Sally said, “I’ve been thinking about a puppy.”
Why, with such a statement of such nonchalance, did I feel a sense of foreboding? It was as if a cloud had shut out the sun and shadow brought a shill.
“A puppy?” I said, as lightly as I could, even as I felt my eyebrows furrow. I could feel a tightening behind my eyes, the place where tension headaches go to take root. “A puppy.”
“A small dog,” she explained, one that could ride in her kayak or sit on her lap while she worked.
I reminded her that our dogs loved boating. She countered with the fact, undeniable, that they would spring from any manner of boat at the least provocation. She recalled various outings that ended badly as rambunctious dogs rocked boats as they leapt out to battle threats real and imagined.
I told her the cat could sit on her lap, the dogs would provide snuggling companionship. She reminded me that our dogs topped off at 60 pounds or so and they were getting too much to handle.
She had done some research. She liked a specific breed: Boston Terrier. She’d found a breeder; there were pups available. There were only three! One of them could be ours! Time was a-wasting! She e-mailed me a photo of the new pups.
The photo showed several small, oddly shaped black-and-white animals. They did not much look like any dog that I’d known. Yet from somewhere deep in my memory came a connection, a vague recollection of a similar beast come up from the mists of time and years: “They look like gerbils.”
She thought they were adorable.
It was essentially a done deal. She’d been in contact with the breeder; she’d done her homework; it was the dog for her. At full size, they’d tip the scales at about 20 pounds. They were bright dogs, loyal, good in the house, though not much value in woods and field. There was, when all was said and done, not much room for my dissent.
I made one final parry: “Thor does not like small dogs. He sees them as chew toys.” This is true; he looks on small dogs with the same eyes as he looks at rabbits or chipmunks: fair game to be chased, caught and dispatched. She sent me more e-mails with photos: the pups, such as they were, were growing. They still reminded me of gerbils.
She wanted a Boston-themed name, something that captured the spirit of the big East Coast city. I thought a bit, then offered up, “Fenway,” after the classic, quirky ballpark. And so the name was chosen: Fenway.
On a warm June day, Sally brought Fenway into our lives.
Fenway turned out to be a small, distinctly dog-like animal, though when compared to Thor and Riika, he comes up short. There is, for starters, the nose: it’s flat to the blocky head as if, when soft and not fully formed, the dog had run headlong into a stout wall. Riika and Thor have noses that look like noses, dog noses. His ears recall the ears on a small rabbit; the shape is the same. His head is marked by somewhat bulbous eyes and the tail…well, there’s the rub: Fenway has no tail. It’s not bobbed or in any manner remodeled; it is simply not there.
The introduction to the other animals was somewhat formal and strained, as so many are. The dogs, Thor and Riika, had an immediate interest in Fenway. The cat, Lady, kept her distance. Standoffish, cats are. Sally carefully set Fenway down on the green grass of the backyard and Thor and Riika moved in, curious.
It worked out well enough. Fenway was mildly intimidated by what must have seemed giant animals, given his entire 8-week life had been spent in the company of his parents and two siblings, all small, all friendly, all used to him. Now Riika and Thor towered over him like dinosaurs, Fenway’s 6 pounds coming up a tad short to their 56 and 64 pounds.
The breeder had told us of Bostons, “They’re a small dog that thinks they are a big dog.” And to his credit, Fenway seemed unfazed by the larger dogs. They checked each other out and then went their own ways, Fenway fast as quicksilver on the grass as the other dogs watched with unrestrained interest. It was an auspicious start.
Things went south that evening as Fenway annoyed Thor and Thor responded with a show of teeth that brought to mind the short evolutionary distance between dog and wolf, and served to put the puppy into a funk. He cowered behind Sally the rest of the night.
Sally spent the night on a mattress lying next to Fenway’s kennel. First night in a new house, away from his family, in the company of monster dogs, a long way from everything he’d known; we figured he’d be awake all night wailing and looking for comfort. We turned out the lights and settled in for a long, sleepless night.
Fenway curled up, yawned, went to sleep and did not make a sound until 6:00 the next morning. And I thought to myself: The little guy may have some merit.
The dogs made small, grudging adjustments to Fenway over the next few days. Riika had to chat with him once or twice, snarling and growling, teeth bared and eyes harsh and unforgiving, barks loud and threatening. Fenway learned in a hurry. That was the good news.
The not-so-good news is that while the dogs warmed up slowly, the cat did not budge. The cat hated him.
I have not heard the sounds from our cat that she made with Fenway. Hisses and growls, and growls mixed with hisses, horrible noises. Then there was the look. Or rather: The Look. Lady, a mild, gentle cat under normal circumstances, showed us a new side.
They say that if looks could kill, there’d be carnage in this world and if Lady’s looks could kill, we’d have one dead pup. She reminded me of the old boxer, Sonny Liston. She’d glare at Fenway from across the room, from on a chair, out the window while Fenway romped in the yard. And woe be to Fenway should he venture too close for Lady’s comfort.
The two of them would stand off like boxers, flyweights, light on their feet, quick to strike. Lady would lash out with her paw; pop-pop-pop in the blink of your eye. Fenway would dance out of reach, feint left, move right; cat would lash out again; tap-tap-tap, hisses and growls all the time.
She never did any damage; she has been declawed and her parries did no harm. Fenway never backed off, he’d only seem to grow tired of it and walk away as if having no interest anymore.
A week into it, things had begun to settle. The dogs were easier together, all three of them. We no longer feared that Thor would do major damage to the pup. Riika made it clear that she has no real use for Fenway, but that has not translated to aggression toward him. The cat is still holding out, but the wind seemed to go out of her sails. She does not like Fenway but she now tolerates him better, though sometimes the stillness of a summer evening is broken by Lady’s hisses and yowls and Fenway’s shrill little birdlike barks as he responds.
Sally has her puppy. She still thinks he’s adorable.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post in downtown Rhinelander. Call (715) 362-5800. To comment on this story, visit StarJournalNow.com.