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Hound for the Holidays

You’d think I’d know better than to fall for the same face twice. But here I am again, hooked on those big, brown eyes, that wagging tail, the shiny, tri-color coat.

She’s the spitting image of our first beagle, who I’m glad to say lived a long and happy life. But it’s been more than a year since she’s been gone, and now here we are, ready to start all over.

Let us give thanks, then, for Phoebe, the brand-new pup who’s joining the family just in time for the holidays. No worries, though–we’ve been down this road before. After all, we have previous puppy experience. We know the puppy drill. How much trouble could she possibly be?

Oh, how quickly we forget.

Once upon a time – sixteen people years, to be exact – the idea of a puppy stoked our tender imaginations. Back then, we were just a couple of newlyweds with all the time in the world to devote to the finer points of dog training. We were innocent poster children of love, patience, and understanding, we were used to staying up late, and most of our furniture was left over from college. And we didn’t have any kids. The way we saw it, a pup was a practice baby.

And I’m proud to say we threw ourselves into it. We stuck to a strict crate-training regimen. We drove home – eventually – the simple commands of down, sit, and stay. We even subscribed to the philosophies of the Monks of New Skete, dedicated dog trainers who offer endless dictums of positive reinforcement in their famous book.

But pretty soon we had to face the truth that our prized pup was never going to be invited to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show – or even graduate from the most remedial obedience school. And then two human babies came along, and pretty soon we’d put the monks to shame with our comprehensive expertise in what I like to call the three Ps: pee, poop, and puke.

Oh, yes. Time to wake up and smell the kibble. It’s all coming back to me now.

First, the vaunted benefits of cratetraining seem to have been lost on Phoebe from the start. Confine your pup to a cage barely large enough to hold her, goes the theory, and she’ll learn not to relieve herself in the same place she sleeps. This makes perfect sense to you and to me. But what if your new baby is only too happy to luxuriate in her own excrement? Time once again for another not-so-gentle bath.

And now that our kids are tweens, we can count on them to take the dog out several times a day. But then they offer her all the water she can drink once she’s back inside. More often than not, this makes the kitchen, cut off from the rest of the house by the best gates money can buy, a vast urinarium.

“At least it’s not the Peecific Ocean,” says Mom, trying to make light of it. But Dad’s not laughing. And don’t even think about setting food on the counter or leaving the lid to the garbage can open even a crack. Leave her to her own devices, and you run an even greater risk of turning the urinarium into a worldclass vomitorium.

Pretty soon it falls to me to manage Phoebe’s various bodily functions best I can. Now that I’m responsible for walking her, I’ve begun hoarding plastic bags of every size, type, and density. How sad to be so tuned into a dog’s gastroenterological processes that I now judge all grocery, retail, and gift-store packaging by its poop potential (produce bags from the fruit and veggie aisles are the gold standard, by the way). Sadder still that the question you hear in the checkout line – Paper or plastic? – always has an obvious answer.

So just what is the upside of a new puppy? My wise neighbor, Andrew, suggests I draw up a proper balance sheet.

The cons are overwhelming. Having a puppy is like having “Shark Week” in your house, all day, every day. Yes, there was a time when watching a pup teethe on the corner of a tattered throw pillow was kind of cute. But ever since Phoebe destroyed her own plush toys, she’s started in on everything else she can get her teeth into.

You can squirt her with a spray bottle. You can coat the house with cayenne pepper. But she’s an unrepentant, purebred hound, and it’s clear she can’t be stopped. She’s torn up the bed we gave her as a welcome gift. She’s ripped the stuffing out of the new seat cushions. She’s gnawed off the bottom corners of the kitchen cupboard doors. She devoured an entire loaf of bread, plastic wrapper and all. Right now she’s back in her crate, happily chewing a refrigerator magnet to bits.

And the pros?

She’s gorgeous.

Andrew puts it perfectly. “Sounds like you’ve got the canine equivalent of a supermodel,” he laughs.

Oh, how right he is. Her entire job, it seems, is to look good. She spends every waking hour obsessing over food. She’ll drag you around till all hours because there’s always more fun around the next corner. And if you happen to let her out of your sight, you’ll be lucky if she makes it home by dawn the next day.

But I fell for that face, and there’s no going back. She’s a member of the family now, I think, as I offer her a scrap of people food while nobody is looking. And with the holidays almost here, I can’t help but give thanks for the home we’ve given her and all the life that lies ahead.

With a look of utter gratitude, she gazes into my face for a long, blissful moment with those big, brown beagle eyes I can’t help but love and forgive.

And throws up.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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