My kids used to like the Spot books, about a young, aptly named dog full of surprises. In one, Spot goes through a neighborhood and gets into mischief. When his mother asks what he's been up to, he says, "Nothing." You can't help but hope he gets away with it.
Which was how my new neighbors and I felt about a dog my daughters and I rescued from the Humane Society and brought to our new home in San Juan Capistrano. A home so new to us, in fact, that the dog arrived ahead of the movers and just 12 hours after the carpet installers. The following day our dearly adopted adult French sheep dog chose the middle of the living room to test our commitment. The carpet wasn't the only casualty. My husband has many fine qualities, but loving animals isn't one.
Dan grew up in an animal-impoverished environment. Five kids, his mother said, were enough. I grew up in suburbia's version of "Wild Kingdom." Between my brother and me, we had chipmunks, tarantulas, parakeets, guinea pigs, turtles, hamsters, ducklings and, always, at least one dog.
Some came with pedigrees, some from the pound. They came on vacations. They slept on our beds. They barked at our parents when we were being scolded. They held a vigil if one of us was sick. Brought sneakers from the closet if the word "walk" was mentioned. And never failed to be ecstatic to see us.
My husband doesn't share these warm, fuzzy memories. That's why, when we got engaged almost a decade ago, I made him promise we could always have a dog. This was part of an oft-cited conversation that took place on the eve of our engagement: I would keep my last name, we would have joint checking accounts, I would have the majority vote on the number and timing of kids, and he would agree (this may now apply) to go to marriage counseling should we ever need it.
But first on my list was a dog. (This was our prenuptial agreement. Had it involved money, we would have had to assign debt.)
We did have one dog early in our marriage, but after she bit our first child, we handed the pet off to gracious grandparents, and I dropped the subject for a while. We agreed, well, rather one-sidedly, to try again after we moved.
Our choice was the only one at the Humane Society not barking. Rather, he looked soulfully, like a misunderstood poet, out of his 4-by-9-foot cage. A 60-pound heart wrapped in fur.
We took him for a test drive, my young daughters and I. He let one tie a bow on his neck, gingerly took Goldfish snacks from the other's fingers, and, when I asked the girls whether we should take him, he put his paw on my knee. We were in love.
Good thing, because the first morning in our new home, I walked down the staircase overlooking the living room and saw to my horror two piles of dog excrement, each the size of a paper plate, soaking into the new living room carpet. It seemed that Bogie's days were once again numbered.
I looked at his big brown eyes under all that shaggy gray fur and realized that this was just a big misunderstanding.
I glanced upstairs to see my husband knotting his tie and did what any person who wanted to save both an animal and a marriage would do. I grabbed a large steel bowl and spoon, scooped what I could, threw open the windows, carefully placed a large area rug over the offending patches and arranged a smile on my face just as my husband came downstairs. Then I packed him off to work, while my heart beat out the rhythm to "Flight of the Bumble Bee."
I spent the next hour making desperate calls. First, I called the fix-it guy for our development. He called the carpet installers who said to call (800) 4DUPONT, the Stainmaster crisis line, which quite handily gives remedies to remove just about any stain you can imagine . . . and some you can't.
They gave me a recipe--basically clean up, wash, rinse, blot--that I repeated three times.
The neighbors got wind of the crisis and kept stopping by to check my progress and offer remedies. The stains were still bad and actually spreading.
They'd warned me at DuPont that acid from a dog's intestines can permanently bleach carpet. The fix-it man, a dog lover who'd come to know my husband's temperament when things go wrong, came with his heavy-duty shop vacuum.
Then he brought his superintendent, who quickly got the picture and called the president of Tiffany Bros. of Westminster, the development's carpet cleaning service. An urgent page went out, and Tiffany was soon on scene.
Then, a miracle. In an instant, one chemical compound and one heavy-duty suction device saved a carpet, a dog, a marriage.
In my favor, according to owner Richard Tiffany, were these factors: Newer carpet cleans better, and so do fresh stains.
We installed huge fans around the room, and by the time Dan returned home, the only signs of disaster were that the floor looked overly vacuumed and I unusually guilty.