I share this as pet penance.
My wife, Kellie and I are the proud parents of two dogs – Ozzie, a 13-year-old male Shi Tzu, and Daize (pronounced Daisy), a 7-year-old Shi Tzu-Terrier mix.
We have owned two other Shi Tzus (our preferred breed because I am allergic to pet hair and dander, and they don’t shed) – Duncan, who passed after two wonderful years before we had our human babies; and Otto, who filled the first 14 years of our human parenthood with joy.
We got Daize one year ago, on August 13, 2017. A year later, we love her as much as any of our other dogs.
But, to be clear, I did not want her.
To explain: about 18 months ago, we noticed that Ozzie was bumping into things, not responding to our voices, and basically sleeping all day. In other words, he was going blind and deaf and getting old, as dogs (and their middle-age parents) will do.
Kellie — whose heart on its smallest, Grinchiest days is three sizes bigger than mine will ever be — suggested possibly getting another dog soon, maybe as a transition dog or a friend for Ozzie since we wouldn’t likely have him much longer –a year, maybe two.
I briefly thought about it, but, I told my wife, her argument made no sense.
First, Ozzie didn’t need or seem to want a companion. He sleeps twenty-two hours a day. Plus, he’s blind and deaf, so odds are he wouldn’t even know another dog was in the room unless he accidentally bumped into it searching for his water.
But more to the point, my (former) Catholic guilt wouldn’t let me even consider taking even one minute of attention from Ozzie, knowing his days are numbered. Every time I thought about it, I felt like a nun had caught me peaking at another kid’s math test.
So, for one of the exceptionally rare times in our 33 years together, I said “no.” I meant it and was prepared to stick to my guns.
Then Kellie got a strange phone call.
A man who had been a resident at the assisted living home where she works, was returning to Illinois in extreme poor health after a year living in Georgia. Alas, his days, too, were numbered. He needed someone to take his dog, Daize.
His family couldn’t help, but he knew Kellie had loved Daize when they lived here. (True – Kellie is a magnificent mother/grandmother/caretaker to just about everyone and everything she meets. She’d even brought Daize to our house once or twice when the man needed help.) If Kellie could not take Daize, he’d have to put the dog into a shelter.
Naturally, my wife came to me. This couldn’t be coincidence, she was sure. She made her case as powerfully and passionately and logically as any lawyer.
I said no.
She tried several more times.
Then she did the worst, most diabolical, most twisted thing possible: she secretly conspired with our girls.
Out of nowhere my girls started carpet bombing me for several days with pleas for mercy and kindness. Our youngest even sang that god-awful Sarah McLachlan song from the ASPCA commercial.
Now, that’s dirty pool in my book!
Finally, I relented. What else could I do? I was trapped. But that didn’t mean I had to like it. And I didn’t. Not one bit.
So, on a hot August Sunday afternoon, my guilt riding shotgun and sniping in my ear the whole way, we picked up Daize from her former owner and “adopted” her.
Significantly overweight, with a smile defined by a hilariously-pronounced underbite, heavily matted and unkempt fur, a bit confused in her new surroundings, looking kind of sad but otherwise OK, we brought her into our home.
She slowly filled one of the vacant spots in our newly-empty nest. And for no reason that I can discern or fathom even a year later, she attached herself to me.
Oh, she loves Kellie – who wouldn’t?
Yet Daize has become, absolutely, unquestionably, unequivocally, undisputedly, indubitably, my dog.
She will not leave my side. Even now as I write this, she lays two feet behind me on the rug in my office. She follows me everywhere like a 34-pound, four-pawed shadow. If I get up to do anything, she will follow. It’s exhausting just watching her!
When I get anywhere near her, she immediately rolls over for me to rub her fat, pink belly. And if I dare stop before she is contented, she bats at my hands until I resume.
Worst of all, it seems she is a night owl. (Perhaps she was a college kid in another life…)
Last winter, she started getting up and demanding to go outside at least once, often twice and occasionally three times a night. Usually around 2 a.m. she would bark from the bottom of the stairs until I get up.
At first, she would stroll around the yard, hunting for critters or frogs under the plants and decorative grasses.
“Hurry it up! Get in here!” I would yell at the top of my whispering voice from the kitchen in my pajamas, trying not wake every neighbor around.
She’d stare at me, dribble a token pee-pee, then saunter back, taking her sweet time. And then we’d enjoy a late-night snack together to celebrate her being a good girl.
Finally, in early spring, I got wise and put her on a leash so she couldn’t wander as far into the night shade. Now, she still gets me up several times a night, but at least it’s for a shorter period. That’s why I am the human! Superior brain power!
Remember, I didn’t want a dog at that time. Not this dog, not any dog.
Yet, there I am standing on the patio in my night duds, laughing at her shenanigans, joy filling my heart as sure as air fills my lungs.
What’s more – surprise! — she filled a void in my spirit and proved to be the “transition dog” that Kellie wanted. Not for Ozzie, who still ignores Daize as much as he can. But rather for me, bridging the gap between our daughters moving out, and our granddaughter’s birth.
All of which proves several points that have shaped my life:
- wives hold all real power and wisdom;
- human kids are excellent/evil conspirators;
- pets of all kinds are members of the family as deserving of our love as any creature, human or otherwise;
And (as if the platypus weren’t proof enough) that God has a wicked sense of humor.