The other night, a large dog rested his entire face – snout, tongue and all – on top of my entire face.
The dog's motivations were unclear. Perhaps he was sleepy and my face struck him as an appropriate place to settle for several restful moments. Maybe it was that he wanted to get close to his owner who was lying next to me, though really, he could have then just climbed on top of him. Could have been he was trying to smother me while appearing to look innocent. Who knows what made this gorgeous furry animal do what he did? But it was so odd and so hilarious an action that I laughed the entire time – and each time I took an intake of breath, I felt the air from his nostrils fan across my face and through my hair.
I love dogs.
I only love people who also love dogs.
I love some dogs far more than I love most people.
My very first dog was Brandy, a huge Collie. According to my parents, Brandy believed I was her puppy, not some human infant. She would sit beside me, the best babysitter I ever had, and I learned to stand by pulling myself up unsteadily by grabbing the fur on her stomach to rise to my feet. She would clench her teeth and allow me to do it, never reacting with anything but love and resignation that pain must indeed be part of being a parent.
My miniature poodle was the dog I got a few years after Brandy died. I missed having a dog so badly that I'd go to some friends' houses just so I could play with their animals. I'd also taken to leaving a stuffed animal dog inside the front door of my house so that when I returned home from school, a dog would greet me.
An active imagination has never been something I've lacked, but I wanted a pet that was breathing.
My mini poodle was fast. He would book in circles around the coffee table in the living room, never running out of breath. There were days I wouldn't be able to catch him for hours and I would slump on the couch in total defeat. When it was decided that I should take him to obedience school after he refused to learn to sit on his own, I noticed immediately something very strange: people look an awful lot like their animals. Seriously: if you lined up all the humans on one side of that stuffy room that smelled like urine and rawhide and then put the canines along the other side of the room, I could have matched everyone up in about twelve seconds flat. And if you've never seen a grown woman who looks exactly like a Weimarner, let me tell you that it's a relatively terrifying sight.
The dogs I've chosen for myself have always been all white, less than ten pounds, and incredibly snuggly. I lost my poodle the same week I lost my father. The dog didn't die; my stepmother found it appropriate to ask me – her fourteen year old stepdaughter who had just watched her own father drop dead in front of her – if she could have my dog since I was going back to live with my mother and she didn't want to be alone. I agreed out of pure emotional duress, and a week later, when I was in a heap on the floor missing my father and needing the comfort of my dog, she refused to give him back.
I rarely wish ill will on another person, figuring that anger-fueled energy is really only ultimately debilitating to myself, but in this case I'm oh so happy to make an exception. Linda is a total asshole, and I hope she had years of misery following the choice to take my dog from me. She deserves the worst, and while I don't spend a ton of time thinking about her, when I find myself doing so, I actively hope she's suffering.
She deserves the very worst that life can give her.
Just like sometimes it takes one guy to help you ease your mind over the loss of another guy, my Bichon Samantha helped heal my heart. We adopted Samantha after seeing an ad for her in the paper. Her owners realized they couldn't take care of her, that they weren't home enough to give her the life she deserved. She came home with us that very night, and she became an immediate member of the family before daybreak.
Samantha would get really excited when it was time to eat, standing up straight on her back legs and waving her front legs back and forth in total glee as we prepared her food. She would spend sunny days on the top cushions of the couch, basking in the rays that shone brightly through our big bay window. She slept in her plush peach dog bed in my mother's room, and when I'd wake up in the early hours of the morning to get ready to go to another day of high school, my mother would often shush me, telling me the dog was still sleeping.
Leaving Samantha when I went to college was harder than leaving my friends. I loved that dog. She was goodness and she was light, and she liked to share a bag of microwave popcorn with me in the evenings. She saw me through my first love and my first heartbreak. She knew when I needed company and when I needed to isolate myself.
And she was a fantastic listener.
She passed away while I was away at summer camp being a counselor. When I returned home in August, the house felt rather empty. Her presence was something I had come to rely upon, and I missed her desperately.
In college, a friend of mine got a dog. Tootsie was a black and white shih tzu, and I adored that thing so much that I'd sometimes puppy-sit her when Tina had a long day of classes. A few months later, Tina sent the dog to live with her parents; having a dog in college is tough. I understood the choice, but I hated seeing Tootsie go.
I needed a dog to be a part of my life again.
Wookie entered my world sixteen years ago. I went to a breeder to get a shih tzu. I wanted one that was tan and white, and I wanted it to be a boy that I would name Otto. I picked a puppy out. He was itty bitty, only a week old, and he looked like a hairless guinea pig. I wouldn't be able to bring him home for a few weeks – he still needed his doggie mother – but I was willing to wait, figuring it would be for his benefit and plus, I wanted a dog who rocked a little fluff. I was promised that in a few weeks, Otto would turn fluffy.
"Do you have any Maltese puppies?" my mother asked.
"I don't want a Maltese," I whispered to her, picturing a mini dog with long, silky hair wearing a tiara. All the Maltese dogs I'd seen looked like they should be reclining beside a Queen. I wanted a dog, not a prop.
