This was the legend on a small, long-empty wooden picture frame my daughter gave me for Christmas more than a year ago.
“It’s for your dog,” Hallie said at the time.
“I don’t have one,” I countered. “You will,” she responded, with a certainty normally reserved for zealots on the far fringes of the American political spectrum.
I’ve had many dogs through my life, but I’m now down to one cat – a black-and-white former feral named Stanley.
So, at 72 and living on my own, I was suddenly an elderly “cat guy.”
This was not OK with my daughter. “You need a dog,” repeated Hallie last summer. By this time she had adopted her own first canine and spoke with the fervor of a convert.
I SHRUGGED it off.
I was traveling a lot and didn’t want the heavy trappings of dog ownership. I was happy to do without fleas, ticks, heartworm, kennel stays, skunk sprays, vet visits, in-house accidents, shed hair, nighttime barking, fights with the cat and who knows what else. Then what if I chose the wrong dog or the wrong breed? I was not at all ready for commitment.
Maybe someday, I told Hallie, but not yet.
This did not discourage her.
So I enlisted sons Ben and Nick as a front guard.
“Hallie’s planning to get you a dog this weekend,” they’d warn in advance of her Sonora visits. I’d quickly schedule appointments, engagements, car repairs, bike rides or doctor checkups, leaving no time for shelter visits.
Christmas came and went, and Hallie’s Woof frame began its second empty year.
BUT MY DAUGHTER is nothing if not persistent, and this year she redoubled her efforts. She was coming up from her Los Angeles home in late January. “Can we just look?” Hallie pleaded, saying we’d hit the Sonora-area shelters on a Friday afternoon.
“Yes, but no promises,” I relented, still not at all ready for a dog.
As her visit approached, I called Animal Control and the Humane Society to check Friday adoption hours. Both were closed after 1 p.m. Looked like I would dodge another canine bullet. Finally I called Friends of the Animal Community, hoping to hear a “closed-at-noon” recording. No such luck.
I not only got a human being, but one who knows me. “Chris, you’re looking for a dog??” exulted FOAC President Darlene Matthews. “Well, do I ever have one for you!”
Before I could hedge or hang up, Darlene told me all about Lily, a five-year-old Australian shepherd cross. “Her photo’s online,” she told me. “Take a look. And, by the way, you’re pre-approved for adoption.”
SUDDENLY, I was on very thin ice. Now I’d have to look a dog – or at least picture of a dog – in the face. And deep down I knew, and Hallie knew, I could be a sucker for mutts.
Over the decades I’ve had nearly a dozen dogs, mostly two or three at a time. They slept on my bed, joined me on walks, and always offered a wag and a lick when times were grim. They were long part of life.
I looked at Lily’s online pic for maybe three seconds, thought she looked agreeable, and forwarded it to Hallie. “Ahhhh!!!” she texted back in about three more seconds. “SO CUTE. Can we meet her tomorrow??”
But why would anyone give up such a dog, the skeptic in me wondered. Does she bite, scratch, stink or scowl? “Her owner went to the hospital, and he’s not coming back,” Darlene answered. The heartbreak hushed me quickly.
So on Friday Hallie and I drove to Twain Harte, where Lily was being fostered by a FOAC volunteer.
“SHE’S NOT super affectionate,” warned the vol. “Don’t expect a lot of licking.”
Then, as we knelt down to get acquainted, Lily licked both Hal and me. That pretty much ended the story: I took her home that very day.
“You totally caved to Hallie,” son Ben reacted, seeing me as the victim of a calculated power play. But this victim ended up with a fully trained, very affectionate, well-mannered and companionable pal. No house training or obedience classes necessary.
Before the weekend was out, Hallie painted a portrait of Lily for the long-vacant Woof frame. Then she took a shot of me and my new friend during a Saturday walk with her own dog, Spinelli. I sent it to a few friends.
“If you ever get into online dating, use that picture!” said one. “Women will flock to you.”
Or, far more likely, to my dog.
NOW LIL AND I have been together for more than a month.
I got a free exam from Twain Harte Vet and discount dog bowls, beds and bones from Dusty’s Den and Pet Smart. I’ve taken her walking or snowshoeing almost every day, and she can’t get enough. She sleeps next to my bed and every night jumps up to lick me goodnight.
I shortened her name to Lil, which has a saloon-girl feel befitting both the Mother Lode and my new dog’s somewhat checkered past.
Lil’s file by turn lists her as border collie mix, Australian shepherd cross, German shep/Aussie, shepherd mix, and, my favorite, “black-and-brown dog.”
She even has a few AKAs, including Lyla and Leila.
Her age, too, is a moving target, alternatively said to be “four-plus,” five, five and a half, and “unknown.” But 2018 vet-office invoice lists Lil’s birthday as Aug. 31, 2011 – which would make her seven and a half.
THAT PUTS HER at about 53 in dog years – which is still a lot younger than my 72 human years.
But none of this stuff means a thing. Who cares if Lil’s not a “papered dog” with a mile of lineage, a bunch of fancy names, a weekly grooming appointment and cousins on the show circuit? Neither of us puts on airs or would even know how.
We were both older, single and looking for a friend (although Hallie realized this long before I did). The folks at FOAC got us together. Animal Control and the Humane Society can do the same. What’s more, newly adopted dogs come neutered, up to date on vaccines and ready to hang out.
But, you might by now be wondering, how does Stanley the cat fit in?
Well, Stan’s still the boss around here. And Lil and I, well, we just aren’t going to fight it.