After the parade of chickens, a duck, a box turtle, and a psychotic rabbit, it feels a bit strange to have so prosaic a pet as a dog. We had held out for years against pleading kids, but we were worn down. So when our eldest daughter, Abby, found a stray five-month-old puppy on the street in Chicago and was sure that it would be “a great dog” for us, we gave in to our youngest daughter, Jo, still at home, and agreed to adopt it.
A friend of Abby’s gave our new addition a ride to Michigan. We should have known what was in store when Abby called to report that “Uh, Liesel got into a bag of granola last night, so she might have a little diarrhea.” She neglected to include the full description of that night, which included her coming home to a trashed apartment and her own dog, Judah, looking at her as if to say, “We used to have such a nice life.” In time, we would come to feel his pain.
Liesel. Why Liesel? Abby couldn’t explain. I didn’t want to be humming “I Am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” for the rest of this dog’s life, so we decided to look for a similar-sounding name. Grandpa’s suggestion, “Diesel,” was only briefly considered. It was my husband’s idea to name her “Lucy.” We like it because when we walk in the door we can sing out, “Lucy, I’m home.” And when she is looking guilty, sitting next to an empty graham cracker box, we can say, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”
There are also times when she is just “Lucifer.”
And then there is the little matter of her breed. When people ask, I have some ‘splaining to do myself. I say, “She’s the sweetest pit bull on the planet.”
This wuss of a dog, terrified of vacuum cleaners or an apple falling off the counter, is a friend to all. (Except squirrels.) She fulfills my basic requirements: she is cuddly, doesn’t bark a lot, doesn’t shed a lot, and sleeps a lot. When this speedy escape artist makes her move, we know we’ll find her at the nearby school-bus stop, mingling with the students. She expresses her affection with licks and friendly grooming, nibbling ears or toes, offering her very own “pet-i-cure.”
Being novice dog owners was educational for us. I have had a lot of experience potty-training children, but Lucy was something else. There are no pull-ups for dogs. The den carpet gave mute testimony to our collective failure and was ultimately removed. We’re still not 100 percent there, but close. Maybe. We hope.
I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for thirty years, but owning a dog has taught me things I never knew about our town. A friend told us about doggy day care. Are you kidding me? I wondered. But we decided to check it out, hoping to let someone else deal with her housebreaking–in a place with concrete floors that can be hosed down. Lucy would first have to pass a temperament test. We took her in and endured the classic twinge of applicant anxiety: would our little girl be accepted?
She passed! Nowadays, she can be sound asleep on the sofa and all I have to do is whisper, “Doggy day care,” and she is at the door. There is excited yipping when we pull into the parking lot, and before we enter we stop at the post near the door, full of the intoxicating fragrances of a hundred dogs. I drag her inside, where she is greeted by her gang of dog friends, each jostling for the best butt-sniffing position.
I chat with her caregivers. Does she get along with the other dogs? Do they like her? Does she play nicely with others? And, oh, the shame one afternoon to find her in the principal’s office. She had scuffled with a smaller dog.
The sign-in sheet asks for the name of the dog and its “parent.” That’s where I draw the line. I have six kids, and that’s plenty. I am not Lucy’s mom; I am Alpha Girl. Alpha Guy, Beta Girl, and I keep our little Omega in line. Pack rules, you know.
Taking Lucy to the dog park isn’t much different from taking kids to the people park. We pack our supplies–snacks, drinks, toys–and head out. “Ooh, who will be there, today, Lucy? I’m shutting the door; watch your tail.” Yes, we are headed for that magical place; howling is certainly in order.
The rules at the park are familiar: don’t be mean to the little ones, share your toys, no biting. The only significant difference from children’s playtime is the “no humping” rule.
I have procured a “Chuckit”–a plastic ball-throwing device that is a godsend for someone of my athletic abilities. With it I can lob a tennis ball as much as thirty yards, provided I remember to let go of it. I have been known to throw the Chuckit along with the ball, but dogs are infinitely forgiving. The best thing about the Chuckit, though, is that you never have to touch the slobbery, muddy, stinky tennis ball. Ever.
The other dog owners in the park admire Lucy’s great fetching skills, her speed and spectacular leaps. It’s fetch-till-you-drop with this little addict. She collapses by the water bowl, heaving her head over the side to lap up the water, ball in the bowl to protect it from predations of other dogs. Our little drama queen.
Yes, God help me, I’ve joined the ranks of insufferable dog owners, baffled by those who can’t understand that she’s really, really friendly and would never hurt you. Gone are the days when my little kids would try to climb up onto my head in order to get away from a strange dog. Now, I take more walks, meet more neighbors, and enjoy the sweetness of a warm doggy head resting on my lap. Pretty good deal.