I was on the phone with my mother the other night when I broke in and interrupted her while she was midsentence. She was right in the middle of telling me a story about how she’d just been featured in the Style section of a newspaper and that she’d thought it hilarious when a reporter actually stopped her at an event and asked, “Who are you wearing?” as though she was Jennifer Lawrence sauntering down some red carpet while dripping in Dior instead of holding a purse that had once belonged to her own mother. I asked her to please hold on for just a second because I needed to parent my puppy immediately.
“Tallulah,” I said patiently to the white ball of fluff standing in my kitchen, a ball of fluff that is clearly made up of equal parts goodness and demonic intentions. “You must stop leaping high into the air because you think that trick will get you a cookie. I will give you a treat after you show me that you’re a good girl by eating the kibble you’ve ignored all day.”
My Maltipoo cocked her head to the side as I spoke and then she looked me straight in the eye. I stared back at her, my gaze unwavering, and she slowly walked towards her bowl of food and began eating her kibble.
“Had that been Wookie,” I said to my mother who had waited patiently and silently as I bartered with an animal, “that fight would have lasted for three days and would only have ended once I apologized for my behavior.”
Wookie has been gone for over a year now and Tallulah has made herself quite at home in my world. A little white sprite with ears the color of a latte flooded with skim milk, she is 6.4 pounds of love, affection, and mischievousness. She bounds around our house and manages to create chaos where I’d thought none could possibly exist. Do you know what it’s like to wake up on a dark morning when the grey sky is spitting down buckets of rain and there’s nothing else to do with your long hair besides slick it back into as symmetrical a bun as you can manage when it’s five-thirty and not even farmers are awake yet? Do you then know what it’s like to finally get that bun looking halfway decent – meaning it’s no longer leaning alarmingly to the left – and then you realize your dog has decided to hide underneath the chaise in your bedroom and she refuses to come out and you’ve got to get her out because she hasn’t yet mastered the art of going down the stairs and you have to leave for work and how can you do that knowing she’ll be trapped on the top floor of your home where there are just so many things for her to potentially destroy? There’s no real choice in the scenario. I’ve therefore spent many a morning lying flat on my stomach, both arms reaching underneath that chaise, trying to pull Tallulah out. She thinks we’re playing a game even though I tell her in my best I’m-being-fucking-serious voice that I’m being nothing but fucking serious and eventually I manage to reach her by basically ninja-crawling under a piece of furniture and dragging her out. In the process, my hair gets jostled and needs to be re-bunned, but on a positive note, it’s nice to be able to locate all of those clothing items that mysteriously have gone missing. Yes, underneath that chaise Tallulah has managed to collect an impressive selection of bras (she likes the lace strapless ones) and thongs (she’s again partial to lace in the thong department) and a sock or six and a hair band and one enamel cuff bracelet that I thought I’d left at some guy’s house after I took it off because it was getting in the way. In the back corner of her hiding spot was a mound of ripped up tissues and whatever was left of a Q-tip after she ravaged it for no good reason whatsoever. And as I placed her on top of the bed and pulled each and every item from underneath that chair before the sun had even come up, she yawned and splayed herself across my pillow so she had a better perspective to watch me work.
I have a booster seat for her in the car that she tries to climb out of every time I make a right turn and a huge collection of plush toys in the living room that she’s managed to destuffed. She’s made her way through three furry ducks, one purple octopus, and a brown monkey I purchased precisely because there was a tag stuck to it proclaiming it unstuffable. She tore that monkey to shreds in four days flat. She’s pulled the white beard right off her Santa’s face and she ate half of it before I realized that the white fluff near her mouth wasn’t her own fur but instead a synthetic material that could harm her. She loves those bully bones that smell like pee during a bladder infection, but she grows tired of them once she’s gnawed them halfway down so half-chewed bones litter every room of the house. Her new favorite activity is hiding the heart-shaped chicken-cranberry treats I give her, though she’s a really terrible hider so what she does is shove them underneath me while I’m sitting on the couch and then, when I get up and the treat is revealed, she sighs, shakes her head, and throws me a nasty look because now she needs to start the process all over.
All of those many disruptive things the puppy training guides warned me she might do are things she’s done. She chewed electrical cords and took one look at my wall of shoes and lunged for a leather wedge that now has her teeth marks studding the heel. She needed to get up at least three times during the night in her first months home so she could go to the bathroom and then decided that two in the morning would be a lovely time for her to run in circles around the dining room as I chased her. She barked at the dishwasher, the vacuum cleaner, the sink, and – randomly – at one of my kitchen chairs and she was ready to tear the Fed-Ex guy limb from limb when he approached the front door and I had to explain to her gently that men who show up with boxes from Nordstrom are men who should be celebrated for all of eternity.
