Monday, March 21, 2011

Play: Travels with Cleo

A lot of people consider their dog to be sort of a practice child.  While my husband and I wouldn't have admitted it to ourselves back in 2002 when we first got our little Boston Terrier, Cleo, it's surely no coincidence that a year later I was seven months pregnant with Big E.

If you met Cleo, you'd be really glad that we had the opportunity to practice on an animal before we started in on human babies.

Cleo stoically tolerates the girls' pokes and pulls. She is so reliably housetrained that I think she'd sooner rupture her bladder than embarrass us all with a puddle on the floor. She welcomes us home with an enthusiastic flurry of licks whether we've been gone for 10 hours or 10 minutes.  She love us immensely; it's the rest of the world that she can't tolerate.

Our vet has flagged Cleo's file with a bright orange "caution" sign.  When he found out that we had children, he was horrified to the point that I wondered if he wouldn't make a call to Child Protective Services.

During a visit to another vet's office to check bandages on a mysterious (and expensive) wound she got during a rare escape from our fenced yard, she leaped at least three feet in the air in an attempt to clamp onto the crotch of a friendly technician who'd had the audacity to wave hello to her.  His fertility was saved only by the plastic cone she'd been forced to wear around her neck.

Once on a ferry boat ride to an island rental cottage, after she rebuffed a fellow passenger's attempts to befriend her, he sympathetically asked if we'd rescued her from an abusive home, and more than once people have politely inquired about whether we'd ever consider sending her to one of those no-kill shelters.

Because of Cleo's anti-social tendencies, my parents are pretty much the only people who can (or will) dogsit for us.  So when we all attended a family engagement party in New Jersey the weekend before last, we were forced to take Cleo on the road.  As an added bonus, my husband, the girls and I were staying with my in-laws who are definitely not dog people.  My mother-in-law is, in fact, terrified of dogs and has been scared of Cleo since she first met her when she was just a fluffy guinea pig-sized puppy I could hold in the palm of my hand, long before we knew she was vicious.

So I fretted about this trip for weeks, imagining various scenarios that involved my in-laws huddled in terror on top of the dining room table or animal control officers storming the house with tranquilizer guns.  I was convinced that failure was the only option.

Cleo, apparently, had other ideas.  Save the occasional dirty look or low octave growl at my father-in-law, she was a model travelling companion.  She wagged her tail at my mother-in-law but knew enough not to approach her, she exhibited far better manners than Little E on the trip, and unlike the children she was happy to sleep for the entire six-hour drive home.

It was a relief and it was a lesson: I must stop catastrophizing and expecting the worst of every situation.  Thanks to the practice child for reminding me so that I might learn to spare the actual children.
Let's hope my mother-in-law never stumbles across this photo of our dog contaminating her pristine white spread.

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