Let’s admit it. We had been warned. “Puppies are just like babies,” friends said. “At your age, a puppy will wear both of you out,” our kids told us. They chew. They make messes. They need so much attention.
We lost our beloved 11-1/2 year old Boxer in September 2016. Over the next nine months as we grieved, we also managed to convince everyone, including each other and ourselves, that we weren’t anywhere ready for another dog. We were enjoying the freedom from having to be home on time. We didn’t miss the muddy paw prints, the dog toys strewn about, and our car no longer boasted a full coat of dog hair on the seats and the floor.
There were no streaky nose prints on the car windows or on the French doors at home. There was no annoying barking at the mailman and any friend or foe who came near our home. There were no stray dog toys and bones tripping us up, and no more slippery water sploshes on the kitchen floor.
Yet, we missed the u-shaped, body-shivering hellos that greeting our every homecoming. We yearned for the warm, solid presence of a beloved dog at our feet in bed. We were even nostalgic for the leggy-cuddles – those that caused us to cry “uncle” and retreat to the love seat across the room – alone, without the furry friend who had pushed us off the couch.
One day this past June, a friend hinted that there might be some sweet puppies we would like to meet in New Bedford. They were eight-week old Boxers, a comical, loyal breed we knew so well. We convinced ourselves that we were only curious. We were “only looking,” we claimed. With six young grandchildren in our home for holidays and vacations, we were reluctant to rescue a grown dog who might take months or years to learn to trust. Yet, for obvious reasons, we were not so sure about a puppy, either.
Once a snub-nosed runt-of-the-litter puppy stared into my eyes, licked my fingers, nuzzled my chin, and curled up on my lap, I was smitten. Logic, resolve, and a window-shopping-fantasy ended right there. My husband Gerry knew it was love at first sight and sighed deeply, while at the same time secretly smiling. This new puppy we named Oreo (for the slice of white that appeared like the frosting in an Oreo cookie) came to live with us that week.
Several days later, reality set in. Our soft, cuddly puppy nipped at our grandchildren’s heels and grabbed them by the back of their heads, nibbling on their hair, knocking them over with all 12 pounds of his effervescent love. He stole the socks right off my feet and my knitting from the coffee table. He piddled and chewed and tripped us with every step we took. Those first few months I was sure he would never grow out of every stage he suddenly was in. He seemed to gain a half-a-pound a day, outgrowing every bed, leash and harness before we even got the credit card bill.
We crate trained. We downloaded the WAG app and arranged dog walkers like UBER rides. We met other four-legged friends and their owners, praying that our puppy would wear himself out in a half-hour of before-suppertime play. We scolded, we praised, we admonished. We sighed.
We had, after all, been warned about puppies.
At nearly eight months, Oreo’s energy is unbounded. He peers from his crate when we walk through to door, as if to say “Hey! Thanks for coming back.” He sits, he stays. He gives one paw and “the other.” He makes his presence known on every couch and bed when he rests his grateful, heavy head on our cold and tired calves. His dog walkers call him the King of Norwood as he greets every person, dog, leaf and stick with enthusiastic attention. He still manages to steal a knitting needle here and there, run off gleefully with my socks. Left alone, he can’t be trusted not to gnaw a chair leg or pillow, mistaking them for one of his dozens of toys. He will endlessly play fetch in and out of the house and up and down the halls and stairs.
One of our puppy guidebooks suggested that there are no bad puppies, just bad humans. While this advice might be brutal and unwelcome, it is most likely true. Dogs who mess in the house need a more regular schedule of being let outside. Dogs who chew need toys and exercise. Dogs who nip need stern training.
Oreo is either dog-walked up to an hour every day while we are at work or he spends the full day in doggie daycare and arrives home too exhausted to eat dinner. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we realized we needed to add “vigorous walk” to Oreos’ vacation schedule, too.
Fortunately, the south coast where we spend our holidays boasts many dog-friendly walking trails, off-season beaches and cranberry bogs. We’ve found countless resources online and on sites such as the Trustees of Reservations, Buzzard’s Bay Coalition and the Sippican Land Trust. When we venture further out for day trips to stretch Oreo’s legs and save our furniture, socks, and my knitting projects, we’ll take along some books like Best Hikes with Dogs Boston and Beyond by Jenna Ringelheim, Best Hikes with Dogs in New Hampshire and Vermont by Lisa Densmore, Doggin’ Massachusetts by Dog Gelbert, and Dog-Friendly New England by Trisha Blanchet.
Last week, when we weren’t watching, Oreo chewed a 3” triangular piece off a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind stool that sits in our back utility hall. I fought mightily to stifle my aggravation. He’s only a puppy, I groaned.
Last Sunday I nestled down on the couch with Oreo and re-watched Marley and Me, the 2008 film version of John Grogan’s book about his beloved Golden Retriever. Sobbing at the end of the film, I tightly held Oreo, all legs, massive paws and broad chest. I wondered how we, too, had ended up with the world’s worst dog – who we love with all our hearts.