I doubted this dog would be a good fit.
Not like Ginger, who had run to the window when she saw me at the Wisconsin Humane Society. Ginger, who snuggled next to me while I talked to the adoption counselor. Ginger, my first dog.
But two weeks ago, Ginger had collapsed. She was 10 when I adopted her and 15 when she died. Still, her death caught me by surprise; my daily routines were so tied to hers.
There could only be one first dog. My friend Kristin is as much of a dog person as I. In her sympathy card, she gave me the poem she wrote about the death of her childhood dog. A few days later, she asked, gingerly, if I’d be interested in dogsitting. Her sister Jessica was pregnant and also had a husband, two young children, two dogs, and a cat. She was looking for new homes for the dogs. Kristin thought I might like Maiah, their eight-year-old Border Collie/ Labrador mix. Jessica described her as “tan and white… very smart and a bit neurotic.”
I agreed, if only for the distraction. Every sunny July day reminded me of all the walks I wasn’t taking. On a Saturday morning, Kristin arrived at my house, along with Jessica’s family and their dog. They gave me a faded blue flying disk. “She loves Frisbee,” Jessica said. It didn’t seem like Maiah played much: at 60 pounds, her body looked overstuffed, a mismatch with her sleek head. After a few minutes of fetch, everyone left. Maiah and I kept playing, more for my comfort than hers. I had no idea what else she might enjoy. The day of dogsititing loomed ahead.
My friend Keith and I walked to the grocery store, bringing Maiah along. At one point, he asked, “Are you gonna pick that up?” He pointed at the brown lumps on the sidewalk. I hadn’t noticed; I’d never seen a dog that walked while pooping.
After getting home, I was exhausted and got in bed for a nap. Maiah lay next to my bed, panting. “It’s OK,” I said. She panted and I didn’t sleep. Instead I took her for another walk. We ran into Mike, the mailman. He said, “I loved her,” when I told him Ginger was gone. I tried not to cry. Maiah sat. “But this one looks nice, too,” he said.
Maiah and I walked a few more blocks and said hello to our neighbor Meg. Maiah lay down on the lawn, unafraid of Mickey, Meg’s grumbling Sheltie. “You two already look like a pair,” Meg said. I didn’t feel like we were a pair. But at least Maiah could relax; I wasn’t sure I could handle a Border Collie’s energy.
My parents came over for dinner. Even though I was 37 years old, they still weighed in with their opinions, which I couldn’t totally ignore—they’d be the ones stopping by during the week to feed and water the dog while I was at work. Maiah lay on the floor, panting.
“It’s too soon,” my dad said. “And she’s too fat.”
“Well, we have control of that. We can walk her.” “So hyper,” my mom said.
True. She had a big personality. And she peed on the floor. Keith asked, “Do you have enough Resolve?” He meant the carpet cleaner, but I was thinking more literally.
Still. All the panting and peeing, they seemed like things a dog might do when she was trying to figure out her place, when she craved the attention of an owner. Though our bond hadn’t been instant, I felt the hint of an attachment. I wasn’t ready to say no.
A few weeks later, she visited me once more.
And stayed. I named her Papaya; it rhymed with Maiah but was a sign that she was truly mine now. We all deserved a second chance (or more).
She’s challenging. I give her stability, and she rewards me with crazy antics. She helps herself to cookies, strudels, and donuts, removes a cactus from its pot, sprinkles paprika on my carpet, pulls bookmarks from my nightstand reading.But she’s no longer incontinent, and she pants less. Our walks have slimmed her down to 46 pounds.
So even though Ginger was irreplaceable, I still had room to love another dog. We’re a pair now, sticky Papaya and me: She curls up against my back when I sleep, kisses my chin when I wipe her feet, and “shakes” by curling her paw around my arm. She leans against me as I brush my teeth, reminding me of our bond. It’s the gratitude of an old dog that has finally found her home.