When a woman with six cat tattoos first insisted that we get a dog, I was unenthusiastic. Our apartment is small, and being the less consistently employed of the two of us, I would have to be the one to take care of the little bastard. Also, I was the only one with dog ownership experience: I grew up with an Australian Shepherd, and my brother unloaded a Beagle mutt puppy on me when I moved home after college. The latter would have turned out better trained if she was actually raised by wolves, so I just didn’t have much interest in taking another crack at that journey while we were still in a yardless one-bedroom.
I was only humoring my girlfriend Zeena when I went along to a dog adoption meet in Brooklyn, run by a charity that rescues dogs from being eaten by Koreans. I went primarily to make a lot of cracker-ass smart remarks about that premise, which I thoroughly enjoyed doing, but I had no interest in leaving with a dog. The store in question was beset with a Brooklyn brunch mob scene, so there was no chance of us getting one anyway.
Nevertheless, my beloved had fallen in love with the concept of dog ownership, seduced by their sweet nature and those dewy goddamn eyes, and she demanded that we go to some vet’s office in the Village to meet a seven year-old Pomeranian, allegedly named “Lucy.” I played up some mild gastric distress as a bout of diarrhea to get out of going, in the hopes of sandbagging the dog idea and stalling its momentum.
Naturally, that didn’t work, so another meeting was arranged with just the dog and me. When I asked Zeena why she wasn’t going, she said that she had already gone and she actually has a job. She then went on to add that the dog apparently had issues with men in the past, so the vet fostering Lucy wanted to make sure that Lucy was cool with me before we went through with the adoption. I enthusiastically agreed, as I would be walking into that vet’s office with a ready excuse to shoot down the idea: I’d go, spend a few minutes with the wee bitch, and report back that she didn’t like me.
Sadly, there was a serious flaw in that plan: I would have to get in a room with the dog pictured above, look her dead in her eyes, and reject her.
Lucy was a few pounds overweight when I first saw her: a fat, fluffy sausage of fur and enthusiasm, with a little tongue sticking just past her teeth. I was anticipating a contemptible little vibrating rodent, but Lucy’s beady eyes belied an unusually canine look for a dog of her size — particularly once we realized she was part chihuahua — and her snout ended with a black button of a nose. She was squarely in the toy breeds’ puppy-for-life sweet spot, and in the presence of the vet (a woman) in a small room with no escape routes, she seemed to like me just fine.
Sure, there were some warnings about her not being totally housebroken, and a niggling voice in the back of my mind wondered how a dog so cute could possibly be up for adoption at her age, but I was utterly defeated by the dumb smile on her bright, happy face. We brought her home two weeks later, and three pounds lighter (Sadly, I have no photos of her fat phase).
The first days of dog ownership are a very special time for a childless thirty-something couple, and we joyfully misdirected all of our unused parental energy into our not-child. The fact that Lucy pissed on the carpet almost immediately couldn’t faze us, nor could the regular interior shitting that would occur every two days or so for the next four months. She was just so goddamn adorable, and she hit the wee pad most of the time. My girlfriend bought every piece of cutesy pet crap she could think to buy, and quickly developed a bizarre sense of aggrieved entitlement that this so-called “New Jersey Department of Health” wouldn’t let her bring a questionably-continent animal into every public space and establishment she so wished.
From the jump, Zeena’s bond with Lucy was evidently stronger than mine. She was initially standoffish with me, which I assumed would pass, but a pattern developed that would repeat itself every time I was off on a weekday: Lucy would silently hide from me in some hidden corner of our apartment all day, then dash to the front door with her tongue and tail both wagging when Zeena came home, yipping excitedly and standing on her hind legs to do a little dance like a circus animal. It still fills me with great joy every time I see it, albeit vicariously.
Still, it bothered me that I wasn’t getting much of a response from an animal genetically engineered to love me. I knew she was kinda old, and thus unreceptive to the learning of new tricks, but I started to get worried that she was taking way too long to warm up. My girlfriend pooh-poohed those fears, saying she just needed time. However, my girlfriend has never owned a dog before (she’s still stumbling into all the rookie mistakes regarding people food) and after a week, the growling started.
It is a disembodied, low purr that follows me around the apartment — I use the present tense advisedly — haunting my every step like some disquieted spirit from a Romantic poem. She picks up the pitch whenever I get closer, though her ferocity is rendered less than credible by her size, and the fact that she looks like Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog. She hides inside the legs of our kitchen bar stools to menace me from a position of strength, and whenever one of us comes back from a trip and leaves our luggage around the stool, she adopts a more aggressive posture towards me, as if the luggage fortifications are defending her from attack.
Initially, I thought this was hilarious, because she’s a tiny pussy whom I could easily destroy, and I found her audacity endearing. Also, she would stop growling and submit to my petting the moment I came within two feet of her, because she knows I could easily destroy her. She got particularly defensive when she was in the arms of my lady, growling at me even louder than she would during the day, whenever they were together on the couch.
