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Puppy Love 

This is not my beautiful life: Why did we want a dog?


We have a cute dog. Strangers say " Awww" when we pass, and children are eager to pet him. He's ours sort of by accident. My refusals of dog ownership prior to his arrival were rock solid, immutable as stone.

Mom, can we please get a—"
"Just a small—"

With resolve more chiseled than David Beckham's abs, I was unequivocal in my rejections. Until, walking the kids back from school, we passed a kid on a tricycle with a puppy sticking out the collar of his T-shirt. The pup's furry face was impossibly cute, and his yip was helium-high. Like a choreographed dance troupe, the kids and I dropped to our knees right there on the cracked cement, reaching forward as one while singing in unison, " Ohhhh! " The proverbial fat lady was running arpeggios; it was over, baby.

We call him Skip because of how he runs, a comic little hitch in his high-speed get-along. No bigger than a kitten when we brought him home, he tips the scales fully grown at just under nine pounds.

The first 47 times Skipper made wee on the living room carpet, I was the embodiment of maternal grace, quick to remember him for the baby he still was and just as quick to forgive. And, too, with a bladder the size of a medicine dropper, the mess was nominal. With a spray bottle of Nature's Miracle hanging from my belt, I'd spritz away, explaining with saintly patience that the better place to do his business was outside.

Growing up, my father was a little less generous with the dogs. They were rarely allowed indoors to begin with, but once granted entrance into the interior, should one of them unwisely choose to make doodie, he would beat them about the head and snout with a rolled up newspaper while snarling "Bad dog" and ramming their noses into the scent. (Then again, my parents used the telephone as a babysitter in those days, calling home from the party at the end of the cul-de-sac and shouting instructions to leave the extension off the hook while listening in at odd intervals to ensure that any screaming was short lived.)

Dog psychology today is all about positive discipline. Don't punish their mistakes, they say, praise their successes. So I find myself on the front lawn turning cartwheels every time the dog takes a whiz, feigning enthusiasm on par with discovery of a winning lottery ticket or the announcement of remission. Good dog! I sing, scanning the fence line to make sure no one's passing by. Good pee! Good poop! Somewhere deep inside, a kernel of regret sprouts, a cool comprehension of the basic wrongness of these words in my mouth, but I continue. And if my pretend smile is a bit tight, the dog can't tell.

But despite the absorbent turf and my cheerleading, he prefers the carpet. I'll come around the corner to find him letting loose like Austin Powers after his 30-year encapsulation, and feel a bit like Dr. Evil myself. The spritz bottle has given way now to the gallon jug, and we've gone through so much Nature's Miracle that I wish we owned stock.

I've become a regular at the Rug Doctor counter at the grocery store, leasing their noisy and cumbersome shampooer no fewer than eight times last year. Grunting the machine into the trunk of the car, I hear Skip barking-barking-barking from the back seat and—forgive me—I imagine the distinctive post-punk chord progressions of Talking Heads: And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? This is not my beautiful life. This is not my beautiful car! My God! What have I done? The bloom is by now, as they say, quite totally off the rose.

I shampooed a final time right before a recent two-week vacation, thinking all that time away would allow the carpet to really dry and perhaps lose its attraction for the dog. Flinging the front door open wide with hopes for a newly fresh and nappy rug, I could actually taste the stench, as if that last scrubbing had freakishly superactivated the stink. Side-breathing from the corners of my mouth, I bellowed for my husband, and together we dragged the smelly thing outside and draped it over the fence.


If you're motoring down a leafy two-lane road and see a lady blasting an 11-by-17-foot supershag carpet with a high-pressure hose, a tight, crazy smile playing across her face like sunlight through trees you'll know it's me, looking like the unfortunate punch line to a joke that begins "You might be a redneck if . . ." And if Talking Heads are on your radio, throw me a frickin' bone and crank it. 

  Kate Williams writes a weekly column for the Sonoma Valley Sun. Her first novel, 'Zins of the Father,' was serialized in FineLife Magazine. She lives in Sonoma with her husband, two children, and an incontinent dog..

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