It had taken me thirteen years to get a dog. It wasn’t that I hadn’t loved the slow parade of cats that came in and out of our house, but a cat is not the same as a dog. And I wanted a dog.
My parents thwarted my attempts at securing one with some bemusement. Not long after we’d moved into our new house, I presented my father with a list on yellow legal paper of all the different dogs I was going to get in the future. “So after Kitty Cat dies, I’m going to get a German Shepard! And after it dies, I’m going to get a Golden Retriever. And after THAT-”
“Good gracious, Emily, you sound like you can’t wait for Kitty Cat to die!”
I vehemently denied this; Kitty Cat was, perhaps, the next best thing one could get if one had VERY stubborn parents like mine.
About the same time, while my mother and I were at Albertson’s, I saw a big, happy black lab roaming around its entrance, and ran up to the first vagrant I saw. “Can I pet your dog?”
“That’s not my dog.”
This was all the proof I needed that this dog was, in fact, homeless, and begged my mother to take it home right then and there. Mom wisely said that if the dog was there tomorrow, we could take it home. This was tantamount to a guarantee for me, and I told everyone we saw that night that I was getting that dog. Mom, wisely, said nothing. I spent the night in raptures, convinced that the next day I was going to have my own dog. This did not happen.
Sometime before middle school, I became in earnest about getting a dog. I watched Animal Planet religiously, I went online and looked up puppies for sale. I got books for my birthday, and from there I filled up an entire legal pad weighing the pros and cons of various breeds. The Welsh Springer Spaniel came out on top, and I’m still curious if this would actually be a good dog for me. I’ve never seen one advertised for sale, so that may be a moot point.
When I entered seventh grade, my parents at last relented. The begging, sobbing, emotional fits I had before my father in the TV room probably helped break down his last shred of will, or maybe they just decided we weren’t going to travel enough to make denying me a dog feasible any longer. At any rate, I was getting a dog that summer – which was a torturous amount of time to wait, and something that caused a great deal of friction in the household as I had more tantrums after seeing various dogs I was not allowed to take home IMMEDIATELY.
A rescue dog was decided against since we wouldn’t know what we’d be getting, and a puppy would be easy for the cats to beat into submission. Despite my best efforts, a Siberian Husky was ruled out. Mom was pretty well for a Sheltie. Papa loved retrievers best. This debate raged on until a Saturday in January, when I held up the paper and begged my parents to go to the Rose City Kennel Club show happening that day at the racing grounds.
Going to a dog show was tantamount to achieving all my dreams of the last few years of obsessed Animal Planet watching. Dogs everywhere. Show dogs, agility dogs, obedience dogs, dogs dogs dogs dogs DOGS. We spoke with quite a few handlers. The sweet young handler of one lovely red husky couldn’t deny that it was possible that such a dog might eat our cats, so my heart was finally broken on that score.
But fate, it seems, was decided not long after we walked in, for was we wandered in a state of total awe at the vast sea of canine options, off to the left was one small booth with a few diminutive, ruddy red dogs, standing quite apart.
“Papa,” I asked him from behind with Mom to my right, making a Nelson Family Triangle with my father resolutely leading the way. “Can we go see those?”
“Kurt, let’s stop here.”
He kept on walking, much to the ire of my mother and I. After a moment, he turned round and said, “You know, I really wanted to see those red dogs.” We both wagged our tongues about him not listening, and turned around and did just that.
It was now March, and we were sitting in the living room of Cindy Richardson as her own two Tollers, plus one visitor, plus her Papillion AND her Burmese cat whirled around us like a dervish. We had become acquainted with an obscure breed not even recognized by the American Kennel Club – the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. These looked basically like a small version of a Golden Retriever, but very red, with flashes of white alone the nose; as a T on the chest; on the toes, or at the tips of tails. We thought they were quite the most lovely dogs we’d ever seen except for one thing. They did not bark.
When the excitement was just too much to bear, the small herd of dogs around us would set up to wailing like a banshee, nearly a scream of impatience with a high-pitched whine preceding. This could be set off from anything as mundane as a tennis ball to desperation of not getting to see a new visitor right away. We loved them anyway.
As if God wanted us to get this dog, Cindy would was breeding her pair, Cory and Jaeger, that spring. The low number of dogs and high demand meant there was a waiting list. Apparently, my big brown eyes and desperation put us at the top of the list, because Cindy smiled and assured us we could expect a puppy that May.On Cinco de Mayo, five puppies were born, and Cindy emailed us the details of this holiday-themed litter. At the very end of the list was Chili, the last born and nearly the runt of the litter.
“Well, Em, what do you think?”
“Chili’s going to be my dog…” I whispered in my heart. Not because I had a particular soft spot for runts, I didn’t – but something inside me knew in the ways we always know and can never explain.
Two months passed of excited preparations, and even a second visit to Cindy to see the litter first hand. There were toys and beds and bowls and balls to buy, and my father tore up our strawberry plants to make a first-rate dog kennel anyway, even building a small dog house with leftover shingles for the roof and Styrofoam for insulation. My contribution to that was painting it the same color as our house.
“I’ve decided to let you have either Salsa or Chili,” Cindy wrote us. “I haven’t quite decided which.” Salsa was an even bigger pup, with a few more flashes of white and a little more rambunctious. I crossed my fingers and prayed with all my might that it would be Chili.
In the meanwhile, knowing we were getting a girl (my father’s preference), we set out with extreme deliberation to pick a name. It had near the same importance of naming a new-found star or element to us, and we had settled on Aurora. Or so I thought.
As I did the dishes and my parents sipped their gin and tonics, my mother said, “Emily, we changed our minds about that. We think we should call her Cassie.”
“What? That’s a horrible name! We agreed on Aurora!”
“Yes, but think when we’re trying to call her. ‘Rory, Rory!’ It would be a terrible mess.”
“It’s a constellation,” my father tried to mollify me.
“‘Cassie’ is a constellation.”
“No, Cassiopea is. And it’ll be Cassie for short!” I did not like this AT ALL. But I was shot down, so there it was.
On July 13, 2002, we were finally going to get MY dog – but it had to wait for furniture to be delivered which took all morning and a good half of the afternoon. It was like water torture to be so close to getting my own puppy and asked to wait. At last, however, the moment came, and I sat on my hands all the way to Eugene with an aching and anxious heart.
But we did get there, and when Cindy opened the door, two red puppies came excitedly out to see what there was to see. “I’ve decided on Chili for you guys,” she smiled, and I just about burst in my joy.
Chili seemed pretty glad about the arrangement, too, albeit a little confused why she had a big green thing around her neck with such fun jangly bits to chew on, and why she was in a car. She would bounce up onto her hind legs, fore-paws resting on the seat back and look out the window of the van at all the passing cars. It was an overwhelming experience for her, and so rather than worry about that, she put herself into my lap – all cuddly and warm – and fell right to sleep.
I was in raptures. “I can’t believe it…” I whispered as a stroked her soft puppy fur. “I can’t believe I have a dog…”
I did. I had Cassie.