Two months after getting Ben, I moved across the country to Fresno, California for my final leg of graduate school. Petey and now Ben would stand by me during one roller coaster journey throughout the next year. I ended a long-term relationship, started and ended a couple of short ones, all the while trying to be a good teacher, write publishable fiction, survive financially on my own, and establish a social life in a completely new place. Petey and Ben kept each other company, whether they liked it or not.
I’d forgotten how much energy puppies had. Ben had twice the muscle mass that Petey did as a puppy and seemed to grow at twice the rate. He also had twice the speed and half the grace. If Petey was my ballerina, Ben was my hippo. Chasing Petey around my apartment, he’d crash into walls and knock over chairs with his butt. When Petey jumped up to greet me, placing his dainty paws on my legs, Ben would launch himself against me, knocking me backward. He wanted to take over the world–and he wanted Petey, body and soul. As I wrote in my home office, the two of them would wrestle on the carpet. Eventually, one would pin the other down, and then they’d roll like one big ball down the hallway, growling and gnawing at each other’s ears.
They fed each other’s fire. I took them to the dog park a few times (until Petey, who had become defensive again, bit another dog), and once, it had rained the day before. The two of them ran straight for the mud, flopped onto their backs, and wriggled around. I couldn’t even see their white parts by the time we left, and my ever-so-prepared self did not keep any towels in the car. I spent that afternoon bathing them and everything they’d touched between my backseat and the bathtub.
Between teaching, office hours, meetings, and graduate classes, I spent a lot of time on campus. But I didn’t live too far away, and I came home at various points during the day to take the dogs out. My boss even understood that, during our department-wide student portfolio readings, which took up a whole Saturday and Sunday twice a semester, I would have to take dog breaks. When I was home, I walked the dogs at least twice a day (I became known in my apartment complex as the girl with the terriers). I’d still, despite all that, come home to many surprises. Ben pooped routinely in my apartment, and Petey, clearly feeling competitive, marked his territory on my couch, on the corner of my bed, and in my hallway. Several times, they got into my garbage can, which was taller than the both of them and had a lid! And I got home from class one night to discover that they had climbed onto my dining room table and raided a bowl of Hershey’s kisses. Luckily, they had spit out the foil wrappers on the carpet, so I could count how many they’d ingested. It wasn’t enough to kill them (and it was milk chocolate, which is not as dangerous as dark chocolate, anyway). But they, especially Petey, did throw up a lot that night.
Whenever I left my apartment, whether to work, socialize, or run errands, they both ran to my kitchen window. Petey would appear first as I got into my car, and Ben would shove his way in next. They’d stare down at me, their faces sad and ears upright, as I’d pull out of my parking spot. I felt guilty at the time, but not nearly as much I as I do when I think of it now. As much time as I may have spent with my dogs, I wish I would have focused more them instead of wasting all the time I did on relationships that would go nowhere and worrying about finding “the one,” who would come around when he was supposed to. Enter, Rob.
When we started dating, Rob knew he had to get my dogs’ approval for our relationship to work. And, boy, did they put him to the test. Petey, having been my alpha male for so long, would challenge Rob nightly. It would always start off so sweet. As Rob sat on the couch with me, Petey would slink in front of us, then rub his head against Rob’s foot. Rob, with his toe, would rub Petey’s head. Petey took that as his invitation. Up came the paw. His eyes grew big. He let out a quick sigh. He barked, jumping forward. Then Rob would lunge at him, and well, let’s just say I felt sorry for my downstairs neighbors. The two of them would wrestle on the floor for a good 30 minutes. Rob would pin Petey down, and Petey would push his back legs against Rob’s chest. Clunky Ben would always wedge himself into the mix, but just to give Rob kisses (more on that in a moment). This happened every night for the next–I don’t know–ten years? When we all moved into our first house together, one Rob-chases-Petey episode ended with Rob breaking his left middle finger. Another time, Rob came up behind Petey, who was napping on the couch, and pretended to bite Petey’s hind leg. Startled, Petey bit Rob on the eyelid, which turned purple and became swollen. (Rob, like me, was teaching at the time, so he got many concerned questions from his students.)
Ben approached Rob much less antagonistically. He just wanted love–all of it, all the time. Every evening, he’d pin Rob down on the couch and repeatedly lick his eye sockets, his tail wagging like crazy. When we went to bed, Ben no longer gravitated to the backs of my knees, where he slept when I during my single days. He shoved himself between Rob’s feet, then gradually stretched all the way out. If Rob and I were up and moving around, whether talking or embracing, Ben would stand behind us, whining. Sometimes, he’d even sit right on Rob’s lap and whine in his face. Ben got a lot of “shut ups” from the both of us, but those never worked.
When all was quiet, though, I knew Petey and Ben had become Rob’s dogs, too. I’d catch Petey sleeping against Rob or gently scratching at Rob’s hand because he wanted pets. Some mornings, before I even got out of bed, I’d hear Rob feeding the dogs and singing made up songs to them. He gave them nicknames; Petey became “Pitness,” which evolved into “Witness” and “Bitness,” and Ben became “Cudgels” or–in reference to his habits on our walks–“Benji Two Shits.” Rob would let Petey lick the last bit of beer from his bottles, and he eventually assumed the responsibility of picking up their poop when we had a yard. This all showed me that I’d found the one. We had become a family. Years later, when we’d moved to the Bay Area, Rob surprised me in our new home with a proposal. When I said yes, Petey let out his happy howl, confirming that I’d made the right decision.
I became pregnant with our son in 2007. Petey was now 10, and Ben was eight. I worried so much about how they would react to a baby. I tearfully asked my vet if he had any advice because, until now, Petey and Ben had been our babies. But I had no reason to worry. As my belly expanded throughout the pregnancy, Petey would rest his head on it. A couple of times when he felt a kick, he picked his head up and looked at my stomach, like, “What was that?” When Henry was born and I held him for the first time, he made little snorting noises; I said he’d gotten them from Petey. The first night we brought Henry home, Petey and Ben looked up and tilted their heads whenever the baby cried. But after that night, it was like they’d always known each other. As I snapped one Henry’s first at-home pictures, Ben walked up, sniffed Henry’s face, and kissed him.
As Henry got older, he followed Ben around everywhere, crawling into his kennel from time to time, sitting on the couch with him, and even sitting on his back while Ben chewed up a tennis ball. Ben didn’t mind at all. When my daughter Veronica came along two years later, Ben reacted the same way to her. He kissed her in one of her first at-home pictures, too. “Badji” was one of the first names Veronica learned to say, after Mama and Dada. And when she was about two years old, I was working at the computer one morning when I realized both she and Ben had gotten quiet. I looked up to discover that she had been playing dress-up with Ben; he had let her place a flowery headband in front of his ears.
Petey, though patient with the kids, was now a senior dog and spent a lot of time sleeping in the kitchen. He did not engage with the kids as actively as Ben did, but in so many of the pictures from that time, he is hanging out in the background, just behind all the action, his face lowered and sad, as if to say, “Don’t forget about me!” And every once in a while, he’d get his spry attitude back, and we’d catch him wrestling with one of the baby toys, shaking it in his teeth like he wanted to rip it apart.