The Odd Couple

When we adopted Lucky and Rocky, we had no idea that they would turn out to be the stereotypical odd couple.   Rocky came home with us first and quickly settled in and within hours had ingratiated himself to every member of the household.  He would enter a room, make his way to each person and spend a bit of time cuddling and making eye contact, as if saying, “Hello, my name is Rocky!  I’m harmless and lots of fun.  Let’s be friends!”  What he lacked in years, he made up tenfold in pure puppy charm.  No one could resist his playful personality and big, black innocent eyes.  Within a week, he had all of us wrapped around his itty bitty puppy paws.

Lucky came home with us the following week after recuperating at the shelter following her spaying procedure.  Unlike Rocky, Lucky’s demeanor was decidedly more hesitant as she acclimated to her new home.  We attributed this difference to two things:  she was likely a stray for an extended period of time and had seen a harsher world outside the shelter than Rocky and she was also physically recovering from a surgical procedure.   What they did have in common, though, was that when it came to being around us, they took like fish to water and could not get enough affection.

Rocky, being the first to join our household, immediately assumed the leadership position.  He welcomed Lucky to the doggy den we set up in the corner of the family room leading out to the back yard, but also made it clear that she should observe and follow him as he already knew the lay of the land. 

Surprisingly, Lucky was very happy to follow his lead.  We spent many afternoons watching Rocky play the role of army general/cocky tour guide to Lucky’s quiet, awkward new kid in school.   Before long, however, we observed that Lucky followed Rocky not so much because he intimidated her, as we initially assumed, but rather because she regarded him as a more hyper and energetic younger brother to be tolerated whenever possible.

Within a few days after Lucky’s arrival, the two had become fast friends and ultimately conspirators in crime.  Rocky would almost always be the brains of the operation, leading the two astray as they explored the backyard, chewing up flower beds and jumping on patio furniture they weren’t supposed to, and Lucky would be the sometimes too quiet and timid voice of reason, fleeing first when their naughty exploits were uncovered by my mom.

That’s not to say, though,  that Lucky did not have a fair bit of influence on shaping Rocky’s behavior.

I learned by chance one afternoon that Lucky had taught Rocky a few tricks as well, when one of my friends glanced out the window at the pair and asked, “Hey, why does Rocky pee like a girl?”

Lesson learned.  Never underestimate dear, sweet Lucky.

New Names

It is said that names are harbingers of the potential that our parents see for us.   Some of us are named after famous people (movie stars, athletes, former presidents).  Others are named after a much loved relative or friend.  And sometimes, we are simply blessed (or cursed) with parents who have a wicked sense of humor and name us after fruit.

In the case of pet names, however, this is especially tricky.  Although Aunt Jane would be thrilled if you were to name your first born after her, she is unlikely to be ecstatic over the prospect of sharing her moniker with your first dog.   Which is why, despite the meet cute aspect of my mom sharing the same name with the adorable white poodle, we had to come up with new names for both dogs. 

While waiting to finalize the adoption papers, the three of us pondered the unique personalities and dispositions of the two dogs to come up with befitting names.  Somehow, the harder you try to come up with something perfect, that perfection remains elusive.  After thirty minutes of intense concentration, the three of us continued to draw a blank.

In the meantime, the feisty terrier strained at the leash everytime a new face appeared on the scene.  This was particularly true if a child happened to enter the room, as this served to amplify his eagerness to run over and play.  Clearly this was one dog who didn’t know the meaning of rejection.   The white poodle was equally excited to greet people, however, her enthusiasm was slightly more contained than the exuberant pup. 

My husband chucked as he watched the two dogs react to a small toddler who just entered the waiting area, tails wagging in unison.

“It’s hard to believe he was a return,” he remarked, “His confidence certainly seems intact.”

My mom laughed and said, “Yeah, you can tell he’s a fighter, that one.  You can knock him down but he’ll get right up like nothing happened.”

Noting the affection in my mom’s voice, I looked over at the poodle sitting calmly at her feet and said out loud, “Boy, that poodle sure is lucky you saw her first.”

The three of us looked at each other and burst out laughing.  We couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that we were about to leave with not one but two dogs in tow.  Here we were, a family that had remained resolutely dogless for over 30 years about to become fully entrenched with the “have dogs” side of the world.  Life is full of wonderful surprises.

As my mom got ready to sign the adoption papers, we finally decided on names for the two pups. 

World, meet Rocky and Lucky, two very unlikely best friends.

Meet and Greet

They say when you open a bag of potato chips, you can’t have just one.   Somehow that first bite will send you reaching into the bag for another taste.  And then another.  Until you are left with an empty bag of chips and only a hazy recollection of how you went from just one chip to just one bag.  If our journey into the world of dogs could be characterized by a sound effect, you would likely hear the sound of a bag of potato chips being ripped open.

