16: Comrade in Arms

16: Comrade in Arms

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Comrade in Arms

For me a house or an apartment becomes a home when you add one set of four legs, a happy tail, and that indescribable measure of love that we call a dog.

~Roger Caras

When my fiancé Shawn and I purchased a townhouse, I decided it was time to realize my dream of dog ownership. Growing up, we had cats for pets, but instinctively, I knew I was a dog person. Unfortunately, my fiancé was not so sure.

“Puppies pee everywhere,” Shawn warned. “A dog would wreck the carpeting.” Undeterred, I researched until I found a breeder of a Poodle-Schnauzer hybrid willing to bring his puppies over for a home-visit.

“We don’t have to decide now. I’ll just look at them,” I told my leery fiancé.

Shawn was not convinced, especially after he discovered the visit would be when he was at work. I told him not to worry and promised to take pictures.

The day of the visit arrived. Amidst a soundtrack of high-pitched yips, the breeder left the Schnauzer mother in his station wagon and carried out the two remaining puppies. One pup was completely jet black. The other was shades of gray. The black puppy refused to move, but the gray pup confidently wobbled to my outstretched hand. I admired his complex coloring: the black fur on his back faded to smoky gray on his sides and silvery white on his paws. He sniffed me with a wet, black nose. I smiled, flattered by his attention. Then his thin black lips parted, and he licked my fingers. His tail was docked and the remaining nub twitched back and forth frantically.

“Which one do you like?” asked the breeder.

“The gray one,” I said.

I picked up the puppy and brought him inside. I held him against my chest; he felt as warm as a swaddled newborn. His fur of soft curls with black wiry ends tickled my skin, making me smile. All else seemed to fall away when I felt the quick pulsing of his little heart as he snuggled my neck and licked my chin. The breeder talked about kennels, leashes, and puppy food. I nodded, only half listening. I lifted the gray puppy so our eyes could meet. My gaze locked with the dark chocolate eyes hooded by bushy white eyebrows. In those shiny brown eyes, I saw trust, loyalty, and love.

Hours later, Shawn returned from work to discover his fiancée sitting in the living room, cuddling a sleepy gray puppy.

“I knew it!” he said. “You bought it, didn’t you?”

I smiled guiltily. “I’m naming him Sammy. Isn’t he adorable?”

Shawn reached out to pet Sammy, but the pup barked, frightened. “He doesn’t even like me!” Shawn complained. He was clearly not impressed.

The next few weeks were rough. With every accident we had to clean up and every night’s sleep cut short by whines for attention, Shawn grew more frustrated.

“I told you we weren’t ready to have a dog,” he grumbled as he aggressively sprayed the carpet with pet odor neutralizer.

It appeared my venture into dog ownership was not working out. Then, I received life-changing news from my National Guard unit. We had received deployment orders. In just three months, I would be off to six months of training at Fort Hood, Texas, followed by a year of refueling helicopters in Iraq.

In the next chaotic weeks, my fiancé and I organized our wedding, prepared for my deployment, and somehow managed to housetrain Sammy. On a clear brisk day in January, Shawn and I married in my hometown church, surrounded by family and friends. Just four weeks later, the dreaded day I had to fly to Fort Hood came. That morning, I kissed Sammy’s furry head as I placed him in the kennel.

“Take care of Daddy,” I whispered.

I knew if I said anything more, I would burst into tears. Shawn drove me to the airport in the pre-dawn darkness. We didn’t talk much, but we held hands with a fierce tightness.

“Call me as soon as you can,” Shawn kept repeating. I nodded, eyes filling with tears. Would we get through this? Would Shawn be okay without me?

“I love you, so much,” was all I could say.

“I love you, too, baby. Call me as soon as you can, okay?”

I came home for mid-tour leave the next year at the end of January, the week of our first wedding anniversary. After a tearful reunion with family at the airport, Shawn and I drove home. We couldn’t stop smiling as we held hands in the car.

“Just wait until Sammy sees you,” Shawn said. “He’s going to flip out.”

I was excited to see Sammy, too. When Shawn brought Sammy downstairs, I didn’t recognize the adult dog who jumped on me, smothering me with wet kisses.

“He’s huge!” I groaned from under his weight.

Sammy was fifteen pounds heavier than the puppy I remembered. His coat was lighter too. The black that once highlighted most of his furry curls was reduced to a thin strip along his back. Sammy was so excited to see me he had a little accident on the kitchen floor. When I noticed the puddle, I glanced nervously at my husband. I braced myself for an annoyed reaction. Instead, Shawn continued smiling as he grabbed the cleaning spray and paper towels.

“Man,” Shawn laughed, “he really is excited to see you!” His calm reaction was the first clue something had changed between Sammy and my husband. I noticed Sammy followed my husband everywhere, shiny eyes fixed loyally on my husband’s face. It became clear our dog was no longer a momma’s boy. I commented on this change to Shawn.

He scratched Sammy behind the ears and confessed, “I couldn’t have made it through these past months without him.”

He explained that Sammy was the one who was always there for him during my absence. He helped my anxious husband sleep by filling my empty spot on the bed. It was Sammy who raised Shawn’s spirits with his infectious playfulness and constant ploys for attention. Thanks to him, Shawn didn’t have to come home from work to an empty, lonely house. Instead, Sammy was always there to greet him by running around in circles of frenzied excitement and jumping on Shawn’s legs until he knelt to receive a series of doggy kisses. Sammy would even lick Shawn’s tears when he cried.

“Come on Mr. Floppy Ears, let’s go upstairs with Mommy!” my husband cooed in baby talk to Sammy as we carried my Army duffle bags upstairs.

I smiled. Observing the loving bond between Sammy and my husband comforted me. The previous fall I had impulsively bought a friendly gray puppy because I knew I was a dog person. Now, it was very clear my husband was a dog person too. When the time came to return to Iraq for the second half of my deployment, the drive to the airport was once again tearful. However, this time, my anxiety over my husband’s welfare was absent. I knew my husband would be okay; he had Sammy.

~Joan Oen

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