September-October 2019 | Bethesda Magazine

Dog Days

Having a puppy is great, except when it isn’t

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Photo by Liz Lynch

One day in the spring of 2018, I found myself lying flat on the kitchen floor, throwing a pity party. A doctor later told me I had pneumonia, but at the time I only knew that my head felt too heavy to lift off the cool tile. I started to cry. Mellie, my 10-pound golden fluff-ball puppy, pounced on me like the cub from The Lion King and licked my tears, eyeballs included. I started coughing and laughing and coughing and laughing. Her dog kisses cheered me up.

Mellie, a Cavachon—part bichon frise, part Cavalier King Charles spaniel—had been with us for about five weeks. Getting a dog was a long time coming. My 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter had been lobbying for one since they could speak. One of my son’s first words was dog. When he was little, the only way I could get in a decent run was to push him in a jogging stroller on the Capital Crescent Trail and have him point out the dogs he saw. The same tactic worked on my daughter. Over the years, they’ve written several persuasive school essays about dogs, and “dog” was always first on their Santa lists. One Christmas, when the kids were in elementary school, we surprised them with a guinea pig. We only had to feed Ginger daily and clean her cage every month, and in return she was delightfully happy, spending many nights nestling in someone’s armpit while they read or watched TV. My kids loved Ginger, who lived until she was 5, but they would not get off their dog kick.

The writer and her
dog, Mellie, at home
in Bethesda. Photo by Liz Lynch

With my children getting older and more able to help out (we hoped), we decided it was time for a dog. But we probably weren’t really ready. I’d only considered the positives. My husband, Brett, and I both had great experiences with dogs while growing up. I got Sniffy, who looked a lot like Mellie, when I was 5, and she slept with me at night and cuddled with me during the day. But looking back, my parents did all the hard labor. When Brett was in college and a black Lab puppy ended up at his fraternity house, he brought her home to his parents. They also did all the work; his main role was to cuddle with her when he managed to get home for a weekend.

Cuddling aside, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into with Mellie. Every month, a new report seems to detail how pets are the latest, greatest elixir, with an ability to help improve our physical, mental and emotional health. More than 63 million households in the U.S. own a dog, according to the most recent National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. I expected that Mellie would be a joyful addition to my family—and she is—but I wasn’t thinking about what could go wrong.

I’ve discovered that dogs are a huge time suck, extremely expensive and tend to behave in all kinds of surprising ways that can be annoying and at times seriously troubling. Frankly, a dog can be a big pain in the neck. My kids chose the name Mellie, which is short for Carmela, the wife of the mob boss in The Sopranos. She’s a real pistol, as my mother-in-law likes to say. If I turn my back for a second, Mellie kangaroo leaps onto the dining room table, makes a mad dash for the napkins and races around the room shredding them. If she’s left alone in the backyard for a few minutes, she goes into adventure mode and gets herself stuck under the deck. We discovered that she’s a hunter (I won’t get into the details), and she’s also known for spotting open bathroom doors, racing in, grabbing the toilet paper and TP’ing the entire house.