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Dec 30

Year of the dog

Last December, having been a dog owner for all of three days, I was letting our seven-pound puppy drag me around the neighborhood for about the 12th time that afternoon. I was completely exhausted, and I already had serious doubts I had what it took to make it work.

We ran into a congenial middle-aged man named Pat, in town from Ohio to visit his daughter. He calmed GG down, raved about what a handsome dog she was and we talked a little sports.

Something about Pat’s easy demeanor told me I’d found a sympathetic ear. Before we parted ways, I told him GG was my first dog, explained how difficult this first week had been and asked whether things would get better.

Pat looked me straight in the eye and smiled warmly. “You’ll have to put in some work,” he said. “But I can tell she’s a good dog, and you’re going to be just fine.”

Grasping for straws, I believed him. And it turns out he was absolutely right, everything worked out pretty great.

But it did take a lot of work, and things would get worse before they’d get better.

*****

Soon after we were married last September, my wife asked if we could get a dog. I’ve always been a bit uneasy around dogs, who tend to chase runners. But she grew up with them in the house, and she very much wanted a puppy to call her own. I like making my wife happy, so I agreed.

I figured Montana could just teach me anything I didn’t know, and her family, God bless ’em, agreed to help out in any way possible. My wife was drawn to a miniature poodle/golden retriever mix on the web site of a breeder 350 miles away, and we arranged for her to be delivered to us a week after Thanksgiving.

Most golden-doodles resemble bigger poodles, but GG — short for Gatti Girl, honoring my favorite boxer — was like a tiny golden retriever. Born two days after our wedding, she was adorable and playful, and it really was love at first sight.

But the afterglow faded not long after the breeder left, and we figured out how hard this was going to be. GG developed a taste for our living room rug, instantly destroyed every toy we bought her and had a penchant for burrowing deep behind our couch. She also determined she had no interest in sleeping in her crate, selecting a spot in our bed directly between me and my wife, both literally and figuratively. GG claimed my pillow as her own, and she’d frequently kick me in the face in her sleep.

Our little fuzzy alarm clock abruptly woke me up every morning at around 5:45 to head outside in the freezing cold, where she’d yank my arm off chasing every squirrel and car in a 10-mile radius. When I’d brush my teeth or sit down to eat, GG would stare at me and bark relentlessly, driving me up a wall. Mercifully, she was somehow housebroken from the start, but she’d spontaneously throw up pretty frequently.

GG was a fast learner — and truth be told, I adored the little furball in spite of it all — but sometime in January, I was near the end of my rope. Montana is my best friend in the world, the one person who consistently keeps me sane, and between our demanding jobs and our demanding dog, I felt like I never saw her anymore. I missed my wife, and I felt trapped under the weight of a puppy I could scoop up with one hand.

Luckily, our honeymoon in February came at just the right time. Free of GG and work e-mails for a week, we were able to reconnect with each other on the beaches of Mexico.

And yet, after a few days, we were surprised to find that we actually missed our little raptor. We had kind of turned a corner, and when we got back, things seemed quite different.

*****

A couple of things helped us get to that point. Montana’s parents were invaluable, picking up GG every day and harboring her overnight if we needed a night to have a quiet dinner or something. Lord knows how many carpets GG devoured at their house, but they never complained about it.

In addition, it turns out GG is hands down the greatest dog in the world. She remains a bit needy, but she has a terrific personality. I haven’t yet met someone that she can’t win over — including my parents, who constantly ask if GG can sleep over. She’s always happy to see me when I come home, and she regularly cracks me up, like when she picks a fight with a dog four times her size, or revs up for a big running start only to slam into the couch.

Not to mention, when we watched Legendary Nights on HBO, we discovered Micky Ward had a dog with the same exact name, and for the same reason. Pretty damn cool.

I’d never have predicted this, but it got to the point where I couldn’t wait for my days off just so I could hang out with our puppy. We’d go around the block a couple times, eat some breakfast and then snuggle on the couch while I wrote or watched TV. I even grew to like having her in bed with us, especially once I figured out I could warm my perpetually cold feet by jamming them underneath her at the foot of the bed. She never seems to mind.

Eventually, after months of having our entire world be about GG, Montana and I realized things were kind of back to normal. We got back to taking long walks and having long talks, and we recently started back up with CrossFit.

We often discuss whether we should have waited longer than two months after we got married to get a dog. And honestly, we probably should have. But then we wouldn’t have GG, and we would have had no idea what we were missing. I think caring for her brought us closer together, and I thank Montana virtually every day for bringing her into our lives.

At some point in the next couple years, we’re hoping to become parents, and my experience helping to raise our puppy has helped me believe that I actually might be okay at it. GG might never know this, but I truly believe she’s helped me grow as a person and as a husband, and someday I feel she’ll have helped me grow as a father.

Not to mention, she has incredibly never chewed up a single pair of my Air Jordans.

*****

Not long ago, Montana and I were on a walk outside when I spotted Pat, again visiting his daughter. I called him over, introduced my wife and thanked him for his pep talk a year ago.

After we’d got out of earshot, Montana looked at me and said, “You know he had no idea who you were, right?” She was right, he clearly had no clue.

Our brief reunion reminded me that even if we don’t necessarily remember the good things we do on a daily basis, there’s always someone out there who will.

And though I had long credited a stranger with helping me through a tough time, when it comes down to it, the three of us get by just fine on our own.

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