By Peggy Phillips
You know how they say that some people start to look like their dogs, or maybe it’s vice versa, that the dogs look like their owners? There was once a whole advertising campaign for dog food, I think, showing dogs and their owners almost looking like twins. You know what I mean; the tall, thin woman with lanky long hair and her afghan hound, the small woman with short blond, curly hair, lots of jewelry, and her blond toy poodle with its rhinestone collar and maybe a fur coat, Winston Churchill and a bull dog. I think you get the idea.
Well, that’s how it was with Norton and Rumi. Norton is a tall, big man with a big heart open to the world and is a little goofy. Rumi (named after the ancient Persian poet whom Norton loves) was a tall, big 110 pound, yellow lab, with a big heart open to the world and always goofy. They had been together for over ten years when I met Norton and they were a perfect couple, well-suited in every way. Rumi lived to please Norton and Norton liked nothing better than to see Rumi happy. Norton moved to a new house when Rumi was a a puppy because he thought Rumi needed a bigger yard. His friends referred to his new house as the world’s biggest dog house. They were a perfect dyad. Triangles are more complicated.
Our first date was to the dog park, naturally, Rumi ran off leash, swam in the bay, and received multitudes of compliments on “what a grand fellow” he was as he galumphed across the open fields. Our first date…I was excited, my heart was pitter-pattying quickly, and I was smitten by Norton. But not by Rumi. After enjoying the romantic and breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, and Marin County, we circled Point Isabel and returned to the car. Norton was driving and I sat in the passenger seat. Rumi went in the back seat. Pushing his big wet nose through to the front seat of the car, Rumi rubbed dirt and dog drool over the front of my white blouse. Norton was mortified and apologetic. Ever the good sport, and wanting to make the best impression on this very nice man who so clearly loved his dog, I, in one of my biggest mistakes ever, said “It’s okay. It will wash out.” In a perfect example of hearing what one wants to hear, Norton then knew with absolute certainty that I loved dogs, too.
Time passed. I accepted Rumi graciously. He pre-dated me. He was part of what Norton brought to the relationship, along with lots of books and his mother’s china. My baggage included three children, only one still at home. I looked forward, with what I hoped was well-hidden joy and excitement, to the day that Andrew left for college and Rumi left for the even greener fields of Point Isabel in the sky. The sense of freedom from every day responsibility for someone or something else made me giddy. I was ready for the twin burdens to be lifted.
From time to time, Norton would mention getting another dog. I was non-committal. Then he began asking what kind of dog I’d like to get after Rumi. Again, I was non-committal. One day, insistently, he asked again what kind of dog I’d like to get. “No dog,” I said. He mentioned Rumi being like a child to him, having no real children of his own, and the void that his death would leave. I said that, God forbid, if one of my children died, does that mean that we, at 50 and 56, should have a baby? I assumed I was clear. I also assumed it was the end of the discussion.
Rumi died, a happy old man of fourteen, just a year after Andrew left for college. I was sad for Norton. In some ways, he’d lost his best friend. A friend who loved him and only wanted to make him happy, and never asked him to take out the trash or criticized his driving. Personally, however, I saw this as my ticket to freedom. We could be gone for hours, days, even months, without a concern about walking or feeding anyone or anything left at home. What bliss! Just let Norton experience this freedom, I thought. Come and go as you please. No arranging for dog care. No paying for it. He’ll love it. He’ll never want a dog again! And for some time, that seemed true. I believed I had won him over to my side. Perhaps, in the second most perfect example of hearing what one wants to hear, in this case silence, I thought our dog days were over for sure.
Norton didn’t mention getting another dog for quite some time, lulling me into a relaxed state, causing me to let my guard down. I believed I was safe. Two years after Rumi died, I began to see the falsehood of my beliefs. The attack was subtle and slow at the first, barely recognizable. But there it was. “Oh, look at that cute puppy!”, Norton said as he got that ecstatic look on his face only true dog lovers have as he ruffled the puppy’s ears. And “Oh, I talked to Joanna today and her friend has a dog that doesn’t shed at all and is very friendly and easy to train.” And then, “When we get another dog (WHEN? I thought), I don’t want a dog as big as Rumi. It will have to be small enough that I can pick him up when needed.” I was alarmed and I was frightened. I certainly didn’t want to go to the mattresses over this, but I thought I had been clear. Very clear. I tried again, mentioning the freedom from care, worry, vet bills, etc. He mentioned my children. I said they grew up and left home, something no dog I’d ever known had done. But the real turning point in the argument, Norton’s brilliant coup de grace, was his tearful lamentation that the hole in his heart left by Rumi’s death would never be filled without another dog. That was good. Damn good. I had no response. No parry to his thrust. He had bested me and I knew it. I couldn’t win without channeling Cruella de Ville and that was way beyond what my self-image could accept.
So, I acquiesced, but with conditions. She, and it had to be a she, must be cute. Really cute. She could not shed. She could not be black. She had to be a manageable size, smart and friendly. It was a slow process, but after some false starts and a few periods of inactivity that gave me false hope that Norton had given up on the idea all together, I found myself with Norton in Clovis, California, three years ago, collecting Sophie, our medium sized, cream colored golden-doodle puppy, who does not shed, is smart and friendly, is absolutely adorable, and terrific company as we walk together on College Avenue, she and I, doing our errands, as people exclaim “What a cutie she is!”