When my children asked me what I wanted for my wedding anniversary, I should have said, diamonds, a cruise to Tahiti, or any number of just rewards for having experienced thirty-one years with their father. Somehow, a temporary madness, perhaps stemming from pre-menopausal chemical activity, caused me to say, with a perfectly sane look on my face, “I’d really like to have a puppy.”
This statement coming from the lips of a women who had previously sworn off animals since the demise of our thirteen-year-old sheepdog mix, greatly pleased my children. Even though most of them had reached adulthood, buying a puppy was infinitely more pleasurable than buying jewelry.
Of all the animals that had plagued our house hold during my children’s growing years, that mongrel was the most exasperating. She definitely fit the textbook description of a female dog. The animal’s purpose in life was to torment me, and my greatest fear was that the miserable excuse for a dog would outlive me.
Sheba, so named because in a moment of weakness I had thought her lustrous black coat to be regal and her bearing queenly chewed and defecated her way through three homes, thousands of square yards of carpeting, and two sets of furniture. She consumed jewelry and soiled cat litter with no discretion. And had some really disgusting fetishes not fit for point.
Except for a bent for longevity, Sheba had no redeeming qualities. She didn’t approve of children, hated male teenagers, and once chased a polite, soft-spoken Jehovah’s (bible salesman?) Witness up a maple tree. The dog was misery, personified.
As she entered old age, (91 years to you and me) she became a miserable, senile dog, cranky and forgetful at her dotage. She walked into walls, tripped down steps, didn’t hear unless I bent down and shouted into her ear (I think she faked that part) and lost her sense of smell. That meant that sprinkling red pepper on the wet spots on the carpet had no effect whatsoever.
Finally, I was free of her, although the children cried; the same children who never walked her, cleaned up after her, bathed her in flea baths, or brushed mountainous wads of shedding fur from her body. I missed Sheba at odd moments, forgetting her bad habits, remembering only the excited wagging of her tail as she greeted me at the door (before I found the usual presents left on the rug) or the times when she would lay her shaggy head in my lap and stare up at me as if I were a goddess; begging for forgiveness and offering a mute promise of future redemption. Promises she never kept.
Now, after a year of clean carpets, peace from incessant howling, and phone calls from irate neighbors, I wanted another dog; a puppy. It had to be madness or a weird version of the Empty Nest Syndrome, although my nest was emptying at a very slow pace, and quickly refilling with live-in-grandchildren.
Anyway, the kids drove merrily off in whichever of their cars had gas that day to purchase my new pet.
“Don’t you want to pick it out?” they had asked, hoping that I would decline.
“No, you know me. I can’t make decisions. I’d come home with two or three dogs and your father would kill me.”
My insignificant other had only one thing to say.
“You couldn’t housebreak the kids and you couldn’t housebreak that last rotten mutt. Why are you doing this to me?”
He couldn’t put up a strong argument. I had, after all, stayed with the man thirty years; a herculean feat.
Six hours and four pet shops later, my brood returned with the “puppy”. He already weighed twenty pounds at two months and tripped over his paws which were only a few sizes smaller than my feet. What have I done, I asked myself, my brain chemistry a little more normal. My children proudly stated that wriggling mass of blond fur with floppy ears and hound-dog expression was a Golden Labrador.
“He’s very intelligent,” said my oldest daughter. “The vet said that he’ll practically train himself, and that anyone who can’t housebreak this dog has got to be really stupid.”
The dog promptly wet the carpet.
“It’s all right,” I said picking him up and holding him in my arms. “He’s probably a little nervous.”
Remington looked at me with gratitude and another more devious expression that seemed to say, “I’m can do what I want because I’m cute”.
I had forgotten how similar puppies are to babies. Remy cried and wailed most of the night, until I put him into my bed, an act which nearly guaranteed there would not be a thirty-second anniversary. He finally snuggled in with my youngest daughter and slept through what was left of the rest of the night.
During the following weeks, I sometimes regretted my spontaneous craving for a new canine. Remington attacked my houseplants with relish, some of which I had raised from seedlings. The palm tree fell over dead from trauma and two of the aloe veras started bleeding. He devoured my books, volumes of friends that had served me well. It had taken me six weeks to read my Scottish romance. Remy had ingested it in half an hour, not deriving any noticeable culture from my experience. He coveted dirty laundry, particularly underwear, and developed a fondness for sneakers, preferably Reeboks. Waste baskets and garbage bins were a source of pleasure for the puppy, who showed his pleasure by strewing the contents across the house. .
But I tried to consider the dog’s good points. He was quite verbal, and I mentioned to my family how he cleverly barked for whatever he wanted or needed: food, water, toys, and playtime. The only word missing from his vocabulary was the word “quiet.”
He quickly learned to chase a ball, retrieve it, drop it, and sit down, in that order. I was impressed. Some of my kids couldn’t do that until they were in college. And he grasped the concept of housebreaking immediately, refusing to attend to his personal needs anywhere except in the house. The outside world was not fit for man nor beast, to Remy. He hated the cold, the wind terrified him, and if, God forbid, a tiny raindrop would fall on his expensive little face, he trembled, whined, and swiftly led me back to the safety of his home. He had me trained to heel in a matter of days.
“You’ve got to learn to control that animal,” my husband said. “Otherwise, when he weighs eighty or ninety pounds, you’ll be sorry.”
I’m already sorry, I thought, but couldn’t admit it. The dog, reclining lazily on my white leather couch, snored softly.
Two things that mix about as poorly as water and oil are puppies and children. Remy and my two small grandsons rolled and wrestled about the house, giving mild symptoms of an ulcer I had suffered a few years ago while Sheba was alive. Remy nipped playfully at them, and they promptly kicked him in his posterior. He ate their toys and they hid the dog’s favorite ball. Just about the time I was ready to return both the dog and the boys, I would find them cuddled up in front of the television set, fast asleep; a Norman Rockwell painting. It will get better, I told myself. Remington is a sweet, loveable dog, and if he survives puppyhood, he’ll make a wonderful, loyal pet. After all, I endured six children, a chauvinistic husband, and a female dog spawned from Hell. This, too, shall pass. Besides, I’ll probably have him housebroken any month now. But on my next wedding anniversary, I’m opting for diamonds.