Home on the Range

My 16-year-old pit-bull mix Nemo died in February, and now everyone seems to want to know when I’ll be getting another dog. I find the question mildly insensitive, but I also understand where they’re coming from. When my other pit-bull mix Lola died a few years back, I did start shopping for a “replacement” almost immediately. At that time my daughter Dale was a dog-crazy toddler, and all the vehemence of her affections became focused on Nemo, who was already 12. Though the old greybeard would still submit to playing dress-up — and he did look fetching in a tutu — it didn’t seem possible he’d be with us for much longer. If I’d known Nemo would turn out to be a pit-bull Methuselah, I might not have been in such a hurry to assimilate another dog into the family. But I’m a staunch believer in the importance of pets in a kid’s life — of Timmy and Lassie, Shaggy and Scooby, Petey and all the Rascals — and I didn’t want Dale to be dog-deprived for a moment. So shortly after Lola passed, I was on petfinder.com every night, scrutinizing the mug shots and chirpy bios of adoptable pups in the San Antonio area. It felt weird to actively pursue a dog, perhaps because mine have always arrived on the wings of canine kismet — starting with Asta, a Corgi-mix puppy who appeared on the porch one Fourth of July morning when I was 6. There’s a lot to be said for the let-them-find-you approach. You don’t have to overthink all the issues — like, should we go with the mouthy puppy or the psychologically-damaged-but-already-housebroken older dog? This one is good with kids but eats cats. This one hangs with cats, but chases cars. This one is a shedder, a barker, and has to be adopted with his littermate. Should we buy a purebred, just this once? I’ve always wanted a Norfolk terrier or a whippet or a Rhodesian Ridgeback but yourpurebredpuppy.com says they’re all wrong for me for all different reasons ... After about six months of debate, we adopted Cupcake, nee Lucy, a 1-year-old pit-bull mix, from a local animal shelter. When we met her for the first time in person, she was standing on her doghouse roof, water bowl in her mouth, with a look on her face that said, “OK, I’m all packed. Now will someone please airlift me out of this cacophonous hellhole?” We obliged. Dale was thrilled. I was somewhat less excited, as the reality of having to dust off the old Monks of New Skete training manual set in. Cupcake is a good dog. She is smart and sweet and self-possessed. She is good with cats and children. She’s excellent on the leash and rarely barks without justification. She even looks a bit like Petey! In other words, it wasn’t her — it was me. I hadn’t had a new dog in my life since I was in my 20s, back when I didn’t have nice furniture, let alone kids. Nemo and Lola used to sleep in my bed and hang out on my couch. One of them even dug out a den in the couch cushion — and I just threw a blanket over the gaping hole and continued to sit there. Cupcake, poor dear, was dealt a much sterner taskmaster. I spend more time with Cupcake than any other pet I’ve had. Since I’m home all day, I’m her primary caretaker. At this very moment, she is, as usual, at my feet. We have a cordial relationship, but not what I would call a deep bond of mutual affection. Maybe I keep her at arm’s length because I view her more as a valued (and high-maintenance) staff member than as my pet. Her bat ears are meant to catch Dale’s secrets. Her fur is Dale’s to ruffle or sniffle into. And now that Dale is nearly 6, the same age I was when Asta arrived on my porch, I can see their friendship begin to form, and it’s exciting. Maybe we did get Cupcake too soon, before I was ready to wrap my head and heart around a new pet. But I don’t doubt it was the right thing to do by Dale. Cupcake has her “forever home”; she’s just not my forever dog. I’ve already had a couple of those, and now I’ve got two kids. When they cease to require (or desire) my constant attention, I can easily imagine at least one spoiled Norfolk terrier clambering up some Doggy Steps to my bed and stealing the covers every night.
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