First Puppy

I wonder if Cleo dreams of me. I think this as I watch her eyelids twitch and shake, her paws kick at the worn fabric of the blue and white couch we’ve inherited from Michael’s parents. I watch her sleep. Her mouth quivers, her eyes open a little, and I can see them rolling, see the deep brown fall back in exchange for that bright puppy white. I hope that it’s a good dream. I do not know if dogs can have nightmares.

I have never had a dog before, only cats. The cats I grew up with were Maine Coons – big and smart, lumbering and lazy, fluffy and loving. We called them Puppy Cats. They followed us around. They came when we called them, most of the time.

I never thought I’d have a dog because a neighbor’s giant dog named Boku jumped on my face one Halloween when I was little and for years I would not go near a dog, big or small. Then I fell in love with a man who was allergic to cats. He introduced me to his childhood lab, Maggie. Maggie never jumped. She stopped licking when you asked her. She smiled a lot.

Little by little, I approached dogs walking beside their owners on the streets, or playing fetch in the park. I pet them. I watched their people give them commands and they obeyed willingly, happily. I watched the almonds of their eyes light up when their humans scratched their ears. Dogs, I decided, were good people.

Cleo has lived with us for two weeks now and we are learning each other. I am starting to understand her different grunts and whines and barks, and she knows that she can always come cuddle with me, but that a stern “enough” means she needs to stop biting. When I hold a treat above her and say “sit” she does and tenses her muscles with such intensity that her whole body shakes. She looks like a little soldier.

She is silly, she has attitude, and she loves to sleep. “Like mother like daughter,” Michael has taken to saying before he gives us both a kiss. Her sleeping body is so warm beside me on the couch. I know that soon she will move to the other side where the fabric is cool, untouched.

We are learning each other. I wonder about Cleo’s mother. What happened to her? Why did she abandon Cleo and her siblings? For a while I felt anger when I told people that Cleo was found at just a few days old on the side of a road in Kentucky. Then I started to think more deeply about Cleo’s mother. Maybe she didn’t abandon her pups. Maybe she was hit by a car, or maybe she belonged to a family who couldn’t afford to get her spayed, couldn’t afford to keep the puppies, didn’t know what to do, so left them for someone else to find. It is impossible for me to know.

I do know that if Cleo had not been found and delivered to the rescue society, she would have died. She would not have been gathered up into a big van full of dogs and puppies needing rescue and brought to my city, Minneapolis. She would not have had a profile set up online. I would never have found her.

But I did. I saw a picture of her being held by someone in a blue shirt. Her eyes looked at the camera with a sureness I understood. It seemed to me that her eyes were saying, “I am waiting for you.” I was waiting for Cleo, too.

After only two weeks with Cleo, I feel my heart opening wider and my breath coming easier. Having a puppy is having a constant friend. When Cleo wakes, she will look at me with an easy trust, she will stretch and inch toward the edge of the couch, her way of asking to get down because she is too small to jump yet. I will pick her up and set her on the floor where she will trot to her water dish and take a drink. Then I’ll pick up my keys and she will come running at the sound. Together we will walk outside along the abandoned train tracks by our apartment. She will roll down onto the grass and when the breeze shifts the leaves above us, she will look up. She will look up for a long time, and I will, too. Together, we’ll lift our heads to the sky and feel the moment crystallize around us: contentment, friendship, a happy waking dream.

By Kaia Preus