I walked in to find the wife reading a text message from her sister Amber. She then hurried to her laptop and brought up Facebook. “Ohhhh,” she said a moment later, in a sad tone.
“What? What is it?” I asked, moving over to look. On the screen was a picture of a St. Bernard sitting on a patch of bare dirt, a chain attached to the collar at her neck. She looked a little dirty and thin, but was beautiful all the same. The Facebook page was a collection of classified ad listings for the Fort Knox-area. The dog in question was a 10-month-old full-blooded St. Bernard called “Darla” who was owned by a family whose financial circumstances had recently changed to the point that they had to leave their home and could no longer care for such a growing large dog. The pooch, we were told by Amber, was living with some relatives of the owners. Inwardly, I cursed when I heard this, because I could see in that moment a terrifying possible future outcome, one which I had been fighting against for the past two years and hoped to continue doing so for years to come.
Let me back up.
For the past, say, 26 months now, the wife has wanted a St. Bernard. She used to have one named Honeybee when she lived in Alaska and loved her dearly. Unfortunately, Honey Bee died about a year after we began dating in 1998. Since then, she has wanted another Saint and our existing dogs were acquired while trying to acquire St. Bernards.
In fact, it was a very similar photo of a very similar sad orphaned puppy that I saw staring at me from a computer screen back in 2008 just days before she came into our life as our dog Sadie. Sadie was supposed to be a St. Bernard, but turned out to be a more likely candidate for a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix. Our more recent dog, Moose, was also supposed to be a mix of St. Bernard and Leonberger, which would have made for a ginormous dog had this actually been true. No one thought to tell him he needed to keep growing beyond the 45 pounds he’s managed in his four years of life, though, so mainly he’s just a brown dog. During the past couple of years, though, the wife has continued to lobby for trying again to find a full blooded saint and this is a lobbying effort I have fought strongly against.
Two dogs, in my oft-stated opinion, was great—especially our two dogs, who are just wonderful, eager-to-please little beasties who only occasionally roll in fecal matter (which one of them has done TODAY!!!!). However, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to mold them into their near-feacalless-semi-perfection. They mostly get along, hardly chase the cats at all, and it was a delicate dynamic I wasn’t interested in upsetting by introducing another dog. Three dogs, I said, would be terrible, especially when two of them would be very large dogs. We’d have to walk them in shifts. (Heh, “we.”) And forget just popping them in the car and heading to the beach to stay with Ashley’s parents and grandmother. Two they can handle, but with three it gets crowded, and fast. Plus, I said, what about the camping trips we’ve recently begun to take–especially the kayaking camping trips? We can barely kayak with two dogs, let alone a third really giant, heavy dog. It would have to have its own kayak or learn to swim. There was also the matter of caring for, training, and providing post-midnight potty sessions for a new dog, most of the responsibility for which would fall upon my shoulders. The wife would get to come home and have all the good times with few of the bad times.
However, as many selfish reasons as I was able to come up with, the major reason I saw came down to our existing two dogs and their temperament around other dogs: it’s been dicey. Sadie either tries to herd them or growls at them and Moose, when he’s been around puppies in the past, tends to start drooling and snapping at them. Adding a third would potentially be catastrophic.
With all that in mind, I was fully prepared to go back into my list of reasons a third dog was a woefully bad idea. I didn’t want to look at the dog’s picture, I didn’t want to hear its sob story. I just wanted to maintain our comfortable status quo. (And plot revenge against Amber for this attack up on our household.) However, there were two factors getting in my way:
1) My own stupid mouth, which betrayed me a year or so back after I had spotted an ad on the bulletin board at our vet’s office offering a free adult St. Bernard which could not be kept by its owner because it didn’t have enough space to roam, and then my mouth told that fact to my wife later, like that was a good idea somehow. Her response, of course, was “Let’s go.” And then I had to list all my reasons why we shouldn’t do that. Could have just kept my damn lips zipped, but had to go blabbing something I knew would hurt her soul. I still felt guilty at my own dumbass nature.
The second factor was that even then I could see tears welling up in Ashley’s eyes. She wasn’t pouring them on for my benefit, but was genuinely moved at the plight of this dog (a dog the listing assured was sweet and great with children). I could feel my resolve beginning to crumble. I still believed all of the reasons I had in hand to be true—however, what was also true was that I loved this woman enough to endure the potential tragedy and turmoil of a new dog.
She looked to me to make the final decision, knowing full well what I was likely to say. And in that moment, I thought, “What the hell—it’s her birthday. She said she wanted something big.” I said, yes.
The wife immediately called her sister, and they made arrangements for Amber to drive to where the dog was living to pick it up. Ashley, in turn, waited until our guests for movie night had been fed, then hit the road for Kentucky to pick up her new pooch.
The next day, I finished up my painting on the horse project—which was starting to seem a bit less worthy of a birthday surprise when compared to a new St. Bernard. Soon it was time to remove the horse decal and see what I had on my hands. I was very hesitant, because there would be no going back, especially if I tore the decal. And when I did slowly peel the decal away, I did indeed tear the shit out of it. Still, what lay beneath—or rather, what didn’t—looked pretty good. It was the silhouette of a horse in bare, weathered wood. It wasn’t exactly… striking–at least not in the same way as the original piece I was inspired by. But it was kind of cool. Seeing it made me wish I had done a bit more painting around the edges, to help give the bare shape contrast. Maybe it would need staining.
Not long after I did the reveal to myself, I got a text from the wife saying she was in the area and would be home within 20 minutes. Soon enough, her Element pulled up and I got my first glimpse of the gigantic thing that was to be our new pooch.