Sure, he was nearly eleven, but I wasn’t ready for him to collect his doggie gold watch just yet.
“Do you think there’s something wrong with him?” I asked my husband, stroking Buster’s silky ears.
“No. He’s just getting old and lazy. Maybe he needs a buddy. Another dog to perk him up.”
Buster had been an “only dog” for nearly all his life. As empty nesters, we had installed the good-natured rescue mutt at the center of our small universe. I worried: would we be able to find an appropriate companion for him? Could he even adjust to another dog at this late stage? Were we doing the right thing?
The next week, we went to the animal shelter—sans Buster. A youngish male Beagle or Lab mix might be just the thing, we thought…five or six years old with plenty of energy but well beyond puppyhood. Not too large and certainly not one of those annoying, yappy small dogs.
I shot up a quick prayer as we entered the gate: how on earth would we know which dog would be a fit? We explained the situation to a helpful volunteer in a green vest, who gave us a cheerful smile and said, “I know just the one!”
My husband raised an eyebrow, shrugged, and followed her to a nearby enclosure. Inside, was an overweight, geriatric female Chihuahua with poor vision and worse teeth.
“This is Bonnie,” the aide gestured with a flourish. “She’s only been here a few days, but she’s a real sweetheart. Her owners were quite elderly and could no longer take care of her.” Dubious, I took a tentative step towards the pooch.
“Hi Bonnie,” I said, putting my hand close to her white muzzle.
Like an animated sausage, Bonnie wriggled her fat blonde body and wagged her short tail, trying to lick my fingers through the metal mesh, elated that her new mother and father had finally arrived.
“Dear?” I turned to my husband with a look of desperation. It was a no-kill shelter, but I just couldn’t leave the poor little thing in that cage. Bonnie was still optimistic and eager, unlike most of the dogs who had been there longer. She just wanted to go home.
Assured that we could return Bonnie should she and Buster not get along, we committed to the adoption (along with an astronomic future dental bill) and took her to meet her new brother.
Buster gave her a perfunctory sniff and meandered away, unfazed.
Later, after they played the equivalent of canine rock-paper-scissors for dominance (Buster won, barely), Bonnie settled in to her new surroundings, while Buster adjusted to the change in his, a bit perplexed but accepting.
Responding to a caring environment and new fitness regimen, Bonnie blossomed, surprisingly healthy for twelve years old. Like a pebble in your shoe or a pesky little sister, she did her job well, shaking Buster from his lethargy and provoking him to activity again.
There was just one problem. Bonnie turned out to be one of those yappy small dogs that we had always disparaged. (God does have a sense of humor.)
Whenever she was excited or anxious, Bonnie whined. Incessantly. From bird-like chirps to high-pitched wails, her oversized emotions manifested in decibels that should have come with a warning label. Dinner? Leash? Car ride? Owner returning home? Dog, human, or wind-blown bag crossing her field of view? All prompted eardrum-rupturing yelps, yips, whimpers, and squeals. Bonnie’s avatar is a tea kettle.
Eventually training, time, and the warm blanket of security have muffled the intensity of her auditory assaults. We’ve adapted, as well, learning to laugh at her funny inflections: tones that rise like a question or drop in disgust like a sullen teenager who has to be home by 10:00.
The irritating but lovable interloper has turned out to be exactly what our family needed. My pets have taught me many things, but especially this: it’s never too late for a new adventure, an opportunity to grow and learn and change. At the end of the day, I smile as Buster and Bonnie settle into their matching beds, content in this season together.