What makes me happy now: my pandemic rescue pup
Author Curtis Sittenfeld on falling hopelessly in love with a brave, beautiful and occasionally malodorous chihuahua named Weenie.
It’s hard to pick my favourite thing about my family’s pandemic rescue chihuahua, Weenie, but if I had to, I think it’s when she’s been napping under a blanket, as in when she’s covered by the blanket completely, and a human she loves approaches and she can hear or smell us and her tail visibly wags beneath the blanket’s fleece.
Or perhaps it’s her enthusiasm for car rides, and how when she notices that we’ve put on our shoes and are approaching the back door, she becomes frantic to go along, barking and running in circles, and then in the hall by the garage, in the middle of her franticness, she makes eye contact with us and flips on to her back for an impromptu belly rub because, really, is it ever a bad time?
Or maybe it’s when I’m sitting on the couch reading and she jumps up and wedges herself as close as she can beside me and sets her perfect little whiskered chin on my thigh, as if my thigh was designed to be a chihuahua chin platform, which, although I didn’t know it for most of my life, maybe it was.
Is this the moment to reveal that I’m not really a dog person? But it turns out I’m a Weenie person. (About her name: have you read the 1950s Eloise book about the spoiled yet neglected little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York and has a pet dog named Weenie and a pet turtle named Skipperdee?
Weenie is named after Eloise’s dog. Yes, the name has raised a few eyebrows, but no more than being a woman named Curtis has for me.
In spring 2020, our neighbours in Minneapolis were one of many American families who acquired so called pandemic dogs, theirs a sweet beagle named Sophie.
This was so early in the pandemic that it was unclear how Covid was transmitted, and I’d tell my kids to stand at the edge of our neighbours’ yard and just observe Sophie but not pet her.
My children didn’t exactly comply and I didn’t exactly try to make them, but more than once, as my older child gazed at Sophie, her eyes would fill with tears of longing, and I would think: this is not a matter of wanting. We need a dog.
I was at that time agnostic on chihuahuas. My husband is allergic to cats and wasn’t sure if he was allergic to dogs, and I read that if a person did have such allergies, a smaller dog would be less irritating – it would shed less dander. Besides, a small dog seemed to me generally less daunting and more manageable, maybe like a glorified hamster?
After scouring websites and writing up applications, most of which were ignored, I found a lead. My family drove an hour north to meet Weenie in her foster mother’s driveway. Weenie had come up on a van from Texas (a state with a surplus of stray dogs), was estimated to be four years old, and was 9lbs of white fur with brown eyes and alert brown ears. She barked at us suspiciously. My children loved her immediately.
The plan was that she’d come to live with us in 10 days, after getting spayed. But to our surprise, it turned out that, thanks to that interstate van ride with other dogs – including one apparently frisky terrier – Weenie was pregnant. She’d continue to live with her foster mom for another three months, during the gestation period, delivery and nursing of her puppies. In light of this delay, I asked my children if we should look for another dog.
My children said that I was monstrous for even suggesting the possibility because Weenie was so clearly meant to be ours. Weenie has now lived with us for two and a half years, and sometimes my children still remind me of my monstrosity. But ironically, everyone agrees that I turned out to be Weenie’s favourite.
There are competing theories in our house about why Weenie loves me as much as she does. Is it because I do the grocery shopping, meaning I’m the one who carries in bags containing deli ham, which is pretty much Weenie’s favourite food?
Is it because Weenie’s favourite place is on someone’s lap and my womanly thighs appear to be exceptionally comfortable? In a nightly ritual my younger child refers to as “high time for thigh time”, Weenie approaches as I finish eating dinner and sets her front paws on my chair, and I move into a nearby armchair and let her climb on to me.
Is it because, to my own astonishment, I not only sing to her but I sing to her constantly, every day, and the songs are made-up ditties about how brave, beautiful and dignified she is? My voice has never impressed any of my fellow humans, but when I croon to Weenie about her good looks and her courage in peeing outside in the Minnesota winter, she gazes into my eyes and wags her tail.
Or is it because when she first arrived at our house, I slept with her for two weeks on a mattress on the floor of our walk-in closet, while she got used to her little bed there?
I will concede that Weenie is not perfect. Like many chihuahuas, she’s rather barky with both other dogs and humans – she especially dislikes men, tall men, tall men in hats, and tall men in hats on bicycles – though because of her size, the usual response to her aggression is “Oh, aren’t you a ferocious beast!”
Her breath is so pungent that her yawns smell like farts, prompting us to refer to them as “yarts”. If she’s on one of her beloved car rides and it gets dark, she whimpers as if to tell us we need to turn on the lights so she can better enjoy the scenery.
But these minor flaws all pale in comparison to the joy Weenie brings us, to the purity of her excitement when we return home after being away, the sweetness of her affection when she curls up next to us, the guilelessness of her interest in food, and her fondness for being petted and snuggling under blankets.
Though I’m uncertain how much I believe in things like fate or destiny, my children were not wrong – Weenie was definitely meant to be ours.
Curtis Sittenfeld’s most recent novel is Romantic Comedy.
(Story source: The Guardian)