When my husband Ben told me, in no uncertain terms, that the proverbial store was closed — no third child for him— I had to come to terms with my own ambivalence about my family not growing anymore. Truth is, I was kind of relieved. Because though I love the idea of a new baby — the powdery smell, the delicious fatty folds, a little creature asleep on your chest — I also love sleep and time to myself. (Not to mention, I’m past the age when I can pretend that wiping human excrement is no biggie.) Plus, babies and children are much like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.
So we got a dog. It was coming, given our beloved Bichon Frise Dudley passed away in January 2017. The kids were begging, but my husband Ben and I refused to consider it … until we did. Or really, I did. And then I started the not-so-long-and-drawn-out process of convincing him.
Thus, intensive due diligence began. I dove in like it was my job. Which breed is best for our lifestyle (either extremely hectic or totally sedentary)? Which breeds are hypoallergenic? (Both my daughter Zoe and I are allergic to dogs that shed.) Apartment-friendly? Easy-to-train? Smart? The right dog could be neither yappy, nor too precious (This eliminated Shih Tzus, Yorkies, and something called a Coton de Tulear).
I fell in love with a Bedlington Terrier at the annual AKC meet-the-breed event that leads up to the Westminster dog show. But Ben put his foot down with unprecedented vehemence, insisting it looked like a space lamb and freaked him out. I think he was actually scared to have it in our home.
I then considered the mutant “designer” half-breeds that are so popular right now, mostly because they are so damn cute and who wouldn’t love saying “Bich-Poo” repeatedly, with a straight face. How fun would it be to consistently mispronounce the combination of a Shih-Tzu and Poodle–calling it a “Shit Poo”–whenever people ask what kind of dog you have?
But you really never know what you’re gonna get when you mix breeds, especially when you’re priority is that they be hypoallergenic. Plus, as crazy as all dog breeders are, the ones running these poo-poo farms, seem, on the whole, even more bonkers than their purebred counterparts. And, as I quickly gleaned when interviewing breeders at the AKC event about the designer mixes, these purebred breeders curse the poo-poo practice nightly, potentially with figurines. I could have knifed these breeders and got a more pleasant response.
So I decided on a good old-fashioned miniature schnauzer. There is one in our apartment building named Schnitzel (it’s a German breed) and he’s delicious. Also, the breed got great ratings on wholly unverified dog comparison websites vis-a-vis their apartment livability, trainability, hypoallergenic-ness and friendliness to children. The downside is they are infamously stubborn and never let their owners out of their sight, but, hey, I already get followed to the bathroom every time I go, so I figured what’s one more hanger-on.
I sent out a flurry of emails to nearby breeders and quickly found a breeder near Philadelphia that had silver-and-white male puppies available in just a month. And she’d let me have the pick of the litter! I definitely wanted a boy, though I kind of preferred a black varietal to a silver-white one. And it all felt too easy: Philadelphia is super close to NYC, I happened to be going there in a month anyway, and this breeder asked me no questions other than when I could get the deposit to her. Never one to pick low-lying fruit, I moved on.
Through exhaustive breeder networking, I found one in Cincinnati, Ohio, who had recently had a litter. The breeder was reclusive and weird and not very responsive. I was drawn to her immediately.
She only had a black girl left (again, I wanted a boy). Within a month, my ass was on a plane to Ohio, picking up my puppy from a MAGA household in the suburbs that may or may not have been featured on an episode of Hoarders. I flew home with a gorgeous, slightly smelly, mini schnauzer puppy in an oversized carrier between my feet (This was a week after United Airlines killed a dog by insisting it ride in the overhead baggage compartment). After a brief flirtation with the name “Rocky,” which didn’t suit her, we named her Coco(a) — spelling still TBD.
A few ill-selected post-college friends and one-time colleagues aside, I have never had to deal with a bitch on a daily basis before. All my previous dogs were male and unconscionably fawning and sweet. To be fair, when I had asked the breeder what the difference in temperament was between the sexes, I was duly warned: “The difference,” she explained, “is a boy dog is ‘I love you,’ while a girl dog is ‘You love ME.’ ” A friend with both boy and girl dogs seconded this distinction heartily. But I powered through, thinking my bitch would be different.
But so far not so much. So far, she has nipped me on the nip once, halved my sock collection through daily theft, and continues to have her rare “accidents” exclusively and directly in front of my bedroom door (We call these passive-aggressive piddles “spite pees”).
She reminds me why we chose not to have a third, human child: The initial housebreaking process is eerily reminiscent of the twilight zone that is breastfeeding (but with nicer bras). And, once again, I am tethered to the home and no one can (nor wants to) help. I am lonely, spending days on end walking, hand feeding or cleaning up after this thing with no canine or human gratitude in return.
My daughter Zoe, who had led the quest-for-a-dog like a Madison Ave ad exec — expertly alternating guilt, promises and implied threats in her campaign — had sworn up and down she would help out with the dog. The first time I asked her to give the puppy her dinner, she shot back, “No thanks, I’m good.”
Despite my ambivalence toward her, the dog obsesses over me in a single white (er, black) female sort of way: She follows me wherever I go, and freaks out if I leave her line of sight. But the actual affection flows mostly one way — me to her. Her love is doled out in small, careful doses, rather than the slobbery, unconditional canine love I was once accustomed to. You can literally rub her belly until your hand falls off, but don’t expect a lick in return. So, when she does deign to cuddle with me, it’s revelatory. Much like when my daughter Zoe, similarly catlike, gives me an unsolicited hug.
Turns out, my daughter and Coco actually have a lot in common: They lie around on my couch all day, and I pay for it.
That is, if Coco(a) is not gnawing on the legs of my admittedly overpriced, but-oh-so-beautiful side table. Or tearing up the corner of my favorite rug in the den. Or biting my ankles when I walk because she wants even more attention.
About a month into this new reality, I got a text message from my sister. She had to put down her beloved, fifteen-year-old family dog. My first response? Neither sadness nor sympathy nor, hell no, empathy. It was jealousy.
This base, guttural response scared me (both in its callousness and in its veracity). I was sad, of course, for her and her kids, but also envious that she was done thanklessly picking up shit, and I was just beginning. And, what scares me most? It’s the little voice inside me that proposes the same solution it did when I reached my wit’s end with my first (human) child: Maybe I should double down and get another? You know, so she’ll have someone to play with…