Finding the Dog-Dog.

So, I want a dog. If you’ve known me for a half hour, you probably know that. You were probably alerted by the way my head pivoted away from your story about that traumatic thing that happened to you each time a particularly sweet lab or hound sauntered by the coffeeshop (This is 40 percent of labs or hounds). Or maybe it was when I tried to “borrow” your dog. People don’t borrow dogs, you told me. Not forever, Katy. Not forever.

It’s gotten to the point that I’ve been dreaming of having found my dream dog; these ridiculous, “Oh, there you are,” dreams involving some mutt presenting itself as my dear long-lost—the way we sometimes dream of people we love who’ve died. I have these post-work phonecalls about dinner groceries with Marshall in which these long pauses occur on my end, signaling him to say, “Okay, where’s the dog, Katy?” Because I’ll be at a stoplight and a Sweet Dog has just crossed with its owner in front of me, or it’s romping in the park I’m driving by. And this moment has neatly erased whatever I’d been about to say.

From Looking to Leaping.
I’ve spent so many months saying things about our clear lack of time and money that this refrain, of “Not-right-now.-Not yet.” had worn a rut in our days. Once you change your mind and make the decision to do it, to get a dog, those lack-of-time-and-money facts just seem like lazy excuses of a person Refusing to Live. Why, you think now, a lot of people have dogs just wander into their lives, and look at them! They’re fine!

Yes, I’m aware of the parallel this is striking: that this is just the kind of thing some women say about babies. Displacement, shhishplacement. Your toddler is cute and all, but I know I want a dog.

So, the night I came home from the yoga and it was Marshall—feline-and-calm-life-loving Marshall, not me—who was combing through the online dog listings, I tried to play it cool. But by the end of the night, after we’d agreed that there were a few good candidates out there we wanted to see about, it was I who stayed up long after he’d fallen asleep reading on the couch—click, click, clicking and sighing.

By the weekend, we had two chief candidates that fulfilled our specifications, which were:

1. a mutt

2. Not too big, not too small: 30-40 pounds

3. Not a puppy

4. Not too damn smart. We didn’t have the time to constantly divert some genius Collie who constantly needed to be working and solving and doing.

5. Indifferent to cats, specifically, to our two cats

Marshall added (6.) Had to like playing with a tennis ball, since his main goal, dogwise, was to have a fetch partner

Candidate #1, Cosmo, loooved cats, according to his online description. A 30-lb mutt so mutt-y they had no idea what to say he was, Cosmo loved playing with tennis balls and was really well trained. Mainly, his photos were just so gosh-darn cute that it was Marshall, not me, who insisted that we had to go see him.

Then there was #2. Cooper fit all our specifications eerily. A medium-sized lab mix, he was “just as happy jogging in the park and playing with other dogs as he was lazing on the couch.” His foster home had three cats and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about ‘em. I think the wording for that was a bit different, but his description, along with the photo of a sweet-looking lab lying on a sofa had me emailing the rescue group faster than you can say, “Sit.”

Saturday: Brother, can you spare a treat?
We drove waaay up I-75, north of the city to meet Cosmo, who’d be at a Petsmart there as part of his rescue group’s weekly sidewalk sale operation. This–after I sprang out of bed at the crack of dawn, all Christmas morning-y in my soul. I grabbed all my old dog training books from their dusty old lower-shelf perch, brought them back to bed, and began reading certain fascinating facts about positive reinforcement, clicker training, and primate body signals to Marshall. He grunted in response and asked if I could, pretty please, put the coffee on.

When we got to Petsmart, they were still unloading the dogs and their crates. My heart leapt when I was sure I spotted Cosmo in the mix. Marshall stopped the car and let me out, and I trotted over, full of single-minded mission.

It turned out the dog in question was not Cosmo, but another, older dog. After a few minutes, Marshall joined me and I asked a volunteer if she knew which dog was Cosmo. “Oh. Stan’s walking him this way now. That’s his foster dad,” she said, and we followed her gaze: to a very small dog, leaping and prancing and tugging forward and back on a leash. The foster man smiled up at us as another, older couple closed in. “Is that Cosmo?” they asked. “We came out to see him, too,” they informed us, and for the next few minutes, the four of us stood around the wriggly dog, asking questions and trying to avoid an air of competition. The foster man would say, “He just loves other dogs and romping,” and the couple would say, “We have two playful labs and a half-acre backyard at home,” and then shrug, unassuming, at Marshall and me.

To me, Cosmo was not quite the dog he had seemed in the photo, although I couldn’t say why. His eyes weren’t as sweet—or maybe it was the way he seemed more interested in leaping at the dogs barking from their crates than in sniffing any of us. I turned to Marshall, but he’d already lost interest and moved on.

It turned out there were two animal rescue groups side-by-side that day. And as they kept unloading, this translated to dozens—and dozens-of dogs, all barking or wrestling or lying, defeated in the noonday heat, in various crates and crate-like wire set-ups there outside the store. It was like a Hooverville for dogs.

One of the groups was run by a no-nonsense woman who reminded me of the jaunty lesbian dog trainer lady in the movie Best in Show. I’d ask her about a dog that seemed appealing to me, and she’d veto each one, all pert and matter-of-fact. “Nope. That one’s bitten three children.” “Nope. That one’s got too much energy for you.” “Nope. That one needs to live with other dogs.” “That one’s the best dog that was ever born, but he’s got an incurable illness and needs to take medication every day of his life.”

