My ten year old daughter gradually covered the walls of her bedroom with images of dogs. At the top of a pyramid of cut-out calendar pictures, she affixed letters spelling out: I love dogs. She reads dog training books and dog mysteries. She saves her money and buys dog collars and leashes, which she attaches to her stuffed animals. A few weeks ago, she built and painted a doghouse out of a large cardboard box. For about three years, she has been begging and imploring us to get a dog.
Ah, we said. We have a cat. We had read studies that said you could introduce a kitten to a dog, but if you brought a puppy into a cat home, the cat would be inclined to kill, or at least hurt, the puppy. Besides, we reasoned, we couldn't do that to our beautiful old lady cat.
And then she went and died. The cat, that is.
A day later, our daughter raised a doggy eyebrow. Too soon, we said.
We talked about what we would want in a hypothetical dog. A black lab, only softer and smaller. A medium-sized dog. An easy dog. We discussed how we needed to wait until I decided whether I would continue freelancing or get a job - because we felt it wouldn't be fair to cage a dog all day. I decided against the employment option.
A month ago, we found great puppies online. Our stomachs fluttered; it felt too soon. We contacted the breeder and fortunately all the puppies were gone.
This past weekend, we found perfect puppies online. Our stomachs fluttered; it did not feel too soon. We contacted the breeder and they still had puppies. We counted the cost. We slept on it. We cleaned our house from top to bottom. We set up barriers. We called people. We picked up puppy food and poop bags. We shook our heads. We prayed. We got in the car and drove for three hours.
En route, we discussed potential names. It ran the gamut: from Chickenhead to Ethiopia, from Jasper to Newton. We narrowed the list down. We drove through rain and wind and lilacs. We talked about puppy mills and reasons we would say no, even after meeting the puppies.
When we pulled up in front of small suburban house, we were met by a comfortable-looking lady, her affable husband and relaxed, shy teenage daughter. The puppies - there were two left - were wriggling around the gated kitchen. We met the mom and dad dogs - both family pets - who were penned in a huge enclosure in the back. The family let us visit with the puppies for as long as we wished.They talked to us about the vet's reports: one had a possible mild heart murmur. Both were black, one resembling the English springer spaniel fluffy father, and the other looking much more like the Lab mother. The kids went back and forth as to which one they preferred and everyone left the decision to me. I borrowed the family's computer and looked up heart murmurs. Dave reminded me that no pet came with a guarantee.
We decided to take our chances on the soft black Lab with silky floppy ears, the one with the possible heart murmur. "Let's hope he has a good heart, even if it's a weak heart," I said. The family dropped the price for him but we said our concern was not being sold a defective dog so much as attaching ourselves to an unhealthy dog.
He curled up between the kids in the back seat and slept most of the way home. Our stomachs fluttered with butterflies of happiness. We noodled about more names as we went. Finally, our oldest said, "What about Lucky?" and suddenly all the other names slipped away. He was Lucky.
There have been moments of buyer's remorse this week, usually when we are dead tired or when Lucky's intelligence tends toward chewing and biting everything. The first day was challenging for me. I felt like I was out of my depth, that I hadn't settled on an approach for puppy-rearing. My other worry is existential: part of my work decision has been one where I'm moving out of mommydom into a new direction for my business; my fear is that puppyhood will take me right back into that role, like an unexpected pregnancy.
However, for the most part, even though I'm more of a cat lady than a dog person, and even though this pup is more for the kids than us, I'm falling in love with a puppy who is quick to learn and eager to please. I love seeing my kids take on responsibility for him. I am forever in debt to my husband for taking on the night shifts this week.
I feel pretty lucky.