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An Unlikely Candidate for ‘World’s Best Dog’
She trembled like a china shop during an earthquake.
“Are you sure you want this dog?” my grandmother asked.
I nodded my head.
“Fine,” she sighed, turning to the dealer, “I’ll offer you half-price.”
“Half!” the dealer shouted, “This dog has a superior pedigree. She comes from a line of champion poodles.”
“Then why hasn’t anyone bought her?” my grandmother asked, pinning him down with an iron gaze, “She’s nearly a year old. She must be the oldest dog on this farm.”
The dealer did not reply. With a sigh, he stepped into his office and reappeared with the paperwork. As my grandmother wrote the check, I carried my new five-pound teacup poodle out to the car.
Her coat was dull brown. Her eyes were clouded with thick tears. The first time she wandered down to the lake in our backyard, I panicked, thinking an alligator might attack her. My father just laughed. He told me an alligator couldn’t even use one of her bony legs to pick his teeth.
“If you shaved off all of her fur,” my father chuckled, “you’d shave off half of her body weight.”
Yes, this was my new puppy. My grandmother offered to buy a dozen other dogs, but I chose this one. As I wondered what to name her –I quickly decided to call her ‘Princess’- I never once thought about the dealer’s unspoken answer: In the realm of pedigrees and champion dog shows, Princess was a bad investment. She would never reach a healthy weight for breeding more pure-bred poodles.
I had no interest in breeding, though. Neither did my grandmother. She only cared for that golden certificate: an outline of Princess’s family tree. She could bring it to her country club brunches and impress the other ladies with the prestigious gift she had just bought her granddaughter.
Maybe pity persuaded me to choose Princess. She was the outcast. She was the awkward bystander, watching her brothers and sisters wrestle and not knowing how to join in. She reflected my own pre-teen struggles to fit in at school.
Living with princess provided a series of memorable moments. Every summer, gray clouds rolled over Florida and enveloped our house with a thick wall of rain. Thunder clashed and roared, rattling the windows. It quickly became apparent that princess was terrified of thunder storms. She would yelp and dash between my legs, begging me with her big brown eyes to make it stop.
“I can’t control the whether Princess,” I told her, “I’m sorry, but I can’t protect you from this.”
As I entered adolescent, my patience for Princess thinned out. I would return home to find that she had soiled the carpet in my bedroom, or discover that she had dragged her butt across the tile and left a brown streak. Obviously, I was never pleased. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I often screamed at her until her trembles turned into a spaz attack.
“You’re pathetic,” I would mumble.
The day I started high school, I shoved Princess into the “nuisance” pile. My mother cared for her now. I had very little time, or desire, to play with her. I had tossed Princess to the side like an old toy that had lost its luster.
One day, despite my adverse feelings toward her, I drove Princess to a dog park in New Smyrna. The sun glowed and ducks quacked in a nearby pond. Along the dirt walking path, dogs chased after tennis balls and wrestled for bones. It was a glorious summer’s day. I breathed in the fresh air, snapped off Princess’s leash, and found a bench to rest on. She stood there awkwardly, unsure where to go. A German Sheppard trotted over to sniff Princess. I smiled at her and encouraged her to say hello. I expected her to sniff back, maybe even bark a little.
She keeled over onto her back, her paws lifted in surrender, and peed on herself. The German Sheppard turned and walked away. He joined the other dogs in a game of Frisbee. Soon, we could hear them barking and howling with delight. Princess didn’t even attempt to join them. She was content with only me for company. Now that we were finally alone, Princess could relax again. She rested by my side and bathed in the sunlight. A sad smile etched across my face. After so many years of her irritating me, I once again felt pity for Princess.
How must that feel, I thought, to be a stranger amongst her own species?
An older woman in a jogging suit sat down next to us. She clipped the leash off of her Chi Wawa. Immediately, he dashed into the center of the field, barking along with the other dogs. His owner smiled and looked over at me.
“Is your puppy shy?” she asked.
I looked down at Princess. Even five years after we bought her, she still hadn’t gained any weight. The scrawny, five-pound poodle could boast only a few gray hairs to mark her age. People often mistook her for a puppy.
“I think she’s more comfortable around humans,” I replied.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the lady laughed, “She’ll grow out of it in a month or two. All puppies are a little shy at first.”
I smiled back at her. For the remainder of the afternoon, Princess and I walked along the nature trails and smelt the wildflowers growing beside the lake. On the car ride home, she dozed off in the passenger seat. I bent over to scratch her ear and thought about the first day I met her. To princess, I must have looked like a monstrous, two-legged stranger with feet large enough to squash her like mashed potatoes.
Despite my freakish appearance, Princess needed acceptance. She never knew how to play with her brothers and sisters. She never knew how to interact with the neighborhood dogs. Perhaps, Princess might have thought, perhaps acceptance can be found in this two-legged stranger.
Today, Princess has found acceptance. Today she has found a place where she is greeted by a smile and a scratch on the back: a seat on the sofa, tucked between my brother and I, in the center of our family.