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A few months before I retired from teaching, I decided I would like to have a dog. A smaller adult female, already housetrained, would be perfect for me, I thought. I saw a picture of a 3 year old female dog in the classifieds, and although I was unfamiliar with the breed (papillon), I decided to make a call.

“Oh, we already found a home for that dog.” I felt disappointed to hear the voice on the other end of the line. “But we do have a litter of puppies,” the breeder went on. “Would you like to see them?”

Unless you are serious about wanting a dog, the right answer to that question is, “No.”

Well what would it hurt to have a look?  Oh, my word. There were three irresistible puppies in the litter, and I forgot my determination to have an already trained, adult dog. I chose the smallest, softest, friendliest one. She weighed about four pounds, was mostly white with patches of brown and black—a tricolor—and had big fringed ears that stood up to a point and a splendid tail that arched over her back and swept to the side. She was beautiful. I had to wait another month for her to be weaned from her mother, and then Tom and I brought her home with a whole packet of information and instructions, plus a bag of her puppy food and a book about the papillon breed.

First, we learned to pronounce the word: the ll’s are pronounced like a y, so it sounds similar to pappy-yon. You should say the second syllable through your nose, like a Frenchman, because it is a French word meaning “butterfly,” so named because viewed from the back, the ears resemble a butterfly’s wings. The breed was popular in the French court before the Revolution, but is one of the less common breeds in the U.S. You may have seen papillons competing in dog shows. It’s been said the only problem with papillons is that they are smarter than their owners. We soon found that to be true.

We named her Anouk. (That was the name of the little French girl in the Johnny Depp movie Chocolat.) The first weeks, we put Anouk in a baby playpen with mesh sides and gave her a fuzzy bed and puppy pads. She sat there looking out with her bright eyes and cute little face, alert to everything that was going on. It wasn’t long before her athletic ability asserted itself, and she got out of the playpen. Tom then undertook to construct a lovely exercise pen in the yard. It took him three days to build the 3 feet high, 8x14 foot screened pen, complete with a sturdy gate. We put her in it, supposing it would be fine for a five pound, eight inch tall pet. She curiously sniffed the whole area for about six minutes; then, to our astonishment climbed to the top and pranced around the perimeter, then paused and looked at us as if to say, “Well, this is fun. Thank you very much,” before jumping to the ground.

Realizing we had a lot to learn, we started watching The Dog Whisperer, and we took Cesar Millan’s advice and began walking her on a leash right away. He says dogs need exercise, discipline and affection. We did great with the affection part and pretty well with the exercise, between the daily walks and play times. We were somewhat weak in the discipline, but she did have a crate to sleep in, and when she got tired she would walk into it and quietly go to sleep. When she was about five months, we took her with us on a trip. The first night we stayed in a “Pet friendly” Motel 6. She was in her crate, but every time someone passed by the hall or window, she would turn into a barking maniac. Not wanting to be evicted in the night, I took her out of the crate and put her in bed beside me. That was the end of her sleeping in the crate. She immediately learned she could get out by barking! And she still sleeps on our bed every night because, of course, she is smarter than her owners.

For the most part, Anouk was a charming puppy. That is, if you overlooked certain habits, such a chewing and shredding everything she got hold of. Everything not kept out of her reach was fair game for her little teeth. Among the things she destroyed: papers, toilet tissue, combs, pencils and pens, a computer mouse, a cell phone, shoes, a wicker basket, and worst of all….well, that’s a story in itself. Tom had to have some extensive dental work done and got upper and lower partial plates. The first day he wore them, the lower one became uncomfortable and he took it out and laid it on a TV tray by the couch. Later, I found his teeth on the floor, chewed to distortion by the dog. Tom was really angry; but, of course, she soon won his forgiveness, because, of course, she is cute, and smarter than her owners.

