"This is the one!" my husband Mark said triumphantly. We were at a pet store on its monthly pet adoption day. I had gone there under the assumption that we were just looking. I really didn't want another dog, although, in my heart of hearts, I knew better.
Toby, our last dog, died a few years ago, and he was wonderful, but since his passing, I had grown fond of a clean, dog-free, bark-free house. We had four cats and that was plenty for me. Mark, on the other hand, was keen to add a four-legged canine member to our family, driven, I suspected, by our younger son's totally unexpected departure for his own apartment and life.
"I'll walk him, take him to the vet and feed him," Mark promised. His words made me feel more like a skeptical mom on a corny sitcom than a pragmatic wife but I stuck to my guns. This was real life, not a rerun of "Leave It to Beaver" and I wasn't interested in wiping up muddy paw prints, or worse, anytime soon.
The pet store pickings were pretty slim with only three dogs needing new homes: a sweet-faced mutt named Oliver, a hyperactive ankle biter and a big black dog named Pluto.
"Him!" Mark said, pointing at Pluto, who was happily whipping his long black tail back and forth.
"He's too big," I protested. "How about this one?" I asked, pointing at Oliver who was sitting quietly. If we had to get a dog, I didn't want one that used his tail like a machete.
"No," Mark said emphatically. "That one! Look at his feet! He has big feet which means he's going to be a big dog. I want him. Remember, I'll walk him every day and take him to the vet and …"
"… feed him," I finished the sentence for him. "I know. You already told me."
Mark and I have been married long enough for me to know when it's pointless to argue, and this was one of those times.
The first order of business was changing Pluto's name to something we both liked, something less Disney-esque. While taking him on his first walk, we both noticed his bouncy gait, which reminded me of Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky."
"How about Rocky?" I suggested. Pluto/Rocky turned his head and cocked it toward me, and I felt a small piece of my icy heart begin to thaw.
"I like it," Mark said and it was as easy as that.
Not surprisingly, Mark's vow to take care of Rocky's every need quickly began to unravel. One evening, a few days after his arrival, he began doing the dreaded "doggy scoot" across the living room carpet.
"Your dog has worms," I told Mark.
"Would you mind taking him to the vet?" Mark asked in his sweetest voice. "I really can't miss work this week and we should get the Rock Man in there as soon as possible."
Since, of course, he was right and since, of course, there was no one else to take the Rock Man to the vet, the following day, I found myself writing an enormous check after being told the distressing news that Rocky had packed anal glands, sometimes an occurrence when a dog has been under stress.
"He was probably nervous moving to a new home. We rinsed his anal glands out," the vet told me, thankfully sparing me any more details, "but I don't think he liked it. His pride seemed injured."
I looked at Rocky and Rocky looked at me and, in that moment, he became my dog. Maybe it was my maternal instinct kicking in or his big, brown eyes or just some magic that happens between dogs and their owners, but we were now connected and it felt just right.
As expected, I took over the care and feeding—and walking—of Rocky but since we now understood each other, I didn't mind. Actually, I became somewhat territorial when it came to the Rock Man, slipping tidbits off my plate when Rocky's other, less attentive parent wasn't looking.
Our walks became my favorite time of day, as that was when Rocky and I had our most frank conversations. One of his true gifts is being a great listener: the tilt of his head, the softness of his eyes, just the way he feels rubbing against my legs are all the ways I know he gets what I'm talking about. I tell him about my job, my children, an occasional complaint about my marriage and he is always my rock. A look of pure ecstasy on his face as he lunges for a squirrel or eats a discarded crust of bread is also a constant reminder of what's truly important—to live in the moment.
It's autumn and the air outside is crisp and loaded with fresh scents for Rocky to sniff on our daily jaunts around the neighborhood. Today, we need to talk about some issues I've been having with an especially annoying co-worker and Rocky will listen, wag his tail like a machete and, in his doggy way, reassure me that everything will be all right. Rocky is my dog—now and forever.