It all started back in the winter of 2010. With a 9-year-old and a soon to be 5-year-old, I was starting to feel the inevitable maternal need to take care of someone, or something, else. I knew I wasn’t having another baby, so …. why not have a dog??? After (what seemed like) a lot of thought, I told my then-husband that I wanted a dog for my birthday in May.
We took one of those Sunday drives with the kids in late March to a kennel where there are a variety of breeds. He wanted a boxer. I wanted a “little dog,” like a miniature Schnauzer or a Westie. Just inside the kennel were the cutest puppies they can bait you with, like labs and Siberian Huskies. At the far side of this first room was a box with three dogs in it, two were Puggles and the last one was a very large Golden Retriever puppy. This puppy nearly jumped out of this box, trying to chew off the buttons on my coat and gnawing on my purse strap. I touched his fur. He was softer than a stuffed animal, except he was 50-plus pounds of solid canine love. I extricated myself from him and walked on, intent on finding those cute little balls of fluff that rarely surpass 12 pounds. Goldens are great, mind you, but my father-in-law had 4 of them and visiting him was always a frenzied adventure of flying fur and excitable jumping. I wanted no parts of a large breed like that.
The kids had a ball, petting the different puppies and “choosing” the puppies they’d like to take home. I just had to go back and see this Golden who’d already “chosen” me. And by that time I should have known it was over. I rode home in silence, thinking about this sweet animal who was so desperate to go home with me. At five months old, he was already a big boy and the last in a litter of thirteen; the box next to his already had two little golden puppies left from a most recent litter and clearly they would be chosen first. I overheard two women remark, “wow, look how big that one is,” and I knew he wasn’t going home with anyone any time soon. Four days later, we were driving back to the kennel to pick him up.
I never wanted a big dog. In fact, at some point during the several hours following our return home I realized that the stress of bringing this puppy home was surpassed only by Ava’s discharge from CHOP after her diagnosis. I was a nervous wreck all the way to the kennel, I just wanted to turn back and say forget it. There was no relaxing as I followed him around the house, nervously waiting for signs of an impending accident, and taking him outside every hour in an effort to avoid one. And in between, testing Ava and treating her as needed. By 4:30 that afternoon I collapsed in our big green chair, unable to move or think, ready to pass out sitting up. “Rosco,” for his part, wedged himself between the back of this chair and the radiator, and promptly went to sleep for nearly 3 hours.
A week later my stress level would peak as “rush hour” commenced in my house – packing lunches and getting two kids up, dressed, groomed, Ava tested and bolused, fed, on the bus and off to preschool – did I mention myself in there anywhere? And now we had a puppy thrown in the middle of all the chaos, who could not be left alone for a second and needed to go out first thing in the morning to sniff every blade of grass on a quarter acre of land. This was supposed to be my ex-husband’s one contribution to the dog’s care, but couldn’t drag himself out of bed fifteen minutes earlier to do so. At this point I was feeling like I was in WAY over my head, and rethinking whether he should be here at all. (The dog, I mean.) I would note in my journal, that at some point it has to become clear why we did this, right?
Two weeks later, I would realize he was fully a member of the family, and the single most eager one to please, having learned his name by the second day he came to us and with virtually no accidents at all. He learned to sit and lie down and stay within a week. He did his business outside like clockwork. He was a quiet dog; it took him two days to find his voice but he would rarely use it. But, he was also afraid of virtually everything – Ava’s doll stroller, parked cars (surprising not moving cars), umbrellas (especially challenging in the RAIN), the kids’ bikes, and this big red ball that mysteriously appeared in our backyard on a Saturday. That ball had to be the funniest fear I’d ever witnessed… he refused to enter the backyard where it was, until we all played with it and Rosco became monkey-in-the-middle, running back and forth between us until he finally collapsed in the grass, defeat worn like a big panting smile. I hadn’t laughed that hard in weeks.
