When our long-legged, beagle-howling, slut puppy, sister hounds run away, my husband always says a prayer. "I pray they never come back."
I'm telling you what, they were so cute when we got 'em at the Manteo Island Animal Shelter thirteen years ago. I loved the way their silky ears were bigger than their heads. I stuck my nose in their mouths to sniff their milky baby breath. Thing is, puppies are like kids. They almost always outgrow their initial adorableness.
No one at the shelter knew the pups' birthday so I decided it would be April Fool's Day. It seems I was waxing prophetic. Only question was, who was the fool? Us, or the dogs?
It was Friday of our vacation week and it was raining to beat all. At the beach. It'd poured more days than not that week. We'd done all the indoor things that could be done--the lame mall, the Rugrats Movie, the sea shell shops.
We weren't in the market for a pet right then. In fact, we were on the tail end of the mourning period for our 7 year-old pure-bred Beagle. Lacy June Bug Lulu Bell, daughter of Happy Time Barbie and Happy Time Ken, had succombed to an overdose of feminine protection products. Man, was the house quiet without her strident hunting howl. Boy, did I miss the way she'd sneak one paw, then another, then all of her, into my lap while I was watching ER.
The plan had been to spend the rainy morning at the animal shelter, petting puppies and kittens. An hour later, I was writing a check and signing a paper. Swearing we'd be awesome animal owners when we returned to West Virginia. The shelter staff even phoned our vet back home, Dr. Doom. He testified that we were excellent pet owners and promised the pups would get shot and spayed at the appropriate times.
The invisible fence that worked most of the time for Lacy worked none of the time for Daisy and Little Paint. That's what I named 'em. Actually, that's what I renamed them. I refused to step out on our back porch and yell, "Here, Sea Shell. Here, Suntan Lotion." Those were the girls' names for the pups.
"Nuh-unh," I said. "This one'll be Daisy, 'cause she's white and yellow. That one'll be Little Paint, 'cause it looks like someone dipped her tail in a bucket of black paint."
At first it was like a game, them running over the buried shock wire. When they were real small, they'd let out a pitiful yelp as the black box punished their throats. Pretty soon though, they seemed to figure out that the pain was lessened, or shortened at least, with speed. They'd fold their long, young legs under their deep ribcages and explode. Zero to 15 m.p.h., just like that.
My husband fixed them. He and his dad built a 5'x40' dog run on one side of our property. Attached it to the neighbors' chain link fence. For a week or two, the girl pups seem to have been divested of their joie de vivre. Whenever my daughters called me outside to push them on the swings, the dogs'd stare at me through the fence with their big, Milk Dud-lookin' eyes. I wasn't a dog whisperer, but I was pretty sure I knew what they were thinking. Just like Cindy Lou Who in Dr. Suess's, The Grinch, they were begging to know one thing. "Why?"
Wasn't long before Daisy and Little Paint fixed us. They started climbing over, digging under, or chewing through their dog run. If they were in the kitchen and the back door was ajar, they knew it and carpe diemed. If there was nothing but a toddler between them and a screen door, the child was sacrificed for the greater good--freedom.
Scrapes, contusions and high-pitched wails of, "No, doggies! No!" were ignored. Sometimes the dogs'd stop smack dab in the middle of the street and look back at us. Daring us to try to catch 'em. Their blue-black, rick rack gums flapped. Their tongues hung to one side like strips of warm, strawberry taffy. Their eyes seemed to smile. Seemed to say, "Looky! Looky! Look at me! I'm a doggy that's now free!"
The same scene stuttered the same way, over and over. Never changing. Once a week for months it seemed. Then once a month for years. Wore me out. Wore me down.
I'd have an hour or two before the phone rang. "Is this Daisy and Little Paint's mom?" I perceived a serrated tone in every caller's voice. I pictured one hand on their hip, the pointer finger on their other hand wagging. "I have your dogs. Can you come and get them please? Like, right now 'cause I'm leaving for the mall any minute. And another thing, you shouldn't . . ." Fuss. Fuss. Fuss.
I never defended myself. Never blamed my kids or the dogs. I'd just drive down the hill, or one neighborhood over, and say, "Thank you so much! I was very worried. I've been driving around for an hour." Even if I wasn't. Even if I hadn't been. Even if I'd been praying that prayer of my husband's.