After the bunny went away, there was a hole in our house. The room we kept her in was quiet and empty. Even though she wasn’t the most friendly of pets, we still had a void that I hadn’t expected.
The Midget wasn’t taking it well. She had a stuffed bunny she renamed Abby. Abby the fake rabbit came to meals and was a surrogate for whatever our child was missing.
For years, the Missus had argued in favor of a dog. I adamantly opposed it. My parents had always rejected the idea of a dog, based on the fact we were never home, we lacked sufficient care options and my father hated animals. I fell in line with that theory and was never really that thrilled with other people’s pets, many of whom were annoying and ill-behaved.
Despite these issues, I grudgingly agreed to meet with a pet. A friend of my wife’s had purchased a dog from her “nail guy” after the guy realized the dog needed more attention than his 70-hour work week would allow him. She figured her kids would do well with the dog, but a divorce had her time-sharing the kids and her work schedule wasn’t much better. Thus, a 1-year-old puppy was often in a kennel for large chunks of each day.
The meeting wasn’t that great. The mini-Schnauzer was a yappy little pet and she was way too loud for my liking. She also was a female dog, the first of which I’d ever dealt with. Thus, while rubbing her belly (as is the custom for me as I try to placate dogs) I felt like a real perv as my hand kept finding all 10 of her overly large protruding nipples.
It was a bad fit, I told my wife. You’re wrong, she kept telling me. And around and around it went…
For the next few days, I found myself thinking about the dog. I kept telling myself my dad was always right about this stuff: responsibility was his big issue and he was usually right that things like this seem great at the time and then go south in six minutes.
Still, for reasons past my understanding, I kept going back to this one moment where the dog sat on the couch, nuzzled up next to me and licked my hand as I petted her. My wife called to the dog, only to have the dog look up, give my wife a perfunctory nod and then reassume her position next to me, licking away like she was cleaning me.
I finally acquiesced under the conditions that this animal was not to be mine. My wife was responsible for it, then my kid, then me. I’m the last option, I kept telling her. She agreed, even forking over a couple hundred bucks to pay for the beast. Depite my kid’s greatest desires to rename her after a Disney princess, we kept the name she had: Maggie.
My kid still hasn’t gotten past the puppy love stage. The Midget’s bed is lofted in her room to give her more space, so we explained that Maggie wasn’t going to be able to sleep up there with her. The Midget pulled a pillow off her bed, laid a comforter on the floor and slept on the ground that night. It’s been at least a month and she hasn’t been off the ground since.
Dogs have a sense about who is least likely to like them. Each day, Maggie woke up and sought me out. She found me and licked me. She would beg for walks, which my fat ass desperately needed. Even though I swore I’d never pick up dog shit, there I was, with a “bag tube” on the end of a leash, following this little turd maker through friends’ yards. Rain, shine, it didn’t matter. There I was with a blue bag and a pile of crap.
When The Midget would tire her out, she’d seek refuge in the basement with me, sneaking next to me on the couch to hide. She has plenty of energy, but she never got the exercise of 2-mile walks and a bouncy 7-year-old. The dog has slept on me more than a few times. She snores like hell. Petting Maggie made me feel better. I guess that thing about therapy dogs is true.
I eventually called home and told my folks that we had bought a dog. Despite hitting middle age, I still hate making those calls. It’s like I’m 18 and calling home after the cops pulled me over or something. My mother said my father would never let the dog visit. I said I understood and that we’d just have to kennel the dog, another task for my wife. The next week, my dad came out to help me run a rummage sale. Day one, he was anti-dog, especially given her yappy nature. “I wouldn’t come to a sale with a damned dog outside,” he muttered, as I was forced to re-kennel the dog when she couldn’t control herself in front of strangers. Day two, I noticed he went into the back yard and petted the dog, who slid up next to him while he was looking for my kid. A couple days later, he called and said if we caged the dog while she was there, we could bring Maggie for a visit.
It was at that point, he made mention of having a dog once. I thought he meant Pierre, my grandmother’s ancient poodle. Turns out, it was something else.
In his teens, he had a dog who had puppies. My grandfather, a gruff man of little nuance, forced him to give away the puppies. When the puppies were gone, for reasons still unclear to me, the kid next door beat my father’s dog nearly to death with a stick. The Humane Society had to come out and put the dog down. Of all the stories my father told me, many of them repeated so often I could tell them back to him from memory, I had never heard this before. However, in a phone call later that week, Mom told me it was true. And that it broke his heart.
My father has always been a hard man to figure. Occasionally, though, a piece of the puzzle comes out that helps make a large section of his life make sense.
I fear what he always feared: attachment. It’s hard to get close. It’s even harder to lose what you love. I guess I’ll end up dealing with this at some point. However, avoiding emotion means you don’t get someone who loves you unconditionally and licks your face for fun. When we leave for an hour and come home, Maggie is all over each of us with that jumping, licking, “Holy shit! You didn’t abandon me! I fucking love you for that!” thing that some dogs do.
In any case, the folks came up for Father’s Day last weekend and to celebrate my birthday and their anniversary all in one fell swoop. As we sat around the living room and kitchen area watching TV, we snacked on pretzels and chips as Maggie trotted around from person to person. Dad did his usual, “Get outta here” thing, which we all kind of accepted as fact.
However, we all noticed something, as my dad kept muttering about the dog and trying watch his shows.
A good number of mini-pretzels with cheese kept falling to the floor in a not-so-accidental way.