A Holiday Romance

Published in the book I Can't Believe My Dog Did That! by Chicken Soup For the Soul, September 2012

"I'm watching Olive while India's in Costa Rica," announced my daughter, Dana, home on summer break from college. The news alarmed me because Olive is a dog.
            "Where are you watching her?" I hoped Dana was moving into her friend India's Boston apartment for the duration of the caretaking assignment.
            "Here. I'm getting her tomorrow. She'll be here for nine days."
            I smiled the "that's great" smile moms conjure when they need to show support for something their kids are doing that mom wishes wasn't happening while my brain began contemplating how I'd survive what I was sure would be the longest nine days of my life.
            I'd had a dog, Licorice, when I was a kid, and I loved him. But my good dog feelings had been gnawed away by years in a town where dogs roam unleashed in the green spaces where I run, owners invariably saying, "Don't worry, he doesn't bite" as Rover nips at my Nikes, and where a half-dozen dogs on my street are allowed to bark early, late, often, and for prolonged periods, making sleep difficult and life less enjoyable. I'm not shy about letting my neighbors know I don't appreciate the auditory assaults. Once I sent a morning email that read, "It's 6:23 and your dog is killing me."
            When Dana pulled up with Olive, a Pyrenean Shepherd puppy, I admit to feeling an odd joy on seeing her round-eyed, hairy face. And when Olive strained at her leash to get to me, pulling Dana up the walkway, I felt a little special. 
            "She likes you, mom!" said Dana, either sincere or clever. Olive and I had our first physical contact, she exuberantly licking my shins, me patting her once on the head then moving away. This was Dana's gig, not mine. I'd said hello, now Dana was on duty.
            Or not. Dana's 19. She sleeps in. 
            When I woke at six I realized Dana's "I'm watching Olive" really meant that I was the one watching Olive. Olive hadn't been out since the night before. Dana wouldn't be up until after noon. I realized with mild horror that a fair amount of the upcoming canine care would fall to me. 
             I called Olive's name. When the furry ball bounded out of Dana's room and down the hallway, I felt a little flutter. She didn't know me, but she nuzzled my legs and looked up with trust and anticipation that warmed me. Hmmm.
            I noticed the training pad we'd put down -- India had sent Olive's gear, including pads that smelled like grass to encourage duty-doing there rather than on the floor -- was saturated with pee and piled with poop. I was delighted. 
           "Olive," I said, bringing her near the pad and stroking her back and head, "You're a good, good girl." In a strange house, with strange people who didn't get her out in time for her day's first constitutional, Olive had kept her business on a small plastic square. And, she hadn't barked since setting paw in our home. I was officially smitten.
            It got worse as the days progressed. Olive worked some animal magic and cast a dog endearment spell on me. I started doing weird things -- and enjoying them.
            I became an ardent dog walker, confounding my neighbors, which I loved. I looked forward to our walks and the way Olive circled the kitchen in joyous frenzy when I jangled her leash to call her. As we walked, sometimes side by side, sometimes one pulling the other, I studied the sniffing Olive did before choosing where to make her deposits. 
            I saved the plastic bags I bought my produce in and became skilled at wearing them as gloves then turning them inside out after I'd retrieved Olive's neat little messes. I left the door between our kitchen and deck open all day. That way Olive could be outside whenever she wished and hang with me while I read my newspapers at the umbrella table, forgiving the flies that found their way into my house and bounced off walls. I spread a blanket on the deck, and Olive spent hours lying on it, lifting her head frequently to give me a happy gaze and contented smile. 
           On a shopping trip to buy Dana back-to-campus items, I threw dog treats and chew toys into my cart. I perused my grocery store's pet aisle, comparing food labels to ensure Olive was getting the good stuff. I stopped wincing whenever Olive slurped my limbs and face, which was often. And, I, who heretofore would run for hand sanitizer anytime politeness dictated I pat someone's dog, developed a soothing chin-chuck that made Olive close her eyes and grin. I even considered giving Olive a bath. I didn't, but I thought seriously about it.
            "I'm taking Olive home in a few hours," said Dana one morning. "India's flight comes in tonight, and I'm picking her up at the airport."
            The news hit me hard. This dog had achieved the impossible: she'd made me fall in love with her. I looked down at Olive, who was licking my toes. "I can't believe it's been nine days already. They went by so fast."