiny turds that made me thank God I got a small dog) but would not pee. I worried that I would be taking him to the vet in the first two days of having him – which would not go over well with my reluctant husband, who was trying his best not to like the animal.
Later in the day, one of the kids opened the screen door without permission, and Gizmo ran out into the back yard off-leash and peed for about two minutes straight. It was then that I realized the poor little guy had never been trained with a leash! That’s why he wouldn’t pee when I was walking him – he wasn’t comfortable with the thing around his neck.
We bought Gizmo toys. He had no clue what to do with them. If you tried to close the door to a small room, like a bathroom or laundry room, he would bolt out the door before you could close it. I figure he must have been kept in a small room like that. I imagined a busy couple, no time to train him properly, no time to research the proper way to care for a new puppy, locking him in a room during the day and letting him out into a fenced yard at night to do his business.
I pulled out all my Cesar Millan techniques that I had learned over the past few weeks. I did not feel sorry for Gizmo’s past. I made him work for his food and kept him on a strict schedule. I banned him from the food-prep area, and made him eat last. I did not let him pass through doorways before any of our family members. I taught him to sit, lie down, and wait. Gizmo learned quickly. He only peed in the house a few times before he figured out he was supposed to do it outside. He still hadn’t made a noise.
Finally I got to hear him make a noise when he snuck up on me so silently so that I stepped on his paw and he yelped. I tried not to feel sorry for him (Cesar says you’re not supposed to). “Then stay out from under my feet!” I shouted at him, then turned around and cringed with regret.
Secretly, I wondered if I had been too hasty in my decision. Was Gizmo too little? Could the kids really play with him the way a child should be allowed to play with a dog? I thought of my sister’s big dogs, how my nieces sit on them and put bows in their hair while they lay there looking bored. Did I force my husband to get a sissy dog? I felt sorry for how I had manipulated him into the situation. This was a really long-term commitment! How long did little dogs live? Don’t they live much, much longer than the big ones? Aw crap, what did I do?
But gradually, over the next few months, as Gizmo learned the ways of Cesar Millan, to play and fetch, and an ever-expanding repertoire of commands and tricks – stay, come, off, leave it, dead dog, roll over, stand up, hug (yes, he hugs!)… somewhere along the way I stopped thinking about how great it would have been to have a bigger dog (or no dog at all).
Gizmo sits quietly when pedestrians and other dogs pass us on the sidewalk. He greets people bowing his head down, with quiet, gentle kisses. He lets my little girl cover him up with a blankie and make him play baby. She feeds him her plastic food and he wonders why he is supposed to pretend to eat it. When my little boy arrives home from school, Gizmo covers him with kisses. He waits patiently, at a distance, while the humans eat dinner (he gets a bit of leftovers in his dish when he does a particularly good job of this). Even my husband has fallen prey to Gizmo’s doggish adorableness; the other day, they were playing on the floor and I heard him tell the dog quietly, “I love you, Gizmo.”
And I am his pack leader. I don’t mind getting up early to walk him, because his unaffected joy at being by my side out-weighs any momentary exhaustion I may feel. And he doesn’t pull on the leash! (Thanks, Cesar Millan!) When I come home and let him out of his crate, he cracks me up with his wiggly effort not to jump up and claw me to bits. Sometime he loses himself and jumps up but he immediately slinks his head in shame, still wriggling all the while. He cuddles.