He brought me a lot of joy and laughter in the months to follow, particularly one summer morning while I attempted to sleep in a little later than usual. I heard him coming by the telltale sound of the toy he was carrying. Squeak, squeak, squeeeeeeeeeeeeeak, squeeeak, squeak, squeak, squeeeeeak, squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak, squeak, squeak. Scratch, scratch. I was trying to go back to sleep in my bed, next to my still slumbering daughter, while green rubber duck got pummeled by the dog. Keeping my eyes closed, I said a silent prayer that he would go away and not wake Ava up. Then the duck landed on the bed. That was it. By this time Ava was awake but still snuggling up to me, so I peeled myself from her to shut him out of the bedroom. Next – my colossal mistake – I started imitating the ten minutes of squeaking, much to Ava’s delight, and then the dog slammed into the bedroom and jumped onto our bed, full body on, wagging his tail like a wind-up toy boat rudder. Now our hysterical laughter had him so wound up that he had turned into the wild dog from Borneo. So, I got up to lock him out again, this time latching the door so he can’t push it open again. He sat outside then, trying to shove his huge paw under the door. That night I put all the squeaky toys out of his reach so that the following morning he would play with his quiet rope toy, which turned out to not be so quiet with an 80 pound dog on polished wood floors.
I learned to love those early mornings and late nights I’d take him outside, albeit without his quick-grab fallen walnuts he coveted that he clearly knew I didn’t want him to have. He was always good about going outside, went straight to business and then he’d go after something that peaked his interest, like sucking on long wet blades of grass. Or sticks. And he knew that by the time we got to the door he would have to relinquish them. There were funny mornings, like the one where we two stood in the back of the yard, as he picked his “spot,” and someone across the way was working under the hood of a car. Rosco, deeply oblivious on so many levels, jumped about five feet in the air when the metal clanging of the hood shutting rang out across the field. One night I took him out at 3am to the clearest sky imaginable, every star in the sky was visible against a sea of black, and no sounds could be heard, not even crickets. It was chilly, but so incredibly peaceful. Beautiful. Without him, I’d likely never have experienced this.
The only truly bad habit he had should not be so surprising: he loved to chew. He had a particular taste for carpeting, chewing on corners of area rugs and finding loose seams in the old wall-to-wall that he’d pull on until there was large strip missing. He even chewed a hole in the linoleum in the kitchen, while Owen sat at the counter just two feet away. I didn’t know who to be more angry with, the dog who just can’t help himself or the kid who watched him do it. He chewed the heads off of his rubber duck and rubber chicken, and didn’t stop until there were only headless, wingless, footless carcasses lying around. He chewed up his stuffed toys until they were mere shreds of their former selves. He even started working on his own bed, chewing through the cover and straight through to the padding, leaving little bits of foam all over the room like newly fallen snow. Every time I caught him at it I would scold him and, one day, while I was enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the kitchen it occurred to me that he was not in there with me… and it was quiet. Too quiet. I tiptoed into the room where his crate and bed were, and found him there. When I walked in, he was seemingly lying down and lifted his head to see what I might want. We regarded each other. A small piece of foam dropped from his closed mouth. I looked at him. He looked at me. Like he expected me not to notice. And then the laughter erupted from me in that uncontrollable way. There was no correcting this guy today.
I miss him blowing bubbles in his water dish. I miss him lying on my feet while I did the dishes after dinner. His constant presence in whatever room I occupied. I miss him coming up to me, to lay his head on my lap and look up at me with those beautiful innocent brown eyes. He was an enormous responsibility I hardly gave much thought to, a commitment to share a life through my fifties. But he possessed the purest love I’ve ever experienced, because he was singly and irrevocably mine. He chose me. And I wish I’d done more for him.
Today is Rosco’s 2nd birthday. I can’t be there to celebrate with him, because he – like everything else – has become another pawn in the post-divorce war. I haven’t seen him in almost two months, because my ex-husband didn’t want him and decided I couldn’t have him either. But I will see him again, it’s only a matter of time. And I’ll give him the bone I’ve been carrying around in my bag since the day he disappeared from the house.
Happy birthday, buddy. I love you.
The dog was created for children. He is the god of frolic. ~ Henry Ward Beecher
A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself. ~ Josh Billings