In the weeks before my business partner Karen Hayes and I opened Parnassus Books in Nashville, I would bring my 16-yearold dog Rose to the store. I folded her up inside her soft bed and then stretched her out in the warm sun that fell through the front window. She would sleep while I painted a cabinet or shelved books. Rose, who had once been a Chihuahua/Terrier mix, was now nothing but a limp little sock puppet of a dog, and I carried her with me everywhere. I wanted her to be a store dog. If I was going to have a bookstore, it seemed only right that Rose should have a job. I thought that she could stay in her bed by the cash register and people could pet her, but it didn’t work out that way. Having lived a long and happy life, Rose died two weeks after we opened.
The truth of the matter is that Rose, no matter how much I loved her, was not store-dog material. For one thing, she hated children, and while she almost never actually bit them, she could bark and lunge and snap without provocation. At times she could be so ferocious that children felt bitten without the actual bite. The only reason I even thought she might be able to be a store dog late in life was that she could no longer walk, and her sight and hearing were negligible. She just liked the petting, and the size of the hand running over her small flank didn’t matter anymore.
Karen thought the bookstore should have a piano, and so she got a piano. I thought the bookstore should have a dog, but now I didn’t have a dog, and I was too sad to go out and get another one.
So we hired a part-time dog, a sleek, short-haired Miniature Dachshund named Lexington who came in with our events manager, Niki Castle, once or twice a week. Lexington was from New York City, where she and Niki had lived before moving south. As a city dog, she was not afraid of crowds. She was used to strangers making over her. She was used to children getting in her face. Frankly, she liked children getting in her face. Her M.O. was to race around the store 10 times, greet everyone and then skid back into the office, where Niki would scoop her up and drop her into a sling she wore across her chest. There, in her pouch, Lexington napped. Twenty minutes later, she’d take off running again. It was the cycle of her day.
No one could complain about the job Lexington was doing. Children marched back to the office and demanded to see the Dachshund, and off she would go to the picture-book section. She did not gnaw on the spines of the books on lower shelves. She did not lose her temper, never once, when a small hand tried to keep her from her appointed nap by holding onto her tail. She was in every way top flight. But that didn’t mean I didn’t want my own store dog.
“We have a store,” my husband would say when he called about various shelter or foster-care dogs we had seen on the Internet. “Do you think he would be a good store dog?”
But if you don’t have a store, how can you know? How can you know if your dog can be trusted not to dart through the continually opening doors, or if he’ll jump up and grab a fluttering scarf, or have accidents in hidden corners, or bite a child—even one child, one child who may have been asking for it in every possible way. How do you know that dog when you see him?
It turns out my husband knew. The Friday afternoon we walked into the Nashville Humane Association and my husband saw Sparky, he knew. He leaned over and lifted him out of his pen. “This one,” he said, without looking at a single other dog.
After 16 wonderful years with Rose, it’s hard for me not to panic when I see a tiny child toddling towards my dog, fingers outstretched. But regardless of size, Sparky gives every customer a fullbody wag, then drops to the ground to show his spotted tummy. Most children then drop to the ground as well and together they roll around.