My kids are all children of divorce. They didn’t ask for it, but that’s the way it goes — more than half of the time, it seems, judging by the oft-repeated numbers about more marriages ending in divorce than end in death doing you part.
That means they have more to deal with than the children of happily married parents: more mixed emotions, more worry, more work lugging their shit back and forth between two houses, and plenty of other baggage. And while counseling and good post-marital relations between the parents goes a long way, nothing can truly eliminate all that extra bullshit they have to deal with throughout their childhood because their parents couldn’t make their relationship work.
But an excellent dog can help.
We got Fernando on August 26, 2016. It was National Dog Day, although that was a giant coincidence, since I didn’t know it was National Dog Day when I walked into the Humane Society. After months of the kids begging for a dog and my steadfast denials, I’d finally folded and decided it was time.
I had two excellent black Labs for most of my post-college life. Velvet and Holly were great dogs, and they lived to be 17 and 15. Long, happy lives. But I wasn’t a single parent then, and taking proper care of a dog requires sustained effort, and sustained effort is in shorter supply when there’s only one adult around.
Nevertheless, I decided to start looking for a unicorn dog — a dog that was sweet, friendly, good with both kids and adults, and was already house-trained. That’s harder than it sounds — almost every dog I see up for adoption has at least one sugar-coated euphemism for behavior that I really didn’t want in a pet. “Bonzo has a ton of energy and loves to go, go, go!” equals “The dog is a complete spaz who will probably jump your fence and tear up every pair of shoes in your house.” “Ophelia is a little skeptical of new people but eventually warms up!” equals “This dog will possibly maul your children the first time you leave the room.”
And so on. But two dogs on our local Humane Society roster looked pretty promising: Lucy and Whiskey. I wanted to see them both.
As I mentioned before, unbeknownst to me it was National Dog Day, so I spent 45 minutes in the lobby waiting in line for the exactly two workers to introduce me to Lucy. Lucy was a sweet, smallish Lab mix. A small bit hyper, but nothing too crazy. I could live with Lucy.
The HS lady asked me if I wanted her, but then I reminded her that I also wanted to see Whiskey. There was a little hesitation, but she said OK and went to get him. A few minutes later, she brought in the massive chocolate Lab you see pictured above. He was huge, calm, and absurdly sweet and affectionate.
“I almost adopted Whiskey myself!” she said, but apparently it didn’t work out due to a landlord issue at her apartment. “I named him myself, and I’ve even taught him some tricks since he came in this week!” She then showed me how he could shake both hands.
I was petting Whiskey and he seemed like the best dog ever. He looked like a purebred Lab, clean teeth, great temperament. It was like he didn’t belong here.
Then her whole demeanor changed.
“Oh and one more thing,” she said. “Whiskey lunged at a law enforcement officer this morning through his cage, so we’re really not sure about his temperament.” She said, as this giant moose was laying in front of me, licking my hand.
“Oh, and he pulls really hard on his leash, too.” Then she looked at my application again. “Ohhhh…you have kids? We really don’t know how he is with kids so they’ll have to come and visit first.”
Was he housetrained? “We really have no idea, here they just go to the bathroom wherever they sleep.”
I was starting to smell a rat here. This dog she loved so much that she wanted to take home to her own house — all of a sudden he had all these flaws that I should beware of. This giant, loving, calm goliath here was apparently a maniac cop-killer who pulled like a Clydesdale and would probably soil my entire house.
Mmmm…I didn’t think so. Seemed more like she was trying to keep Whiskey in play for herself until she could find a solution to bringing him home.
I decided that wasn’t gonna happen. I simply didn’t believe this 100-pound teddy bear was capable of any of that. So I had my kids come check him out, and of course they loved him immediately. So I said we’ll take him.
And then, the weirdest thing happened. There was some alarm going off in the back of the shelter, and none of the employees knew how to turn it off. It was severely annoying to the customers and employees alike, make no mistake. So one of the employees heads into the back and all of a sudden cuts power to the entire building.
The lights go. Everything goes.
Including the computer systems and payment systems, which conveniently, no one can seem to bring back online.
My HS assistant says to me, “I’m so sorry, the computers are down now and we can’t bring them back up. Now we have to do everything by hand and it’s going to take a really long time…you probably just want to come back tomorrow.”
Pfff. Yeah right, I know what you’re up to, lady. I know damn well that if I come back tomorrow, that dog’s going to be magically “mistakenly” given to someone else.
“Nah, that’s OK. We’ll wait.”
And then I saw the defeat in her eyes. The immovable object had met the irresistible force, and we were not going to be denied. A few minutes later, we were passed along to the other HS assistant, who happily (but slowly, sans computer) filled out the paperwork by hand, and we left with Whiskey.
By the time he was in the van, we’d already renamed him Fernando. He’d only been Whiskey for a week, apparently, so it didn’t seem like a mean thing to do. Plus, I don’t name dogs after food or drink. He was a big strong man and he deserved a big strong man name, like Fernando.
My instincts about Fernando’s phantom flaws were correct. He doesn’t pull on the leash, he doesn’t bite or lunge at anyone, ever. He will lick you to death, though, and because he apparently thinks he’s the size of a squirrel, he certainly can make your leg fall asleep after crawling all 110 pounds of himself onto your lap and plopping down.
He does seem to have it in for the UPS man, at whom he barks ferociously, even on days where the UPS man is literally delivering his dog food to our doorstep. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
He’s always happy to see the kids and is always good for a lick on the face, even when they’re down. He’ll not only jump up in bed with you, but he’ll sleep with his head on your chest (or on the pillow next to you, whatever you prefer).
That’s the kind of instant lift we could all use sometimes, whoever you are, but especially so if you’re a kid who’s sick of lugging his backpack to Dad’s or perhaps left his good shoes at Mom’s or maybe can’t find his homework that might be at Mom’s, Dad’s, or even at school still.
Those little micro-infusions of warmth and love that everyone needs — Fernando’s the best at those. He has a Ph.D in those. He’s better at that than any human being could ever be.
So he’s quickly become the glue around here. The salve that takes the sting off whatever slings or arrows you’re experiencing at the moment.
Petting him makes you feel better, and when a 110-pound behemoth wants to be so close to you that he climbs up and plops himself down two inches from your face, those slings and arrows don’t seem so sharp.