A year ago, we had one dog: Scooter. He’s a brindle-coated, 20-pound terrier/poodle rescue. A big dog in a little body. I’ve often (kind of) joked that he is our old dog, Mr. Bear, reincarnated. But that’s a story for another time.
Life with Scooter was easy. After years of having large, hairy dogs in the house, dealing with the little bit of shedding from his tiny body was a piece of cake. I could bathe him in 10 minutes and his coat would pretty much towel-dry. He was a great walker, and we both got a decent amount of exercise from a fast-paced three miles every day.
But I really, really wanted a second dog. Partly because leaving well enough alone has never been my strong suit. And partly because with dogs, as with children, the real fun begins when there’s more than one.
Sixteen years ago, my husband and I had been back from our honeymoon for only a few days when I used my lunch break to visit the Seattle Humane Society and found Little Bear, a Newfoundland/Gordon Setter mix puppy who had been adopted, named, and returned to the shelter after just a few weeks. We brought him home two days later.
We shortened his name to Mr. Bear; as he approached 120 pounds, the irony of “Little Bear” seemed a bit heavy-handed. Also, my parents already owned a female dog named Bear, so to simplify things, they became Mr. & Mrs (although they lived on opposite coasts). Mr. Bear was short on brains but loooooong on personality. On every walk, he had to find something to carry along: a pinecone, a rock, a ten-foot-long pine branch that stuck out into traffic. We called him the Re-Arranger (a la Lone Ranger) because he was constantly moving our shoes around the house. (He never chewed them, he just wanted them somewhere else.) He ran away every chance he got. He stole my mom’s purse.
Rich and I got a second dog two years later. Here’s how it happened: I floated the idea of another dog. Rich said no. I brought it up again. He said one dog was enough. I steered us to visit the Humane Society on several Saturday afternoons, but every time we left, I was in tears and he was unimpressed.
Looking back, I see what I was doing. We had decided to start a family, but nothing was happening. Six or seven months had gone by and I still wasn’t pregnant. And to me, there is no consolation prize better than a new dog. (Also, Mr. Bear was very lonely; he would frequently dump out his bowl of kibble and use the pieces to spell out “need buddy.” But only when Rich wasn’t around.)
Finally, a few months later, I discovered that I was pregnant. Almost immediately, however, things went sideways. I began to miscarry. After a few days, when the pain continued to worsen, an ER doctor diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy. Not only was the pregnancy not viable, but I’d need a surgery to safely end it. Surgery over, I returned home to recuperate but failed to do so. Further complications (infection, pneumonia, and an ileus) landed me back in the hospital for several more days.
I was traumatized. I was exhausted. I was childless. And I was low.
The next few months were miserable. To give my body time to heal, the doctors insisted I not get pregnant for at least three months. And since these months were October, November, and December, I endured that specific sadness reserved for women suffering from infertility at Christmastime.
And there was no puppy under the tree.
By February, I was taking my temperature every morning as soon as I woke up. I’d read a book about natural family planning, and as long as my temperature didn’t drop, there was a chance I was pregnant. The long months of waiting were over, and I was desperately hoping that this month would be the month. But one Friday morning, my temperature fell half a degree. I was not pregnant. Again.
Infertility affects men and women differently. It’s really hard for men, even the best ones (like my husband), to understand just how fundamentally devastated a woman feels. At the time, I was consumed with my own grief. Now, I can imagine how lost Rich felt, how powerless in the face of his wife’s heartbreak. So he did something that was in his control.
He got me a dog. Well, “got me” isn’t really accurate. He did better: he took me back to Seattle Humane, and let me pick one out for myself. The first dog we met was a lab mix puppy. There’s nothing not to love about a lab mix puppy. Then they brought in the 3-year-old collie/shepherd mix who had been surrendered because her family moved and their new landlord didn’t allow dogs. Her name was Destiny, and she needed to be rescued. Just like me.
Her coloring was similar to Mr. Bear’s, but she had none of his beauty. Next to him, she was short, squat, and scraggly. But she came right to where I was sitting and put her head gently into my lap. Done. I could tell Rich preferred the lab puppy, but this dog needed me. Lots of people want to adopt puppies. An adult dog is harder to rehome. Powerless in the face of infertility, here was something I could do to put a little “fairness” back in my world. I wanted the underdog.
We changed her name to Dusty. I just couldn’t – wouldn’t – stand at the dog park trilling out “Destiny!” like a Rockefeller with a toy poodle, only to have this fluffy oaf of a dog come blundering up. And since the two names sounded so similar, Destiny/Dusty was none the wiser.
The joy came as Bear and Dusty got to know each other. He dwarfed her, but she was the boss. She was indifferent to all the toys we bought them, with the exception of whichever one Mr. Bear was most interested in. That one she’d steal, and then lie down with her front paws on top of it. He would pace and moan and play bow, begging to have the toy back, but she’d just look at him indifferently and ignore his pleas. Once, we rearranged our furniture, and the couch ended up parallel to a wall but about 3 feet away from it. Dusty quickly began moving all Bear’s toys back there so he “couldn’t” get them. Mr. Bear was tall and skinny; he easily could have walked back there and reclaimed them. But in his mind, Mr. Bear was wider than he was tall, and he thought he wouldn’t fit. So Dusty would lie back there with his toys and he would cry helplessly while watching her. It was hilarious to us. We were charmed. We laughed and assured him he would fit, but he never believed us.
They entertained us with their wrestling. They loved to walk and hike together. They were our surrogate children for the three years it took us to have a baby. Two babies, actually. Twins: a boy and a girl. Just like the dogs.
While our twins grew up, Bear and Dusty grew old. We lost them, one at a time, to spine problems and old age. When we met Scooter at a local rescue, Rich suggested that maybe a dog with some poodle in him might aggravate his allergies less than Dusty had. So we brought him home.
He was supposed to be a family pet, but Scooter quickly proved himself to be a one-man dog. One woman, actually. Me. He was mine, and mine alone. And that, too, is a story for another time.