I spent a recent weekend in a five-bedroom house by a lake with my family: three senior citizens; my husband, who occasionally takes advantage of 55-and-over discounts; two middle-aged siblings and their spouses; two wildly, gleefully, obnoxiously teenage boys; one 12-year-old reveling in his status as the family’s youngest; and five tail-wagging, panting, barking dogs.
In my family, we are our dogs. And I am increasingly certain that we have the dogs we deserve.
My parents have a spoiled-rotten Bichon named Mila. I’m not being mean. I’m just repeating what’s written on the sign that my parents bought and have hung from Mila’s crate in their bedroom. The sign clearly reads “A spoiled rotten Bichon lives here.” And that’s the truth.
The fact that my mother, who is not at the least bit into cutesy or kitschy, would spend good money on a cute piece of kitsch says a lot.
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But I’m convinced Mila, who even my doting parents will acknowledge came to them under false pretenses with a far-from-pure pedigree, is what I call a Boodle — part Bichon with a fair amount of poodle (not the good part) thrown in.
Mila came to my parents free of charge only to run up a $700 veterinarian bill within days of her arrival (bad teeth, missing shots and a dog much older in years than she had been advertised were just the start of this love affair).
But my mom carries her around like a sweater and my dad calls her “little girl” and darned if that yappy dog doesn’t just adore them right back and give them something to get up for in the morning.
My one brother has a real Bichon, Bella, a sweet puffball with black shoe-button eyes. Bella skipped the trip to the lake and instead spent the weekend with the couple who own her mother and two of her relatives. Bella is smart.
This same brother’s wife adopted a sad, sickly ball of curly fur a couple of years ago. That dog defied the odds from his near-death experience and became Mack. All full-body wiggle with a stump of a tail constantly twitching and full-body fluff the color of honey, Mack could be all sweetness and light if it wasn’t for his bark — a shrill exclamation that is rapidly repeated, causing children and grown-ups alike to yell “Mack!” which doesn’t really help the situation.
But then Mack cocks his head to the side, plants his feet like he’s defending Fort Knox and wiggles some more, and all is forgiven (at least until he opens his mouth again).
My other brother has Grace — and plenty of grief. Grace is another rescue.
Found half-drowned in the river, a mangled mess, Gracie made a full recovery, with the exception of her crooked tail that swishes to an off beat, a break that never properly healed. Sweet and beautiful, a golden girl, Grace gently begs for love — a head resting on your knee, a full-body sprawl curled at your feet — and rewards even the slightest of pats with devotion.
The good-natured grief comes in the shape of Ringo, a Jack Russell terrier that has shared Grace’s home for the past 10 months. Wound and wiry, with boundless energy and enthusiasm for pretty much anything that moves everything (Chipmunks! Squirrels! People! More chipmunks! The same chipmunks!), Ringo boasts a large marking over one ear that at any given time looks like either a jaunty French beret or a slightly left-of-center yarmulke. It definitely gives him a certain “je ne sais quoi.” Oy vey!
And finally there’s Rudy, our Dalmatian. Rambunctious with an insatiable appetite for destruction, namely single shoes — never a complete pair — and other household accoutrements (this is the dog that gnawed on a pillow earlier that same week with telltale feathers popping up — and out — of all of the likely places), after five years, Rudy remains indebted and hopelessly loyal to my husband (well, after all, he is the one who feeds him). Rudy’s redeeming feature is his smile, a charming curl of his lip and show of his teeth, which is not to be confused with his snarl, in which his teeth are bared and his ears flat back (believe me, I know the difference).
So I spent a long weekend with family. Did I mention that there were 17 of us in all?
There were a few accidents. Some butted their heads into others’ business. There was some yipping and yapping, a lot of clamoring for attention and one short-lived scuffle.
All in all, just a usual family affair.