We met Baby, a sweet, ancient lab who hobbled on the leash, her tale between her legs, avoiding our hands as we reached out to let her sniff us. “If you want one with soul, that’s your girl,” said the woman. “But don’t expect to bond with her today.”

There was the basset hound who’d just given birth to ten puppies. (“She’s not nearly as old as she looks.”) We attempted walking the basset through the store, but she was so profoundly un-interested in this exercise that it quickly turned into our dragging her, belly-down, across the shiny floor. It began to seem as if every one of these dogs—and perhaps every dog available for adoption in all the world–was too much for us or just warped beyond repair.

Someone placed one of the basset puppies in my arms. It was warm and extremely sweet. “No one ever adopts the black dogs,” whispered its young foster mother, a teenager who had painted the older basset’s claws fluorescent pink. I stood, staring into the tiny basset’s eyes. Maybe this was right. I pet the little black dog. It needed a rescuer. “You are doing such a good thing, rescuing a dog,” the lead woman had told me. Maybe this dog needed me. I looked into its face and saw a sweet, passive blank slate, but I wasn’t excited. Marshall and I exchanged a long, silent look. Then we left, dogless.

When we got home, I opened an email about Dog #2, Cooper. It opened with the same ultra-positive sort of greeting used by all dog rescue groups to potential adopters. “Hi there, Kate! We are so glad about your interest in Cooper! He’s such a great boy!!” Unfortunately, the writer went on, he had also developed extremely aggressive tendencies in the past week. He was working with a trainer, but she could understand if I was no longer interested. My heart sank as I responded: No.

Later that night, another missive from Cooper’s agency: She’d talked with another foster about us, and thought she had just the dog for us: a lab mutt named Bindi. Bindi would be at a different Petsmart the next day, Sunday. We’d be there, I wrote back.

Falling asleep that night, I envisioned the hundreds of chain pet stores across Atlanta as seen from some cartoonish aerial view. All teemed with dark specks. Zooming in, you could see these were puppies and dogs, hundreds, then thousands spilling out into concrete strip mall parking lots and coloring it all black, the color no one wants. Then I thought back to the conversation I’d had over dinner with a couple I’d just met. “The right dog will choose you,” they had said.

Sunday morning we took it easy. We cleaned the house. Made phonecalls and ran errands.

Driving down the hill on Ponce de Leon Ave that drops you into the gulley where the strip mall sits, across from City Hall East on your left, you are granted a clear view of the large sky. Today, an angry block of dark slate clouds took up the exact half the sky not occupied by blue sky and stubborn summer heat. “Uh, oh,” said Marshall.

Just one rescue group was there on this Petsmart sidewalk. I asked a volunteer about Bindi and mentioned my email exchange with—someone—and she brightened up. “Oh, you! Yes! I’ll…” and then she disappeared off to secure crates for three dogs who had just arrived. As we waited, we looked around. I could have been wrong, or maybe just better prepared after the day before, but these mutts seemed calmer. They all seemed to sit at attention, looking at the volunteers and fosters, waiting for something good to happen. I pet a cute brindle while Marshall stared through the bars at a black lab with giant moon eyes. Just then, the first sheet of rain hit. Everyone scrambled to move the crates further under the overhang. I pet the small brindle some more as Marshall and I huddled against the wet gusts.
“I’m cold,” he said.
“Ah, but we’ll remember this day forever,” I responded, glancing down at the brindle mutt. Just then, I felt a different dog licking my ankle. I turned around and saw: sweet dog eyes. A long dog tail waving like a fan behind her white and tan body. I leaned down and pet her and she leaned on me through the bars.
“Who is this?” said Marshall, his voice getting warm and gooey–something I had not heard from him once yet during these two days.
I turned the card on the crate over: “This is…Bindi,” I said. “This is that dog.” And after four joyous laps with her around the pet store, Marshall agreed.

The four-page adoption application took ten minutes to fill out; it included questions about our house, our other pets, and what we would do in various hypothetical dog situations. Then we shook hands with Bindi’s foster and reluctantly saw her back to the crate.

In the next few days, we repaired the fence in the backyard and picked our shoes and socks up off the bedroom floor, in preparation for Lula’s arrival. (During our walk through the store, we’d decided that she was no Bindi. “I think she’s a Lula,” Marshall said, and, as is usual about these sorts of things, he was absolutely right.) A few days later, a volunteer from the group came over to inspect out house. She posed more hypothetical situations: a dog that repeatedly runs away. A dog that chews up everything you own. A dog that growls at your mother. A dog that gets old and starts peeing everywhere. “Under what circumstances,” she asked, “would you get rid of the dog?” I knew the answer. I was in this for the long-haul. We signed the adoption papers and forked over the check.

Then we had a week to wait. We were going out of town. I went on a cleaning and organizing spree that made no sense. What does a dog care about a clean bathtub? A tidy closet? Displacement, shish—oh, fine.

Then, like that, the long, long week of waiting was over.

And I want to show you something.

This: A doodle Marshall drew two weeks ago when envisioning his ideal dog, “a dog-dog,” he said.

Marshall's Dream Dog
Marshall's Dream Dog

And Lula.
Sweet as pie.
Sweet as pie.

White dog with brown spots. Long, waggy tail and the best disposition ever. Amazing, huh?

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