A Story for Mutts Day: Meeting of the Minds

Today, July 31, is Mutts Day. I saw this reference on one of the many “national day” sites, and decided to believe it, even though there is no reference to how the day originated.

My husband and I have only owned mutts since we’ve been married. First there was Rickover, whose mother was a Brittany Spaniel, and his father was unknown. The Brittany’s Black Labrador neighbor was the most likely suspect. Half of Rickover’s litter mates were black, and the other half were reddish-brown—as he was.

Rickover and me, in his post-puppy years

A friend of ours found Rickover’s mother wandering the streets and gave her to another friend, not suspecting the Brittany was pregnant. After the Brittany gave birth, our friend agreed to find homes for the puppies. We weren’t planning on getting a dog at the time, but those puppies were just so cute. So we took the last one. He lived to be fourteen, and died in 1995.

We were happily dogless for two years. Or at least, I was happy. Our kids were not. And so we got more mutts. Here’s the story of how we got them and how we named them: (NOTE: This story is included in my Family Recipe collection.)

Meeting of the Minds

During one of my attempts to be a better parent, I decided we should have family meetings. My kids were at or near their teenage years, and the parenting books said they should have a voice in family decisions. Meetings at work seemed to make things happen; why not at home?

I scheduled the first session with husband and kids and prepared my agenda—chore assignments, school events, and vacation plans.

“Can I put something on the agenda?” my fifteen-year-old son Jamie asked when we gathered in the family room at the appointed time one spring evening.

That wasn’t in the plan. But I supposed his request was reasonable; at least I couldn’t think of a reason to object. The point, after all, was to give the kids a voice. “Okay,” I said.

“I want to talk about getting a dog.”

My heart sank. Already the meeting had derailed.

Our dog Rickover had died two years earlier at the ripe old age of fourteen. The past two years had been blissful, in my opinion. No more arguments over whose turn it was to clean up the backyard. We could leave for the weekend without worrying about who would feed the dog. We had just redecorated the house with new white carpet.

But Jamie was firm. He wanted another dog. It was the first thing I had seen him enthusiastic about since he turned thirteen, other than the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I think getting a new dog is a good idea,” my husband said.

“Two dogs,” twelve-year-old Marcy piped up. “Aunt Nancy has two dogs, and she says they play with each other and don’t need as much attention. Besides, that way Jamie and I each get to pick one. He shouldn’t get to choose.”

I was outvoted. If all three of them were lined up against me, we would get a dog. Maybe two.

A couple of Saturdays later found us at the animal shelter. I was silent, but inwardly fuming. The rest of the family was excited.

All the puppies were adorable. Of course. That’s what puppies do – eat, poop, and act adorable.

One kennel held three litter mates labeled as “Lab mixes.” Their paws were huge.

“How big are these puppies going to get?” I asked the woman who showed us the dogs.

“Not too big,” she said, shrugging. “Maybe forty pounds.”

Rickover—a Lab mix—had been sixty pounds; seventy pounds in his heavy years, before the vet told us to put him on a diet. My husband Al, a Navy man, had complied with orders as if his pension depended on it. Rickover soon took to licking the floor for sustenance.

I could handle forty pounds.

We took the puppies into the yard so the kids could look at the three litter mates. It would be hard to take two of the dogs and leave one. Then one puppy licked Jamie’s hand. “I want this one,” he said.

One stepped on another. Marcy wanted the dog that had been squished by its sibling. She felt sorry for it.

The kids’ decisions were final. We would be the proud owners of two female puppies. We paid the adoption and medical fees for the chosen two ($100 each) and arranged to return Tuesday evening after the dogs had been spayed to pick them up.

From the animal shelter, we went straight to the pet store to purchase food, dishes, leashes, toys and other basic dog needs. I think the tab was close to $500. One dog is expensive; two are an annual 401(k) contribution.

“We need names,” I said, as we drove home from the pet store. That’s when the real family discussion began.

“I want girl names,” Marcy declared.

“I want nautical names,” my husband said. “We had Rickover, and we should have Navy names again.” (Admiral Hyman Rickover had started the Navy’s nuclear submarine program, and my husband had named our first dog after the admiral he admired. As a result of the strange looks we got when people heard this story, I insisted on naming our kids when they came along.)

“Well, I think the names should match,” I said. “Like twins, because that’s what the puppies are.” If we were going to have the dogs, we might as well name them something cute, I thought. “What do you want?” I asked Jamie.

“Nothing stupid.” Now that he was about to get his dogs, Jamie was back to teenage indifference.

All weekend long we argued. No names suited everyone. The kids and I threw out all the nautical words we could think of (a list quickly exhausted). None of the Navy terms seemed like a good dog’s name, and coming up with two was impossible. Marcy proposed all the girl names she liked. Jamie thought most of them were dumb.

Sara (left) and Lexi (right) in their early days with us

On Monday night, Al declared, “We’ll name them Lexington and Saratoga.”

“Why?” I asked. Where was the naval significance in those names? Sounded like landlocked battlefields to me.

“They’re aircraft carriers. Lexington class. The Saratoga was her sister ship. There was a third carrier in the class, too. Like the puppy we didn’t take.”

“And we can call them Lexi and Sara,” Marcy said, excitement in her eyes.

“What do you think?” I asked Jamie.

He shrugged. “Okay.” Must not be too stupid.

So we agreed, and Lexi and Sara were named.

Though our family was able to come to a meeting of the minds on the dogs’ names, we hadn’t had as good of luck in what we were told by the animal shelter. The woman at the shelter was wrong about how big they’d get. Lexi—the puppy who had been trampled—grew to sixty-five pounds and was the undisputed alpha dog. That Saturday when Marcy picked her out was the only time Lexi ever let her sibling get the best of her. Sara was fifty-five pounds and as sneaky as they came at avoiding anything she disliked, from pills to cameras to thunder.

 

What mutt stories does your family have?

Posted in Philosophy.

4 Comments

  1. We were happy cat people. No intention for getting a dog. But then our daughter’s kindergarten had a “fair” and one of the draws was an animal raffle. One cat and one dog. This fair was on Nancy’s birthday, and all she wanted was one ticket, just one chance to win a dog. She begged for weeks. NO! The final discussion was at the fair, in front of the animal booth, and I finally gave in.
    So the raffle may have been rigged… the gals running it knew me and knew the dog would go to a good home. I never knew, but I do know that Raffles, a friendly, floppy-eared brown mutt, is the best thing we ever won!
    Happy Mutt Day! Irma

  2. I loved the dogs story. My husband was anti-dog but he wanted our almost 3rd grader to learn to ride a bicycle. Our son was happy with the Big Wheel. Son wanted a dog to we got a Sheltie for his birthday, after he learned to ride a bike. Tanner (another naming discussion that lasted a weekend) lived for 13 1/2 years until our son was a junior is college. We all missed Tanner when he died. No more dogs for us.

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