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They can transform a couple into a family.
Quent and I had been married for 12 years, a couple for 16. And we were happy together, just the two of us -- no children. Quent had three boys from his first marriage and didn't want to raise a family again. So I put away my baby fever, which, to be honest, had burned in me only for a very short time. Once it was gone, however, that other fever roared through, one that had been there all along. I wanted a dog. Yes. I had to have a dog. My dog.
"No dog," said Quent. Non-negotiable, said his tone of voice.
I was getting a dog.
"Please don't get a dog."
Was it possible I had married a man who didn't like -- no, love -- dogs? No. It was impossible because it was unthinkable. Wasn't it?
I wanted a Labrador retriever with a silky yellow head.
"They shed. It'll ruin our apartment," Quent said.
"Our apartment is basically yellow," I argued.
He wasn't the only naysayer. Friends who'd have been thrilled if I had a child behaved as though I were a lunatic to want a dog. Why was everyone against my dog? Did they think I didn't carry the maternal gene? My resolve and commitment strengthened. I was getting a dog.
A friend told me about a special Labrador adoption program. The organization Guiding eyes for the Blind breeds its own dogs and trains them, but not all the trainees are cut out to be service dogs, so some become pets. I applied for one and, after a three-year wait (and lots of arguments with Quent), Eliza was mine.
Quent and had made a family when we married. But here's a guilty secret. It wasn't until Eliza came to live with us that really felt we were a tribe. We'd added one more team member, albeit four-legged, and our twosome-turned-threesome felt stronger.
Once Eliza was around, my husband and I began relating to each other somewhat differently. Had Quent and I ever said pee and poop to each other? Um, don't think so. And if we had, we'd certainly never said it so many times a day, every day. "How was your walk?" I'd ask as we read the paper and drank our coffee, Eliza lying across someone's feet. "Anything interesting to report?" There almost always was.
"I never noticed how many people have dogs," Quent would say. "Eliza pees in the same spot right in the middle of Barrow Street every day. She was unusually frisky this morning.... There was a beagle who wanted to tussle, but Eliza just walked away." The man who didn't love dogs was capable of fatherly pride.
We'd rented a country house that first summer, and Quent commuted daily from the city. Eliza's joy in seeing Quent as he got out of the car was a splendid thing. The two of them romped in the backyard with a ball as I prepared dinner, and if Eliza abandoned the game to race after a rabbit or a deer, he knew exactly how to lure her back.
Once, though, she wouldn't be lured, and instead disappeared into the high grasses for a while. That night, as she leaped onto the bed with her usual nimble grace, he admitted to me how scared he'd been: "I thought, How am I going to tell Lesley she's lost?" And when that silky head happened to rest itself on his knee and not mine, I felt a twinge of something like jealousy. Hey -- what happened to My Dog? The answer was becoming clearer and clearer. Eliza had become Our Dog.
-- By Lesley Dormen
They make great coworkers.
I work from a home office, alone for hours every day, but I didn't get Clark because I was lonely. I got him because we'd promised our kids a puppy, and they insisted on choosing one themselves. Which is how I wound up with a rangy hound/shepherd/Lab mix who's tall enough on two legs to be a reasonable dance partner, and not the smaller, calmer female puppy I'd had in mind.
Not that Clark understood the family dynamic he'd entered, much less his failure to meet my expectations. From the beginning he has been my dog; the children merely competing pack mates. When I hug one of them, he inserts his gangly body between us and wedges the child away. He follows me everywhere, impatiently waiting outside the bathroom when I dare to close the door in his face.
For more than a year I lobbied for another dog because Clark dislikes separation so much that even the hour spent picking the kids up from school depressed him. Being left alone long enough for dinner and a movie could make him anxious for days, and weekends away were impossible. My husband, Haywood, finally relented. He figured we could either get another dog or never take another vacation.
And that's how we got Betty, the smaller female I had wanted to begin with, the yin to Clark's yang. It wasn't long before Betty, too, began to follow me to the bathroom. Apparently I'm an enabler for this pathology: The only "people" I have to talk to all day long are Clark and Betty, so I talk to them a lot, read drafts aloud to them, and they're the best kind of critic: enthusiastic, all pricked ears and wagging tails. Haywood calls them my colleagues.
