Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rotten Baby

The books, veterinarians, and our friends warned us that Bichons were known as attention-cravers. “High maintenance,” they said, “don’t let their small size fool you.” My parents took note of everyone’s advice, but their curiosity took the better of them when she was born on December 6, 2007.

The litter was unusually large. Bichon litters tend to consist of three to four pups, but she was from a litter of seven. “The more, the merrier!” I thought, even though they said large litters can create overly hyper, aggressive puppies. Still, my mom fell in love with her when holding her in the palm of her hand. I fell in love with her when I bathed her at the breeder’s house and her delicate white curls melted away in the sudsy water.

After much thought, we settled on the name “Missy.” She was, after all, going to be the proper miss-priss, well-trained type that would wear bows in her ears and pink princess t-shirts. But when we took her home, she knew we were mere fools at her disposal and “well-trained” flew through the doggy-door. If the pink fleece blanket, array of soft, plushy beds, or scattered bones didn’t give us away, well, maybe the fact that the house looked like PetSmart upchucked in it did.

It only took a couple of weeks for Missy to learn that her pleading, black-eyed stares would earn her scraps of steak and cheese at the dinner table, which soon transcended into packages of cheese bought especially for her at the grocery store. She learned when I ate a bowl of icecream that she could nuzzle her way onto my lap with a kiss and then freely dip her head into my bowl for licks. And she learned to sit at my father’s feet at night, when he read and ate snack mix.

After a couple of months, we quickly learned that bathroom doors must be kept shut. If a door were inadvertently cracked open, she’d edge her way in to snatch the ends of the dangling toilet paper. She’d then run through the bedrooms and down the hallway, all the while keeping yard upon yard of the quilted, perforated squares intact. I always knew when Missy had assailed the toilet paper, because I’d find mounds of it looped back into the holder by my mother.

It also didn’t take long for our clothing to accumulate small holes and tears from Missy’s constant nips and gnawing. I no longer have elbows on my favorite burgundy sweater or embroidery on my sweatshirts from Missy’s attacks. “No, no” my mother would sternly warn Missy while holding up her index finger. “Be the alpha male,” they said. But Missy would have none of it. She always responded with growls that ended with her lounging in to tap my mother’s finger with her nose as a final act of defiance.

And chase her tail? Oh no. Missy’s too smart for that. She literally catches her tail, even if it’s paired with a couple of yelps here and there. And when she’s done, she’s beaming, with clumps of hair hanging from her mouth.

These days, we are quite accustomed to Missy’s affinity for shredding paper. In fact, just the other day, she stumbled upon my father’s stack of insurance records that he hadn’t had time to file. Shredded paper can’t even begin to describe the mayhem in his office, which was reminiscent of the annual winter wonderlands in malls. Think of his office as layered with the plastic, artificial snow mounded around Santa’s chair.

“Rotten bay-beeeeeeee!” my father says every evening, when he steps in the door from work. “No touch, no talk, no eye contact,” they say. But he follows this with an upwards scooping of Missy who is still squealing and wriggling in his arms. She licks him everywhere—up his nose, in his mouth, on his glasses, in his ears. After my dad sits her back down on the floor, she runs in laps, faster than Danica Patrick could drive, around the house: through the hallway, kitchen, family room, living room, then back through the hallway, all the while half-shrieking, half throaty-growling this “raaaa—raaaaahh-raaa—rahhhhh!” of hers. This has been their routine for the past two years.

At night, Missy always curls up against me, and she nuzzles her nose in the nape of my neck. We share the same pillow, and I cover her up with my comforter until only the tip of her black nose peeks through. Her baby breath lands in soft poofs against my cheek, and I hear her snores. “I love you,” I say, “you’re mine.”

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