BUSY IN BRISTOW: They Call It Puppy Love

| April 13, 2014 | 0 Comments | Busy in Bristow

I didn’t really want a puppy. I wanted a rescue dog – say three or four years old. You know, a dog that’s already housebroken and doesn’t think batting gloves, shoes and Duplex Legos are chew toys … a dog that, well, doesn’t require so much work.

The other great thing about a rescue dog is you get to feel really good about yourself and put “Who rescued who?” stickers on the trunk of your car, and although any pet ends up being an expense, you don’t pay for a rescue dog the price of a MacBook Air, three trips to B.J.’s Wholesale, or two weeks of summer camp. All these things I know because we didn’t adopt a rescue dog. We bought a 10-week old pure bred English Labrador Retriever with a last name from the American Kennel Club longer than any of my sentences.

She’s a beauty. She’s great at playing fetch. She may or may not be smart – it’s too early to tell. We take lots of pictures of her. Oldest Son is great at playing fetch with her. We may or may not be smart – it’s too early to tell.

Like many events in life, our Puppy Purchase was something we stumbled into one day after too much wine. No, seriously … we bought her at a winery.

Rappahannock Cellars, a beautiful grape haven, nestled in the crook of the Southeast side of the Shenandoah Valley was itself something I stumbled upon. A writer friend hosted an event in their sleek reception room, and three glasses of Cabernet later, I thought his invitation to become a wine club member was the best idea ever. No thought to the fact I have four children, work full time, and rarely get an hour for a haircut much less a social life. No thought to the fact that there are probably 20 wineries closer to our home than this one.

That explains what my husband and I were doing at an exclusive wine club soup event at Rappahannock Cellars one sunny day in January. When we walked in, the first thing we saw was a flyer that read, “Labrador Puppies For Sale” and boasted a mug shot of one of the adorables.

You should know two more things to fully appreciate our vulnerability to this impulse buy:

  1. We love labs. The best dog that ever lived was our Chelsea, a black lab that my husband Mark raised from a puppy into a loveable, well-behaved four year old by the time I met the pair, and
  2. Our kids had been wearing us down for over a year with persistent requests for a cat or dog, with petulant claims that society finches are NOT real pets.

We oohed and awwed over the puppy picture and promptly forgot all about it until – on our way out – we saw the real thing right there in the winery lobby. This puppy, George, belonged to the winery owners, and after we made a big production over him, the breeders stepped out of the sidelines and began talking us up about Labradors. They asked us if we’d like to see her, they lived just a ways up the road, and everything felt right … my husband looked at me with goo-goo eyes, and I returned the love-struck look, and we both knew without having met Puppy that she was ours.

The first few days were easy. She was out of sorts and homesick, so she was pretty laid back. After she got used to her new home by, say by day four, she was showing boundless energy and began nibbling on everything including the wood steps in our family room.

As far as her training, we didn’t have high expectations for either paper or crate even though she’d been practicing both, they said, for weeks. So when she’d run outside to play, pee just a little, then immediately let it loose as soon as we let her back inside on the berber carpet … we laughed it off, pointed to the paper, and stated the appropriate command in our firm but neutral no, I’m-not-pissed-off-why-would-I-be-pissed-off-when-you-just-pissed-on-the-rug voices. When she looked at the crate like it was going to eat her rather than go straight to it like her long lost and much beloved cave, we figured, “This crate is different, and everything is new. She’ll eventually ‘get it’ so we don’t have to feel like we’re sentencing her to prison.” (Ah, the forlorn look when we turn our backs to go live a life that was once unencumbered by our new four legged family member.)

The pooping in the mud room continued until a few weeks back when we figured out she just “wasn’t going to go” in the first 15 minutes we took her outside. Every single time we’d return from time outside, we left her in the mudroom, which we had papered for such accidents, and she mistook this 10×10 room as her personal poopdom. Eventually, we got smart, threw all the paper away, and left her outside for longer periods, then returned her promptly to her crate upon her return indoors. Now, unless she’s off tummy schedule, she takes care of her business in the yard. Thank goodness for small steps because puppies like to take two forward, and jump one back. If it weren’t for these little training victories, I think I would’ve asphyxiated from fecal fumes by now.

