There are few things that can excite an 11- and 9-year-old more than the impending arrival of their first pet that doesn’t live in a fish bowl before taking that final wild swirling ride. This past summer, I watched the building anticipation on Caroline, the elder, and Abigail, the younger, when I visited my younger daughter Katie and hubby Hans’ home.
I think the anticipation was somewhat heightened by the current pandemic circumstances with the added time at home. Even for the places we love, when it becomes the only canvas upon which we paint, even those pleasant environments can become mundane. During my visits, I saw the preparations as the family awaited the puppy’s birth and the first few weeks of development before it would be deemed ready for the trip to his permanent residence.
Of course, every family member needs a name, and the family decided on a baseball-themed moniker, so appropriate since my son-in-law played college baseball for his father, Herb Strayer, the legendary baseball coach at Ohio Northern. Hans suggested the name Kirby, an acknowledgment to the late Hall of Fame centerfielder Kirby Puckett, who played for Minnesota when the Twins actually won playoff games.
The early photos of Kirby sent by the breeder showed the images of a little ginger-coated, 3-pound bundle of adorability, the product of the union between the mother, a King Charles spaniel, and the father, a toy poodle.
As far as the changes in the house, what was hard to overlook was the appearance of a pet carrier in the living room that would serve as Kirby’s sleeping quarters. Caroline and Abigail added a nice blanket folded over several times to provide a soft base along with a stuffed bunny, which was a must-have bunkmate at bedtime during their first few years. They also made several signs expressing sentiments like, “Welcome, Kirby” and “Love you, Kirby.”
That prompted a question from their Pa Pa, who deadpanned, “Ahh, girls, you do know that dogs can’t read, right?”
As I sat on the couch listening to the excited chatter about how cute the latest round of Kirby photos were and how many days were left before he would arrive, Caroline had to run upstairs to her room to bring down the collar that had already been purchased, one with the images of overlapping baseballs.
While she was gone, Abigail told me how repulsed her older sis was by the sight of seeing neighbors walking their dogs and pausing to pick up the droppings with latex-gloved hands for deposit into a plastic bag. Then, with a dramatic sigh and long exhale, she said, “I guess I’m going to have to be the one who has to pick up the poop.”
Instantly, I sensed some older sister chicanery. Remember, I raised a couple of daughters and saw my older, Shannon, occasionally pull the same type of thing on Katie.
I thought I’d toss in my two pennies and told Abigail that perhaps with practice Caroline wouldn’t be so repulsed by the Kirby cleanups. And, if she simply couldn’t overcome this revulsion, that perhaps there would be another dog-related chore she could do that might balance the playing field a bit.
Upon my next visit, with Caroline again off in another part of the house retrieving something she wanted to show me, Abigail sidled up to me and said, “Pa Pa, Caroline and I worked out a plan about Kirby. She said that if I picked up all the poop that whenever Kirby gets sprayed by a skunk, she’ll bathe him!”
Now, I had to laugh at this attempt by Caroline to execute the big-sis power play! Kirby, of course, will not be living on a farm and roaming around fields and woods. He’s going to be a house dog living in a nice residential neighborhood off a street bearing a girl’s name. His experiences with the outside world will be limited to a few well-monitored potty breaks and an occasional romp around the yard.
Chances are, good old Kirb just may live to be a very ripe old age, even after multiplying each year by seven, and never even see a skunk much less be sprayed by one. On the other hand, I think that do-do thing is sort of a daily deal. Just as I was about to wade into this further and explain the likeliness-and-frequency thing, I paused and swallowed the urge. Again hearkening back to the days of yore with little Shannon and littler Kate, I decided to let the sibs resolve this on their own as time unravels.
Finally, Kirby arrived to much fanfare the first week of August, and after a few whimpering nights in the cage that made it a bit difficult for the other occupants of the house to settle into slumber, he’s pretty much rounded into shape. For the first few days, the dog was rarely out of some female’s arms until I think they may have realized that a puppy probably should be practicing that walking thing a bit more.
By now as we approach Thanksgiving, Kirby really has become a bona fide member of the family. A few days from now, it’ll again be time to go around the family Thanksgiving table at my sister Joan’s with each person identifying something he or she is especially thankful for this year.
And, I’m guessing one or perhaps both of my little grand gumdrops just may be mentioning a certain puppy named for a player who overcame so much growing up on Chicago’s south side as one of nine children living in the projects, without a baseball field in sight or Little League program to join yet somehow grew up to become a Hall of Fame Major Leaguer.
Or, maybe it’ll be Caroline saying, “I’m thankful Kirby hasn’t had any contact with a skunk yet.”
Now that would be priceless!
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.