Daily walks were her delight. She became friends with other animals along the way, even a horse in a muddy field at the bottom of the hill. The horse grew to know her and came to fence and touched noses with her every day. But when she was a year old, an awful thing happened. I was walking her down the country road one peaceful day, when a large, white dog sprang out of a hidden driveway. It did not bark. It did not growl. It stared at me with menacing blue eyes for one second before it knocked me in the ditch, then dashed at Anouk and seized her in its jaws. Anouk and I both screamed. It flung her into the road and came toward me. I began shouting, “Go home! Go away!”  hammering it as hard as I could with the handle of the leash. Another dog (a sharpei) was standing by silently watching, and I did not know what to expect from it. As soon as I could, I scrambled to my feet, swept my bleeding pet into my arms and took off for home. I collapsed in our front yard and made a call to Tom. He straightaway arrived, and we headed to the vet. It was just after 5:30, so the closest vet was closed. We tried another veterinary clinic, and though the door was locked, the vet was there and seeing us through the window let us in and treated Anouk’s wounds. There were four bites, two on each side where the attacker’s fangs had gone deep into her flesh. Her injuries were serious, but not fatal, and after about a month she regained her strength. Ever since, she has been wary of other dogs until she learns if they are friendly.

(People always ask me what happened to the dog. We called animal control and made a report, and the owner was approached, fined for a leash law violation, and ordered to keep his “potentially dangerous dog” confined. The owner came and apologized to us and paid for the vet’s charges. Unfortunately, about a year later, the same dog attacked and killed another small dog, and the beast was then destroyed.)

We were relieved and happy to have our dog playful and energetic again. She was a joyful pet, friendly and curious and entertaining. And, she loved people, especially babies and children. She easily learned all sorts of things. She rang a service bell by the door when she wanted to go out, and she performs for treats: going “up the ladder” and “down the ladder,” jumping through a hoop, getting on the stool to sit and shake hands, “dancing,” and “walking” on her back legs. She likes playing with her dog toys, and now she knows some of them by their names: red toy, fox, snake. She communicates her wishes such as wanting food, water, treats, going for a walk, and time for bed. After a vigorous playtime this evening, she started trying to tell me something, and I couldn’t quite figure out what she wanted until she jumped into the chair and reached over to the end table and touched an empty glass with her nose and looked at me. She was thirsty, and her water dish was empty. She is smart and has taught us to obey her quite well.

One winter night, she started acting odd. She seemed sick, and would neither eat nor drink. She was too weak to stand and wouldn’t even get out of her bed and go out to go potty. We could not figure out what was wrong. I thought she was going to die. After we ate one night, I carried her in and put her on my bed. When I finished the dishes, I went to check on her and was shocked to see something like a large growth had popped out on her chest. It was bleeding, and she was trying to lick it. It was late Saturday night, so we rushed to the animal emergency center 30 miles away. As soon as the doctor there saw the “growth,” he said, “It looks like she’s been bitten by a poisonous spider. All that red area is necrotic tissue.” Right away they took her to surgery, and the dead tissue was cut away and the wound cleansed and closed up. The next week, she had to have a second surgery at our regular vet’s office. Her “ruff” of hair on her chest was of course shaved off and the incisions made a jagged pattern on her little body. Once again, with time and TLC she did recover. It was a hobo spider that had bitten her. They pierce the skin, inject their venom, and the poison soon spreads and kills the tissues. People have actually died from their bites, so you can imagine how a small animal is affected. We are lucky she survived!

Now she is four years old, and she’s our almost constant companion. Despite her playfulness and high energy, she is a very cooperative little dog. Whether getting a bath, getting combed, putting on her sweater, taking a pill, getting a “pedicure,” or riding in the car she is no trouble at all. And she honorably discharges her duties as a lap dog as well. When I’m on the computer, she sits quietly in my lap, and anyone taking a nap will feel her curl up beside them on couch or bed and snooze along with them.

I think getting a dog is the best thing I have done for my own health. The exercise I get from walking her keeps my weight and blood pressure in check, playing with her keeps me entertained, and her sweetness warms my heart. Best of all, whenever I come home, the greeting she gives me makes me feel like a rock star.

Now that I think about it, if someone asks you if you want to see a litter of puppies (especially papillon) you ought to say, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

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