By Cherri Ellis
I have never had a dog. Technically, I do not have a dog now.
Explain to me, then, what has happened to my house. There is a crate the size of a smart car in my bedroom. It is covered in the quilt from my daughter’s freshman dorm room, and its pink pattern assaults you as you walk into the otherwise tranquil space. There is a plastic bin full of enough Science Diet puppy food to last us through the average apocalypse and roughly $250 worth of dog toys scattered everywhere. The cat, previously not allowed on the counter tops, now gets fed there. She is not amused by the new world order.
Meet Mike. He is my daughter Chelsea’s Golden Retriever puppy, and he owns us. She told us for years that she wanted a dog, one time regally announcing like something off Game of Thrones, “Daddy, I will have it.” Her vision was clear and never wavered, and, like most things in life that are pursued with a single-minded vengeance, it came to be.
The fallout was swift. She did her research and ascertained that her puppy would come from a breeder in East Georgia. Having only had cats, all of which came from the Humane Society, I did not realize that a dog could cost money before it was born. Confused, I asked, “I’m buying you a dog fetus for Christmas?” Turns out I was, although it was more like a down payment. Advice poured in from canine-owning friends, and when I told Chelsea that his name should have two syllables for training purposes, she said something like, “His name is Mike, but you can call him Mike twice if you feel like you need to.” Once the litter was born, pictures arrived every Sunday from the breeder. They were impossibly cute and developed quite a Facebook following as “The Nuggets.”
Her dad and boyfriend accompanied her the day he was to come home, and seeing her unadulterated joy as they Facetimed me from the car on the return trip made me tear up. When I picked him up the first time, he felt like a fur-covered sandbag. He burrowed his face into my neck and went limp against me, and that was that. He had me at hello. I breathed his puppy smell in and wondered why people acted like puppies were so much trouble. Puppies were awesome. I was a dog person now! My ignorance knew no bounds.
Within the first week we received a letter from Chelsea’s landlord that her lease clearly stated no pets allowed. If Mike was spotted again, she was evicted. I couldn’t fault her since I had cosigned, but the puppies were so cute that some sort of amnesia had settled over me about such details.
Next I discovered that Mike wasn’t really a puppy at all but an eating machine, with titanium, razor-sharp teeth and an insatiable desire to chew. Nothing was off limits. He never once said to himself, “Hey—this brick/metal/stone/sheetrock doesn’t feel good in my mouth. I should instead chew one of these expensive toys laying around.” He tried to eat a coffee table. Once I curled him up next to me on the bed with a toy as I watched TV late at night. As I listened to him breathe and chew on his toy, I felt like the Dog Whisperer. I called my husband in to see us, saying something pompous like, “This is how you do it. Look how sleepy I got him!” When I stood up, I discovered that he had been very calmly chewing on my dress the whole time as I petted him. Unbelievably, he had eaten my outfit while I was wearing it.
He next decided that the cat’s litter box held what he considered to be perfectly viable snack options, and he was not to be convinced otherwise. He started growing like a science experiment, doubling his body weight by gaining four pounds in a week. The vet informed us in no uncertain terms that he is going to be huge. I made a mental note to not shop for his costume early lest he not fit in it come Halloween. Since he has outgrown his Alabama football jersey and already doesn’t fit the T-shirt I bought him at the beach, I think that’s prudent.
I know that Mike is spoiled because he gets more mail than me. I am trying to decide if Mike is smart. While there is no evidence that he knows his name, he learned to sit and shake hands immediately. He is uncommonly good-natured, greeting me with unbridled enthusiasm after every absence of more than a minute, and he will bring a tennis ball back to me as many times as I will throw it. He is completely unbothered by the cat’s immense disdain and thinks it is super fun when she barfs. He loves my girl and she loves him, and the rest of her time at law school will be under his worshipful gaze. The two of them will be living at home while she works for an attorney this summer, and I know when they leave in August, the silence will be deafening.
But that is 5,000 “Don’t eat that!”s away.