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“Get a dog” they said. “It’ll be fun” they said. Sigh.
Our eight-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, is an only child and, since reaching the age of 3, has been pleading for a pet.
But there’s a problem – she has allergies. Dog dander: check. Cat fur: check. Rhinoceros hide? Platypus drool? We don’t know, but have had our worries.
For the past couple of years, she has made every plea imaginable to get a dog. She learned about those nightmarish-looking hairless cats Stephen King, Vincent Price, Alice Cooper or some other breeder created or conjured. Much obliged, internet. You’re a real blessing.
I absorbed the heat for shouting “never” but dads can only carry so much on their shoulders and only lose when a wife switches allegiances and becomes a fulcrum.
“He’s sooooo cute, isn’t he?” Zuraidah, my wife, held up a picture a breeder had sent to her cellphone.
But it was too late. My daughter saw the picture first and they were both sold. Mackenzie named the chocolate-brown, curly-haired miniature poodle before she’d even met him.
“Yogi,” she said. “He reminds me of Yogi the bear.”
It occurred to me she might be too young to remember Yogi and Boo Boo but, whatever. I was obviously Jellystone Park’s Ranger Smith, standing in the way of a perfect picnic basket.
I grew up with dogs. My dad took in strays and we loved each of them. They ate what we ate. They played with us. They shared couches with us and they shared our lives. I remember watching the end of Old Yeller with a dog looking at me and wondering why I was crying.
A kid loves their parents and siblings, but their first true love is a dog.
But back then, I had lots of free-time to go for romps through fields of summer grass and endless hours of amazement to watch the snow waft off of whiskers. In the middle of life, things become more complicated.
“Don’t worry. I’ll walk him. I’ll look after him."
Bet you thought my daughter said that, right? Nope.
Several years ago, Zuraidah wanted a dog. I struggled to postpone the inevitable. Then one day, on the cusp of Valentine’s Day, she asked me to accompany her to an animal-rescue place nearby. You can’t always say no, so I went.
My heart skipped a beat when the woman who answered the door had some kind of Frankencat swirling around her legs. My Lord, it was sad. The poor creature had wires hanging off it and was wearing an eye patch.
“Well, we’re done here,” I whispered to myself. We were ushered in to a seating area.
There was a small white dog. When I sat on the couch, he immediately leaped into my lap and licked my hand.
“We call him Tino,” the lady said. “But his real name is Valentino.” Imagine that! Valentino up for adoption on Valentine’s Day. I’m still convinced the whole thing was a setup.
My wife gushed, and even though I’d obviously been conned, eventually I did, too. Old Tino and I became pals. When his poor old heart stopped, I was afraid mine might, too.
But here’s how the new dog worked out: I obviously misheard my wife when she said she’d look after him. What she meant was that she would shop for the best bargains on gaudy dog haberdashery and notions. He’d dine finer than we would and would have platinum health care. I also clearly misheard when my wife and her co-conspirator daughter told me – a guy who grew up with pups that were free – that young Yogi would cost $800.
“You’re kidding, right?”
They were. On the drive home with the puppy, they ‘fessed up.
“Eighteen hundred dollars for a dog? What does he do? Cook you breakfast in bed? Drive you to school?”
“You’re just being silly, Dad.”
Oh well. At least my daughter is happy and the dog is healthy. He ought to be after enduring expensive vaccines for everything known to man and possibly even the Andromeda Strain thrown in for good measure.
At every turn, there is a new invoice. His haircuts are frequent and more expensive than mine. He rifled through the small litter bins scattered throughout the house so we had to buy new ones – the kind with a swiveling lid. Then Yogi found the secret to that one, too, so we had to buy new ones again – the ones with the pedal that lifts the lid. We live in terror that he will learn that trick. The list goes on.
That fear has invoked a cost of its own. Each Saturday for several weeks, my wife has taken Yogi to a puppy-training place. When she returns, she shows me what she has learned. The dog and I stare at her blankly. Maybe it will get better.
My daughter wanders around the house and asks openly: “Why don’t you like the dog, Dad?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I heard you tell him he’ll never become a real boy if he keeps stealing and chewing on your shoes.”
Well, she might have a point there. But then she adds, “If you don’t like him, then why does he love you so much?”
That’s enough to leave you a bit flustered when you are looking down into your lap seeing a mess of brown curly hair attached to a big wet nose and a relentless tongue seemingly convinced you have gravy all over your hands.
Mackenzie smiles awaiting my answer. Of course I smile, too. And I would give solemn testimony that I saw the dog with a glint in his eyes grinning ear-to-ear.
Then it came to me. Maybe, just maybe, when my daughter was naming him, she was thinking of baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra who amazed us all when he said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
John Beattie lives in Toronto.