And with that, my future husband, obviously not thinking too clearly, left me on the steps with that beautiful creature as he went inside to finish his business. He told me later that he knew that we had acquired a dog when I walked inside a few minutes later, looked up with him with my best girlie eyes and hesitantly cooed, “Baby?”
Given my husband’s occupation, the adoption of a dog meant that the bulk of responsibility for her care fell on me. Though Mabel was man’s best friend, in our case, as I’m sure in many, she was woman’s most work. Don’t get me wrong—I loved her to death, which was why I was willing to endure those first few months, but she definitely had her daddy wrapped around her little paw.
Mabel was at her best when my husband was around. While I spent each week cleaning up accidents in the house, vacuuming up several dogs-worth of hair each day and mourning expensive footwear that had been chewed beyond recognition, my husband got to spend the weekends he was home playing fetch and curling up on the couch with the most well-behaved dog ever. When I called her in from outside, she would give me a look that said, “Try and catch me!” as she sprinted to the most distant point in the yard. All my husband had to do was slap his thigh and she was at the door. When we were on our own during the week, I kept all doors closed to prevent Mabel from deciding it was a good day to christen the guest bedroom. When my husband was home, Mabel would go to the side door and scratch to let him know she needed to go outside. It was exasperating, but inevitably, before I reached the point of no return, Mabel would do something endearing and all would be forgiven.
But over time, and with more money than I care to mention spent on training, Mabel and I finally began to have an understanding. I learned that if I expected her to comply to my commands, I needed to have a box of her favorite liver treats standing by. She learned that if she kept jumping up on the furniture and trying to cuddle with me, eventually I would be too charmed (and exhausted) to stop her. I learned that accidents in the house could be avoided by taking her a long walk each day. I learned to put my shoes away as soon as I came in from work. And luckily, she never learned how to open the closet door (though she still tried to master this skill). But, as usual, with her father each weekend, she was an angel. I came to look forward to his homecoming not just for me, but for the break I got from caring for the dog by myself.
So you can imagine my distress when we learned that my husband would be going to Baghdad for a year. I cried about our impending separation and the loneliness that would come with his deployment. I cried with fear of what might happen to him. I cried over how goddamn unfair it all was. And I am not ashamed to admit that I cried, in advance, for the many pairs of shoes I was sure I was going to lose to Mabel’s jaws as she acted out her separation anxiety. I wondered how Mabel and I would get by without my husband there each weekend. I worried that our newfound understanding could not last in a totally daddy-free environment. And so I cried some more.
In fearing the worst, I was in no way prepared for what actually did happen. Our understanding, such that it was, did fall by the wayside—that much of my fear came to pass. But it was replaced with something so much better.
No, she didn’t miraculously learn to come when she was called, but the truth of the matter was that I seldom had to call her. She was always by my side, which was exactly what I needed. As soon as I walked in the door each day, she came to greet me with a bounce in her step that never failed to make me smile, even on the worst of days. The foibles that had once made me crazy, now more often made me laugh. And my laughter worked better than a scolding to reduce any bad behavior.
Mabel took over my husband’s side of the bed, climbing up each night and placing her head on his pillow. She’d use her teeth to pull the covers on his side into a semicircle, and then lay down so that she was buffered on all sides by something soft. More mornings than not, I’d wake up to find that she’d scooched herself over to the middle of the bed so that we were just about spooning. And there she would stay until I was ready to get up, content to sleep in as long as I wanted—and on bad days, that could be quite late.