I didn’t want a dog.
I’ve never really liked them much, my dislike only intensifying through the years. So when my husband announced that he wanted a puppy, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach.
We’d had a puppy, shortly after moving into our cozy 3-bedroom starter home. To say she didn’t fit our lifestyle was to put it into gentle terms. Cassie was every bit Joe’s dog, and I don’t think she liked me at all. She would not listen or obey when he wasn’t around, was occasionally aggressive toward me while he was at work, and generally was difficult to manage. She couldn’t quite grasp the concept of house training, no matter what we tried. And she was destructive.
Cassie ate the wind chime that had been a gift when I was in my maid of honor’s wedding. Cassie ate shoes. Cassie ate the corners off all the kitchen cabinets. Cassie ate the window sill. Cassie ate a hole into the brand-new kitchen linoleum. More than once, Cassie tried to eat me. Looking around at all the Cassie-induced destruction we still hadn’t had the time or money to fix, I couldn’t believe that he wanted a puppy again. Cassie had gone off to live with a kind, older gentleman with a very big yard and enough free time to see to her needs as a high-energy breed, two things we were lacking.
I so did not want another dog.
But every day, he’d get online, searching everywhere from PetFinder to Craigslist in attempt to find his next dog. One day he said he’d found one, and I thought I was going to be sick. I had visions of him arriving home after work with some horrible mutt that was going to wreck our adorable house and put a strain on our marriage when it did. I dreaded what I would hear next with every fiber of my being.
And then the text message came. “What about this one?” it asked, with a picture attached. I was a little surprised by what I saw – A tiny white puffball sitting on muddy ground but looking clean as could be. It was so fluffy that at first I thought it was a Chow. But its eyes were a vivid shade of blue, so vivid it was startling.
“It’s adorable,” I texted back.
The rest of the story came when Joe got home from work. It was a Siberian Husky, a girl. She belonged to a family in Mississippi and would be ready to take home in a few days.
I didn’t want a dog. I didn’t want the responsibility of training, of cleaning up after it while Joe was at work. But he looked so hopeful and so eager every time he looked at that snapshot of the little white puffball in the mud. My resolve weakened. I didn’t want a dog, but I wanted him to be happy. “We can go look at the puppies,” I told him.
With that concession, I knew I had lost the fight.
That weekend we made the drive to the middle of nowhere, out in Mississippi. He had the address, I had the GPS pulled up on my phone. But as it happens, phone GPS works best when you’re not somewhere so rural that there’s no connection to your wireless carrier. Once we were out of range, we drove another hour.
The house was gorgeous, overlooking what seemed like endless rolling hills, all covered in lush Southern foliage. It was springtime, the grass wet with dew and the ground just slightly muddy from the recent rains. A big gray and white male Husky met us at the driveway, giving us a lazy inspection before apparently approving, letting us walk to meet with the gentleman of the house.
We met the mother dogs, both of whom were as quiet and lazy as the male. There was a pen out back for the puppies to play in. We gathered all four pups from one litter for playtime, then the other. My husband wanted them all. I wanted to escape with my leather shoes intact. All four puppies that hadn’t been spoken for yet were white, they all looked the same to me. But Joe was a lot more experienced with dogs than I was, and he insisted on differences in each of them, from nuances of appearance to quirks that quickly surfaced in their behavior. The selection narrowed down to two that Joe liked best. Then he asked me which one I wanted.
I don’t want either of them, I thought to myself. I don’t want a dog. I don’t even like them. But I put on my brave face and told him to get whichever he preferred.
The next thing I knew, we were in the car with a fluffy white puppy sharing the floorboard with my feet, her chin laid on top of my shoe.
Not forgetting my preferences in pets, Joe ran to the store to get the few things we’d need for a puppy, and came back with a palm-sized kitten for me. Noodle, of course, is a terrible cat, so we won’t discuss her here. This story is about Xochitl, besides. And Xochitl, for the first two days, shared my sentiments with the arrangement exactly.
We discussed names only briefly. I suggested something Aztec, because something Russian or Inuit would be too cliché. We agreed on Xochitl, and though I can barely pronounce it, it stuck.
For the first two days, the dog was so depressed that she did nothing but lay about and sigh. Likewise, I was so depressed at having a dog to deal with that for two days, I did nothing but lay about and sigh.
And then she started laying next to me.
Oh, she still sighed, but she did it next to my feet. Everywhere I went, there was a little white puffball right by my side. She started sleeping on top of my feet while I was at the computer. She started following me around the house while I did chores. When it was time for resting, she’d clamber onto my lap for cuddles, curl up and go right to sleep. And right away, I started noticing that this dog was very, very different from Cassie.
Xochitl was smart as a whip. Her accidents in the house were few and far between from the beginning, she was fully house-trained in only a few weeks. She learned to sit without effort. Ten minutes and two treats taught her to give high-five. We kept her kenneled at night for the first many months. She knew what her kennel was and would put herself in it when it was time for bed, or when she saw me putting my shoes on – But only when I was in my work uniform. She picked up commands like “lay down” and “stay” and “speak” without any real training. She also learned “quiet” a little too literally, making us change the command to “no speak” because telling her to be quiet would make her reduce her volume, and still bark – just quietly.
And then came the fateful first night that we left her kennel open, meaning she was ready to be out all night. No more accidents in the house, no concerns that she would destroy anything while we slept. We went to bed, and as we settled in for the night, Xochitl settled in too – Curling up right next to my side of the bed.
That was when I realized the horrible truth: Xochitl was supposed to be Joe’s dog… But she thinks she is mine.
Suddenly all her quirks made more sense. Why she pushes him out of the way when he gives me a hug. Why she always tries to sit next to me on the couch. Why it’s always my feet she curls up at, or my side of the bed she sleeps beside. The poor, dumb animal doesn’t even know that I hate her kind.
And blast it all if after all these years of hating dogs, I can’t hate her at all.
I didn’t want a dog, I never wanted one. But she wanted me, and now I’m stuck with her.
And I guess that’s okay by me.