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Small Wonders: The puppy chronicles

It’s not that I didn’t want a puppy. Just that I was reluctant, concerned about the responsibility and nightly barking. And available space in our ever-shrinking house. And the mess. And what would happen if it ever got out the front door and into the big, scary world on its own.

Yet we’ve somehow managed to survive human children despite these same fears. Besides, I am outnumbered in my home, three to one. So last spring during a temporary parental vacation from sanity, we brought home not one, but two, puppies; the thresholds for love and pain being sides of the same coin, who’s counting?

We got them from a “rescue,” though I use the term loosely. The only thing puppies as cute as these needed rescuing from was overexposure from “Your Daily Dog” Facebook posts or cuddle asphyxiation by overzealous kids.

The drive home with the pups was not unlike the drive home from the hospital the day either of my daughters was born. Glassy-eyed parents wondering what the hell they’d just gotten themselves into; mystified that anyone would trust them to keep anything more than a houseplant alive; the smell of urine wafting from the backseat as we tried to come up with just the right name.


Mortitia? Beelzebub? Abstinence? Deduction? Pimple?

We made it easy on ourselves with the daughters: Thing 1 and Thing 2. So we let them pick the names.

The black and white terrier bore a striking resemblance to a Lilliputian Claude Rains as Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” mixed with the madcap exuberance of Salvador Dali. Isabella, Izzy for short, she was christened by Thing 1. And the world is her salt lick.

The russet-colored, marshmallow-breasted shepherd was barely able to stand on her own four feet. Perhaps because it was her favorite soda in the brief lifetime of a child’s whim, Thing 2 dubbed her Dr. Pepper. But since the name comes with no advertising revenue (I checked), we just call her Pepper.


The pups still, these many months later, have permanent smiles on their smug little snouts; their very presence in our home is a practical joke at my expense.

The best advice I got from the pet shop clerk on Day 1 when I wandered in, dazed and confused, with nary a Milk-Bone in our house: Crate the puppies. Had we crated Thing 1 at night when we brought her home, the wife and I might not have had to abandon our apartment’s sole bedroom to her and sleep on a futon in the living room.

We’ve forsaken the back porch and yard to our canine squatters, a peace treaty that has proven invaluable. Especially when one has found a twig the other simply must have. Though Pepper was a runt, she gained 50 pounds after her first meal and easily dwarfs Izzy in a skirmish. But she’s hindered by the gangly legs of a teenage boy and dangerously poor peripheral vision. Izzy, with her low center of gravity, speed and innate caginess, strikes with the accuracy of a mosquito on meth.

Their battles are mighty and take on hysterical dimensions when waged on the hardwood floor. Imagine Bambi on ice trying to sever Thumper’s jugular. I only wish my kids — or I — could get over a fight as quickly as these dogs do.

Pepper is the advance team in their covert assaults. Long and lean, able to reach morsels on the kitchen counter. She knocks them down and Izzy swoops in to consume the bounty. They are a peculiar yet symbiotic pairing. Think Laurel and Hardy. Kramden and Norton. Ren and Stimpy.

To my chagrin, for Halloween my ladies bedecked them with costumes: Pepper a felt fabric hot dog, complete with mustard, ketchup and relish; Izzy a miniature pumpkin. Dear gourd. So I guess we’re now “that” family.

My most fascinating discovery? Styrofoam in, Styrofoam out. I learned this digestive truism upon finding the yard dotted with what looked like morsels of rocky road. Thankfully, the destroyed packing foam in the garage warned me otherwise.

My most welcome discovery? Seeing Thing 1 and Thing 2 playing with them, curling up contentedly on the couch with their first dogs. And on rare occasion picking up rocky road in the backyard.


And as my two human Things grow older and less enamored with their father, it is nice to come home to little critters who think you’re the greatest thing in the world. Even if you’ve only been gone five minutes.

So it’s not that I don’t like our dogs. Just that — well, you get the picture.

PATRICK CANEDAY thinks acid-wash jeans will make a comeback. Friend him on Facebook. Contact him at Read more at