Three years ago, I drove to North Carolina, met a stranger through Craigslist, and brought home a Boston terrier puppy. That was the breed of our dog years ago, so obviously, another one would be perfect for two wild boys.
My wife Dawn and I did what so many people say not to do. We tied a ribbon around the dog’s neck and put him under the tree like a LEGO set. When the boys opened the box, and Jedi tumbled out, we introduced the word “fragile,” and immediately found ourselves protecting the boys from the dog and the dog from them. He was a great new addition to the family, but after a few months, he got sick and started having seizures. Toward the end, we were giving him five pills a day. Then, one seizure lasted too long, and he never came back. He stopped reacting to his name. He wouldn’t eat. He wasn’t even a year old, and we had to put him down. It was difficult, but Jedi brought us together.
I live with two paleontologists – ages eight and six. Since Jedi died, every few weeks or so, Levon asks to borrow my shovel. He drags it into the woods and starts digging at the dog’s gravesite. Part of me laughs and part of me winces. “I want to see Jedi’s bones, Dad!” But the earth is too hard, and so the shovel goes back into the garage. Levon tells us that he wants to be a scientist when he grows up. He likes his microscope and has a healthy appreciation for the scientific method, so I get his curiosity. But I can also see he misses his dog. When the boys talk about Jedi, I’m surprised by what they recall. “Dad, remember how Jedi got lost in the creek?” With a few words, they bring back a memory that was missing.
Since losing Jedi, it has been hard to think about getting a dog again. The boys have asked for hedgehogs, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, ferrets, and piranhas. We keep saying no. We almost went with a guinea pig, but our guys need something they can wrestle and tie up in a knot. Guinea pigs aren’t good at playing king of the castle or finding their way back from the creek alive. We need a Marmaduke in our house. Something that is goofy and docile and ready for a hurricane of boys.
So about four months ago, Dawn put us on a list for a dog. The breed was something new to me. A sheepadoodle.
It started gradually – a few Instagram photos, a text message at lunch. Dawn would send me a link or a post with the smiley emoji underneath. Then, she sent more. At a friend’s wedding, I met a sheepadoodle in the flesh. He came up to my waist and cruised around the event like a bored horse. Blending two rather large breeds – an English sheepdog and a standard poodle – the dog I met was very well-behaved. He politely watched everyone, never barking or showing a Napoleon complex. He spent a lot of time lounging next to the carving station, watching the world. That dog was no terrier. He had nothing to prove. He was just another hypoallergenic wedding guest that seemed content not dancing. After chatting him up, I could tell that if we were to get one, he would need a separate room in the house, his own toothbrush holder, and a shelf in the fridge.
After the wedding, Dawn’s campaign intensified. The photos kept coming. I’m used to small dogs you can pick up and tuck inside your shirt, ones that sit at your feet on the plane, so it took some momentum – and many hashtags: #sheepadoodlebear #goosethesheepadoodle #zammythegiant #sheepadoodling.
When I was a kid, we got our first dog when I was in the second grade, the same age Atticus is today. She was a feisty corgi, but she spent most of her days in the backyard, fighting a field of fleas, pre-Frontline. When it was snowing, we might let her in for a little bit, but she had her dog house. A dog was something that stayed outside, within the fence. As an adult, I want something different, so I’m excited to bring this new dog into our world. At the moment, I have a list of do’s and don’ts. He will sleep in a crate. She won’t eat people food. He needs obedience school and… I stop myself. I just want a good dog. I want her to be wrestled and ridden. A coat of fur to sink your face into on a bad day. Though we are after more good days than bad, I am ready to give our boys something that is more like them – rambunctious, wild, crazy, impulsive, smart, and yes, stupid. This animal – the right dog for us – should help round them out and give them another sibling for their messy adventures.
Every few weeks or so, Dawn asks me to email the breeder. “Just see where we are on the list,” she’ll say. I explain that I’m sure we’re in the same place as the last time I checked, but I reach out anyway. And we wait. The due date keeps moving. I’ve done my part, I guess. The rugs have been taken up. The crate has been assembled. The fence has been mended. We haven’t decided on a name yet. But can you ever really be ready?