I woke up one morning ten years ago wanting a dog. I wanted a dog I could hide in a pocket, safe from being taken away as was the fate of Happy—a Christmas Eve surprise when I was four and a half and “put down” when I went to college.
I spend a year researching small dogs before settling on the Papillon—the smartest of the toy breeds, the least subject to health problems, and, to my eyes, the most beautiful dog ever—butterfly ears, fox-face, delicate long legs, fine long hair with extra frill on the chest, ears, back of the legs and twirled tail.
Papillons are hard to find. Their litters are small and breeders don’t over breed.
“There’s a male pedigreed Papillon available in Richmond, Indiana,” my friend Pat, a dog trainer, says.
Ernest and I drive three hours to Richmond’s Petland to see the Papillon. We arrive early and wander up a dog food aisle. A woman in a baseball cap comes in with two Papillons on leashes. They are jumping up and down like Jacks-in-the Box.
“Just look at those two dogs,” Ernest exclaims. “Too bad one of them isn’t the dog we’re here for.”
“They are adorable. Look at those fox faces!”
The woman holding the leashes approaches us. “Hi,” she says. “I’m Trudy. Are you the couple looking for a Papillon?”
“Yes!” I am so glad that we are.
“I was expecting to meet just one dog,” Ernest says.
“Well, now we have a choice,” I say. They are more beautiful than the ones I’ve seen in books. And so sprightly. And sweet. And not yappy.
“Bashi and Lily are both ready to go to homes,” Trudy says. She hands me a leash attached to Bashi, a black-eared male. She hands Ernest a leash attached to Lily, a brown-eared female. Lily is about half the size of Bashi. “Why not walk them around the store? Then play with them off-leash in the enclosed area.”
The dogs walk by our heels turning with us as we snake through the aisles. Bashi walks like a prince, head erect, eyes forward. Lily has a bossy little walk like she’s in charge of the whole store and why doesn’t everyone know that!
They heel into the enclosure, and Lily pees and poops.
“They’re trained to the Ex-Box,” Trudy comments, whatever that is. “Lily’s over-stimulated. She’s very sensitive.”
“Hmm,” Ernest says leaning down. “It doesn’t smell bad.”
“It’s genetic. No smelliness. It’s another one of the pedigreed Papillon virtues,” Trudy says as she sprays and mops.
Bashi and Lily come from a long line of pedigreed show dogs. Their grandfather is an international Grand Champion. He lives in Japan. Their mother, Greta, is a Grand Champion. Four pups were in Greta’s litter. The other two are being finished as show-dogs.
“Finished?” I ask, sympathetically.
“Yes,” Trudy says.
“Does that mean washed up?”
“No,” Trudy laughs. “It means they have the potential to be Grand Champions. But first they have to win in a lot of shows. Finishing is a very expensive project.”
“Why isn’t Bashi being finished?” I ask. He cocks his head. I pet him. “He looks regal to me.”
“Bashi was a novice champion in Canada but one of his front feet turns in just a smidgeon so he could never be a Grand Champion in America.”
“And sweetheart here?” Ernest holds Lily under her armpits, her feet dangling floor ward. He is looking intently into her eyes.
“Lily has not matured,” Trudy says. “It’s a shame. She has been in three different homes with three different names and then returned to me each time because she can’t be shown or bred. She goes from show-to-show with the other dogs so she spends a lot of time in a kennel in the SUV.”
“Poor Lily,” I say.
“She’s light as a feather,” Ernest says.
“She weighs three-pounds—a third the breed’s standard.”
“She is so gorgeous,” I say to Ernest.
“A little darling,” he says. She’s looking unblinkingly into his eyes. “This princess needs rescuing from the terrible life of a show dog.”
Bashi is on the floor by my feet.
“We’ll take Lily,” I tell Trudy. “She needs a forever home.”
Bashi jumps onto my lap and puts his paw and on my wrist and his head in the crook of my arm and looks up longingly into my eyes. He is so handsome.
“Laurel?” Ernest gives me a silent talking-to.
“And we’ll also adopt Bashi,” I say.