"I do have one," said the breeder, and she went into the back room, returning moments later with a white dog in her arms.
"She's beautiful!" I exclaimed when I saw her, and my mother looked at me surprised. The breeder put her into my arms and the dog stared into my eyes, leaned close to sniff me, and then licked my face.
She chose me.
I forgot about Otto as I cradled this small white ball of fur against my chest and she kept her big eyes locked on my face as though willing me to make a decision I'd already made.
"I'm going to be your mommy," I told her, and tears filled my eyes as I said it.
Before I left, I decided that I would call her Wookie. The breeder told me I could pick Wookie up the very next day, and my mother paid for the dog, a leash, a collar, a pack of wee-wee pads, a crate, a rug for the crate, and a stuffed yellow duck that made a squeaky noise.
"This is your present for getting your Master's degree," she said to me – and it's still the best present I've ever received by far.
When I got Wookie the next morning, she smelled like baby powder. The breeder had just bathed her, and I was pleased she hadn't stuck little bows in her hair. From the start, Wookie struck me as a feisty little being, and it's hard to pull off feisty when you've got bows attached to your head.
It wasn't until I had her home and I put her on the floor for the first time that I realized just this tiny this animal was. What would happen if someone stepped on her?
It took about a minute and a half to find out what would happen. My stepfather Jack walked into the house and proceeded to step on Wookie's tail. She let out a heart-stopping yelp that might have taken seven months off my life, but she was fine a moment later.
That first day, she ate an entire wee-wee pad, got stuck behind the couch, and cried every time I put her in the crate the breeder claimed she loved. By that night, I'd decided she would be a dog who went to the bathroom outside and that she would sleep in my bed.
We did things our own way.
Wookie has been everywhere with me. For some reason, she always enjoyed trips to the bank. Maybe she's a dog who likes money, though she'd give up a trust fund for the promise of some rotisserie chicken. She spent many weekends in Manhattan at my friends' apartments, and since she only pees on grass, she would hop into flowerbeds on 3rd Avenue to go to the bathroom. Once, as soon as I arrived at my best friend's apartment with the dog, I had to leave for an appointment I had with my sister. It was shitty timing; Becky had just broken up with a guy she really liked and was crying, something she rarely to never did.
"I'll be back in two hours," I promised her, feeling guilty for leaving my closest friend while she was an emotional basketcase. "Tell Wookie how you're feeling. I promise you that she'll listen."
And then I had to run out the door.
When I returned a couple of hours later, Wookie was on Becky's bed. Becky was on her laptop and Wookie was on top of her pillows, her head resting on Becky's shoulder. The tears on her face had dried and she looked almost peaceful again.
"Your dog really is very comforting," she said, and Becky is not exactly a dog person.
I love her anyway.
At my niece's third birthday party, Leigh scheduled "The Music Lady" to come for entertainment. She arrived and set up a huge blanket for the kids to sit on. Wookie and I say down too. The lady started to play guitar and sing and Wookie was fixated. Then small instruments were passed out to the kids, and I saw Wookie look at me with curiosity. I think she wondered why she hadn't gotten a maraca or something. When the Music Lady had all the kids stand up and get into a line to begin the marching band, Wookie got up, filed into the line behind some child, and walked around the backyard with all of the kids, never falling out of formation. Later, I found her underneath a table eating a slice of pepperoni pizza someone must have dropped.
I'm quite certain that day was one of her favorite days of all time.
Late that night, after the dog passed out from a of the day's excitement, snoring out of sheer, happy exhaustion, I called my sister.
"I'm guessing some of the parents are calling to say thank you for the party and to tell you that their kids had fun. I'm calling for the same reason. Wookie had the best time. Thank you," I said warmly.
"You are insane," she said back to me.
Wookie is sixteen now. She cannot jump on the couch anymore, and though the vet claims she can, I'm not so sure she can fully see either. But she's still feisty and loving, and she remains one of the finest choices I've ever made.
It's been a long time since I've been around a puppy, and the gigantic dog who is still only partially grown who laid his face atop mine a few nights ago is only a few months old. He's a huge ball of energy. He gets up the stairs quicker than I do. He eats the bones I bring him in one day, the same bones Wookie will gnaw on for over a month.
He's got his daddy wrapped around his great big paw. He likes when I wear Bobbi Brown Beach but all but shunned me when I applied Tom Ford Black Orchid. He is housebroken and he likes to cuddle and he's the perfect size for me to spoon. When I'm barefoot and he's jumping onto his hind legs, we're about the same size.
I think soon we'll be able to share jeans.
I like watching his owner fawn over him. There's a sweetness to their interactions that somebody who is not also a true dog lover would probably read as mildly crazy, but I see it as beautiful. It all makes sense to me.
And the benefits of seeing this man adore his puppy almost beyond comprehension makes up for the fact that at one point when I was laughing as he was lying on top of me, thirty pounds of dog fur pressed against my skin, he licked my tongue.
The dog and I got to first base.
I hope he doesn't judge me for being easy.