“I have a surprise for you when you return.” That’s what my wife Sandy said to me on the telephone as I was about to come home after a weekend away.
Those words sent a mild chill through me. During the 16 years we’ve been married, most of Sandy’s surprises have required at least a few moments for me to absorb – including purchases she made at estate sales when I was gone for a few days. But this surprise, when I finally saw it, really did come as a shock.
I wasn’t expecting a new dog. But there it was, a dollop of white fur small enough to fit into a large woman’s purse. A puppy, just 2 months old.
I really didn’t want a dog. I had one as kid – Pepper, a mixed Cocker Spaniel and Irish Setter that my dad had given me when I was 10. I loved that dog, which I raised from a puppy; he remained my friend through high school.
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I also inherited a dog when I married Sandy, another mixed-breed she rescued from a parking lot in Manteca. I took “Teca” for many walks and enjoyed her hyperactivity until one day she escaped from our yard was run over by a car.
I know first hand how much time a dog consumes and the responsibilities of ownership that must be met – including boarding it when we’re out of town for awhile. After all, Sandy and I are in our golden years, which means it takes a lot just to look after ourselves. So no, I didn’t want another dog.
“We’re just going to try it out for a while,” Sandy said. “If it doesn’t work out, we can return it to Jacquie.”
Jacquie is Sandy’s daughter who loves dogs so much that she and her friend Mike have seven of them, including dogs who have puppies, like the one staring at me from Sandy’s lap.
But I had a feeling this dog was going to stay. Sandy had already named it, “Bella Mia,” sometimes shortened to “Bella.” And Sandy said she would assume primary responsibility for the care of this little mutt – a mix of Yorkshire, Shih Tzu and another breed I forget.
Sandy has lived up to her promise. She has trained the dog so we no longer have to clean up her messes inside our house. She has selected a dog food Bella will eat and she gives Bella small and large baths in our kitchen sink, then dries her off with a blow drier and brushes out her hair – something I never did with Pepper.
I, too, have a role in Bella’s life. It has been my job, for example, to carry her to the bedroom, where Sandy converted a kid’s playpen into the dog’s bed. In the morning, I take Bella downstairs, put her out on the back porch, where she does her business and then I give her the day’s first dish of dog food.
I have also assumed the role each morning of cleaning up the porch, where I pick up and discard what she leaves behind, then hose off the porch floor. And now that Bella is 5 months old, in the evening I put on her leash and take her for a walk.
I find myself – darn it – attached to that mutt. She spends a lot of time on my lap or next to me on the couch, when she’s not next to Sandy.
When Bella got sick a few weeks back, I, like Sandy, worried about her and took her to our vet. Bella knew the vet team well from Bella’s many previous vaccinations.
Yes, I got suckered into caring about this dog to the point that I didn’t have to be persuaded to hold her at home while Sandy inserted the small syringe with medicine into her mouth twice a day for 10 days until Bella returned to her normal active self.
Life is not the same. The dog has taken over, so much so that Sandy and I find it hard to imagine our lives without Bella, in spite of all the challenges and responsibilities.
So let this be a warning to anyone whose spouse says, “I have a surprise for you.” If it’s a dog, you may never recover from the shock. And you might end up seeing your life change, for the better, I think.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.