Oldest Son is her ardent adorerer and her master by proxy. I wanted to hold her on the ride home, but he looked at me and said, “Mom, you already had a puppy,” to which I could only return my outstretched arms to my sides and admit that yes, I guessed it was his turn. Something happened on that trip home from Rappahannock County to Nokesville that I’ll call imprinting. Puppy is never happier than when “her boy” comes home from school, or when he takes her outside to run and play catch. She tolerates the rest of us.

Of course, my husband and I needed to step in and train her because as it turned out – even if you could expect a gleeful 12-year old boy to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to take the puppy out into 17 degree winter weather on a daily basis – you could not expect him to issue his requests of her obedience in any modulated consistent way. He gave her the same command three different ways, and Puppy didn’t know if she was supposed to sit or fetch or drop that sandal.

I picked up a book on Labs, which had an entire chapter devoted to training them, but I didn’t persist in my reading because I was well, bored. I’m the one who doesn’t read directions – who just leaps right in – (you knew Oldest Son couldn’t be the only one with ADHD – although I’m not diagnosed, I’m suspicious). It is Husband who you can trust to read countless websites on puppy training, and perhaps part of my boredom was my conviction that he’d take the lead, having done this kind of thing before.

So now, Puppy poops outside, doesn’t chew the wooden stair, and goes willingly into her crate at the prescribed time. She comes when called and knows we’re not going to chase after her … one game you never want to play with a dog let me tell you. (They can’t tell if you’re playing with them or really need to get to work on time when you’re chasing them down.)

We were lucky … all that snow came at a prodigious time for our family because we stayed at home with her every day for almost a full week until we had to leave her while we all trotted off to school. Speaking of the snow, she probably believed that it was the normal weather and that sunlight and warmth were fleeting. Born in late October, she hadn’t much experience with either before the white stuff started piling up. Those are some of our best memories so far and some of our cutest pictures of her – out, sniffing in the snow, coming up for air with whiskers of white. None of us could wait to see how far down she’d sink into the ten inches that came down in February, and later on in an effort to escape the terrain that gave way under her feet, she claimed her rightful royal place on top of what we dubbed Puppy’s hill, the hard packed pile just outside the door where the shovelfuls and subsequent storms added to the height of what was already there.

It’s true: puppies are hard work … almost like having a newborn baby, in some ways harder and less rewarding, and in some ways easier (but still less rewarding, for me at least.) She doesn’t need her diapers changed although Youngest Daughter suggest we buy her some, and she doesn’t keep us up all night like our babies did. I thought having a puppy would squelch that nagging desire to hold a baby, to pat it on its back and know when its burp was going to bellow out. I didn’t realize that what I craved was cuddling, although it makes sense given the age of my children who are striking out into the world oftentimes without a backwards glance.

Oldest Daughter – who in all honesty had not been particularly gleeful when we announced the puppy was ours to keep – is still holding out for a cat. Apparently, she too is a cuddle bug, and perhaps in spite of my innate dislike of felines, my own maternal yearning for something soft and small would have been better met with a kitten companion.

But something tells me that what I yearn for cannot be found again in the exact form in which I once possessed it, and that no amount of holding any cute furry thing or for that matter, my infant nephew, (who clearly knows I am NOT his mother and does not want me in the way I used to – and loved to be — wanted) will fill a void that is natural at this time in my life when I’m stepping out of my child bearing years into midlife. That phantom babe I feel on my shoulder now smiles at me, her two front teeth missing and her feet in a size 10 shoe. No procurement of other living, breathing creatures can take me back into time that I – like most of us – took for granted when it was present. The thing that nags at me is that I won’t know exactly what I’m missing in this stage of my children’s – or our puppy’s—lives until that too is over.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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