behind the masque – the not so nasty dog

My fourth birthday was approaching in (five) months, and for a still unknown reason I had a random yet profound dog epiphany. My life was incomplete and lacking without a dog. This wasn’t your garden-variety childhood whim; this was an urgent, life-sustaining need. I knew Grandpa alone held the approval power to fulfill my dog ownership desires. The chips were stacked against me; The Grandparents owned a beloved dog, Mitzy. She was pre-owned by Mom, and later bequeathed to them on her wedding day.

My discovered need and protracted anticipation fueled my undaunted courage. Impatiently I waited by the door as I strained to hear the familiar sounds that announced his daily arrival. Finally, I heard the thunderous echo of the motor as he parked underneath the carport. I had the arrival sequence memorized: thunderous echo, momentary silence, a door slammed, followed by his distinct bowlegged gait that caused his keys to jingle a melody at his side.

As he turned the corner, the smashed face of his granddaughter who had become one with the jalousie door, greeted him. He only grinned.

A half footstep inside the door, I blurted out the need for a serious conversation. Can you imagine his racing thoughts? Yet, in the moment between anticipation and discovered need, he only displayed genuine love toward me. I would imagine he eventually realized the futility of guessing the what , and resided himself to board Wendy’s Wild Ride, content to discover where it took him.

To the Comfy Lumpy Chair we went; or to be more accurate – I dragged him. I positioned the serious conversation footstool in front of Grandpa’s chair. This would be the most serious conversation we ever had, at least at four years old. As usual, he extended his hand to steady my step, and then I looked into his eyes. Eyes so filled with acceptance and love that they gave me courage. Taking a breath, I shared my morning revelation. I needed a dog, and he was the integral part of that plan.

He grinned, briefly paused, and then gingerly (without dashing my hopes) repeated the indictment I had levied on the worldwide dog population just days before. All dogs were nasty dogs. In an instant, I threw his beloved Mitzy under the bus. She was the slobber culprit and first offender in the Nasty Dog Club. I was certain my dog would be perfect, and thus slobber free. Grandpa listened attentively to the plea of his tiny granddaughter, and promised to consider my request. That was all I needed to hear. Hugs and kisses were dispensed, and then I descended the stool, content to wait, because first and foremost – Grandpa was a word keeper.

his word was his bond –

A few weeks later, Grandpa announced we had a mystery errand date. Happily I skipped toward the car, my tiny soft hand firmly surrounded by his strong gentle hand. Now it was my turn to attempt to guess the what of our mysterious expedition. He grinned the grin of knowing and simply replied: “You will have to wait and see.” Of course I guessed the pet store, but much to my surprise and subsequent dismay, we traveled only a few streets away to an unknown neighborhood house.  My disappointment gave way to temporary pout-age as we approached the front door. Suddenly pout-age vanished and gave way to pure excitement as I heard the unmistakable sound of squeaking puppies.

the disastrous attempt –

Who knew that a dog breeder/trainer for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus lived just a few streets away from my grandparent’s home? Recently a prized show dog delivered a litter of puppies. Lady Breeder answered the door, and ushered us into puppy heaven. Grandpa bent down and lovingly shared that I could select any puppy I desired. In just a few moments I would meet my needed puppy. Lady Breeder was patient, but slow as molasses as she presented one cute puppy after another for my inspection, and subsequent rejection. Don’t even ask me the criteria for the needed puppy. I only knew I would know it when I saw the perfect one. Actually, that is exactly the shopping strategy I employ to this very day.

Finally, Lady Breeder announced there were no other puppies. However, I knew this to be untrue. Although hidden from sight, the mournful sound of whimpering continually escaped from underneath a closed hallway door, thus sabotaging my selection ability. The other puppies didn’t need me, but a pitiful puppy called to my heart from behind a door. There was in fact another.

With my allotment of self-control exhausted, a mini melt down ensued replete with pathetic begging and punctuated by large tears. Could I please, please, please just look at the hidden puppy? Lady Breeder expressed her sorrow, but firmly pronounced she wasn’t for sale. Ringling Brothers had already selected her as their next show dog. A glance of desperation from Grandpa, and a brokenhearted child provoked Lady Breeder to briefly acquiesce. She disappeared momentarily and then returned with a precious squiggly wiggly, itty-bitty puppy cupped within her hands.

The moment I held the licorice puppy with a diamond tuft of white, it was love. Calmly she snuggled into my chest as I stroked her fur. I drew closer to Grandpa and showed him her cuteness, “Look Grandpa at the white patch on her neck. Her name should be Patches.” Yes, I named a circus dog that wasn’t mine.

Operation Puppy Procurement had officially digressed into a disaster. Eager anticipation gave way to heartbreak, and then landed on instantaneous puppy love. Grandpa, in a final gallant attempt, offered Lady Breeder whatever price in order to purchase Patches. Unmoved, she emphatically reiterated Patches truly wasn’t for sale. Their exchange contained a litany of words beyond my comprehension; AKC, pedigree, and contractual obligation. As I finally faced the brutal realization Patches was bound for the circus and not our home – all I heard was sobbing .

Again, I was offered any other dog, but there was only one for me, and she wasn’t to be mine. I took Grandpa’s hand of trust as I wiped tears of heartbreak from my face, and then we departed in silence – minus the needed dog. Later during the week, a few feeble attempts were launched to locate the needed dog elsewhere, but a licorice puppy with a tuft of white had already stolen my child’s heart.

the needed dog –

Time passed and we ceased to talk about The Needed Dog, until one evening after work when Grandpa announced it was time for a serious conversation. I rushed to the stool and in a single swipe removed the days old pile of newspapers. I was filled with excitement, eager to hear what he would share as I re-positioned the stool in front of Comfy Lumpy Chair. The serious conversation announcement never produced fear or anxiety in my child’s heart. Maybe “because even if it was corrective in nature, it only further  affirmed his love for me.”

His opener, “Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and a lot of work.” My heart raced as my head eagerly nodded agreement.  As if I actually understood anything about pet ownership. Grandpa patiently explained the necessary daily dog care regimen that a puppy would require. All I heard was “Puppy.” Once satisfied with his review of dog ownership prerequisites, I waited by Comfy Lumpy for Grandpa’s momentary return. 

I’m not certain which came first: the ginormous box cradled in his arms, or the familiar sound within the box?  In the single tick of a clock, mini me abandoned the designated post and clumsily darted across the room toward what I knew must be a puppy.

Interestingly, I never wondered which puppy was waiting for me inside the box.  I will allow you a moment to take a guess. Is it?  Isn’t it?  Can it possibly be?  But is it?  Nearly breathless from excitement, Grandpa folded back the box flaps to reveal – a licorice puppy with a diamond tuft nestled in a doggie security blanket. It was my beloved Patches designated for the circus, but destined for my heart.

True to Grandpa’s character, he never shared the obscene cost Lady Breeder extracted to unite Patches and I again.  Patches (aka Patchy) lived seventeen years. She was a gentle, faithful companion to the child me.  Amazingly, she never slobbered.

My Grandpa loved generously.


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