Illegally Cute

by Marjorie Simmins

“I swear, you have a heart of stone.” My husband’s pronouncement is softened by an amused tone and a conniving smile. But he’s not through with me yet: “How can you resist that?”

“That” is a minuscule collection of puppy parts – tail tip, two front paws, one floppy ear, the rest obscured by a blanket – officially known as Chancey, the baby beagle. A miniature baby beagle, if you please. Didn’t know they even made them that small. It is illegally cute. Which hardens my heart more.

“Out of the question,” I reply. “They dig. They bay. They dismember small, furry creatures, with great skill and high glee. Utterly intractable.” I shake my head vigorously: “No, we are a beagle-free family.”

“But we don’t have to be,” he wheedles, “do we?”

There are appropriate times (alone) and bad times (audience) for spousal arguments. If you choose the latter, as we are commencing to do on this muggy Nova Scotia evening, pitch your voice low, and hope no one follows the exchanges. So far, so good. Chancey’s owners are too busy being hospitable to us and cheery with one another – mother, father and adult visiting son – to notice the drop in volume at our end of the kitchen table.

These are new friends. I wouldn’t want them to misunderstand, or feel I am slighting their unquestionably bright and dear-to-look-on addition to their family. After all, I am batty about most dogs, and battier yet about our own Leo, aka, The Wonder Whippet.

It is the trend in my husband’s thinking that has me on edge. They say wives are always the last to know – or is that believe? – the truth. I am proving the adage, having seen and ignored the warning signs for a long time now. At this moment the sign is neon-bright in my mind: my husband is a late-developing Small Dog Guy. This way madness….is guaranteed. At the very least, small dogs often represent Unique Challenges to Everyday Serenity. I close my eyes for a moment, resisting the panic that has somehow come to the granite organ in my chest.

“Later,” I whisper. “We will discuss this later.”

Thinking back, I can isolate the first indication of small-dog mania. Downtown Vancouver, May 2002, Hornby Street and Pacific Avenue.

“Omagodlook.” Four words exhaled as one, but I got the drift, especially since my husband’s arm shot out in front of us, his index finger pointing to an elongated bundle of wavy hair rapidly traveling east on Hornby. Straight towards us.

“Long-hair Dachshund.” In the tone of, Life Holds No Greater Delight Than.

Sausage-dog, I thought, which is what we called them when I was a kid. Aloud, even then flinty-hearted: “Hairy wiener dog.”

But my husband was already beyond mutter-shot. He was down on his knees on the pavement, his oohs and ahhs clearly audible to me, despite standing 20 feet back from the love-fest. In short order my husband collected relevant details on the turbo-charged shoe-box: name and location of breeder; lifespan, potential health and temperament concerns; cost and availability. The information, he told me, eyes evangelically alight, matches his earlier research on the breed.

Earlier research?

Well, all right, we had had, a few weeks prior, some discussions on Another Dog. Leo (have I mentioned he is the perfect dog?), 12 this past summer, has received strict orders to live forever. He will do his best for us, we know. But most of my life-long girlfriends (one a respected breeder of English pointers, the other merely dog fanatics) actually “stack” their canine family members.

Thus, when the unbearable occurs, it is borne not in a suddenly dog-less house, but in one that continues to have yips, saliva-strewn squeaky toys and bountiful hair on the couches. In this scenario, the heart mends – imperfectly, but sooner, say my friends. I know they are right – it is heart-logical – but I’ve only ever been one-dog monogamous. (All right, I’ve only ever had one dog of my very own. Doesn’t affect his perfect status.)

“Great for the boat,” continues my husband, as we left the street-scene love-a-thon. “One lap around the deck and he’d be done for the day. I could even design a shoulder bag to put him in, for easy loading – yeah, that could work….” He fell silent, working on the details of his design.

No response from me, only the instant mental image of a sausage-dog sandwich, tiny head out one end, mouse-tail out the other, body leather-encased.

“Please,” I said, “I don’t think I can handle this conversation.”

The memories are piling up. The week before Christmas, also last year. We were decorating the tree. Work done for the day, seasonally sweet baking smells filling the house. Joy to the World on the CD player. Lovely tranquil moods, both.

Then: “Did I ever tell you my brother had Yorkies?”

Yorkshire terriers. In league with Satan for maelstrom and auditory chaos. They not only dig – for real and imagined rats – they climb. Pant legs. Pitched roofs. Your neighbor Christina, twitchy around dogs anyway, always dressed in crisp whites.

“Ye-es?” Frowning, angel in hand, I refocused on the tree, having totally lost the ideal spot I’d intended to hang it. Christmas, in a heartbeat, transformed into such a chore.

“I know they’re ridiculously small – more like a floor mop than a dog – but they’re kind of nice, too.”

“Your point?”

“Oh, no point. ‘Cept you did say you liked the Taylor’s Yorkie, remember?”

Clarabelle. Affectionate, nominally obedient. But so tiny! What if you accidentally stepped on her – bird-bones wrapped in silken tresses. Think of the sound that would –

“Dog by dog sort of thing,” I allowed, shuddering. “Some you like, some you don’t. Just like people. I like the Taylors, too. But maybe not their great-aunt Bertha.”

“Well you seem awfully hard on small dogs generally. No need, really.” His expression was so bland, so natural, innocent.

My God! How blind could I be? He’s been laying the groundwork for years!

“What do you think of Chancey?” Our host’s question pulls me back – slow, resistant, like taffy spooned up from a bowl – to the convivial kitchen we and Chancey’s owners are gathered in.

I look up to see yet another man’s eyes lit with religious dog-fervor. And puppy-fervor, the most dangerous, detached from common sense. In lieu of an answer, I smile, then look down on the current floor tableau, puppy belly and puppy snout, both offered up for adoration. Leo, sleeping deeply on the same blanket, dreaming, perhaps, of borderless terrain and four young-again legs, to carry him like wind over water. His tan and white body, elegant in motion and repose, has always made me think of a deer. So, too, his eyes, amber-dark, back-lit with intelligence and humor. But he is named for his lion-heart, which only in year 12 has started to falter. Remember the deal, Leo. Live forever.

A gargle of baby-beagle snore rises in the air. A six-inch puppy leg twitches. My rock-heart shatters, re-forms in softer form, as it will another day, forever from now.

“He’s perfect,” I say. “Aren’t they all?”


Illegally Cute was published in the The Sunday Herald (The Chronicle Herald) in 2003.