Golden Boy

How to raise a dog all wrong … and end up all right
A memoir (sort of)


Buying a young pup was the exact opposite of what I'd initially wanted, yet with HighView Kennels, I sensed I'd be in good hands and good company. So I placed my deposit, and let the energy of the client Facebook group pull me forward until I landed on Zoe's front porch that fine spring day.

Our group of soon-to-be owners migrated to the stairs to watch the people ahead of us spill out the door with arms full of squirming fur. I eyed each puppy as it passed, wondering if mine would be bigger, smaller, curlier, cuter… better. Technically, I already knew what he looked like. A few days before pick-up, an e-mail had arrived with the photo of my assigned pup. I clicked to reveal the face of a wizened man nearly swallowed by a ruff of gold. Zoe's note said the pup had a wavy coat and a middle-of-the-road personality. Once I saw his photo, I tended to agree with her that he was just right.

Everyone else filed in ahead of me and sank into taupe leather couches. Mom and I took the hard dining chairs. As last of the group to receive my pup, I had time to eye the competition. Someone got my first choice, the red female. A tiny pup with a big personality, “Opal” greeted them with a frenzy of licking. Two couples got equally dainty female pups that wriggled and writhed in happiness. The room rang with squeals and laughter.

A pup finally landed in my lap—a fluffy yellow blob that was twice the size of the other pups. When I put my hands down to steady him, he was trembling. He didn't look up me. He didn't seem to notice anything. This quivering lump was the odd man out in a roomful of eager canine girls who were doing their best to impress their new owners.

Zoe perched on the fireplace hearth and used Opal to demonstrate how to teach “sit” and “down.” Opal cooperated beautifully. She was clearly an amazing pup—clever, social and gorgeous to boot.

There was a snicker beside me. “Yours is cute, too,” Mom said.

She really could see my thoughts scrolling along the side of my head.

“He's huge,” I whispered, looking down at my pup in consternation. “And he's shaking.”

“The world probably looks pretty big from his point of view.” She ran one hand along his back, as if he were a cat. The gesture said it all: we're cat people; we didn't belong there.

I had an acute case of Opal envy. Why hadn't Zoe matched me with her? It was perfectly obvious that Opal was the exact pup to fill the hole in my heart. I had failed to capture my needs in my application. This big lug, now lifeless except for the occasional shudder, could not be the perfect pup for me. There must be some mistake.

“He'll be fine when he's home and settled,” Mom said.

My eyes filled with tears, mostly of gratitude that she was letting me off the hook. Despite her scepticism over Zoe's matchmaking claims, Mom was quite sure I'd love whatever dog I got. She probably sensed that the hole in my heart would change to fit his dimensions. I know she'd hoped Zoe's magic was real and that this would be easy for me. We'd been through bleak and back, and we'd earned a break.

Tucking him under one arm, I followed Zoe into the hall, and hung back as people left. Finally I got the nerve to ask, “You're sure this is the right pup?”

“Yeah, I'm sure,” she said. Her eyes lit on me briefly and she said something vaguely soothing before moving aside to let me pass. I can't recall her exact words, but in my mind it goes something like this: “You can't always get the dog you want… But if you try sometime, you just might find, you get the dog you need.”

So I hooked up the leash, tethering the pup to me for the next decade or so, and walked out the door.

© Sandy Rideout