Wookie used to take one look at the snow falling from the sky during the harshest days of winter and shiver and then pee in the corner, but Tallulah watches as I pull her fleece out of the closet and begins jumping up and down with so much excitement that she starts hyperventilating. (She really does this. The hot vet I go to just gave me anti-anxiety chews so maybe the hyperventilating will stop. She gets a quarter of a chew once a day and will eat it if she’s feeling charitable. Otherwise, she will spit it out of the corner of her mouth and aim carefully so it lands on my bare foot.) There is nothing this dog loves more than hopping through the snow and she doesn’t even seem to mind when I have to use the hairdryer on her belly afterwards so I can remove the tiny balls of ice that still cling to her soft fur. She loves going to the park and to the dog boutique in my town, a place where the owner knows her by name, and her very best friend besides me is Bridget, my friend’s four-year-old daughter, and there is maybe nothing sweeter than watching the two of them run towards one another in a manner so precious and pure that the whole thing almost appears in slow-motion. She spends a fair amount of time with a large yellow lab who has no interest in her whatsoever, but she keeps trying to get his attention by running in between his legs and jumping up to lick his snout. Meanwhile, a local Shih Tzu that’s half her size scares the living shit out of her. I’m working on getting her to be better acclimated with other dogs so we can have more playdates because nothing tires her out more than careening around a lawn with members of her own species, and the Halloween Pet Parade I took her to in October basically served as an experience in exposure therapy. Everywhere you looked there were dogs decked out in costumes and, after a while, Tallulah didn’t even flinch, not even when a schnauzer dressed as the Pope came up and sniffed her long and hard in the heiny.
With a brand new puppy who prefers being admired in the sunshine, I’ve had the unexpected joy of rediscovering my town. It used to be that I’d drive to the stores and pick up a cup of coffee and maybe a salad or a wrap before getting right back into my car and heading home, but I’ve got a miniature explorer on my hands now and she prefers to wander. So I outfit her in her yellow fleece and stick her in the booster seat I know full well she will eventually gnaw her way out of and we head into town. There’s a park next to the water that’s her favorite place and she sees little kids playing there and she tries to run to them because I think she thinks she’s also a little kid and it makes me laugh because sometimes they want to pet her and sometimes they don’t and she just sits there and watches them, like she’s the kid with asthma on the playground who is forced to sit on the bench. To make her feel better, I’ll beckon her away and we’ll wander up the street and she’ll prance happily as she walks, but she will always look to the side to make sure I’m still there. Then we’ll arrive at the dog store that sells organic treats and she’ll hang a left and climb the stairs without any prompting and walk right over to the counter. “Hi, Tallulah!” the sweet owner will say, and Tallulah will literally open her mouth up wide like she’s a dog incarnation of that cartoon man in the old Reach toothbrush commercial because she knows the owner of the store is about to toss some dried chicken jerky her way. Many years ago, I went into that store and bought Wookie a beautiful frosted treat in the shape of a snowflake and I took it home and presented it to her proudly. She puked it up less than an hour later all over my newly washed comforter – and the blue and silver frosting didn’t look nearly so pretty anymore. Wookie could only stomach dog treats that came from cardboard boxes in the supermarket, treats that cost $3.19 for a box of eighty. Tallulah, however, was born with a more refined palate. She gravitates to the organic shit that costs $10.99 for a bag of seven treats and if they’re not flavorful enough for her liking, she will shove that bland thing behind the couch and I’ll find twelve of them when I move the couch to vacuum.
There are some days when I feel so tired because I stayed up late the night before talking to a guy who makes me giddy or coming up with new synonyms for the term “tragic sociopath” as I wrote a Vanderpump Rules recap and I was in the shower a scant five hours later and then I spent the next nine hours lecturing about how studios tried to get audiences back to theatres in the 1950s to a group of students who legitimately believe that nothing that occurred before they were brought into the world miracle-style could possibly matter. When I’d finally able to head home, I’d feel an ache in my neck that I’d know for sure wasn’t there when I was twenty and all I’d want to do would be nap for the next, oh, four and a half days or so. But I have a puppy waiting at home and the unbridled delight that crosses her face when I walk in the front door after a day spent away from her is one of the clearest examples of visual sincerity I’ve ever witnessed. While I spent the day exhausted in heels, she spent all those hours waiting for me to return to her and so she would like to play – now. She would like for me to throw her pink dinosaur or her (fourth) duck so she can chase it and growl happily as she holds it in her mouth by one side and I grab it by the other. She’s strong. And when she decides that it would be fun to have me chase her in circles, saying no doesn’t really feel like an option.
