As any pet owner will tell you, being asked to share a story about your pets is akin to being asked to tell someone about your children. No matter what their faults, they are always the best, the brightest, the cutest, the most adorable in the world. Never mind that they pee on the carpet, poop by the fireplace, chew up the antique table in the dining room and whimper to be let out at the crack of dawn. (No, not the children. The pet … Try to follow.)
But like becoming a new mother, becoming a first-time pet owner can be quite a crash course.
As a child I never had a pet … unless you count the goldfish or the turtles, which were just not lovable enough to qualify for “real” pet status. I did babysit a cat once over winter break in my second year of college. The thing hissed at me when I locked myself out of the house and had to break in through the kitchen window. And it scared my cat-fearing grandmother out of several years of life when it escaped from the locked basement and rubbed up against her leg under the table. I never saw Nana jump that high before or since!
My husband, on the other hand, always had dogs growing up. So when we were given the opportunity to buy a puppy from a new litter of Tibetan Spaniels a friend’s dogs had just had, we jumped at the chance. It would be a surprise Christmas gift for the kids, especially my son who had been rallying for a dog unsuccessfully for a couple of years.
I always say that our dog chose me, not the other way around. We went to look at the four puppies and while all the others ran chasing each other around the house, this little fluffy black-and-white guy jumped right up into my lap and snuggled in. And thus began my love affair with the aptly-named Oreo.
In the heart of a cold snowy winter, Oreo and I bonded in the backyard as he learned to let us know when he wanted to go out. He defied the experts who said all dogs love their crates (he hated it) and would NEVER do his business in there (he did). Despite our best intentions, he found his way into our bed at night and successfully begged for scraps at every meal. We learned that when he was too quiet, it was probably because he was chewing our furniture. And we learned that the big clump of matted fur on his head was just that – matted fur – not Oreo growing a third ear. (I kid you not. I still have a hard time walking into the vet’s office after calling in a panic about that one.)
If Oreo could talk, he would have oh-so-many secrets to tell! And so many family comedies and tragedies to recall. I think all of us have at some point sat with him, face buried in fur, crying and confiding and being comforted by those big soulful eyes and a lick or two. Oreo was even my perfect companion during 9/11. While everyone else was panic-stricken, he alone had what I needed to make my tumultuous world feel grounded again .
Oreo is 11 now – fairly old in dog time, but not terribly old for his breed. And being a small dog, he has always maintained the look of a puppy. But although I’d like to deny it, I see the signs of his aging. Panting heavier and sooner when we take him for hikes. Climbing slowly up the stairs. Making sounds in his sleep that seem more like whimpers and less like playful puppy dreams.
But every now and then, he seems rejuvenated. He’ll bound up the stairs, chase after a squirrel, run around crazily after his bath. Once in a while he’s that new puppy again … the one who bounced onto my lap and into my heart.