Before making the decision to bring a puppy into our home, my partner, Rick and I had talked about the responsibilities that went into having a dog. Since I didn’t grow up with them, Rick wanted to be convinced that I understood what I was getting into. He thought it was a good idea, under one condition. I remember asking curiously what that might be and he emphatically said, “Obedience lessons. There’s nothing worse than a dog that didn’t know how to behave. You’re going to want to take him everywhere with you and classes are going to teach him, and you, how to behave.”
He went on that he had always trained his Irish Setters and that they had a better life and he got to enjoy them more. Then he paused and looked at me before he said, “And Dan, he’ll be your dog. I won’t have time to take care of him.”
Rick was alluding to the fact that he was in law school and working days while I was in between jobs at the moment and could use the free time to train a puppy. I assured him that I had heard his concerns and would do whatever it took to have a well-behaved dog. Now here we were with this wiggling, bouncing, finger-gnawing, lug of love, all ours.
Then it was time to choose a name. I didn’t have any ideas. I’d never named anything. Rick suggested Nicholas, after Nicholas the Tsar. He had told me lots of stories about being in Russia before he met me. He even had a belt buckle with the hammer-and-sickle engraved on it. Rick had been a teacher when he lived in Chicago, and during summer recess he’d traveled to Russia three times, and the belt had been given to him by a boyfriend in the Russian army that he had met.
“Nicholas. Hmm.” I never would have thought of a name like that. I was going to pick Duke after my grandparent’s dog or Spike. I repeated the name a second time as I regarded our puppy. Did he seem like a Nicholas? Like a young prince? Yes, he most certainly did. “I like it. It’s noble. And it is Christmas.” But before the decision was made, we both took turns holding him in our arms and asking him if he liked his new name. He licked our faces and then bit our noses. We took this as an indication that of course he approved. I held our four-legged prince high in the air, above our heads. He couldn’t have weighed more than ten or twelve pounds. Our boy squirmed excitedly in my clasp: “I name thee Nicholas, after Tsar Nicholas and St. Nicholas.” After which we smothered him with more hugs and smooches.
Then Rick gave me an early Christmas gift; my first book about Golden Retrievers, by Joan Gill, an Englishwoman who got her first Golden Retriever in 1936 and had been an ongoing advocate for the Golden breed. I glimpsed through it as we sat watching our pup discover all the nooks and crannies in the living room. We both called out his name again and again. I read further that the ideal for a Golden was, of course, to live in the house, and that a puppy needed a box just big enough for him to lie in comfortably, and some warm soft bedding.
I got a large cardboard box from the basement and cut a wide opening in one side and placed it right next to our bed. Then I folded my red, soft cotton blanket and placed it inside for him to sleep on. I called for him to come see his new bed. Already I loved saying his name. He slipped through the opening and immediately started gnawing on the edges of the box. I thought this might not work, but he soon grew tired and laid down. No sooner than that, his head rested on the blanket and he quickly slid into dream world. From our bed I watched Nicholas sleeping. His chest rose and lowered slightly with each breath. Occasionally he’d move a paw and shift his body. Or he’d move his little head into another position. I wondered out loud whether he’d sleep through the night. When I got no reply I turned and saw that Rick had joined him in dream world already.
Keeping my end of the agreement, Nicholas and I started lessons as soon as he completed all of his puppy shots. The San Francisco SPCA sponsored classes out at the National Guard Armory located behind the zoo near Ocean Beach. It cost one dollar a week. A dollar! How could I not go?
Once inside the imposing stone Armory, it was a three-ring circus. Four different classes (puppies, beginners, intermediate and field) would be going on simultaneously in different sections of a single enormous hall. To be surrounded by dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages, dogs barking and running, dogs sniffing each other, was heaven. Though I’d never had a dog growing up I quickly discovered that I was a dog lover.
When did you realize you were a dog lover?;