As a toddler my daughter was afraid of dogs. But a trip to see a dear friend with a sweet and friendly spaniel named Goose, turned B into a dog loving fool. Then began B’s relentless campaign for a dog of her own. My husband, who is allergic, and rightly felt that we didn’t need another creature to care for, couldn’t completely resist his daughter’s pleas. So he made a list of his conditions:
1) The dog had to be a hypoallergenic breed, so no mutts or mixed breeds
2) The dog had to be free
3) The dog had to be trained
4) The dog had to have all its shots and be fixed
5) We had to be able to give the dog back if the relationship didn’t work out.
Good luck getting a dog kiddo.
But then my daughter dropped the A-bomb: “I read in an article that dogs are therapeutic for kids with special needs. The dog wouldn’t just be for me, he would be for Milo too.”
“Will you walk him?
“Will you pick up poop?”
In a rare moment when our life resembles a sit-com, a week later a colleague of mine who is involved with an animal shelter, offered me a free, trained and fixed, 3 and 1/2 year old pure bred toy poodle who we could give back if it didn’t work out.
Ba-Bam. Dog. I call him O.
He’s small, fluffy, sweet and smart. My daughter walks him, and carries him around like a doll, and teaches him useless tricks, and washes him and, as she insightfully noted, loves on him the way she can’t love on Milo because Milo won’t let her.
I do that too. There’s a voice I never knew I had that I use only for O. A voice that makes my friends howl in surprise, a voice that is, apparently, incongruous with my personality. A melted, puddled, I’d-do-anything-for-you-because-our-love-is-so-uncomplicated voice. I take O on hikes. He sleeps at my feet while I work.
My husband and O respect each other. My husband has written a ballad of O, the wonder dog, with an infinite number of possible verses which he sings each day. My husband rescues O from the cleaning people and retreats with him to my husband’s home office. When O sees my husband he sits and stays and wags his tail.
Like each of Milo’s relationships, his relationship with O is fraught. Milo asks me several times a day to pick up O and put O in Milo’s arms. Milo loves to hold O and to talk about how cute O is. And Milo will sit with O and lean into O’s panting and claim to hear what O is thinking. He’ll have conversations with O that are crack Milo up. O will claim that candy makes an excellent dinner or that Milo needs an ipod. I wouldn’t call their relationship therapeutic but it matters that Milo can co exist with a creature he naturally dominates and show that creature abiding generosity.
And mostly he can. Except when he can’t. Because he’s Milo and there’s always a storm brewing. Milo likes to play with O except when O doesn’t bring the toy back to Milo’s feet, then Milo likes to shouts at O that O is a bad dog. Milo likes it when O licks Milo’s hand except when O stops licking Milo’s hand before Milo is ready for him to stop, then Milo shouts at O that he is a bad dog. Milo lays his head on O pretending that O’s fluff is a pillow and when O protests the only way he knows how, with a growl and a snip, Milo calls O evil. O is skittish around Milo because O hears Milo scream at me, or my husband or my daughter. O slinks out of the room when Milo’s rage sends objects flying. O forgives Milo his illness because O, like all dogs, is forgiving, but he’s uneasy around Milo. He sometimes seems to be protecting me from Milo. And Milo sees this and it makes him anxious. If Milo can’t get to me, he can’t get to his safe place.
There are moments when O is between me and Milo and I am between Milo and the stairs and all Milo wants to do is get up the stairs but Milo’s energy is manic and he’s moving fast and he’s speaking loudly and he’s swinging his arms towards me and he’s not at all angry with me, but his overall vibe is just too much for O to trust and O will run at Milo’s toes and nip at one and Milo will collapse on the floor sobbing that O is evil. EVIL. EVIL.
It takes everything I have not to defend my dog. Because he’s not evil and I love him. But he’s my dog not my crazy son. And as I’m biting my lip, Milo’s sobs of “evil” turn to “WHY? Why does O hate me too? Why does everyone hate me?”
That’s when I think that fluff isn’t enough.