She’s traveled with me to my friends’ houses and to apartments in the city. She’s been inside of Home Goods and browsed alongside me at clothing stores. I took her with me once to the salon as I got my hair cut and she sprinted around the place and at some point I had to get up with my hair soaking wet so I could pry some bottle of chemicals out of her mouth because, like me sometimes, she tends to go for what’s dangerous. My days of doing yoga in my living room are over. Wookie used to lay beside my mat and only get up to downward dog herself every now and then to put my own form to shame, but Tallulah sees my planking as a game and she jumps on top of me and crawls underneath me and sometimes splays out chicken-cutlet style on top of my back and I can no longer count the intakes of my breath so I’ve taken my workouts outside the home.
The people lucky enough to have met her adored her almost immediately. She’s very affectionate and she will spoon with you if she really likes you and her tail will wag so quickly that sometimes I think it’s about to propel right off her body. She’ll bestow those she’s incredibly fond of with kisses and look back over her shoulder as they pet her with an expression that can only be defined as one of total devotion. Still… “She’s very naughty,” my mother said, maybe for the fortieth time. I’d called to tell her that Tallulah had become a woman before I’d been able to get her fixed and so there I was, strapping a diaper to the dog every night for a month and popping her tail through the teeny hole in the back. We’d go to sleep and that diaper would be wrapped around her tightly, but I’d wake up in the middle of the night and the diaper would magically be placed next to me on my pillow. Even in the dark, I thought I could see her smile.
When it was finally time to take her in to get her puppy tubes tied, I delivered her to the vet first thing in the morning after being up the entire night before. I knew this was a very common surgery. I knew she’d be fine. But when she’d tapped me on the head in the middle of the night and I knew that meant she was thirsty and she wanted some water that I wasn’t allowed to give her because it would have messed with the anesthesia, my heart broke because I thought she was probably suffering and when I had to kiss the top of her head before handing her over to the doctor, I remembered that crushing moment of saying goodbye to Wookie for real. I cannot lose her, I thought to myself as I drove home. Please, let her be okay.
I was able to bring her home just a few hours later and I was given a plastic cone to wrap around her head so she wouldn’t try to nibble on her stitches. She looked miserable in that plastic thing, like maybe she couldn’t breathe because her face wasn’t big enough to reach out of it, and whenever she tried to drink water, the plastic would get in the way. I finally rushed off to Petco and bought a smaller cone made out of some kind of soft material and she was able to eat and to sleep comfortably again. “She will probably be very lethargic for the next few days,” the vet told me as I looked with horror at the deep red scar running along her belly. “Call me if you think she’s experiencing pain.” I had no need to call; she was jumping clear off couches and pulling her duck behind her less than an hour after we returned home.
“I think she might be part superhero,” I told a friend of mine over the phone as I watched her pick up the large foam fort my sister had bought for her and drag it clear across the room because she apparently thought it looked better at the far side of the living room. “She’s tough.”
“She takes after her mommy,” he responded, and I could hear the smile in his voice, the one that matched the smile that spread slowly across my face.
I used to have to place a small muzzle over Wookie’s snout in order to get her to wear clothing, but Tallulah likes her outfits. I don’t much subscribe to the notion of dressing up dogs unless it’s Halloween or ice is weighing down the branches outside, but people keep giving this dog outfits and I’ll put her in them every now and again. She has a pink puffer coat with a faux fur lining and a soft onesie and a pink tee with rhinestones that I never would have picked out – and that one’s her favorite. The only piece of clothing she ever fully rejected was a Minions Halloween costume I brought home that came with a separate piece to wear on her head and she growled at it and at me too and she looked so adorable and I really wanted her to wear it, but then I remembered when I was little and my mother used to try to shove me into turtlenecks and I would complain that I felt like I was being strangled from the inside out so I took the Minions hat off of her and told her she could go as a devil instead because all that costume involved was a hoodie with some black sparkly wings.
She fell in love a few weeks back with a guy she met for the first time. Every single step he took, she was right beside him. When he went upstairs, so did she. When he went to the bathroom, she sat outside the door crying. When he told her she was the most beautiful puppy he’d maybe ever seen, she tossed back her latte-colored ears and didn’t even consider blushing. This puppy’s got game, I thought. She can teach me a thing or three.
There are some nights when we go to sleep and it’s just the two of us and I crawl beneath the covers and she sprawls on top of me while I rub her between the ears and softly stroke her under the chin. And it’s on those quiet nights with the wind slowly whistling outside that I tell her the story of us and how we came to be a family. I remind her that she was in a playpen the very first time I saw her and that I knew instantly there was no way I was leaving without her safe in my arms. I tell her she will always have a life filled with comfort and with love. I promise her that she will always be warm in the winter and cool and comfortable in the heavy days of summer. I whisper that she will have as many toys as she ever craves and that I will always buy her bones and treats and that I know that she is completely dependent upon me for the way her life will pan out. And I hold her close against me and feel the soft thud of her heart as it pitter-patters against my own chest and I vow that a being like her that is made of nothing but absolute goodness will only ever know the very best.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Also be sure to check out her website at nellkalter.com Her Twitter is @nell_kalter