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The Dog Who Came Gift-Wrapped
An unexpected gift takes its recipient on a wild emotional ride
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I wish I loved my dog, but I don’t. I know that makes me sound like an asshole, which I am. But it’s baffling. I’m one of those embarrassing Dog People prone to falling on the sidewalk and allowing strangers’ pets to lick my tonsils. I’ve always had a dog. So what’s the deal? Perhaps it begins with a tiny truth: this one showed up in my apartment as a surprise gift, a barking turd machine tied with a bow, and I’m not certain I’ll ever recover.

Three years ago, my beloved Samoyed, Ripley, was put down at the age of 15. My friend Chris’s sympathy call that night included the line, “I’m getting you another one immediately.” Drunk as I was, I managed to curb his loose-cannon instinct and talk him out of it. Mere weeks later, his birthday gift to me was a dog collar with a tag that read, “I’ll pay for whatever dog you put this collar around.” How sweet, I thought. Actually, I thought, That dangling preposition sounds so awkward, but how sweet that he fit all the words on this tiny bone-shaped tag.

I knew I’d get another dog eventually, but I needed a breather. I’d had Ripley since I was 25, and in her last couple of years, she had numerous health problems, including diabetes, so I was dipping a stick in her pee every morning to test her ketones and giving her two insulin injections a day—serious tasks on top of the everyday care of a geriatric dog. As much as I adored Ripley, I felt a liberating absence of the sadness and tension that surrounded her final months, the dog-hair cloak of melancholy finally cast aside. If nothing else, it was much less stressful riding my apartment building’s elevator without a large and incontinent companion. I was free. The only urine issues I had were my own.

A carefree year-and-a-half later, Chris and I were having lunch, and the topic of My Next Dog arose.

“Are you ready yet?” he asked. “It’s still my treat.” Which conjured a mental image of Milk Bones, not a live creature. I said I’d been thinking about it, that I’d been ogling some neighborhood Bernese Mountain Dogs and their short-haired versions, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog; the Appenzeller; and another one with a name so foreign even the Swiss can’t pronounce it. And that maybe I’d start thinking about a rescue, or possibly investigating other breeds, but certainly not until I got back from an upcoming vacation in Rio. Little did I know that Chris’s Insane-o-Meter was hitting red something fierce.

The day I returned from my trip—a 13-hour overnight flight that got me home at 6 in the morning—I opened my apartment door and saw a savagely chewed-up plastic two-liter bottle on the floor. Before the idea registered, reality hit. Literally. A beautiful, clumsy, nine-week-old Bernese Mountain Dog came flying around the corner and mowed right into me.

Hello, next decade-and-change.

Apparently it was my only-slightly-less-crazy friend Zeke who had emailed Chris 90 seconds after my plane took off for Brazil and really put the plan into motion. This being the 21st century and both of them being webheads, Zeke sent Chris a link to a family in Arkansas whose teenage daughter was raising college tuition money by selling their Berner’s litter. Online. Like an all-mammal eBay. Pictures were pondered and my life was altered with one click. The dog, at this point named “Add to Cart,” was flown in and Zeke picked her up at the airport.

Others were in on the plot. My friend Haven in Durham bravely volunteered to take the dog (which she named “Precious Agnes”) if I flipped out and refused the gift. PA’s North Carolina life would be wonderful for many reasons, one of them being Haven’s genetic predisposition to hoarding, so one more dog (she already had three) would actually fulfill a palpable need. Rob in Chicago was more practical. “I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” he warned. “I know he’s a dog person, but I can just see that look on his face.” (Rob has known me longest.) Chris uncharacteristically attempted to frame it in a sunnier way: “This is a rescue. We’re rescuing a 16-year-old girl from Arkansas.”

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