I know some folks don’t get the whole dog thing, but I don’t get folks who don’t get it. And I feel sorry that they’ve missed the chance to love a being outside their own species.
I would have been a different human if I hadn’t had dogs in my life. They’re the 2-year-olds who are always ready to play, never grow up, never leave home and never lose their sense of wonder. Humans may become jaded and cynical. Dogs keep the faith. They spring alert to the birds chirping outside or the aroma of a cookie in the next room. When someone drops food — a windfall cracker or chunk of cheese — life is so amazingly, tail-waggingly good. It is, in the moment, the essence of puppy ecstasy.
My dad brought Pinky Lee home in a cardboard box. I was 7 years old and he was my dreamboat, a tiny mutt of unknown provenance, with tan fur and floppy ears. This was Puppy-Rearing 101. My parents put newspaper on the floor and swatted him with a rolled-up paper when he missed his mark. They fed him horsemeat and other canned offal. Awful.
We don’t do that anymore.
They put a leash around his neck, and he trained them to run behind while he pulled them around the block.
We don’t do that anymore.
They gave him leftovers from the table, so he jumped around us while we ate, barking and digging his nails into our legs. We don’t do that anymore, either.
When Pinky was 5, he contracted distemper. The vaccine wasn’t widely available at the time, and he became desperately sick. My dad, a dentist, treated him with human meds, and Pinky miraculously recovered. He did, however, lose control of his tongue, which lolled outside his mouth for the rest of his long life. He was a sight to behold, poor baby.
After Pinky came Sheba the First, a sweet-tempered German shepherd, who shook at the sound of thunder as if her bones would fly apart. She was also a product of laid-back training, kind of raising herself in our busy household. No crates, no carriers, no special food, no trainers.
When I married, our first puppy was Lambchop, a tiny toy poodle with an oversized aggression problem. From that sad experience I learned that I couldn’t fix everything. I learned that I could love a puppy and still have to let him go. When he was 3 and I was pregnant with our second child, we gave him away to a safe, adult family. He walked out the door and never looked back. But I did, and I do, often.
Then we adopted Sheba the Second, a mixed-breed we rescued from the North Shore Animal Shelter. She was the dog who helped define our family life. Jason was 7 when got her, and he was 25 when we had to put her down. And she, too, was barely trained in any organized way. She barked and whirled like a dervish whenever the doorbell rang — for 18 years.
After Sheba, with the kids out of the house, we considered a dog-free life, but after five years we caved. We got Zoe, a hypoallergenic Coton de Tulear who was our best girl for 16 years. By now we were more enlightened about puppy nutrition and training. She was the metaphor for our youth and the substitute for kids who had moved away. Losing her last summer was a heartbreak, but her gifts to us were abundant. Zoe had a keen emotional IQ; she knew when to stay close and how to offer comfort.
After her passing, I began discussions with a breeder of Malagasy Cotons de Tulear, a line of rare dogs from Madagascar. We talked, and I was interviewed, and I dreamed about Lilly Bee well before her mother, Ivy, and her father Sinbad, ever got together. This was a whole new dog show for me. The breeder is meticulous and exacting about the raising of her puppies. I learned about Puppy Culture, a more advanced way of bringing puppies into the world and getting them through their first 12 weeks. I got emails when Ivy conceived and when the puppies were born, and then videos every week until I met Lilly Bee at Kennedy Airport when she was 14 weeks old.
I am happy to feel possessed by this process. You raise dogs differently at different times of life. Yes, I’m walking Baby Lilly 10 times a day, but I’m also meeting neighbors I’ve never met. It’s time-consuming and exhausting to train a puppy, but the payoff is incalculable. Lilly and I are learning the virtues of a good life, side by side, she for the first time, me all over again: discipline and joy, loyalty and love.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.