I’m on record saying infants are easier than puppies. You can stick a diaper on a baby and pop a pacifier in her mouth.
Not so for a puppy. You have little control over a young dog piddling everywhere and whimpering in his crate.
Yet, I agreed to get a puppy last spring. I suppose my family was like all the others who did so during the pandemic. We sought comfort, joy and companionship during an unpredictable time.
The idea first popped up in March when a friend said her family was taking the puppy plunge. It was a perfect time to get a dog, she reasoned, considering all the time they’d be spending at home for the foreseeable future. An 8-week-old chocolate Lab, Rona — as in coronavirus — joined their crew soon after.
Puppies are infectious. Before long another friend surprised her kids with a goldendoodle named Charlie. By April, my daughters pleaded for a dog daily, and my husband, Mike — the person who’s supposed to be on my side, who typically does not like to complicate our lives with more things to do — agreed with them. Right there at the dinner table. Without discussing it with me first. He said they were right: It was a good time to get a dog. The girls were 10 and almost 9. He’d gotten his boyhood dog, Rudy, at that age. He couldn’t envision having grown up without him.
It took a few weeks, but I caved — with a few conditions. I said I wasn’t going to be the only one walking the dog or picking up poop. I told Mike that we’d be investing in professional dog training and a new vacuum. And I claimed the right to approve the dog’s name. I didn’t want the girls naming him something generic, like Spot, or giving him a name fit for a Squishmallow.
But the obsession over our prospective pet’s name had already begun. The girls researched lists of the best dog names and transcribed them onto the grocery pad stuck to our fridge. They asked to do a bracket-style selection, which is how we make lots of decisions in our household, like which movie to watch or where to go out to eat, but it wasn’t the way we were going to name our canine companion. My daughters wanted to decide on a name immediately, but I put them off. We’d narrow it down to a few favorites and wait until we’d met him, which is exactly how we arrived at their names: Sadie and Paige.
The list was full of solid options for the male yellow Lab who’d be joining us in six weeks, although I wasn’t sold on any of them. I preferred a two-syllable human name. Sally had been my dog as a kid. Many of the contenders — like Bruce (as in Willis) and Sarge (as in the military rank) — were heavily influenced by Mike’s affinity for action movies and America. As the list narrowed, but still included things like Valentine, I reminded all three of them I had veto power.
I’d let Mike name our first dog after his favorite character from Saving Private Ryan. Jackson, the beagle-pug, named for the film’s heroic sniper, was a difficult dog, due to no fault of his own. We never trained him, and it showed. He tinkled in the house and woke up at 5 a.m. demanding to eat until the day he died. His name missed the mark.
Sunny, the rescue mutt we brought home the summer before, came with her name. One night, as Sadie sat with her on the floor, Sunny got spooked and bit her in the face. It was bloody and tearful. Sadie got stitches, but she was OK. She assured us she wasn’t scared, but we were. We took Sunny back. In hindsight, the way the girls gave her a wide berth should have signaled something other than fair weather ahead.
When it was time to pick up our new pup, the four of us drove to the breeder in Columbia Station, made our way up the inclined driveway and into the backyard where a brood of amber-colored puppies rolled around, nipping and pawing at one another. The girls cooed and knelt, scooping them up and studying them one at a time. They decided on the calmest in the bunch. “Come here, bud,” Mike said, reaching for the chosen one.
“Buddy!” one of the girls squealed. They exchanged glances. “Dad called him Buddy. That should be his name.”
“Buddy?” I said, the tone of my voice ticking up on the second syllable. “That’s not even on the list.”
It was the most common name I could think of. In fact, it’s my default nickname for every little boy and dog I meet. We might as well name him Fido.
“What a lame name,” Mike hissed, giving me the eyes over the top of the car as Sadie, Paige and an 8-pound bundle of golden fur loaded into the back seat.
“We don’t have to decide right now,” I said. But the girls, who don’t agree on much, were aligned on this.
Buddy wasn’t on the list, but getting a puppy wasn’t the plan either. I went with it. I’ve discovered that this isn’t the year for holding on tightly to expectations. And as it turns out, Buddy’s given name doesn’t really matter. We seem to call him anything but Buddy. Sadie and I call him Bud. Paige calls him Bubba. And for all the tough-guy talk, Mike calls him Boo Boo Bear.