I didn’t want him.
Sad, but true. I never wanted a little designer dog. I told that to my kids over and over again even as they concocted images of me walking around with a cute pooch in my purse. While it was true that I lived alone and they were concerned for me, I said no. Repeatedly. I don’t need a dog. I don’t want to wait on a creature as he defecates, and then have the unpleasant task of picking it up and disposing of it. I don’t want something bothering me while I’m trying to work at my computer, read, or take a nap. I don’t want saliva and doggie breath on my face. I don’t want to be a slave to someone else’s needs. I’m a senior, for goodness sake. Leave me in peace!
But, as fate would have it, and regardless of my many protestations, my loving children presented me with what I didn’t really want. A Morkie.
The “reveal” happened as my kids stood behind me at the door of my granddaughter’s bedroom, where they had hidden him. All I saw were two tiny ears and two big eyes popping out above the quilt. When the tiny creature emerged from the bedding, they all cried out in unison, “Surprise!” In a tremulous state of shock and awe, I imitated delight as this frisky little thing jumped into my arms. After all, you can’t scowl at a gift puppy in the mouth. You just have to grin and bear it. Which I did.
And so it started: My life with Herbie. Yes, they had already named him. After the “man that got away” in the musical Gypsy, in which I performed the role of Mama Rose. This little man, they promised me, would never leave me. He would keep me healthy with daily walks. With his cuteness, he would make us friends in the neighborhood. He would be a companion, a loyal friend. He would, he would, he would … on and on and on.
I wasn’t convinced, and, at first, I wasn’t the nicest owner a pet could have. The enforced labor, the “accidents” on the rug, the precious objects decimated by puppy teeth, and the mounting cost of maintenance took its toll. I tried to ignore him when the pitter-patter of his little feet followed me from room to room. I was grumpy on our walks, annoyed by the way he pulled willy-nilly on his leash — and my arms. I didn’t display much warmth as he sat at my feet begging for attention. I was irritable. He was a disturbance to my once peaceful “golden years” existence. I could no longer do what I wanted, when I wanted. I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I’m pretty sure Herbie wasn’t either.
But the problem was that I couldn’t and wouldn’t give him away. After all, he was truly a gesture of love, and aye, there’s the rub. So I had to find a tolerable way for us to live together. Instead of expressing impatience, I began talking to him, reasoning with him. And he began to listen, ears cocked. He might not have understood the words, but he began to understand my moods. Being the smart little guy that he is, he even began to obey a few commands. He began to recognize that there were times to leave me alone and other times when I was up for a frolic or playing fetch with balls and squeaky toys, which I toss down the hall.
We began to figure out routines: At least three daily walks, naps (during which I could find the peace and quiet for my work), regular bedtimes, and his obeying certain non-negotiable rules, like not waking me up during the night or too early in the morning. Slowly we began to get to know one another.
Despite my initial resistance, Herbie began to wiggle his way into my heart, and I began to pay closer attention to his puppy needs. Since running isn’t my forte, I regularly take him to enclosed dog parks, where he can dash around to his heart’s content, scrambling in play with the other dogs — big and small. He is fearless and sociable, especially on his favorite outing — the beach — where he runs with the speed of a Greyhound, despite the shortness of his little legs. He comes home a totally happy and exhausted puppy.
Like the overly protective mother that I was 40 years ago, I find myself fussing over him as if he were a toddler. Which, at 5 months, he really is. I remove questionable objects from his mouth. I make him aware of traffic and street crossings. And from lessons learned, I always place the remote, my knitting, my glasses, and all other small objects on a shelf away from temptation. I remember to take doggie bags and treats in my pocket for our walks. I try to be the leader when he strains at the leash. Yet I stop along the way to let him take his time to smell the flowers and all the other canine “greetings” to which he must respond. I’m beginning to recognize the difference between his real needs and simply pleas for over-solicited attention. I’m strict when I must be, yet always, despite the nature of the sin, forgiving.
And when his little body snuggles up against my thigh as I sit on the couch watching television, I feel love. When he greets me with yips and uncontrollable excitement as I return home after a short absence, I feel love. At night, when I feel his warm, furry body stretched out at the bottom of my bed, I feel love. And when I call his name and he comes running towards me with tail-wagging affection, I feel love.
In other words, I’m learning to live with Herbie.
I wrote this poem in his honor:
“A Dog’s Tail”
the sleepy tail
in blissful sleep
the suspicious tail
stiff in fear
until the unknown
and metronomic movement
morphs into the rondo
batting back and forth
with enough turbulence
to fly a kite
the guilty tail
droops between the legs
hidden in remorse
when precious objects
are shredded by doggie teeth
but when time passes,
and tempers cool,
it waves again
cautiously in a plea
which is always given
because he is beloved
and that, my friends,
is the end – –
of this tale.
Copyright 2016 Anna Van der Heide
About the author: Anna Van der Heide is a playwright, actress, director, poet, columnist, and legal secretary. She is the mother of three and the grandmother of four. She lives in San Francisco and Maine when she is not kid-hopping in Brooklyn and Virginia. Although many cats have passed through her life, Herbie is the first dog she has ever had.