I don’t know how to relate to you if you don’t like animals. I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but I understand animal people, and I’ve grown quite skilled at evaluating people’s personalities based on the type of pet hair on their pants. Golden retriever hair means you love cilantro and throwing pool parties, and you’re always up for backyard football. Calico hair means you’re OK with being bossed around by diminutive females and probably like mojitos and long nature walks. A bird feather on your shoulder means you’re especially patient, because I had a bird, and they stomp around the house and eat the lampshades. And if you’ve got horsehair on your pants, well, that’s a different essay altogether, because horse people are beyond help. They have Shetland ponies on their socks and Andalusians on their oven mitts. It’s an obsession.
I was happy with our balanced, if messy, household of two kids, two dogs, and two cats. All the animals were middle-aged and calm, and nobody was rambunctious or destructive or ill-mannered.
And then, I got that Weelunk assignment.
Let me be clear: it was my idea to write about The Road Home Animal Project. I wanted to help. So I got in touch with the president, Chris Shriver, who was happy to schedule an interview with me.
When I called, I said, “Please bring one of the dogs to the interview, so I can take a photo.” Chris thought it was a fine idea. My husband, however, implied that it was going to be more than an interview.
“So she’s bringing a dog with her?” he asked, smirking.
“What’s that mean?” I said.
“It’s been almost 10 years since you brought a dog home,” he said. “You’re overdue.”
“I don’t want three dogs,” I told him.
“Sure,” he said.
When I walked out the door on that frigid January morning to meet Chris, he grinned at me.
“I can’t wait to meet the new dog,” he said.
As I drove to the interview, I went over my questions and focused hard on the assignment. At the meeting place, Chris got out of her car, and we shook hands.
And then, Minnie jumped out.
Minnie was wearing a tartan puffer coat. She had goofy ears and soulful eyes and trotted along with us as we talked about The Road Home. I tried to be stoic, but after the interview, she kissed my face. She’d been in foster care for a while, and her siblings had all been adopted.
My husband was waiting for me at home.
“When is she coming?” he asked.
And I had no choice but to answer, “As soon as they approve my application.”
• • •
I haven’t had a puppy in 10 years. And now that I do, I remember exactly why it’s been a decade since I’ve put myself through this: puppies are horrible creatures.
Luckily, Chris and her family endured the earliest puppy days when they fostered Minnie and her siblings. They put up with the puppy teeth, which are perhaps the most unpleasant part of puppyhood. Puppy teeth are like razor blades, if razor blades grew in the mouth of a Tasmanian devil. They chew on whatever is closest to them, whether it’s a piano leg or the remote control or the sleeve of the cashmere sweater your mom bought you for Christmas. They also have an intense desire to poison themselves, and within three weeks, I’d called the vet in a panic when Minnie ate Valentine’s Day candy. (She was fine, though I cannot say the same for the living room rug.)
As an older-dog owner, I’d forgotten the level of energy young dogs possess. My dogs have been content with neighborhood strolls (they prefer to ride the couch if it’s raining) and a weekend hike in the woods for years. Not Minnie. Minnie needs two to three walks a day, and one of these must incorporate an off-leash component complete with some sort of wild game chase. (Turkey are the most fun but deer will do in a pinch.) I’ve tried explaining to her that society prefers its dogs to walk on the leash, but she’s not been receptive to this idea and forces me to go farther and farther into the country to seek safe, open places where she can go tear-assing around, unencumbered by the manners I’ve asked her to adopt.
Even when Minnie should be tired, she’s rarely still. Young dogs are often afflicted with a grievous condition called “zoomies.” Zoomies are characterized by sudden and unexpected bursts of frenetic energy that cause the puppy to quite literally blast off from its resting place in an explosion of speed. The dog seems suddenly possessed by the energy of a thousand lesser demons, and begins to race around in tight circles, banking off furniture as she changes direction. Televisions fall, portraits crash to the ground, and coffee mugs dump their contents as the beast races by in a blur. The only treatment for zoomies is to get out of the way and let the puppy exhaust herself. The timing is always poor: zoomies tend to strike during dinner parties or a visit with a minister or rabbi. A few months ago, Minnie’s zoomies were so intense that she dislocated my kneecap when she slammed into my leg at full speed.
So if you’re thinking of getting another dog, here’s a brief puppy primer, in case it’s been a while:
The puppy has no respect for your routine. Are you planning on sleeping in on Saturday morning? No. No you are not. In fact, when you open your eyes, a round face will be staring at you, and don’t dare open your mouth to yawn, because that puppy tongue is swift and has probably been licking things — terrible things — and now they’re on your lips. Also, did you assume the puppy would sleep in her crate? Go back and read the “Where Puppy Will Sleep” clause in your puppy contract. It clearly says, “Puppy will sleep in human’s bed, without exception.” You signed up for this.
Also, you quickly remember that a puppy bladder has nowhere near the capacity of an older dog’s bladder. Before Minnie came along, I went to yoga on Wednesday mornings, followed by brunch with fellow yogis. Now, I race home after class. I could stay for brunch, but my sweet potato hash would inevitably end with a piddle puddle and a mangled tennis shoe.
The arrival of a puppy changes everything. After a few weeks, the honeymoon ends, and you suddenly realize this is your new normal. The house is trashed, the carpet stained. Your wooden spoons have been systematically demolished, and your spider plant looks as though it has been gnawed by angry beavers.
What have I done, you ask yourself. Life was so simple. Everybody was house-trained, and nobody chased the cat, and all the kids’ stuffed animals had heads. You mourn for your old, easy life as you stand in the snow at 2 a.m. while she strolls around the yard, as you fire up the carpet steamer — again — and chase her through the Kroger parking lot when she decides to leap out of the car. You wonder why on earth you thought you needed a puppy.
But then, as the months pass, the chaos begins to feel a little more normal. You notice the way she looks up at you for reassurance when a noisy lawn tractor goes by. She learns that it’s her job to kiss the boy awake in the morning and follow him to the shower with excited hops. She sleeps draped over your neck, and her tail thumps whenever you sigh in your sleep, as though you are the most wonderful thing she’s ever known.
Because you are.
And then one day, you’re on vacation, and you realize the family feels incomplete without her. You can’t see a life without your dog in it. You wouldn’t want that life.
Minnie’s 9 months old now. She still chews sneakers and swipes candy, and while I’ve been writing this, she’s been on the deck, eating my ornamental grasses. I’ve yelled at her four times and gotten no response, but when I had an allergic coughing fit, she came over to put her paws in my lap and lick my neck. You OK, Mom?
I told her I was OK and kissed her snout. She did her happy wiggle. Then she barked at the cat and barfed up three sticks and a beetle.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer in Wheeling, W.Va. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and writes about nature and the environment. Her work has recently appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Vandaleer, Animal, Matador Network, Defenestration, The Higgs Weldon and the Erma Bombeck humor site. Laura is the Northern Panhandle representative for West Virginia Writers, a blog editor for Literary Mama Magazine and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She recently finished her first book of humor. Laura lives in Wheeling with her husband and their sons. Visit her online at www.laurajacksonroberts.com.