My husband Tom is a huge animal lover. In his early 20’s he worked for a veterinarian tending to beloved sick and wounded pets, and later he was employed at the Wildlife Way Station caring for wild animals that had been abandoned in the city. He tells a very funny story about how he survived the low pay by eating Monkey Chow. Maybe one day he’ll write about it in his blog Middle Age Metal Head.
Like Indiana Jones, he’s not terribly fond of snakes, but with the exception of his lukewarm enthusiasm for that not-warm reptile, Tom loves all God’s creatures except for one: little dogs. He really hates them.
His disdain for these small fluffy balls of joy came into conflict with the desire of my daughter Mary who’s been pining for a little dog for years. We currently have two dogs – a German Shepherd named Jasmine, and an Australian Shepherd called Spike. They weigh in at 65 and 55 lbs. respectively, and although they’re nowhere near the size of Great Danes or St. Bernards, they are sizeable dogs that could scare away any home invasion.
Although I was raised with mid-sized mutts, my siblings and their kids today are primarily adopting purebred miniatures. And unlike the dogs of our childhood who were secluded to the yard, the house, or the foot of our bed, these doggies accompany their masters everywhere. My niece Kattie is planning to have her Mini Yorkshire Toby serve as the ring bearer at her wedding. Just like in the G/PG movies, my sister Tammie used to sneak her Maltese around in her purse wherever she went, except for at home when Lacey would live in her cleavage. Lacey passed away recently, which was very sad. I know my sister loves me more than almost anything in the world, but I feel fairly certain that she cried over Lacey much longer than she’ll ever cry over my death.
Mary loves to go to her Aunt Tammie’s house. My sister has a huge yard with several dogs of all sizes and even though three of her four kids are grown and have moved out of the house, Tammie’s constantly babysitting their basset hounds or boxers. It’s always so heartbreaking if one of them has puppies. Mary begs and pleads to take one home, but Tom has been insistent. He calls them “rat dogs,” and says that the whole collection of toy dogs at Tammie’s house wouldn’t weigh as much as one of our dogs. I’m not sure why that matters, but it seems to really irk him.
But Mary has been persistent. This week she turned 12, and she has been begging for a small dog for her birthday. Tom started to cave a little and suggested that she start feeding, watering and walking our dogs and cleaning up the poop in the yard. He thought Mary might whine a bit, but she didn’t. She scooped up those stinky piles with gusto. Tom reluctantly agreed to a home invasion from a little rat dog.
Mary started looking online at the pet adoption sites, studying the little orphan’s names and preferences (Captain likes to catch balls; Tiny enjoys having her tummy rubbed), and of course breeds (Chihuahuas and Poodles not allowed – a hard limit for Tom). Tom originally demanded that the dog must be at least 20 lbs., which to Mary and me seemed like a medium-sized dog. I figured that any dog that could fit into Pampers Cruisers Diapers would definitely not be classified as “little.” But we wore him down, and Mary searched for pups that were Pampers Size 1 and 2.
Every day she asked if she could go after school and find her new dog, but I was swamped with work and kept postponing it. I finally told her when she was off school for Veteran’s Day that Tom would take her. She couldn’t have been more excited had it been her own birthday. Unfortunately, it turned out that the shelters were closed for the holiday and she wouldn’t be getting one after all. She came home and cried, which meant that she was really, REALLY heartbroken because it takes a lot to make that girl cry.
I told her we’d go the week of Thanksgiving while she was off school, and she couldn’t wait for the day. She had her eye on a Terrier named Samantha at the Burbank Animal Shelter. I bought her a dog bed from Costco, and we drove over to see if Samantha could possibly be the pup that would be her new best friend.
However, the shelter had some stipulations. We had to come back with the whole family to see how Samantha got along with everyone – a nearly impossible task since everyone always has something going on, and the shelter closes each day at 5:00. We were also to bring Spike and Jasmine along to see what they thought of her, probably to make sure they wouldn’t immediately swallow the little dog whole. If it was a good fit for everyone, then we had to schedule an appointment for the next week to get her spayed. After that, we might be able to take her home.
It was truly amazing the number of hoops we were going to have to jump through to adopt a dog that was already on death row.
The next day was Mary’s actual 12th birthday. I still had too much work to take a break, but Mary really, really, REALLY wanted a little dog, so I shoe horned a couple of hours by bending the laws of time – a superpower I try not to overuse. I called the Van Nuys Animal Shelter to find out if they had the same rules as Burbank.
“So even if we find a dog we like, we can’t take it home until we can get the whole family here, right?”
There was a pause on the other line. “No. Why do you need the whole family?”
“But do you still need us to bring our dogs there?” I asked.
Another pause. Then very slowly: “We don’t want your dogs here.”
An hour later, we were taking home Bella, an adorable 1-year old terrier mix weighing in at a dainty 8 lbs. Because her shots were up to date and she had already been spayed, the dog was ready to roll.
Despite himself, I think Tom really likes her. He’s nicknamed Bella “Little Turd,” and she even comes when he calls her. Bella holds her own with our big dogs, and if you ask Mary how she likes her new dog, her voice turns sweet as honey. “I love her,” she swoons. Which has inspired me to write this little ditty:
Mary had a little dog.
Its cheeks were white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went.
The dog was sure to go.
Obviously, we’re now working on potty training.