The next day, we arrived at the shelter in the late afternoon to introduce my mom to ‘Lily”.   The minute “Lily” saw my mom, she bounded up to her, jumped up in enthusiastic greeting and nuzzled her calves.  They bonded instantly and my mom quickly made up her mind to adopt her namesake poodle.

As we made our way from the kennel towards the adoption desk (located in the middle of the compound), we crossed paths with one of the volunteers who was leading a small terrier pup on leash towards the kennel.  I’m not quite sure how to describe the energy of this little fellow, other than to say that every ounce of him exuded confidence and playfulness.  Tail erect and wagging profusely, the pup seemed to take three steps for every normal stride, resembling a kid skipping to the candy store with cash in hand. 

The volunteer noticed our admiring glance and stopped to greet us.   We told him we had decided on a dog and were on our way to finalize the adoption.  Then we asked about the puppy, as he seemed to be a new arrival to the shelter.    The kindly volunteer chuckled and told us that actually, it was the puppy’s 2nd stint back at the shelter.  He was  a “return”.   Apparently the family that adopted him didn’t realize what a handful a small puppy could be and came home unexpectedly to a room that had been decimated by the foraging dog.  The next afternoon, the puppy promptly found himself packed into the car and back at the shelter.  From the looks of his sunny disposition and eager spirits, though, he was none the wiser about the rejection.

As we were talking, the puppy had strained enough on his leash to make his way to “Lily”.  Unlike her encounters with other dogs, this time “Lily” did not growl and go into ready attack mode.  Instead, she let the puppy sniff her while she remained still and then proceeded to nuzzle him softly.  We were flabbergasted.

The volunteer motioned to continue towards the kennels, when suddenly my mom spoke up. 

“Why don’t you leave him with us and let us walk him around for a bit first.”

My husband and I both stared at my mom in amazement.  Speechless still, we watched her calmly take hold of the puppy’s leash and guide him along the pathway in a short loop around the compound.  Every so often the two would pause and we would hear my mom burst out in laughter over the terrier’s antics.   As I watched them, visions of my mom with a quiet and obedient dog by her side were suddenly pushed out by new ones of her running after a small, blurry bundle of energy.  That left me dizzy.

When she returned from the walk, I half-heartedly asked, “Okay, Mom, so which one will it be?”

She looked at me, a smile still on her face and said, “I’ll take both of them.”

Potato chips.  Once you’ve opened the bag, you can’t have just one.

The Shelter

If you are going to jump, don’t think, just jump. 

I think somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, there was a part of me that was yelling, “What are you doing?  Are you out of your mind?”  Except, that girl was locked up in a room somewhere in the hidden dungeons of my psyche and the only thing I could hear was a muffled, “la la la la la…”. 

That’s how I found myself several hours later walking up to the gates of the local shelter.  Then I stopped, and began to hear more than a slight muffle out of the frantic girl in the dungeon. 

I looked at my husband, and asked, voice tinged with worry, “Do you think the dogs can get out from their cages?”

He looked at me in his characteristically confident and self-assured manner and said, “No, of course not.  You’ll be fine.”

The shelter compound was comprised of a series of temperature controlled trailers, each housing approximately about 8 – 10 dogs.  Peering through one of the trailer windows, I could see rows of dogs behind transparent plastic and chain link fence enclosures, each posing in their most adorable “please-adopt-me-today” face. 

Upon stepping inside Trailer Number 1, I walked past a few small dogs and then froze and practically jumped a few feet when I came face to face with a huge Doberman that barreled up to the plastic separation.  

Rule  number 1 – Dogs can sense fear a mile a way and will react to it instantly.  Never show your fear. 


Like bees to honey, the barking started in chorus, with no dog wanting to be left out.  I could hear my heart pounding loudly in its chamber and dashed out of the trailer, with my husband trailing in the distance.  

When at first you don’t succeed, swallow your fear and try again.

We hopped into the next trailer and tried again, this time, with an intentional effort to remain calm, no matter the size of the beast.   

Immediately a small white poodle that had been lounging in the corner of the kennel pranced up to the window and placed one paw on the plastic separator and the other front paw in the quarter inch space beneath the chain link fence.  Our hearts melted instantly. 

This was the one. 

Already visions of this dog following my mom obediently from room to room and sitting calmly at her feet while she typed away at the computer floated through my head.  Even more ironic?  The shelter staff had named this dog, Lily.  Lily was my mom’s name.

We asked the shelter staff to bring “Lily” out on leash and took her for a stroll around the compound.  She reconfirmed every initial sweet impression we had of her.  Upon meeting us face to face for the first time, she jumped up to greet us and wagged her tail enthusiastically. 

We quickly learned, however, that she was not discriminating in this respect.   When we passed a stranger, she would skip up to them and repeat her friendly greeting.  This happened with each person we passed along the way, until we came to one with a dog.

