When I moved from a studio apartment in Los Angeles to a farmhouse on the Ohio River, I knew I’d have a dog before I had a job. One Saturday evening, a month before I started teaching at the local college, my roommate and I took a leisurely drive along the local country roads. My roommate said, “I think the dog shelter is up ahead.” We stopped by, knowing full well that it was closed. As we drove down the gravel road to the shelter, we slowed down to pass a little girl walking along. She waved to us.
“Are you going to see the doggies?” she asked.
Her name was Lydia. She was nineyears- old and an obvious expert at afterhours dog canoodling. She ran around the side of the building and showed us where the dogs could come outside from their pens. Each dog had a concrete patio, secured by cinder block and chain link. All the dogs ran to their fences. They barked in unison. Lydia pulled us by our hands around the building to the drop box where people could leave unwanted dogs and cats without consequence. There was a lone puppy in the little enclosed cage. He was a quiet guy. Lydia leaned in and scooped him out. She set him on the ground and went back to the other dogs in their half inside/half outside pens. My roommate went with her. I was alone with the drop-box pup. He stood, alert, ears up, tail up, and looked at me without fear. He was sizing me up. Like my family’s dog before him, he was the color of rust. He had a black muzzle and a black stripe down his back that led to his little rat-tail. It looked like it had been dipped in paint. His legs were long. His ears were too big for his head. His rib cage was the most prominent feature on his scrawny little body.
Lydia left and my roommate and I stood there with the puppy at our feet. I picked him up and climbed back into the car.
“Well, I guess you’re it,” I said to the puppy in my lap.
We stopped at a pet supply store to pick up the essentials: food, collar, toys. The customer service associate, in a slow, southern drawl, said, “That dog is all leg.” I knew to look at his paws to predict his size. They weren’t large. At least, they weren’t disproportionate, like his ears. We didn’t sleep that first night. He raced around the living room and peed on the carpet. I followed him around with a roll of paper towels and begged him to lie down. We weren’t yet speaking the same language.
He was light enough for me to hold like rag doll. I carried him around by his belly, my hand wrapped around it, holding his back to my chest. We faced the world together. I brought him into the vet’s office and set him on the scale. He was seven pounds. The vet found worms in his little belly, which we fought for those first few months. He had worms while he learned to go potty outside. He had worms while I figured out what to name him. He had worms as he grew into those ears.
He was thirty pounds in no time. He was forty pounds by the time he was one-year-old. There was another ten-pound growth spurt soon after that. By then, he’d discovered the Frisbee. He was strong and solid from his twice-daily game of catch. He’d grown from a seven-pound puppy into a fifty-pound athlete, prompting me to often imitate that pet supply store customer service associate’s accent and say, “That dog is all muscle.”
But that muscle came a lot later in our life together. During that first year, he grew accustomed to the name “Seven pounds and wormy.” Over those first few months together, he started coming to me, or, at least, looking at me, when I said it. I said it a lot. I said it in baby talk when I would coo at him and I said it to strangers at the dog park when they told me he was a good-looking dog. When people asked me his breed, I said, “Whatever breed starts out seven pounds and wormy.”
I still say it a lot. Anytime anyone compliments me on his good behaviour or his Frisbee skills, I always say, “He was seven pounds and wormy.” I’ve said it enough times while looking at him or pointing toward him, or even while holding him when he was still small enough to hold by the belly, that he understands that quick descriptive phrase as well as he understands his own name.
It took me a week or two to find the right name. In the meantime, he learned to come to me when I called for, “Baby Puppy,” “Sweet Boy,” and, of course, “Seven Pounds and Wormy.” The first two nicknames eventually fell away as he grew accustomed to “Brodie.” The name seemed to suit him somehow—the handsome boy, the bourgeoning athlete. His name doesn’t eclipse what he was when I found him, though: seven pounds, wormy, and ready to be loved.