“Mom, I’m thinking of getting a dog.”
I studied my youngest child with a bit of trepidation. We’d been carpooling for several months, and it was his turn to drive. Both of us worked at the Palo Verde Generating Station, about 60 miles west of downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Robert was 28, single, and known to friends and family as level-headed, practical, and fiercely independent. He was also a bit stubborn. He might ask for advice, but get irritated if it was offered unsolicited, especially from me.
My “advice gear” tended to get stuck in fast forward when it comes to my sons, and our conversations on the commute to and from the Palo Verde Generating Station could get lively. I invariably tried to steer him around life’s pitfalls, even as Robert insisted he no longer needed unsolicited, maternal advice. Our conversations over family dinners were much the same. My husband found our verbal battles entertaining and seldom intervened.
Robert believed in acquiring wisdom via self-study and the school of hard knocks; it stuck better that way. Me, I shifted between pride and frustration at this wonderfully competent human being we’d raised, and my gut instinct that he still needed the occasional bit of parental guidance; just a smidge! Any maternal advice, however, had to be given surreptitiously.
“A dog?” I kept it casual.
Robert had purchased his first home in the aftermath of the 2008 housing bust that dragged thousands of homes in the greater Phoenix area into foreclosure. He’d saved the down payment by sharing living expenses with Steven, his older brother. They’d found a no-frills, two-bedroom apartment near Luke Air Force Base and moved in together, splitting rent, chores, utilities, and groceries. Carpooling with me saved each of us about $80 a month. In two years, Robert had saved enough for a down payment on his own, move-in ready, three-bedroom gem in Avondale, just off Interstate 10.
Both of our sons missed having a dog. One big draw of that three-bedroom starter home had been the fenced-in backyard.
“Something like Max?” I asked as we turned onto the westbound ramp of Interstate 10. Max, short for Maximus, was my own rescue dog, a feisty, miniature dachshund weighing in at 12 pounds, with the attitude of a Rottweiler.
Robert snorted. “I want a man’s dog, Mom. Maybe an English Bulldog.”
“Those are pretty expensive,” I offered cautiously. Robert frowned. “Really. Probably $2000, maybe more.” His frown became a scowl. “They don’t live very long either,” I added.
“I liked the one next to our old apartment,” he said stubbornly. Yup, his advice alarm was on yellow alert.
I tried a new tack. “Are they smart?” The scowl eased. Mom apparently didn’t know everything.
“I’ll find out,” he said and gave me the look. “Don’t you be running any online searches,” he warned. “It’s my dog.”
A bulldog, I reflected, might be a good match for my youngest spawn; gruff, territorial, and stubborn.
“How goes the dog hunt?” We were carpooling again, and it was my week to drive.
“Looking at Boston Terriers now,” my taciturn youngest finally shared. “They’ll live 15 years, maybe more. Smart. Good jogging buddies.”
The bulldog crisis seemed to have passed, but I dug a bit deeper. “Vet bills?”
Robert quirked a suspicious brow at me. “Not bad. Not as bad as bulldogs.” He sighed. “I asked my neighbor. The vet bills on her bulldog are pretty steep—bad teeth, hip dysplasia, skin and eye infections, and they only live about nine years.” There was a suspicious gleam in his eye, though.
Not a word, Mom. I let the silence build, and after a moment, he spilled the rest of the story; the big adopt-a-pet fair was coming up in Avondale this weekend.
“Sounds good,” I ventured.
“You’re not invited.” Robert grinned to take the sting out. “My dog, Mom, I can handle it. Already installed a dog door off the back patio, a one size fits all. We added ramps for Max, though.” He put back the passenger seat and pulled his cap down over his eyes. There is a sacred rule among nuclear plant workers—no talking when your carpool mate is napping, so I shut up. Ramps for Max? The boys occasionally watched Maxi for us when my husband’s travel schedule and mine coincided. Just how big was this doggy door?
Our morning commute the following week brought more tidbits of information. The adopt-a-pet fair had featured, count’em, ten Boston Terriers, and one that met all of Robert’s criteria—male, about two years old, house-trained, healthy, smart, and friendly. This particular dog was in high demand, but Robert filled out an application for it anyway.
The agency rep perked up a bit as she sized Robert up and reviewed his information. Healthy, active homeowner, no other pets, quiet neighborhood with jogging trails, block-fence back yard. Ample character references (yes, animal rescue shelters want references). In short, he seemed ideal for an energetic young dog in need of attention and playtime. They’d let him know in a few days.
Robert left that agency’s adoption booth and continued the search for his “man’s dog.” There were a lot of agencies and a lot of dogs up for adoption. He was circling back toward the parking lot to leave when he saw the “Beast.” Four months old, paws the size of saucers, white markings on a grey face from out of the Wild. A Husky or Malamute—or a wolf hybrid. He stopped to pet the creature and got half his face licked off in an enthusiasm of puppy love.
