We’ve been talking a lot about dogs in our house lately.
Our 11-year-old son Alec wants one and wants one badly, so much so that I’d like to get him one just to see the look of utter joy on his face. Then I’d like to put both the dog and Alec into a time machine and transport them back to before they met so they’d never know the difference.
We’re not dog-haters or anything. I grew up with a very nice little mutt named Hondo, who “sang” along to the Carpenter’s song “Close to You” whenever I played it on the piano. Or was it when I sang the song so loudly and played the piano so badly that she howled in pain? Either way, it was really cute.
My parents didn’t want a dog either. They had had one when my brothers and sister were little and the story goes that it snapped at me when they brought me home from the hospital and my mother ordered it out of the house. My brother Richard still thinks Pepper went to live on a farm. And all of my siblings still resent me a little to this day.
But when I was eight and out of immediate danger apparently, my brothers wore down our mother and brought a new puppy home and named her Hondo, which was the nickname of Boston Celtics great John Havlicek, I imagine because Bulls guard Jerry Sloan wasn’t a good dog name. Our father was not pleased and our mother still wasn’t thrilled, so we had one of those dogs who was not allowed to go upstairs, on furniture, in certain rooms, on certain rugs or really, to act like a dog in any way.
She went out by herself, “did her business,” as my dad used to say, and returned home like the day laborer she was. I think she carried a lunch box and thermos. Of course in those days, no one cared if you didn’t keep your dog on a leash or didn’t pick up after her “business.” Or if they cared, no one said anything and Hondo was very happy making her way – no pun intended – through the alleys of our neighborhood.
My father wouldn’t admit it, but he grew to really love Hondo. When she was sick, he gave her Campbell’s chicken noodle soup like she was one of us. My mom co-existed peacefully with Hondo as long as she stayed in her own area. Except once a year, on the Fourth of July while we were all out of the house, Hondo would become very nervous at the sound of fireworks, sneak upstairs, go into my parents’ bedroom – no doubt looking to be comforted – and throw up in my mother’s knitting basket.
When Hondo passed away, we were all very sad. I was away at college when it happened and my mother, afraid of how I would take the news, elected not to tell me on the phone. Instead, when I came home a week later, she cushioned the blow by running down the driveway shouting, “HONDO’S DEAD.”
This could be why I was not in so much of a hurry to get a dog as an adult.
The official reason is that I’m allergic. And I am. Really. My husband, who never had a dog and is not allergic, thinks a dog would be a major inconvenience and we would never be able to leave the house again, ever.
Together, we agree that at least one adult in the house should be really committed and fully prepared for a dog before bringing it into the family, even though people have babies all the time without adhering to this rule. For his part, Alec calls up puppy websites every day, makes us look at them and occasionally prints out their photos for mounting around the house.
For a long time, none of this was an issue because we were those people everyone wonders about with kids who were afraid of dogs. Our children would cower in our front yard or at people’s houses when dogs were present and the owners would always give us suspicious, slightly dirty looks as if to say, “What kind of filthy lies could you have possibly told your children about animals that would make them so afraid?”
OK, I’ll tell you what we did.
Once, when Amanda was two, an unleashed dog (I know, just like Hondo) ran up to her, knocked her down and when she jumped up screaming, chased her through the park with me in close pursuit. OK, so the dog was roughly the size of one of her shoes and could not have inflicted much damage. But Amanda did not know that. And the worst part was when I caught up to them and the dog was on top of her (OK, kissing her) and she was hysterical, the owner lectured me on how I should not allow her to be so scared of dogs.
Good thing I’m so polite by nature or I may have said something I’d later regret about her and her out-of-control Chihuahua.
Alec may have gotten knocked down once or twice too. It’s hard to remember the second-child stories. Or maybe he just saw Amanda flinch and run whenever a dog was present and was unduly influenced. Whatever the case, both children were deathly afraid and anti-dog until fairly recently, when a former friend got a Shih-poo for her kids.
If the name Shih-poo wasn’t bad enough, the dog happened to be cute and, just our luck, loved Alec and Alec loved her. The former friend encouraged this relationship and what’s worse, calls and persuades us to buy a dog with a ridiculous name as well.
So now we talk about dogs a lot. And look at their pictures.
And maybe some day, we’ll even visit Alec’s dog at his house.