I have some small puncture wounds on my hands. When I look at them, I feel hope.
These little scars are gifts from our new puppy, a 10 week-old black Labrador named Zoey.
Despite her tendency to gnaw on human hands, I am confident that Zoey will be a good dog. She will be the fifth Labrador my wife and I have raised. We like them because they are generally good-natured, like to please their owners and are smart enough to learn the rules of the house and too dumb to think of ways around them.
We had not planned to get a puppy during this pandemic. We had two chocolate Labradors, Louie, who is 10 years old, and Bella, who was 11. A year ago, Bella started having mysterious health problems, which we were able to address with steroids. She returned to her usual busy-body self as queen of the house until she suddenly went downhill again in February. After we put her down, I cried more in 30 minutes than I had in the previous 30 years.
Living with dogs is to experience the seasons of life compressed. In the space of a decade or so, a dog goes from youthful exuberance to middle-age stateliness to the serenity and indignities of old age. A dog will always remind you of where you have been and where you’re headed.
After the heartbreak of losing Bella, we had planned on taking a long break before getting another dog to keep Louie company. But the family breeder in Hawthorne where we got Bella, Louie and our previous black lab, Quincy, sent a text that a new litter was on the way.
An even dozen of puppies was born and we visited several times to make our selection. With Louie being a senior dog, we wanted as sedate a puppy as possible. We settled early on a little black girl who seemed to only want to snuggle.
She was so sedate we worried that she might be blind or deaf but resolved that we would take her home, no matter what. Besides, with the pandemic virtually emptying animal shelters around the country as people look for furry companions and all the Hawthorne puppies spoken for, we didn’t have much choice.
In the three weeks we have had Zoey at home, she has proved us poor predictors of a dog’s personality. This little dog is a pistol. She patrols the house for things that need to be chewed on. She patrols the front yard for plants that need to be de-planted.
She barks to be lifted onto spaces she cannot jump up to, and she barks to announce when she would like to be lifted down. If barking doesn’t bring assistance, she will fling herself off and deal with the consequences.
She likes to eat in the same way a drowning man likes to breathe. At mealtime, she flings herself at the cupboard where the dog food is stored. Once the food is in the bowl and raised aloft before being placed in front of her, she jumps up like a dolphin at Sea World trying to get it.
One minute she is tearing tissue paper off the roll and the next she is passed out on her bed. Sometimes you pick her up and she licks your face and sometimes she gnaws on your hand like it’s corn on the cob.
We are training her not to nip us with the mantra “No bites, just kisses.” She is learning slowly, which is fine with me because I find the nibbling – while painful – also very cute and, as I said, even a source of hope.
Zoey’s drive to fit all her desires into her little mouth is somehow life-affirming. Imagine being so excited by all that you see that you want to consume it. Imagine finding your voice — or your bark — to ask for help and expecting help to arrive.
Imagine the optimism that comes with flinging yourself against a closed cupboard thinking there must be some way to bust it open.
Zoey is giving our household a transfusion of the boundless energy that comes with youth. At a time when it’s hard to imagine the future, she bounds out of her crate every morning to see what wonders the new day will bring.
Chewing on an old toothbrush? Playing with a doorstop? Trying to eat an ice cube off the floor? The wonder of it all!
Even the thing I had worried most about — getting up in the middle of the night to take the puppy into the backyard to do her business — has brought a new perspective.
Previously when I awakened in the middle of the night, my thoughts were full of dread. Now I am standing in my underwear telling a little black dog what a genius she is for doing what she needs to do outside.
The marks on my hands will fade, but I hope to retain Zoey’s spirit of taking a bite out of life.