Today (Sunday, October 20)
Her name may not be Georgia, but it was for several seconds. She will always be Georgia to me.
The morning of the day I first met her, I had grown silent in anger at my wife, Sue, whose first words of the day were, “Why didn’t you turn the heat up?” while pressing the arrow on the thermostat several times with force. She hadn’t said, “Good morning,” or “How did you sleep?” or “Hi,” which were all appropriate ways to greet someone first thing, at least the way I was raised.
“I wasn’t cold,” I’d answered.
Then, when I asked her if, given the chance, she would want to go look at puppies that day, she challenged me on the exchange I had with the litter owner, questioned what I’d asked or the way I’d asked it, wondered if they were serious. She wasn’t excited. She wasn’t grateful. She was suspicious.
The day before
“So… I may or may not have put our names on a waiting list for a Bernese Mountain dog,” she mentioned casually with a grin in her voice. That was earlier in the day. Free-run, organic purebred dogs from Nelson at $1800 per—which is actually a pretty good price considering the stock—with health records and papers proving their lineage and guaranteeing their replacement. She had texted me photos of the most recent litter, all spoken for, and was gushing over the one named Orange. I couldn’t disagree with her about their adorability. The next litter was three seasons away. That gave us time.
Later that evening I was preparing supper. It was Saturday, but it was nothing special. Special meals were less frequent lately, and sitting at the dining room table was giving way to kneeling at the coffee table. Oven-roasted, skin-on chicken thighs with sliced vegetables, pitted olives, and bread and butter. At least we could watch the baseball playoffs on TV. But then she’d gone and promised the kids a movie, and then we agreed to another, so I went for a long walk.
Somewhere in there, she’d found more dogs on her iPad on Kijiji. This time the litter was Great Pyrenees crossed with Aussie Shepherd. Beautiful, I had to admit. And apparently available now, which I wasn’t thrilled about. And an hour-and-a-half away instead of seven. And a third of the price of the Bernese. And she wanted to send them a message to see if there were any left and what the specific mix was and if it was the mum in the picture and what the dad was and how many boys and girls. So I helped by sorting out the technology and sending the message to the litter owner.
While the boys watched the movie and I walked along the river in the autumn cool and dark, she gazed under the glow of her tablet at the photo of the proud-looking Bengal-tiger coloured mother and her new pups. When I returned and the boys got to bed and I turned on the ballgame recording, she gazed some more.
So in the morning when I got up and saw there was a reply from the littler owner, I asked if we could see them that day despite the short notice. After sorting out our respective Sundays, we agreed that between 3:30 and 4:00 would be perfect. I had looked forward to indulging Sue in this excitement.
July—three months before
Stanley was over fifteen years old when we put him down. It was warm and summery and the sod we’d laid the year before was thick and green. The vet made house calls, and I sat with Stanley’s black head in my lap, his speckled white coat stretched over the grass, Sue kneading his ruff with two hands and crying before excusing herself to be with the boys at the neighbour’s next door before we did the deed. Under the din of jets overhead and cargo trains shunting in the yard at the end of the block, the vet and I talked about whatever he had been trained to talk about or not talk about while he injected several rounds of solutions in to calm, then sedate, then kill Stanley.
I’d picked him up for free at eight weeks old from my cousin’s friend’s accidental litter in Millarville, about twenty-five minutes from the city. He’d been with me through breakups, job changes, marriage, kids, and the anxiety and depression of mid-life. He was easy and affectionate. But having a dog is a big deal. They bring in dirt constantly. They shed hair everywhere—you breathe it in your pillow if you don’t clean frequently enough, which in our small house means about three times a day. They cost to care for: food, beds, bowls, brushes, crates, collars, shampoo, vet bills, insurance, registration, spaying or neutering, extra hotel room fees, plane tickets, kennel charges, sitters, medication… never mind the emergencies. And they eat up a significant amount of your day with walks, cleaning, feeding and cleaning some more, training, letting out, picking up after.
When you get yourself into it, you do so willingly. You commit your mind and heart to the joy and labour and frustration that comes with dog rearing. I haven’t had enough time to fully appreciate not having a dog. I’m still appreciating the freedom. It’s too soon for me.
But in the same way that I didn’t say anything about her morning greeting, or lack thereof, neither have I spoken up to say, “I’m not ready”. Instead, I’ve talked about the enormity of the commitment, the extremity of the cost—especially considering my recent struggles to generate income—the scheduling with two boys in sports (skiing in the winter, which means weekend trips to the mountains, and baseball in the spring and summer, which means weekend trips to other cities), and summer holidays four provinces away.
So back to today. I remained quietly grumpy the whole way there and the whole way back. I initiated little conversation and replied detachedly to anything sent my way. We spent an hour with the litter, letting them climb on us and chew a little, noting the different colouring and personalities, holding them on their backs, watching them wrestle and explore, letting them nap in a pile on our youngest son, learning about the history of the dog family, meeting the owners, and admiring the previous litter’s eight-month-old specimens.
On the way home in the car, I warned the family not to speak like “getting one” was a foregone conclusion. It was an “if”, not a “when”. I told Sue we would discuss it later when the boys were in bed. In the seat next to me, she shifted and glowed and smiled and glanced, then stared at me grinning, teasingly, eyes impossibly big. I know this not because I looked, because I was driving the car so had a bulletproof excuse not to engage, but I could feel it, and she knew I knew.
I didn’t break. I maintained my mask and position that this is an “if” and never was a “when”, and that we’d discuss it at home. Meanwhile our youngest—anticipating competition from his brother for time with and attention from the dog—had taken the tack that, “It wouldn’t be fair to only get one. We need to get two at least so it’s fair.” Smart kid.
At some point, and to my outward displeasure, the name-game started. Inwardly, though, the writer in me had already been thinking about it. I let them riff for awhile, and maybe I made some little cracks about ones they put forth.
Then, “Georgia.” I said it quietly. To me, it says “big girl, soul sister”. It sounds calm and liquid, like a bay. Sue loved it. The boys hated it. The moment passed and I let it as other names came up. I pulled the part of my mask that had slipped back into place.
Back home while the kids ate at the kitchen counter and Sue pulled up photos on her phone and iPad, I said awful dad-like things like, “If you even want us to consider it, you need to be able to listen to our instructions far better than you have been lately,” and, “You have to learn to work with a dog properly. Like you can’t giggle and hold its paws when it jumps up, because someday it will jump up on an old lady. When it’s seventy pounds, it will knock her over, then we’re in real trouble.” And I raised the practical issues again, like time, travel, finances.
By the time they’d finished their snack, Sue was convincingly second-guessing and my oldest son was worried about hurting old ladies. Way to go, dad. Mission accomplished.
But clearly, my language had shifted. Contingency had crept in. And despite the young children, the money, or the timing, Sue was talking about a deposit, justifying the cost in any number of ways, her indomitable will and boundless heart and need flooding over and drowning all adversarial positions.
We get her in two weeks. Georgia’s name is TBD.
These are her stories.