That was when we discovered that sweet “Lily” was not so sweet around other dogs.  She became a veritable Jekyll and Hyde, straining at the leash and uttering a low pitched growl whenever she came within smelling distance of another canine, and then alternating back to a docile pet when no other dogs were around. 

Okay, so “Lily” doesn’t play well with other kids.  That’s easy enough to fix, right?  

We quickly made up our minds to look no further and chose “Lily”, or she chose us, depending on how you look at it.   All we had left to do now was to arrange for my mom to stop by the shelter for a meet and greet with her namesake and then take “Lily” home.

All in a day’s work.

The Email

As emails go, the ones from my mom generally meet the bare minimum criteria.  They typically are comprised of a subject line and a link to one of the many articles that may have caught her eye that day.  And like cookies, they tend to come in batches, letting me know when my mom has commenced her daily “web browsing” session.   The topics of these emails range from gardening tips and health trends (“Green Tea Can Prevent Cancer”) to the odd news story not typically picked up by the mainstream outlets (“Eighty Year Old Woman Marries Husband Number Six”).

The one I received one morning in early September was no different.  No salutation, no preamble, just subject line and link.  My typical response was to automatically hit reply and tease her that I had already read about said news – last month.  

But this time, I took a closer glance at the subject.  It read – “People feel more support from pet talk than talking with a friend or spouse.”  That illicited a chuckle from me as between my brothers and me, we probably talk to my mom on the phone at least ten times a day.  No exaggeration.  My mom likes to talk on the phone (though she won’t admit it). 

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link and perused the article that highlighted the benefits of pet companionship and the ability of pets to improve the physical and emotional health of its owners.   My mom had seemed a little lonely lately and I was starting to get worried that it might turn into occasional bouts of depression. 

A kernel of a thought started to form in my head and I hit reply to my mom’s email and asked her, tongue-in-cheek, whether her email was a solicitation for a dog or cat.  As expected, her reply was a characteristic, “Thanks, but no thanks.”   A series of back and forth emails later, and I had convinced her to visit the local animal shelter to “just take a look around”.  Fateful words.

That was Wednesday, and by Saturday we had taken home our first dog, a rambunctious three-month old terrier pup we named “Rocky”.  By the following Saturday, we took home another dog from the shelter, a sweet-as-pie three-year old poodle we named “Lucky”. 

Did I forget to mention the date that the wheels on this express train started rolling?   September 9, 2009.    A day, my mom had reminded me in her first email of the day, that was believed to harbor special energies due to the rare occurence of the stream of repeating single digits in the date.  We will not see another date like this for almost another century.  Even more auspicious?  The number 9 holds a special place in Chinese beliefs as it symbolizes completion, compassion and forgiveness.   Whatever the reason, it was enough to get couples to rush to the altar and convince Apple to push back its iPod release date to take advantage of the special date.

I am not terribly superstitious, but I do know that somehow, as the events unfolded, I completely forgot one important thing that day.  I was terrified of dogs.

Kate’s Story

Serendipity is ubiquitous.  Sometimes it take years to overcome a fear or phobia and sometimes it is simply a matter of waking up one day and forgetting that you were ever sidelined with an irrational fear for most of your waking life and putting in motion the events to face your fear head on. 

Hello, my name is Kate and for at least 27 years of my life I was terrified of dogs.  Ever since an incident involving an overeager labrador retriever and a 10 minute chase around a merry-go-round when I was 5 years old (he was playing, I thought I was going to die in the park), I have been afraid of dogs.  It didn’t matter big or small, cute or ugly, a sighting of any dog was enough to send chills up my spine and force me to cross the street to avoid potential contact with the four-legged critter.  

It was a fear that always lay just beneath the surface, innocuous enough that I seldom thought about it, but still present nonetheless.  An aforementioned sighting or a casual invitation to stop by a neighbor’s house (most of my neighbors have dogs) were common triggers that brought the fear to the surface before it would eventually subside again once an encounter was avoided.   

Despite living in a country in which man’s best friend was as American and common as pie , I had come to terms with my fear and learned to work around it.   My closest friends knew about it (and often joked about it), as did acquaintances who invited me to their homes (always had to check if they had dogs).   On the whole, I considered it a minor inconvenience in the entire scheme of possible phobias.  After all, see dog, cross the street, resume walking was not terribly difficult to implement when the need arose.

I’ll let you in on another secret.  Although I was afraid of dogs, I also greatly admired them, from afar, of course.  Throughout literature and film, dogs have been depicted as loyal, dependable and courageous, all traits I revered.  I went to see Marley and Me and cried at the end, blending in with the sea of proud dog lovers reaching for a hankie.   So you could say that I liked dogs in theory, just not in real life, when they are prone to run up to you and bark and jump and try to lick you.  My  mantra was look, but don’t touch.

Everything I just described changed, however, one day, many months after my 32nd birthday.  And it all started out with an email from my mom.