I spent a good chunk of my prewriting time for this blog post keeping Satan at bay.
I should clarify.
On Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., I was trying to write when, without warning, I received a visit from the Prince of Darkness himself. It seems Old Scratch had stumbled into a midlife crisis. Temptation, soul-snatching, and eternal perdition had lost their luster for him. They weren’t really his jam anymore. Instead, he’d found a new and utterly inexplicable passion: the knobby wooden screw covers glued to my chair. On these he lavished his infernal attention. Grinding needle-sharp devil’s teeth against them and gamely ignoring the distracted “Our Father”s I uttered in hopes of driving him away, he worried and worried those screw caps. And when he wasn’t worrying them, he was worrying my hands and feet, making what he liked to call “bargain-price stigmata.”
Needless to say, I got nothing done during the fifteen minutes of his visitation. That said, I count it a small mercy—for the chair as much as for me—that the devil finally got his fill of furniture. Packing his bags, His Cloven-Hoofed Vileness tipped his hat, cracked wise about heading down to Georgia for its hardware stores, and then vanished. In his place, he left my nine-week old puppy snoring softly on her bed.
My wife and I got Toph, a spaniel-collie mix, a few weeks ago from a Mennonite family in north-central Indiana. Notwithstanding the fact that we’d been talking about getting a dog for over a year, the decision was pretty spur-of-the-moment, and it marked a serious departure from my previous position on the issue—which was, in effect, to have no position. Whatever wishy-washiness had previously defined my views on dog ownership, however, quickly evaporated as we bundled Toph off to the car. She was small enough to fit comfortably in two hands, with big hazel eyes, a stupidly adorable snub nose, and ears with just a hint of that gorgeous spaniel wave. The long five-hour car ride home she passed in almost utter quiet, sleeping belly-up in Jes’s lap or else staring at us while we drove. And meanwhile Jes and I, giddy with excitement and disbelief, whispered back and forth to each other—whispered, indeed, as all first-time fury-baby parents must whisper: Here, here is the perfect doggo.
To the surprise of no one who’s ever had a puppy, Toph disabused us of our blithe idealism in short order. Turns out the road from innocence to Eeyore-level cynicism is just about three days long in the world of puppydom—or however long it takes poor pupper to score its first triple-double: two accidents indoors, two excessive rounds of “fight and bite,” and two baaaad crate-training freakouts in one day. By the end of our third semi-sleepless night, the long parade of blind adoration—typically expressed at a frequency reserved for infants, mosquito whines, and people who hear “yanny”—had given way to the world-weary refrain of “no, Toph, pleeeeease don’t eat mom’s toes, baby.”
In short, Toph’s doing what all puppies do, and it will be interesting these next few years to watch not only how she accommodates herself to us but also how we accommodate ourselves to her. Already, we can see the early stages of this process at work. Negatively, for instance, Toph’s occasional transformations into her alter-ego Beelzepup—or at least the ever-looming possibility of those transformations—have required us to renegotiate our relationship to the space of our apartment, to check for sight-lines and blind spots. Puppying 101, we’ve learned, is all about bringing the panoptic state into the domestic comfort of your home. But more positively, too, Toph has also required Jes and I to become more flexible—to laugh (if wryly and painfully for now) at minor setbacks and to be attentive to the needs of each other.
We’re changing, in other words, Jes and me—in our relationship with the dog, yes, but also with each other. Some of it’s negative, sure. But the rest? Well, we’ll see. Worn out though these last few weeks of puppy-parenting have left me, I’m excited to find out.
g2g: Dog’s eating the carpet again.
Ben DeVries (’15) graduated with degrees in literature and writing. He and his wife Jes, a fellow Calvin grad, live in Champaign, Illinois, where Ben is looking to add some letters behind his name. On the academic off-seasons, he reads fantasy and works as a glorified “go-fer” at the Champaign Park District. He’s been known to make a mean deep-dish pizza.