I have always hated dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, medium dogs, purebred dogs, mutt dogs, sad-eyed dogs, skinny dogs, nice dogs, new dogs. They’d jump and rake their dirty claws down my legs, they’d jam wet noses into my crotch, they would sit there and smell like an STD, and then they would look at me longingly. “I need you,” they’d say. “For everything. God, I love you so much.”
“Ugh,” I’d say. “Go to your bed.”
When Paige and I began planning our Minneapolis move-in together, she had just got the puppy she’d always wanted. A morkie, of all things! A maltese and a yorkie united as one for ultimate foofy friendliness: this breed was named like Brangelina. I envisioned his tiny rat-like body, yip yip yipping around the apartment at all hours, gnawing on my unmentionables and pooping in the kitchen. “His name is Otis, and he’s super cute,” she said. “We need to find a place that allows dogs. Will you be able to just walk him at noon during the week?”
I really wanted to live with Paige. She said he’d otherwise stay in his kennel all day, and we were moving in across the street from a park, after all. I sighed in resignation. “Yeah, that should be fine.”
When I first met Otis, he stood on his hind legs and eagerly raked his dirty claws down my bare legs. “Ahhhhghhgh, Otis . . .” I said halteringly. “Aren’t you . . . aren’t you just a cute one.”
“Right?” Paige said. She looked down a little fiercely at this jumping tongued mop. “Mommy loves you Otis.”
Otis looked up at her adoringly through a greasy curtain of eyebrows, and panted. “Happa happa happa!”
It took me four hours to assemble each bookshelf. I had two of them. It was a long day, sweltering and confused, my box fan wobbling in the window on high speed. “What?” I cried to the universe. “I don’t even have that screw. Shut up.”
Otis came bounding into the room, squeaky toy imprisoned in his tiny maw. He dropped it at my feet.
“Not now, Otis, I’m busy.”
He looked up at me in confusion. Nudged the toy closer.
“No, Otis, I’m trying to concentrate.”
He walked back to me, picked the toy back up in his mouth, and then he flung it all the fuck around his head, beating it against the floor, flinging it to the walls, running and sliding on the hardwood floors, his body crashing into the bedframe. SQUEAKY! SQUEAKA SQUEAKY!
“Aggghhgh!” I cried. “Paige, Paige your dog is out of control. Call him to you. Paige!”
And just like that he was gone.
This may or may not say anything, but even in the tenuous first few days that we were alone together, I did not leave him in his kennel. I woke up around 8 every morning, and the first thing I did was let that dog out. “Otis!” I’d exclaim. “Morning time! Otis Otis! It’s morning time!” And I’d unlatch the door and his little body would eagerly wriggle out, tongue hanging. He’d stand on his hind legs in joy and rake his claws down my bare legs.
The thing about having him out of his kennel was, he was still a puppy, and unconfined puppies need to be walked every two hours or they pee the rug (lesson learned: 4 times). I’d grab his leash, at first at least pretending to be begrudging about it, and together we’d explore the neighborhood, my little sidekick and I.
“Happa happa happa!” he’d pant.
“Hee,” I’d say.
It turns out, there is actually nothing more glorious in the world than running through an open field with a puppy. For one thing, you get to run through an open field, which pretty whimsical on its own. For another, sweet god, have you ever seen anything so happy as this creature bounding through the grass? Sometimes he chases butterflies. Chases freaking butterflies.
We now make this run across the park every day at noon. First he goes to the bathroom, then we greet the neighborhood kids. Then the sprawling open grass in between baseball fields: I turn to him. “Otis, you want to run?” And we take off.
“Why’s Otis wet?” Paige would ask, setting her keys down as he jumped up and down in greeting at her feet.
“Oh, I just gave him another bath.”
“You need to stop bathing him! You do it like twice a week, that’s way too often! He’ll get dandruff!”
I pouted. “I like bathing him.”
This weekend, Paige is out of town and so I’m dogsitting. Yesterday he got a bath. Today I thought Otis and I should go on a mission. I wanted to see how close we were to Lake Harriet; I wanted to wander through the rose gardens, see the bird sanctuary again, get a real walk in. I packed two plastic bags and grabbed his leash. “Let’s do this,” I said. He jumped.
It turns out Lake Harriet is about 17 blocks away. We made a few detours on the way, wandered by the cemetery and through the rock garden; found another open field that looked pretty tempting. Three limos pulled up and three brides emerged, hair gleaming, their dresses like halos swishing around their feet. Bridesmaids in sapphire ballgowns, tuxes with matching sapphire ties, everywhere uncomfortable shoes. They spilled into the rose gardens with one hundred photographers pointing. Here, over here. Let’s try this spot. Where’s grandma? Everybody smile!
“Let’s get out of here, Otis,” I said.
We began the walk back. For the first almost-mile he was okay, still happily panting alongside my feet, smelling every rock and flower and worm along the way. But around block eleven he was dragging. Block fourteen and I felt a sharp pull; I looked behind me and he’d just laid down on the sidewalk, eyes closed.
“Aw puppy,” I said. “Too much for you?”
He nuzzled into the concrete despondently.
“It’s okay, we can rest here for a while.” I stood over this half-sleeping dog awkwardly, wondering if we’d get in anyone’s way. I still feel weird about walking a small dog. If I were ever going to have my own dog, I thought, it’d be a big dog, respectable, horse-like. A dog I would train devotedly, something smart, something loyal, something commanding and brutish. Yeah! “You ready yet?”
Otis blinked sadly.
“. . . Am I going to have to carry you the rest of the way, dog? Like fucking Jesus on a beach?”
No response. I scooped him up into my arms and he nuzzled into my chest, and in this fashion we got home, my little sidekick and I.