It happened like this: After a walk in the park with a friend, I saw a young woman sitting in a car talking to a dog. Even from a distance, beneath the hard glass of the windshield, we could tell this was an exceptional animal. Never shy, I tapped on the young woman’s door to ask her what kind of dog it was. We live in Nashville, where people do things like this and no one is frightened or surprised. The young woman told us the sad story: The dog, who on closer viewing was nothing but a mere slip of a puppy, had been dumped in a parking lot, rescued, and then passed among several well-intentioned young women, none of whom were allowed to have dogs in their apartments. Finally the dog had landed with the young woman in the car, who had been explaining to said dog that the day had come to look cute and find a permanent home.
She was small and sleek and white. The sun came through her disproportionately large ears and showed them to be pink and translucent as a good Limoges cup held up to the light. We petted. She licked. We left the park with a dog.
I didn’t think it would be this way. I thought when the time was right I would make a decision, consider breeds, look around. The truth is, I too was a woman who lived in an apartment that didn’t accept dogs. But when fate knocks on the door, you’d better answer. “Let’s call her Rose,” my boyfriend said.
I was breathless, besotted. My puppy tucked her nose under my arm and the hundred clever dog names I had dreamed up over a lifetime vanished. “Sure,” I said. “Rose.”
I was 32 years old that spring, and all I had ever wanted was a dog. While other girls grew up dreaming of homes and children, true love and financial security, I envisioned Shepherds and Terriers, fields of happy, bounding mutts. Part of my childhood was spent on a farm where I lived in a sea of pets: horses and chickens, a half a dozen sturdy, mouse-killing cats, rabbits, one pig, and many, many dogs, Rumble and Tumble and Sam and Lucy and especially Cuddles, who did justice to his name. Ever since that time I have believed that happiness and true adulthood would be mine at the moment of dog ownership. I would stop traveling so much. I would live someplace with a nice lawn. There would be plenty of money for vet bills.
At home, the puppy, Rose, played with balls, struggled with the stairs, and slept behind my knees while I watched in adoration. It’s not that I was unhappy in what I now think of as “the dogless years,” but I suspected things could be better. What I never could have imagined was how much better they would be. I had entered into my first relationship of mutual, unconditional love. I immediately found a much nicer apartment, one that allowed dogs for a ridiculously large, nonrefundable pet deposit. Since I work at home, Rose was able to spend her days in my lap, where she was most comfortable. We bonded in a way that some people looked upon as suspicious. I took Rose into stores like the rich ladies at Bergdorf’s do. I took her to dinner parties. I took her to the Cape for vacation. As I have almost no ability to leave her alone, when I had to go someplace that foolishly did not allow dogs, I’d drive her across town and leave her with my grandmother. “Look at that,” people said, looking at me and not Rose. “Look how badly she wants a baby.”
A baby? I held up my dog for them to see, my bright, beautiful dog. “A dog,” I said. “I’ve always wanted a dog.” In truth, I have no memory of ever wanting a baby. I have never peered longingly into someone else’s stroller. I have, on occasions too numerous to list, bent down on the sidewalk to rub the ears of strange dogs, to whisper to them about their limpid eyes.
“Maybe you don’t even realize it,” strangers said, friends said, my family said. “Clearly, you want a baby.”
“Look at the way you’re holding that dog,” my grandmother said. “Just like it’s a baby.”
People began to raise the issue with my boyfriend, insisting that he open his eyes to the pathetic state of maternal want I was so clearly in. Being a very accommodating fellow, he took my hand. With his other hand he rubbed Rose’s ears. He loves her as blindly as I do. Her favorite game is to be draped over the back of his neck like a fox-fur stole, two legs dangling on either shoulder. “Ann,” he said. “If you want to have a baby. …”