The Puppy Handbook
Back in 2005, when my coming marriage was solid, my soon-to-be husband and I decided to seal our commitment to each other by getting a dog. Perogi is a salt-and-pepper miniature schnauzer who loves to snuggle and run, and hates cats and baths. She nibbles on my Post-It notes, so important marked places in books go missing, and her poop suddenly has bright pink flecks. She snores when she’s asleep; she snores when she’s awake. Her ears smell like soy sauce. I can watch her think; she changes her mind, she makes decisions, and she lights up when she hears certain words or names. On a surprising number of issues regarding her care, she has an opinion that she expresses with facelicks, sighs, and insistent paw-pats. Though she was a holy terror as a puppy (those little needle teeth!), she calmed down a bit, and we hit our stride.
When our marriage fell apart nearly five years after Perogi came into our lives, she was our only mutual asset. It was a little like having a child; our love had demanded her presence, but that love was over and she was still here. Though we both loved her enormously, for many reasons that I won’t get in to here, “custody” (so to speak) of her little self went to me. Over these last several months that she’s been in my care exclusively, I’ve tried to do right by her, but last week, I failed.
As I’ve observed numerous times, I currently live in a guest room in my best friend Sue’s house, a house that is attached to a dairy farm. It’s a cozy, comfortable room, and as I type this, we are sitting on the bed, and she is napping on my leg, snoring like a small, whirring dynamo. We’ve occupied this room together for eight months, and sharing a small room with Perogi for this long has given me the chance to get closer to her; with her I’m never too lonely, and she is the anchor that keeps me in the world of the contributive and responsible.
But, these days I’m dating again, going out at night, and because Perogi doesn’t always get along with the other dogs in the house, I have to keep her in our room when I’m out of the house for work or non-dog-friendly socializing. It’s the most shut-in she’s ever been in her life, and, peripherally, I knew that this arrangement was starting to frustrate and bore her. About a month ago, she ate an Ipod earbud, which occasioned a visit to the vet (who reassured me that the tiny pieces she’d actually consumed would easily pass through). This incident should have been my first clue that she was reaching her limit, since she’d never before destroyed anything of mine (aside from the aforementioned tasty Post-It notes, with which she has always been obsessed). I just took her behavior to mean that I shouldn’t leave her on the bed when I’m not in the room because the contents of my nightstand are too tempting. So, I began to make sure she was on the floor when I had to leave the room, and the floor is always clear of anything but shoes, in which she’s never been interested.
Then, last Sunday night, in the fifteen minutes that it took me to go downstairs to the kitchen, microwave a can of soup, and eat it, Perogi knocked my purse of its hook and ate an entire pack of gum that had been inside it. Sugarless gum contains Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is toxic for dogs, and she’d consumed what was likely a lethal dose if left untreated. Sue and I rushed her to the 24-hour vet; I drove way too fast, crying all the way, thinking that this might be it, and that I still had so many things I wanted to do with her (she’s never had a fenced in backyard! ) and say to her (other than “I love you,” those things are between her and I).
With all of the luck on Earth, the vets at this amazing hospital were able to make her better. She’s home now and doing fine. I know someday I’ll have to say goodbye to her — that’s the nature of all love — but she still has good years left, and I want them for her.
I couldn’t help but interpret this close call as a clear signal that I’d broken the promise I’d made to Perogi to take good care of her no matter what. I’ve been putting my needs before hers, and I’ve kept her too long in a place where she’s too cooped up and where I can’t protect her. It’s not Perogi’s fault that her parents are divorcing, and that her mom goes out on dates now; she needs a safe place where she can wander around and look out the window. I’d been hoping to buy a house, and had been looking in earnest for months to no avail, but I’ve given up on that now, and put a deposit on an apartment for her and I, 714 square feet all our own. The new place is expensive, and it will take me 20 miles away from my support system of friends, boyfriend, and parents, but I need to honor the commitment I made to her. She has given me nothing but constant love; she has a little face that is always happy to see me no matter how cranky I am or how badly I’m phoning it in in other areas of my life. She deserves better, and she’ll get it nine days from today when we move into our own space. I got a second chance with her last week — here she is, warm and alive in my lap! — and I’m going to get it right this time.