June 24, 2020
We arrive outside the doors of the Hamilton SPCA breathless, excited. It’s the final day before level 4 lockdown – we imagine the next month spent in the confines of our four walls with a furry companion. A puppy to love and cuddle, train and treat.
“I’m so sorry, the last one just went out the door,” the volunteer shrugs. “Try calling the other rescue centres.”
Every phone call yields the same result. It seems all of New Zealand has decided to fulfil their long-awaited puppy dreams at once. We return to Raglan with our tails between our legs. Oh, how I wanted that to be true. I had already spent countless hours scrolling TradeMe listings and adoption sites. My younger self who read Champion Dog: Prince Tom at age 10 and slept with it under her pillow had made herself known and become so incessant in her demands that my partner had given in months ago. “You can get a puppy for your 30th birthday.”
Covid sped things up. Why wait until July when April-May had unexpectedly become devoid of all social activity?
Throughout level 4 I studied lucky dog-owners with envy. Walking past at precisely two metres distance, lead in hand.
Level 3 was when she found us. A link sent by my sister landed us on her face. Sweet, gentle, golden. Legs a supermodel would kill for. “I want a small dog,” I had told all my friends. “One that can curl up on my lap.” But there she was in all her tall, speedy, Whippet glory, and it felt just right.
The pound van arrived only days later for a ‘contact-less’ dog delivery. We had fussed over positioning. Should we put her dog bowl here? Is this a good spot for her bed? Would she prefer soft toys or tug toys?
And then of course, the matter of her name. The pound had bequeathed her with Weasel, which we agreed was unacceptable for such a graceful lady. We chose Willow, congratulating ourselves on our powers of originality and alliteration, until weeks later when I saw an online poll for most-common Whippet names with Willow in the number two position.
After an initial shy tail-wag and sniffing every item in the house, Willow spent most of her first day resting her head on alternate laps. We exclaimed over her fur – so silky soft! Her manners – so gentle! Her quietness – no barking!
By day two she had made good progress on chewing her way through every piece of our furniture.
By day three she achieved her first successful escape attempt, thanks to her Twiggy legs.
We feel the full weight of our dog parent inadequacies. We listen to podcasts. Borrow a copy of The Dog Listener. Book in weekly sessions with a dog trainer.
With every new command she masters, we glow with pride. Willow has the benefit of the doubt when she falters – oh, that other dog was too distracting. Perhaps she’s over this brand of treats.
Like all new parents, we believe our child to be the cutest and brightest of them all. “You’re the best dog that ever lived,” we whisper in her silken ears each night. “We never met a pup as wonderful as you.”
Life changes with a dog. Walks become a sniff-fest. You scan the horizon for potential danger (aggressive dogs, cats, poo, small dogs that resemble rabbits, fish bones) and potential opportunities (friendly, agile doggy playmates with equally nice owners, things that look interesting to sniff). You find crumbly bits of dog treats in all your pockets.
You navigate challenges – puppy’s first period/heat and the hazard that presents to your sofa cushions, peeing on the lino, vaccination shots, nearly getting bitten at the dog park, cat-chasing escapades, toilet paper that’s been decimated into confetti, feeling like your lead-holding arm is about to exit its socket, the guilt of leaving her at home while you attend meetings.
You experience joy – seeing her delight when the car window is wound down, nose extended, hearing the solid thump of her tail in the darkness when you emerge from your bedroom early in the morning, the careful positioning of her hindquarters in front of you for maximum back scratching, when she finally comes back perfectly when called, the upside-down-belly-rub-meets-kangaroo pose, gentle face-licks, soft amber eyes that hold only love.
“She’s not very small,” friends say when they see her for the first time.
“No, she’s perfect.”