This agency rep promptly extolled the pup’s virtues, which Robert dutifully—and a little smugly—shared with me. “Aldo” was indeed part Malamute—extra-large for the breed, and likely to top out at 100 pounds. Friendly and intelligent, he would probably live 15 years. I stayed silent, envisioning 15 years of pet-sitting this monster when our sons were on campouts with their dad. All of my guys are Royal Ranger commanders. In Arizona, that means supervising frequent boys’ campouts in the summer and participating in ‘manly’ winter campouts disguised as leader training programs. Would Aldo eat Maxi? My future grandkids?
My husband and I stopped by Robert’s house over the weekend in hopes of meeting the new family pet. The extra-large dog door made Robert’s preference for a larger animal obvious, but his new “man’s dog” was nowhere in sight. It turned out that both agencies had called, and Robert was being offered both dogs, with a catch. Each would have to be kenneled whenever he left the house.
At this point, Robert’s stubborn streak surfaced. It made no sense to kennel a dog when his perfectly good dog door, installed with his own hands, would allow the animal egress to a fenced-in yard to “do his business.” That wasn’t the point, both agency reps had explained. Kenneling kept the dog out of the summer heat, whenever it was left unsupervised. A dog door didn’t count.
“What? He’s expected to stay cooped up for 13 hours until I get home from work?” One rep suggested that a friend or neighbor stop by to let the dog out, briefly, during workdays. Visions of imposing on friends and neighbors—for 15 years—triggered outright rebellion. It never occurred to my painfully honest son to just tell a little white lie, and agree to their terms.
“I expect my dog to know enough to come in out of the heat!”
That declaration had not been well received. Nor had one rep’s opinion that his parents might have been a tad irresponsible. Letting our dogs use a doggy door to “do their business,” for the 27 years we’d raised boys and dogs in the rural outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona, was irresponsible?
Robert had ended both agencies’ calls with an exasperated, “I’ll get back to you.” He was still mulling over his options when we met up at church on Wednesday night.
“Picked one yet?” I asked.
Robert shrugged. “Change of plan. Tim and Liberty need a new home for their dog.” Tim and Liberty Turnipseed were our youth pastors and good friends of Robert’s. “He’s a two-year-old mixed breed. Turns out one of their kids has a dog allergy.” I winced in sympathy. Hard to give away a family pet, especially when the kids are attached. After the evening service, I saw Robert talking to Tim. Now was my chance.
I moved to stand beside Liberty, careful to stay out of Robert’s line of sight. “This dog? How big is it?”
Liberty smiled, clearly pleased with Robert’s interest. “Not too big.” She bent and gestured. “About knee-high. The kids were really excited when they heard Robert was looking for a dog.”
“The boys are in Royal Rangers?” I could see where this was going.
“That they are,” Liberty replied happily. She had a pretty fair understanding of her boys—and of mine. A good commander doesn’t let his men—that is, boys, down. A portion of the Ranger motto floated through my mind, “Ready. Ready to serve…” and I knew neither of the shelter dogs would be joining our family, not in the face of a young boy’s confidence in his commander to do the right thing. Robert agreed to come by and check out the dog. By Thursday evening, it was a done deal.
We didn’t carpool Friday so that Robert could pick up his new dog directly after work. Our paths didn’t cross over the weekend, but by the following Tuesday, I was anxious for an update. This week it was his turn to drive. We made it to the interstate before I broke down and asked.
“So, what kind of dog is he?”
Robert shrugged. “Just a mutt.”
“No, really, what breed?”
He ducked his head. “Half spaniel.”
Spaniels were good; I’d had one as a kid. “What else?”
He turned red and mumbled something.
“I didn’t get that?”
“Chihuahua.” He finally looked at me, and his eyes twinkled.
I tried to keep a straight face. “You adopted a Chihuahua mix?”
“Liberty’s boys got to you.”
“He needed a good home.”
“This is your ‘man’s dog’?”
“Yes, Mom.” By now, he was red-faced and grinning, while I pictured a flop-eared, “rat” dog with a bad case of Parkinson’s. I envisioned my strapping young man out jogging with this creature. The mind boggled.
My evil spawn let me stew all morning. He finally stopped by my desk around lunchtime and offered me his cell phone.
On the screen was a small, long-legged dog that looked uncannily like a miniature border collie. Black and white, with long curly hair, perked ears—and a bulldog underbite that would do Winston Churchill proud. Slightly oversized, round eyes and a broad, high forehead gave the animal an intelligent, slightly arrogant expression.
I couldn’t help myself. “He’s so cute!” Robert was grinning.
“That he is. Not bad chick bait, either.”
“What’s his name?”
“Buckminster – Bucky for short. It takes him a bit to warm up to you, but he’s friendly. He’ll put up with a leash, but he really loves to run on his own.”
A good match, after all, for my stubborn, practical son.