Last week I wrote about the beginning of my search for a new dog after my beloved Hannah died. It was a search, as you can read here, that began roughly 20 minutes after I watched the light fade from Hannah’s eyes, when I realized living without her would be completely wretched. After going to several animal shelters, filling out numerous applications and sending out pleading emails to rescues, I reached out to the woman who’d organized the the meetup to which I’d taken roly-poly, ill-behaved Hannah one time. She pointed me in the direction of her breeder, who had an adult female and a couple of older puppies available.
My boyfriend Vince and I discussed getting a puppy, but god, they’re a lot of work. There’s all the training—and housebreaking, in particular, is a savage task. There are the firsts: the first thunderstorm, the first vacuuming, the first smoke alarm, the first loud sneeze. There’s the cost of puppy shots and spaying or neutering, and the adjustment to that weird puppy energy: the way they run around like their tail’s on fire, find something to eat (a pen, say), and then suddenly fall asleep—twitching, eyes open, so you think they’re having a seizure. And what about teething? My photo albums still haven’t recovered from Hannah.
No puppies, Vince and I agreed. But the older dog—a 2-year-old female—sounded perfect. On the way to the breeder’s house, I felt gloomy. Poor Hannah. It’s like I was cheating on her. But when we got there and two long-haired gentlemen chihuahuas came prancing out to greet us with their plumed tails wagging, I had to laugh. What pretty little fellows! I dog-whispered to them while Vince played grownup and spoke to the breeder, Joan.
Joan’s a dog-show judge who breeds dogs humanely and responsibly—which is to say infrequently. She travels a lot for the shows, and tends to her own little flock of dogs, but she’s mostly retired. Her husband is kind of over the dog thing, she says. Well, it has been 43 years.
When I asked Joan about the 2-year-old female we were interested in, she said that dog was in season and wasn’t taking callers. (I pictured her in the back with a compress on her head and a bottle of Midol next to the bed.) She did have another female, though—a black and tan 5-month-old puff named Cupcake who she plopped into my hands. Cupcake was 3 lbs., 3 ozs., and because she didn’t yet have her adult coat, she had more hair on her head than her body. She looked like a doll with the wrong head stuck on top, as though she’d been the plaything of a sadistic child.
Vince gave me a quick look to stiffen my resolve. Right—no puppies. We would adopt a needy adult dog. It had been decided. This Kim Kardashian creature—this “Cupcake”—had been born into a genetically wealthy family and would cruise through life on a wave of unmerited dog-show celebrity. She didn’t need us—but then, there were two extremely tiny paws, white at the tips, that gripped my hand; and a tiny face that looked up at me with wet eyes and a vaguely worried stare; and little black ears that had crazy spirals of white fuzz coming out of them. And she smelled liked flowers. She’d just had a bath, Joan told us, in VO5 Shampoo.
“Unfortunately,” Joan continued, “she’ll never work as a show dog. She’s too small.” Her sister, Cookie, would be a show dog, but Cupcake, well… I looked at Vince. Poor puppy! The reject, the runt, she wasn’t Kim Kardashian at all. More like Khloe. Clearly, she needed to be rescued.
So it was that a few days later we drove home with Cupcake—now Millie—in my lap. She clutched me again with her two-paw grip around my hand and settled her chin—quite insistently—on my forearm, the way Hannah used to. (They are great chin-resters, the chihuahuas.) I phoned my friends who do dog rescue and fostering and told them what happened: We got a new dog, and it’s not from a shelter. It took me about 20 minutes to explain, and I was sweating with the effort by the end of the conversation.
Millie is now a hearty 4 lbs. and is developing a personality. She’s deathly afraid of spiders. When she’s nervous, she stands up like a meerkat. She likes to play with (but not eat) blueberries. She dislikes flagpoles. She doesn’t hold a grudge, even after teeth brushing.
And then there’s her cuteness. Walking Millie is like traveling with Lady Gaga. People gawk. A week ago, a French tourist lost all control, grabbed her, picked her up, and kissed her frantically, as though that’s a thing people do to other people’s dogs. It probably doesn’t help that Millie stops and stares at every single passer-by with her head tilted at them, as though they’re uniquely fascinating.
By every objective measure, Millie is a delightful and lovable dog. But the truth is—and it won’t be true for long, I know—right now I’d give 10 Millies just to have one more walk with Hannah. I miss my dog.