The Monster is stretched out on the floor beside me in his usual undignified sleeping pose (belly up, legs splayed). Let me take advantage of this rare moment of peace to offer advice to parents out there who are considering a puppy -- DON'T DO IT!
OK, maybe that's a bit strong. How about: Don't do it unless you have the services of the 101st Airborne Division at your beck and call.
Were we examples of those foolish types who buy a puppy because we think it fulfills the holiday spirit or because we've just seen the latest Disney Dalmatian movie? Of course not. (Thousands of Dalmatians were euthanized 6 to12 months after "101 Dalmatians" premiered.) We thoroughly researched dog breeds on the Internet before deciding that the very best dog for a family with children was a golden retriever. I've always been partial to German shepherds, having grown up with one, but none of the websites we consulted considered Shepherds to be completely safe with young children. (I've since learned that this is nonsense. Oh well.) Goldens, by contrast, were supposed to be the tamest, most companionable -- in fact the most saintly dogs anyone could possibly want with the possible exception of Labs, but I liked the look of goldens more.
And so in early July, with three dog training manuals, a large crate, dozens of chew toys, leashes, collars, soft plush rugs, doggie treats, nail clippers, brushes, carpet stain remover, long leads, shampoo and toothpaste (chicken flavor) in hand, we brought home our little bundle of fuzz and named him Gipper. He weighed about 7 pounds, had soft amber ears and a little button nose. The breeder had said he might cry most of the first night. He didn't know Gipper.
Within minutes of entering our house, the puppy commenced a terrorist hit and run assault that took months to subside. Puppies, the manuals never mention, have razor sharp little teeth that can slice through boy skin in seconds. Though they are awkward at first, within a few weeks they can easily outrun the most agile human (and we are not in that category).
The first few weeks after Gipper arrived were a siege. He would take time off from barking at his reflection in the family room window to gnaw the chair legs. Tiring of this, he'd move on to the beautiful elephant pattern sofa pillow. His best maneuver was the leaping tear, in which he would fly at you, grab a dangling shirttail or sleeve and rip through it. He was extremely fond of biting the ankles of anyone who happened by. And when the children would screech at this treatment, Gipper just knew they were having as much fun as he, and redoubled his efforts.
It takes patience and endless repetition to housetrain a puppy, and we were prepared for weeks of effort. But after six weeks we thought we were finished with hustling him out the door every 15 minutes. No, no. This dog developed digestive problems and was waking us up several times a night. The vet recommended adult food.
The chow did not solve Gipper's attitude problem. This little guy was born to disprove the golden's docile reputation. He hated being on a leash, and let us know by growling and grabbing it in his teeth. He indulged his favorite game of grab the forbidden object and run whenever possible. He declined to come when called unless there was something in it for him besides a cheery "good boy." If you really, really needed him to come you had to have a slice of cheese on hand. Somehow we managed to get the one golden retriever who is a pit bull wannabee.
"Isn't he cute, Mom?" the kids would ask. "He's cute." "Don't you love Gipper?" "When he's sleeping."
I know, I know, don't e-mail me about this. The pizza delivery lady said it all: "Obedience classes are not that expensive." They are when your dog requires two courses.
Still, the Monster is now 7 months old and settling down nicely. Who can say whether it was neutering, obedience school or the slip collar? But as you consider how adorable a puppy would look under the Christmas tree, take it from a battle-scarred veteran -- consider a gerbil.