“I think Vick needs braces,” I told my sister on the phone.
There was a heavy silence. Not even an exhale. I could hear her holding her breath on the line.
Victor is my little dog. My sister is not all that fond of dogs as a rule. I say that, but she’s probably normal. She thinks they are actually animals, and should be treated as such. She has no problem making them stay outside, and wouldn’t dream of letting them on the furniture. She thinks it’s silly to dress them in clothes, or carry them around in an infant papoose.
No, she has no problem keeping all canines in their places, but especially my little Vick. She thinks I’m nuts. Whacko over my dogs. She has three grandchildren, two of them toddlers, and is over the moon over each one of them. She says that a couple of grandbabies would be a cure-all for me. She thinks I might buy a real live human baby a soft cotton onesie instead of buying a corduroy coat for my little dog. It was red.
I got my first little dog, Ruth Ann, when my oldest son turned 18. A little dog was all he wanted for his birthday. It was the last thing my husband wanted. In fact he forbade it, putting his foot down and throwing out ultimatums. When we returned from the Humane Society with a little black dachshund-min-pin mix, he melted immediately. And Ruth spent most of her time curled up on his lap.
My sister rolled her eyes and flicked black dachshund hairs off my sweaters. She apologized to others about the state of my clothes. Do you have any boundaries? she asked.
My second little dog, Sophie Marie, fit into my shoe when I first brought her home. She was tiny. A little Chihuahua-min-pin mix, she chose my husband’s vest as her favorite spot, and spent every possible moment curled up against his chest. He zipped up his green fleece vest protectively, and I got used to the warm little bulge over his heart.
My sister made no bones about it. She said we were certifiable.
But my sister, who thinks I am ridiculous about dogs, dropped everything the day Sophie was hit by a car. She waited with us at the emergency animal hospital, her face pale and drawn. She offered us Coca Colas and sandwiches. She held my hand. And wrung her own.
A while after Sophie died, my sister took me to the Humane Society. She knew we needed a new little dog, that a new dog would ease our heavy sadness. I didn’t know it was so obvious.
The dog we have now, Victor, is the worst of all of them, according to my sister. She’s never said so outright, but I can just tell by the way she makes me put him up in the laundry room whenever she brings the grandbabies over. She says it’s because he snaps at them, and bares his teeth when they toddle toward him.
I tell her it’s her fault. She chose him herself, handpicking him from all the dogs in the cages at the Humane Society. She pointed out to me how he tucked his little paws right under his chin, and curled into my arms like a newborn baby. He’s the one. Look how he responds to you!
“Who told you Vic needs braces?” she asks accusingly on the phone finally. “Did your veterinarian tell you that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog with braces.”
I can’t stop laughing.
She doesn’t think this story is all that funny. I wouldn’t put it past them, she says. She twirls her finger by her ear as she speaks, indicating we are cuckoo.
But despite her own philosophy on dogs, I know where my sister’s heart is.
Right by mine.