That silly little growl stopped being funny about three weeks after we got her. I was having a bit of fun with the missus, and I ran across the apartment towards her as part of a joke that escapes me. It in no way involved the dog, nor had I paid any attention to her in the recent past; however, as I closed in on Zeena and ran past the dog bed, I was sent crashing to the ground by a sharp pain shooting up my leg. I looked down and saw a drop of blood trickling from the source of the pain, with Lucy sitting in a defensive crouch. My dog had bitten me.
The wound ached for a day, like the bluntness of her tooth had pinched a nerve (in a calf muscle bigger than she is). Lucy earned a stern reproach from Zeena in the moment, but within five minutes, I was hearing that it was sorta my fault. I still have to hear that, whenever the subject of her issues is brought up: we’ve had like three fights that started on that note.
After that happened, I came to fully understand the sinister implications of Lucy’s availability for adoption at age 7, and the depths of her foster mom’s dishonesty in letting us take her. Finding such an adorable Pom up for adoption was a little like coming across a classically beautiful street hooker—while there’s an off-chance that you’ve discovered a world-class talent who’s been undervalued by the market, a la Moneyball, the odds are significantly better that a girl with options ended up in such squalor because she’s a shermed-out schizophrenic who stabs her johns. In short, we should’ve known from taking one look at her: it was a matter of simple economics that this dog would be fucking insane.
Much like the mother of a school shooter, Zeena was in utter denial about her baby’s monstrousness, despite Lucy’s constant threats against the number-one human in her life. To be fair, it seemed pretty clear that there had been a bad man in Lucy’s, but to the best of my knowledge, her previous owner gave her up because they had a kid who tugged her tail, prompting the bitey little bitch to retaliate. Though a history of abuse was the likely culprit, I mused that she was probably just an angry little lesbian, defending her lady love.
She doesn’t like other dogs either, but there’s no one Lucy hates as much as me. Every day, I still hear Zeena yell “why are you being so mean?!” at Lucy at least once, as if she is only seething with raw hatred for me as a condition in the present tense, rather than as a general statement of fact. Then they cuddle on the couch, where she continues to growl at me. The one upside is that Lucy refuses to let me walk her, putting the onus on Zeena, but it gets demoralizing when I want to take her out and play.
The canine assault put me in a bit of jam. I was afraid to walk around my own house for a week, worried that her vicious little cartoon snout would dart out from behind the bar stools to finish the job. Also, the open hostility made the job of cleaning up after her significantly more emotionally exhausting, like changing a colicky baby. I avoided the elephant in the room with Zeena, and took my worries to my brother: I knew my girl would rather die than get rid of the dog, but she may have been a minor threat to my personal safety. I worried we might have to send her back.
My brother, ever the cynophile, shrugged off those concerns. I was convinced otherwise at the time, that she would have to go, but he was right: she never bit me again, though harmless little snaps remain a thing. We eventually got her to the point where she only shits outside (unless someone feeds her a fried clam against my explicit warnings, as was the case this weekend). Lucy and I developed a somewhat uneasy peace, and I tried to get used to the constant trilling of her growls. I was making do, for the sake of the woman I love…
But goddamnit, the only thing want in the world is for this dog to love me.
No matter how many times she bares her teeth or snaps at me immediately after I pull away, I cannot help but dive face-first into the cloud of fluff and nuzzle up to a dog that hates me. I want nothing more than to see her run up to me when I get home, like functional dogs generally do, and do her little circus dance. I have over 7,000 distinct muffin-based nicknames for a dog who responds to zero of them. My phone is rife with pictures of her, because the cuteness of her teensy fucking face literally forces me to take them.
See, I’ve learned that the unconditional love of a dog has an inverse, that it actually hurts your feelings when they withhold it from you. She’s supposed to be my best friend, but she instinctively runs away from me. I have never consensually snuggled with this dog, I just catch her and then force her to have her tummy rubbed. This, in turn, fuels a feeling of inadequacy: what kind of white dog owner can’t get his pup to make out with him?
When she growls at a particularly fraught moment, I’ll yell at her or issue an elaborate threat (“I could crush your body with one hand” is a favorite) and ever since we realized the chihuahua thing, I’ve developed a troubling habit of hurling Hispanic racial slurs at her when I get really mad. But that aside, I’m always sweet to Lucy, always baby-talking her, always ready with a scratch on the head. I just give and I give, and this dog gives me nothing in return.
This is my lot for the next few years. I suspect that the vet also lied about her age when she foisted this furry demon on us, but she’s small enough that she’ll live to 20 with my luck. Then again, she’s got bad knees, and you only get so much hybrid vigor when you crossbreed two different kinds of twisted little freaks. Either way, I’ll likely be desperately sad for a few days when her time finally comes, for the sake of an animal who may or may not spend her days fantasizing about my death.
But until that day comes: LOVE ME, GODDAMNIT! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!