D is for Dog

Button puppyMy husband and I are cat people, but our daughters failed to get the memo. Despite a menagerie of two felines and an assortment of rodents, the lobbying for a dog began in earnest when Emma, our eldest, was in second grade. In between constant replays of “Homeward Bound” and “Milo and Otis,” Emma vowed to take care of all things puppy if only we would grant her wish. She even promised to pick up poop.

We’re bad parents: We said no. So Emma brought out the heavy artillery: Begging. Whining. Pitching fits. After a solid year of this, our firm “no” turned squishy. Not only did we fail to hold the canine line, we also failed Parenting 101 by caving in the face of  her atrocious behavior (unsurprisingly, this soon became our m.o. for dog-rearing as well).

Of course, I was the weak link. If it had been up to my husband, we never would have accepted even one of those “free” goldfish foisted upon families at school carnivals. But after Emma went to work on me, I went to work on Jonathan. On a long, romantic hike I outlined why we should overthrow reason and do something crazy, like get Emma a dog for her ninth birthday. “Besides,” I concluded my pitch, “Maybe we could surprise ourselves and let in new love.”

Jonathan, who pays attention to research saying that marriages fare best when husbands agree with their wives, knew he was doomed. But at least the birthday girl was thrilled with the promise of a puppy as soon as we got back from our summer vacation.

Upon our return, we headed straight to the Humane Society. Emma was in heaven when she saw their brand new litter. Who knew that Rottweiler-Pit Bull puppies could be so cute? Still, it was not the mix I had in mind, even though Emma saw no need to look any further. This time, I did not cave, resolutely removing my screaming, betrayed child from the premises while simultaneously saving my marriage.

Fortunately, the next day there was an ad in our local paper for a litter in a nearby town. We knew we’d found our puppy as the mellowest little black-and-white guy yawned and waggled his tail. Thus Button entered our lives and our hearts.

Emma and her younger sister, Ally, were enthralled as Button waddled up and down the stairs after them. They were less enchanted by his needle-like puppy teeth, and spent Day Two climbing into the lower branches of a tree to avoid his nipping enthusiasm. Many days thereafter they ignored him completely.

In his intemperate youth, Button chewed through one sofa, several shoes, and two pairs of Jonathan’s glasses. Neither girl ever picked up any poop.

But one promise was kept: We could, after all, let in new love.


Button lived to a ripe old age. He had a great life, a great death, and we miss him. He was the perfect dog for our imperfect family. How have you handled kids and pets?

23 thoughts on “D is for Dog

  1. We are cat people, too. My husband THOUGHT he was a dog person, because he had an outside dog growing up (I told him that wasn’t a pet; it was livestock), but I turned him into a cat person. We have three cats right now (two big lugs and a 1 year old precious princess, but I’m not partial at all…). Last summer, my daughter BEGGED me to let us foster puppies for the local humane society (by the way, her name is Emma, and I see some glaring similarities with YOUR Emma), and PROMISED to do all the poop scooping, etc. I caved. We brought home two Great Pyrenees/Lab mixes for a month. They were 8 weeks old and adorable. And they pooped and peed on my floors in spite of my best efforts to house train them, chewed the coffee table legs, brick around the fireplace, our toes, flip flops, and anything else that they shouldn’t, were sick and had to be nursed back to health, and I miss them to this day! Just last week, I re-read the posts I wrote last August about them, and a photo montage I put together made me cry! Miss the little poopers! (And my daughter scooped up poop from the yard exactly ONCE.)

    • “I told him that wasn’t a pet; it was livestock.” SO Funny! My Emma, now that she has boomeranged back, keeps trying to convince me that we should get a Greyhound. “When you move into your own place, feel free to get all the pets you want!” I hint broadly. My other daughter fostered a kitten once–that was fun. And close to us is a Guide Dogs for the Blind, famous for having a long waiting list for families taking on puppies for training. Talk about major crying when it’s time to give them up after a year or so! (Wisely, we never went that route.)

      • I have a blog friend who raises puppies for GDB! My Emma wants to do that, but we’re too far away (closest one is in Dallas, a 5 hour drive). She researched and found a place in Kansas that trains service dogs and is once again begging for a puppy in training. Not sure yet….
        Greyhounds are supposed to be great, according to my cousin who had one, but all they know how to do is run, so if they’re aren’t secured by a fence or a leash, they are GONE.

  2. That is an adorable dog!

    My parents held me at bay from getting pets by saying that I could have what I wanted as long as I could produce for them a 20 page report on that animal and all the care it would require. Needless to say, that never happened, and I didn’t get my own pets until I was old enough to buy them myself. After that, I stuck to the small ones. Beta fish, lizards, snakes and tarantulas. I had a rabbit briefly before I discovered how much noise a rabbit can make at six in the morning. The rabbit was re-homed with a friend.

    When we moved to Japan, we bought a dog. A cute little shiba who had already broken past the year mark of his life. It was trouble from the start. We loved him, don’t get me wrong, but he was a troubled dog. He was raised in a tiny little cage surrounded by cats and rabbits. He was never house trained, never knew how to behave like a dog, never socialized. It took him a full three years before he ever wagged his tail or licked our hands. From the start he refused house training, against all of our continued, frustrated efforts. Fortunately, didn’t chew much beyond the wall or the stairs, and he didn’t pee territorially, although he was a nervous pee-er. He wouldn’t play with dog toys, didn’t understand balls, wouldn’t chew raw hide and preferred not to be touched. He screamed when he was on the leash, would leap into oncoming traffic, and in general couldn’t be taken outside unless the roads were empty Other dogs terrified him. Gird terrified him. Men terrified him. Being inside where the rules were “inside is not a toilet” and “please don’t chew on the hardwood” were too stressful for him. This resulted in more peeing and more chewing. Eventually we made him a little garden with his own dog house and blankets outside. Unfortunately, something outside bit him. I don’t know what. We suspect a black widow (I didn’t even know there were black widows in Japan, but apparently there are.)

    He was a troubled dog with a troubled life. I like to think that the five years we had him were at least better than the first year of life spent in a cage at the pet store. Who can say? We did eventually get him to wag his tail, which I’ll take as something of a sign.

    N J Magas, author

    • Thanks for writing. How ironic that you have become a writer given the initial experience of writing that your parents demanded. That is one way to say a firm NO!

      Your experience with your dog sounds so difficult, and I thank you for sharing it. You hung in there a lot longer than I would have. I appreciate your story of the darker side of pet ownership, since we only tend to hear the nicely sanitized ones!

      • I think my parents understood that “No” is only a challenge to children, so they issued their own.

        It was difficult. We loved our dog while we had him, but he was a stress case, for sure. We probably shouldn’t have bought him, since all the recommendations are that one should be a sweet, well adjusted pet, but we sort of fell in love with him when we first say him. Also, in Japan if a pet isn’t sold by it’s first birthday it’s generally euthanized. :(

  3. I love this piece, and it’s beautifully written. I was thinking of you as the parents of a nine or ten-year-old until I came to the very end when I heard of Button’s death, and mourned him with you. I loved your closing sentence, “We could, after all, let in new love” and “He was the perfect dog for our imperfect family.” Look forward to reading more.

  4. Our children have begged and pleaded for a dog for years but my otherwise very kind hearted husband will not give in! We have had guinea pigs – mainly cared for by me and we now have a hamster also mainly cared for by me.
    Glad you didn’t get the first dog you saw!

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