Boys and dogs

For the last several years, our boys – particularly our oldest – have been pleading for us to get a dog. My reply has always been, “We have a dog. Her name is Pasha.”

Our new dog, Tobey
Tobey is a poodle-Bichon Frise mix and the perfect dog for us.

This is only partially true. There is a dog named Pasha that lives next door to us. She is friendly and comes to the fence to watch us play and bark her greetings, but she is not our dog. We do not have to feed her, clean up after her or take her to the veterinarian.

In my way of thinking, Pasha is the perfect dog.

When the boys decided having their own dog was preferred to watching and petting the neighbor’s dog, I resorted to a more practical defense.

“We don’t have a fence around our backyard. We couldn’t keep the dog from running off.”

To this the boys simply indicated they didn’t really want a big yard dog anyway. They wanted a little indoor dog like Jack, who belongs to my in-laws, or Leo, who belongs to my parents.

I thwarted this argument on a medical basis.

“You boys and your mother are allergic to pet dander. If we got a dog you’d be sneezing your head off all the time.”

Barron, our oldest, now 11, has been particularly relentless. His research online has produced a list of  breeds that do not shed.

I continued to parry and dodge their pleas with such logic as “They cost money” and “What do we do with them when we travel?” and the coup de gras: “They die after you get attached to them.”

This week, I lost the battle. Two weeks after Barron and Carla met a poddle-Bichon Frise mix (or “poochon” if you prefer) named “Tobey,” at a pet store adoption day, we brought home another bundle of joy.

Tobey, who is somewhere between 5 and 7 years-old, doesn’t shed. He doesn’t bark. He is house broken. He is playful without being rambunctious. He’s little. He’s been fixed. He can ride with us in the car when we go out of town.

Tobey kisses Barron's chin
Barron was the biggest advocate for adding a pooch to our family. He’s reaping the rewards.

Tobey has an answer to my every objection. Well, every objection except one, which may have been my real, deep-seated reason all along. Tobey will die one day after I’ve grown attached to him.

How do I know this? Besides the obvious and unavoidable truth that all living things must die, I have experienced the loss of a pet. Perhaps I’ve never gotten over it.

When I was a toddler, my father worked the night shift for American Airlines at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Not wanting to leave my mother alone at night, he bought her a German Shepherd. Her name was “Tippi” for the tuft of black fur on the end of her tail.

Tippi was a great dog. Intelligent, protective and loving, Tippi tolerated all manner of my annoying habits, from trying to ride her like a horse to holding her tail and following her up and down the backyard fence line wearing a bucket on my head and singing “I’m in the Lord’s Army.”

Tippi developed tumors, and eventually the canine cancer progressed to the point that my parents had to have her euthanized. By that point I was old enough to have read “Where the Red Fern Grows” and watched “Old Yeller.” Losing Tippi was every bit as painful as vicariously grieving the loss of those fictional pets.

My defense was to shut down my capacity for connecting with animals. I avoided other people’s pets and even shunned my parents’ dogs when we moved into a house my sophomore year of high school that had a large, fenced-in yard. Their two lab mixes were as friendly and loyal as ever two dogs could be, but I resolutely kept myself from getting attached.

No dog could replace Tippi, and I knew that if I let another dog into my life, it would end in heartache.

But here I go again. Maybe Tobey can help me access a side I have shut off for 30 years. Maybe the joy of seeing my boys laugh and play with their dog will soften the pain I have suppressed for decades. Maybe I will be old enough now to understand that the companionship of a dog is so sweet that even the pain of its passing can’t outweigh the time spent building that special bond.

Tobey isn’t a very manly dog, and I know I will look and feel ridiculous walking this little white, curly-haired fellow through the neighborhood. A Southern gentleman should have a sporting dog to help hunt and fetch game. But because I don’t hunt, I think Tobey will suit me just fine. After all, as Kate Campbell sings in her send-up of contemporary Southern culture, “New South:” “Bichon frises are our new hounds.”

I will also take this opportunity to teach the boys responsibility. They will bathe him, feed him, give him water, walk him and clean up his poop.

Aw, who am I kidding. It’ll be me standing out in the backyard in freezing temperatures with a plastic bag on my hand waiting for him to do his business.

And as I stand there shivering and contemplating my sanity, I will bond with Tobey. He’ll be my little friend, too. And maybe, just maybe, I will heal from a little boy’s loss and learn to love again.

Do you remember your first pet? Have you had to recover from the traumatic loss of an animal companion? Share your story by leaving a comment below. You’ll feel better, I promise!