How We Got a Dog We Already Had

Here's a famous old saying I just made up that goes, "into every life, a little dog must fall." And Charlie is the dog that fell into our lives. It was inevitable, I suppose. First comes love, then comes marriage, then children, then a house with a small backyard. It all points inexorably toward one goal: the acquisition of a pet.

Granted, I stalled for as long as I possibly could, using all the standard excuses: new carpets; too much responsibility for small children; what if we go on vacation. But eventually the kids and the carpets got older, and we never go on vacation anyway. When our youngest daughter started capturing caterpillars and giving them names like Wendell and Fuzzy, well, I knew the jig was up.

So like any self-respecting, cautious couple, my husband and I did research, which meant standing in one of those mega-bookstores for half an hour, leafing through the "pets" section. I found a paperback called "Finding the Right Dog for You" and skipped to the part about the best breeds for young children, cross-referencing with dogs that don't shed. I came up with a small and unattractive list of dogs. I won't mention any names. Some of you may already own these dogs, even love them. I didn't.

But then I saw the name of a dog I'd never heard of before: a Border terrier. Well sure, I knew from terriers, but the "border" business caught my eye. So did the picture. This dog looked as though he belonged in the section titled "Mutts and Mixed Breeds." I read on. Turns out the Border terrier is the 67th most popular dog in the country. I liked this fact. Turns out they're great with kids, don't shed, and are very smart. So we bought a book on terriers, contacted the American Kennel Association, found out how to reach the Border Terrier Association, and received a nationwide list of accredited Border terrier breeders. We said nothing to the kids.

Having made the decision to call only those within driving distance of us - although I've heard of cases where people actually have their pets flown in from the far reaches of the globe (go figure) - my list of possible breeders was short. The first two had no dogs available. The third one was in Connecticut, one state away, but only an hour's drive, so I allowed for the possibility of crossing state lines for a pet purchase. After all, many people drive from Connecticut to New York and back on a daily basis. But that's another essay.

The woman who answers the phone says she has two dogs available, a nine-month-old girl named Daisy and a two-year-old boy named Charlie. The word "puppy" is never mentioned, which is good because the last thing I want is a puppy. She also proceeds to grill me, politely, about why I want this particular breed. Actually, she asks the questions and then answers them. She says: "You probably want a Border terrier because you've read they're good with kids, don't shed, and are very smart." I wonder if she was reading over my shoulder at the bookstore. I ask her if I'm mistaken in my assumptions. She says no, I'm not, but I can tell she is a fierce defender of the breed and is not going to give up one of her dogs to just any old happy-go-lucky family. We are going to have to prove ourselves worthy.

We set up a time for us to drive to her house to see the dogs. It's in a rural area. I'm expecting a dirt road, chicken-wire fencing, and a nice but messy lady in a small house overrun with dogs.

I am so wrong.

What we find is a beautiful country road leading to a white Colonial house surrounded by green rolling pastures and a woman I suspect is the real Martha Stewart. Except that she says her name is Carlie. Her home and her dogs are immaculate. She has hot pizza waiting for us in the kitchen. Even her husband, just returned from an eight-mile run, is tidier than I'll ever be. I wonder if owning a Border terrier will bring out all this harmony and order in my own life. Now I really want a dog.

But the Border terrier named Daisy and I don't hit it off. Nothing personal; she's cute, sort of, but has all the personality of sweater pilling. I'm a tougher sell than even I suspected. After all, we all know who's going to be walking and feeding and spending the most time with this canine child. Not the father with the impossibly long hours at work. Not the kids with the incredibly short attention spans. Who does that leave? All together now, ladies. The mom.

And then Charlie comes into the room. First he does this cute little I'm-a-fun-dog dance for the kids. Then he licks my husband's hand. Then he jumps into my lap and settles in for a long nap. It's like he's already our dog. We just hadn't noticed until now.

We don't take him home with us. We all decide to think about it. I hem and haw about keeping him off the road and on our property. We find a workable solution, and our home suddenly seems lacking in some way. It's not that we need a dog. It's just that we need Charlie.

Three weeks later, Carlie delivers Charlie to our door. She is glad he's found a good home, and I am flattered she holds us in such high esteem, because I know she is sorry to see him go. I realize I've gotten more than a new dog; I also have a new friend. Charlie's aunt, so to speak. And she likes my kids, so I can tell our friendship will grow in whatever space becomes available between two active lives lived 40 miles apart.

Charlie acts as if he's back after a brief vacation. He curls up on his favorite couch, the one he's never seen before, and encourages us all to pet him. There is no settling-in period. I guess we've always had a dog.

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