Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Puppy Love

First published in The Oxford Journal in the January 25 issue, by Sara Mattinson.

Ever since I moved to rural Nova Scotia almost five years ago, I’ve been hounding my husband for another dog. 
“Can we now?”
“Can we now?”
And so on for the past 1800 days (like a dog wanting breakfast, I don’t give up). As our dog Stella aged, my arguments for why we needed a second dog became more insistent. 
“We have 72 acres,” I said to my husband. “We have lots of room for another dog.”
“Yeah, but the house is only 42 feet long,” he countered, “and that’s where the dogs will be all the time.”
The alpha male had to accept the inevitability of the second dog when my co-worker, Jane, got a puppy last September. Truly, he was never going to win against my fervent desire to walk through the fields and woods with two dogs playing and running ahead of me. 
(I always forget the part where a dog eats something rotten and throws it up at three in the morning. Two dogs means double that fun.)
Two months ago today, we brought home a puppy and what a busy two months it’s been. In and out a hundred times day and night, cheering for every piddle and poop done outside, teaching her not to gobble her food, or the cat’s, or the other dog’s. It’s exhausting, it’s chaotic but with the extra help we’ve had, it’s rewarding. 
Our eight-year-old dog, Stella, has been a lifesaver. We knew she’d accept the new dog since she had an older sister when she was a pup, but we didn’t expect such complete tolerance from her. She puts up with not only the constant biting and demands to play but the sharing of bones and the total invasion of her personal space. Wherever Stella is, the pup is stuck to her like a remora on a shark. 
Sounds ideal so why are we so shocked? Because it’s happening to a dog who was such a monster as a puppy, she earned the nickname “Frankenstella”. Her reputation was legendary. I once chased her around the streets of the town where we lived in Ontario because she’d run off with a banana I’d set down on the bumper of the car in anticipation of heading out for a drive with her. Shortly before we moved, a neighbour said to me, “We’re going to miss you. Watching you try and train your dog has kept us entertained these past few years.”  
Stella was a nightmare of energy and intelligence and mischief; her breed’s “lifelong puppy-like quality” was going to be the death of me. It  wasn’t until we moved here that both of us could enjoy more freedom together; we calmed down together, and Stella aged like a fine red wine into a mellow body we could enjoy for her slightly fruity aftertaste. 
“You know, Stel,” I said to the old girl as we fetched the paper on Sunday morning, “the upside of all this chaos and incontinence is that it has given me a deeper appreciation for you.”
Stella has done the impossible: she has transcended her reputation. Watching her mentor this new pup has erased all the memories of mischief and mayhem from her early years. No matter how this new dog turns out, Stella will be remembered not as that terrible little monster but as a wonderful big sister. 

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