Someone who doesn't spend the entire day alone in an office the size of a cupboard can't understand this connection. "You got your dog a puppy?" the UPS driver asked in disbelief when I introduced him to Betty.
"Clark was lonely," I said.
"But you're home all day long."
"We were both lonely," I had to admit.
"I decided to expand the staff."
-- By Margaret Renkl
We really understand each other.
"Yoo-hoo! " I call, summoning my dog, Betty, who is right here on the porch with her back to me. "Yoo-hoooooo!!" Finally I tap her on the shoulder. She turns quickly and sees me with eyes that say, "Ooh, hi!"
Betty is 14, and while it's true she's going deaf, she is, as they say of sprightly senior citizens, still quite the whippersnapper. She can still prance and jump, steal a flip-flop and shred it to smithereens. And we still talk, the two of us -- only now we're learning a new language.
"Okay, girly," I say. I put my arms up and signal "move forward" like one of those orange-vested guys guiding airplanes. She walks toward me. "Good girl!" I shout. "This doggie sign language is really working!"
"Uh huh," my husband says politely.
At the bottom of the steps, I point upward. This means "Want to come upstairs?" Betty offers a muffled "Ruff." This means "Yes!" I wag my finger. This means "Not until you take your arthritis pills, Sweetie." She sits. "Darn it."
"Can you believe this?" I say to my husband. "Can you believe we're able to have this conversation? This is like...scientists communicating with dolphins!"
"No," he says. "No, I actually can't believe we're having this conversation."
What occurs next is a lengthy exchange in which Betty asks me to pulverize her pills and smother them in bacon grease, which I do, and then she has me make her a scrambled egg because the bacon has put her in the mood.
"Sorry, girl," I say, when she explains with tilted head that she is insulted by the dog bowl. So I put the egg on a dinner plate and place it on the first step of the staircase.
My husband looks up. "Why did you put the scrambled egg on the step?"
"You didn't see that?" I say. "She drooped her tail to say her reflux is acting up. She likes her food elevated."
He refuses to acknowledge this explanation. Betty slurps the egg. Once she's finished, I bend down to pick her up -- not an easy task, given her 46 pounds." You are not carrying her up," my husband says.
"She asked me to," I say. "Her hips are sore."
"Betty, go on upstairs!" he commands and, well, Betty does it. This act depresses me deeply. How come Betty can still hear him? Do my acts of heroism mean nothing? This is my dog. I am the only one who truly understands her, can truly make her happy, can truly lead us into the beautiful abyss of total codependency.
This is what it is to truly love a dog.
-- By Jeanne Marie Laskas
It's fun to spoil them rotten.
When I got Gracie as a puppy, I swore would never dress her up. People like to dress up pugs, but not me. But on the first really rainy day of my 1-year-old pup's life (Gracie was born in a year of drought), I decided that wearing rain gear is not technically dressing up. It's just practical. She pretty much refused to go out and get soaked, and who could blame her?
So took her to a high-end pet boutique where I'd recently seen a window display of coats on doggie mannequins. I picked out a bright raincoat and looked at the tag: $70. The absurdity of my own situation, unprepared for rain and soaked through, did not elude me, but had to take care of my canine child first. Frugally, I settled on a clear rain slicker stamped "Good Dog": $45.
As we left the boutique, she in her coat, me dripping, a man in a proper trench coat laughed and said to me, "Where's your raincoat?"
"I'm going to get to that," called after him.
And I did. I went to one of those discount clothing stores where -- I swear -- you can sometimes find good stuff. Just as the rainstorm was ending bought myself a rain jacket for $35. A nice one -- black, with a hood. It looks expensive...unless you know where it came from.
Okay, I admit, it's a little lopsided. I buy my rain gear on the cheap and shop for Gracie at a pricey dog emporium. But there aren't any discount stores for pet clothes, and besides, the raincoat says "Good Dog" all over it. She is.
-- By Patti Davis
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.