At the end of last year, in a fit of guilty parenting brought on by a heartbroken 11 year old, we caved in and brought home a little bundle of joy. Not the two-legged kind — God forbid. We've already done that twice, and we're still paying dearly. No. It’s more a case of breeders dropping by. Dog breeders.
Yes, we have a puppy. A round, troublesome lump of fur who can simultaneously melt your heart while ripping your finger off. Not a small feat. But to see him you’d think he’d been doing it all his life. And after he does it, I hear myself, and the rest of my clan, say, He’s just so cute.
We’re into our fourth month of “parenthood” -- I know, I know; bear with me -- and already I’ve learnt a lot about animals, veterinarians, and myself. Not to mention a whole lot of local strangers with whom I have bonded over steaming piles of dog poo in the handful of off-lead areas near our house. (But I digress.) I’ve learned that animals give signals and communicate just as definitively as we do (in the case of many men I know, a lot more) and, correspondingly, to ignore them is, well, pretty stupid.
For example, in those first weeks, Brody (alleged to be half golden retriever, but is inexplicably terrified of water) would suddenly run about the room in mad circles, begin sniffing the floor, look at me helplessly, then pee a gallon (like only a puppy can). My mistake so often was that I didn't attend to the signs. The fact that they changed almost daily is my lookout. Sometimes he just sniffed and peed. Other days he would run in circles after the business rather than before. And still other times, it might seem as if he did nothing to warn us at all, unless you can count those microseconds before the release, when he looked up at us piteously, almost shamefacedly, while squatting on the the only unstained section of our family room carpet.
Then of course, there’s that biting thing. Considering that Brody still has his “milk teeth” it’s amazing that they can be so sharp. My heart goes out to his poor mother if she had to suffer his needle-like teeth on her tired and worn teat every time he was hungry (about every twenty minutes at the time of writing). And he was one of seven in his litter. I have pin holes and welts all over my hands, arms, and feet — even one across my right cheek — where our precious little darling has left his mark, and there’s only one of him.
The books say that he’s teething and so it’s inevitable that he will chew and nip. But if he’s teething, then how come he already has teeth? Really, he doesn’t need anymore. The ones he’s got are more than effective.
The second thing I’ve learned is that veterinarians are UNBELIEVABLY expensive. I mean, forget private school fees for the kids, renovating the house, or even a new car some day. Our money is paying off our local vet’s kids' private school tuition, three times over. And despite the fact that we are paying, she hardly ever talks to us. She just talks to the patient, which I’m sure is very considerate, but it is not especially practical. “So, Brody, how are you feeling today? Got rid of those worms yet?” I feel a bit like an intruder when they have these conversations which, I think she’s gradually realising, tend to be a little one-sided.
And then there’s the training aspect. We patiently repeat these inane, simple commands, hoping to get any response, let alone the right one, while he sniffs and looks distractedly away. When he does finally sit, the fact that you told him to “come” is forgotten as you lavish praise on the adorable tike, only to have him grab your hand in his razor-sharp teeth and chomp down really hard. And as you yelp painfully, he looks up at you innocently and you have this wild, insane desire to pet him again, just because he’s so cute.
And this is the bit I’m learning about myself. Apart from the fact that I seem to have developed a certain masochism where bodily pain is concerned, I have also discovered in me an almost endless pool of tolerance and patience. And that even though there are brief, delicious moments when I dream of a time before Brody, I am so permanently tied to him, that I cannot really imagine a future without him. He’s just so cute.