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A boy and his dog – or is that the other way around

Submitted by on Tuesday, 7 December 2010 3 Comments

Some boys just need to have a dog. You can tell which ones by the way their faces light up the second they’re around a pup, they way they’ll play together for hours without a single complaint of boredom.

Some dogs just need to have a boy. You can tell which ones by the way they wag and wiggle enthusiastically the second a kid’s in sight, the way they’ll cooperate with commands that they’d ignore if the request came from an adult.

In an ideal world, all boys who need dogs would be paired up with dogs who need boys. The guys’ world might have reached that Nirvana last week, when they met Rita.

Just the day before, Big Guy had cried for a dog. Heart-breakingly, for hours. “I’d take such good care of it. I’d feed it dog biscuits and take it for walks. I’d even clean up its poop. If all my friends were gone, I’d have somebody to play with. If I got sad, he’d make me happy. My heart is just empty without a dog.”

A bit melodramatic, yes, but I knew Big Guy wasn’t prone to manipulation by tears. Something had to be done. When a boy’s heart is empty, what else can a mom do but fill it?

We met Rita the next day, at the animal shelter here on post. Her eyes looked as if she’d given up on the world. She’d been there for far longer than most dogs make it, but moving season had not yet begun so people hadn’t started abandoning massive amounts of pets that jammed the shelter.

Big Guy at first was focused on a hyperspastic lab mix in the pen next to hers. Boots made the initial contact with Rita, quickly sticking his hand into her cage before I could caution him. It was an amazingly audacious move for a boy who until the summer had been deathly afraid of dogs. I took it as a sign when she licked his outstretched hand.

Still, she wasn’t my first choice. Rough and rugged are not my speed when it comes to dogs. I kept looking longingly at the shih tzu mix nearby. “How about this one?” I asked Big Guy. “Isn’t it cute?”

“A puffball?” he asked disparagingly. “You want a puffball?”

“But it’s adorable …”

“It’s too little. I want this one,” he said, returning to the hyperspazz.

“How about her?” Boots asked as Rita continued to lick his hand.

“Ohhhhhhhhh,” Big Guy moaned, turning to the spazz for a final look. “All right.”

Two days and much shopping later – “it’s like we’re getting ready to bring home a baby,” Big Guy said – Rita came home.

It’s as if she’s always lived here. Completely untrained when she arrived – she didn’t even know “sit” or “stay” – she’s learned to wake up the guys and walk them to the bus stop. She patiently puts up with pats from almost a dozen kids every morning, getting excited only when she sees the bus pull up. She’s finally quit trying to board with the guys, because she now trusts that it will bring them home again so she can have fun.

And they have a blast. They take long walk-runs, and Rita immediately rushes to their side with concerned kisses if she gets a little too enthusiastic and drags them down. They play together at the trees near our house, Rita on a chain so she can enjoy a bit of freedom outside. The one disappointment so far is that kids younger than 9 aren’t allowed at the post dog park, “for their own safety.” Big Guy had been looking forward to a full-speed romp with his dog.

He really has no idea exactly how fast “full speed” is for a part boxer, part traveling salesman. Maybe some day he’ll get to find out.  In the meantime, he’ll keep playing with her instead of the Wii every evening. He’ll continue to sneak her extra dog biscuits when he thinks I’m not looking. He’ll continue to convince her to go outside to the bathroom after she stubbornly stays on the couch when I ask.

And he’ll keep on loving her with all of his formerly empty heart.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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