Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Alas, there comes a time in every child's life when they will want their own dog. That time came a few years ago when our then eight year old daughter, Zoe, pleaded and even pledged to help care for a new dog. She had already selected a name: "Agony." I was not optimistic.

Days later Zoe and I bought a beautiful yellow Labrador puppy at the neighborhood pet store. We brought the feisty little dog home and tried our best to train her. But Agony was quite a handful. That night, shortly after she got home from work, Mom had a severe allergic reaction (or panic attack). After a night of personal agony, Mom's brother agreed to take Agony home with him and end our agony. He renamed her Daisy and she is now a beautiful ninety pounds.

Zoe and I tried again a few months later. This time we wanted a small hypoallergenic dog with a calm temperament. Working through a breeder, Zoe and I were introduced to a four-pound four-week old Maltese with sweet eyes and shy demeanor. Moments later Zoe was carrying her "Cleo" home.

Cleo immediately became the center of attention in our household, the Empress. She demanded body contact with a human at all times. First she would offer her butt and seem to say, "I like you, give me a scratch." She backs into your leg or sits on your foot if you are standing. She jumps up into your lap and offers you her back if you are seated. She will stalk you from room to room, even up and down the stairs. She never wants to be alone.

Cleo is the official greeter in our home. She barks and runs to the front door when the doorbell rings. She will enthusiastically greet whoever is at the door, wiggling her tail, jumping up and down and sniffing the person. If it is someone she knows she will insist on being picked up so she can lick their face. On the other hand, if you try to leave her alone at home she will hide under a bed in an effort to avoid being confined to quarters.

Cleo understands several words. For instance, she knows that "outside" means she's going outside. We have been forced to speak in code. The word "walk" is now the reverse: "klaw." But Cleo appears to be catching on so we are now considering switching languages. What's Chinese for walk?

Cleo will not go out in rain, snow, cold or heavy winds. In other words, in weather unsuitable for an empress. Assuming the weather is good enough to take Cleo for a klaw, she zigzags from smell to smell. She avoids walking on sewers or sidewalk grates. She plants her paws firmly when she wants to stop. If I don't want to stop I will continue to pull. This is called taking Cleo for a "drag."

When it is time to "do her business" Cleo will suddenly lunge for the curb, tugging her escort along. She then walks in progressively tighter circles, like an airplane landing on an aircraft carrier, until she drops her load. She immediately tries to flee the bombing scene, as if the load is about to explode.

Cleo will eat only certain foods. She eschews most dog foods, preferring some human dinner at the kitchen table. Over time she has developed a real knack for getting what she wants. At first she put on the sad pose of a real victim, "a few scraps for the poor?" After several months she began hitting me in the thigh with her front paws, "will you give me some food!” Then she started barking very loudly, "I demand food now or I will annoy you to death with my incessant barking." Now she has begun pushing her bowl across the room to the kitchen table, then she bangs the bowl with her paws, "put the food in here!" Maltese are definitely smart dogs.

By the way, the veterinarian says Cleo is too fat. She weighs in at 6.8 pounds, one pound more than is normal for a dog her size. That means she has to lose more than 20% of her current weight. If such a demand were made of me I would have to lose thirty pounds or more!

Cleo's weight may have something to do with her latest bad habit, snoring. Like a majority of dog owners, our dog sleeps with us at night. Maybe Cleo has sleep apnea? No matter, it would be hard for our family to impose and enforce a strict diet on Cleo. But we are cutting back on her snacks and increasing her exercise.

Which leads to this final point. You know how Zoe pledged to take care of Cleo as a condition for getting a dog in the first place? Feed, clean up and regularly play with the dog? Surprise, surprise, this responsibility has fallen to the adults.

But, your royal highness, we wouldn't want it any other way!

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