The Dog My Husband Didn't Want

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

Our elderly Boxer, my sons’ beloved dog, was in the last throes of cancer. We’d talked a lot about death and saying goodbye, but obviously my boys were still devastated. I wanted them to feel some control over the process, so I asked: Do you want to get a puppy now, while she’s here, so it’ll be easier when she goes; do you want to get one right after; or do you want to wait a while? Overwhelmingly, they said they wanted a puppy to ease the transition. My husband had agreed to the dog. In theory. In a general conversational sense: “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

He knew I was looking at puppies online.

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An SPCA about sixty miles away had some promising candidates. So on a rainy February day, just before the pandemic started, we drove out winding state roads to a bright, clean building where they showed us the puppy we liked. She ran right to my sons to play. “That one,” I said. “Her. You don’t have to show us any more.”

And so we took the dog home: a smallish, all-black German Shepherd mix. The kids named her Zelda, after the video game. I named her Zelda after the librarian from The Magicians. It worked out.

My Husband Came Home to Find Her

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We hadn’t really warned him, and I hadn’t really called him, so my husband walked in from work to find our boys joyfully playing tug-of-war with the dog, the Boxer ignoring the dog, and both German Shepherds looking pathetic at the addition of the dog. (Note: in hindsight, this is definitely not something I recommend doing — a dog is a huge commitment, and all parties should be completely on board beforehand. But I digress.)

“You did what?” he said.

I dragged him into another room.”We said we would let the boys decide how to grieve, and this is what they decided, and I refuse to take that autonomy away from them.” I folded my arms and used big, intimidating words.

He sighed. “Okay. So we have a puppy now.”

He was not very happy about the dog, who needed shots and spayed and toys and all the things little dogs require. But he agreed she was cute, and that she seemed good with the kids, which was all that mattered.

I’d Never Owned A Dominant Dog…

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My big old German Shepherd, who weighs as much as me, is a marshmallowy baby. Our raccoon-German Shepherd mix, who came to us after living through God knows what God knows where, is the sad, sweet cuddle dog (the kids refuse to cuddle with him for reasons unknown). Our Boxer, like most of the breed, was perpetually happy.

The puppy: 100% dominant.

Zelda thought she owned the house. She pranced around as if everyone needed to make way for her. She barked when she wanted attention. She barked when she wanted food. In fact, she barked whenever the mood struck her. The dog was not a full-blooded Shepherd — we knew that — but we hadn’t expected this. The dog was a serious barker. I’d never owned a barker. My head ached. My kids loved her.

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My husband remained skeptical. Of course he liked the dog. Zelda was sweet and good for the kids. But he still wasn’t sure she had been a good idea. She did help the kids when our Boxer passed. But he still wasn’t convinced.

Then Zelda Became A Pandemic Dog

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The pandemic hit about two weeks after we brought Zelda home. Suddenly, we couldn’t go anywhere. The dog had our attention 24/7. Because my husband fed her, she especially wanted his attention. While we locked her out of his room while he did his virtual teaching, she was overjoyed when he emerged between class sessions.

The dog wanted to be with us all the time. So the dog wanted to sleep with sleep us. We didn’t have the heart to crate her, so she curled up on our bed — a warm puppy in the space behind my husband’s bent knees.

Our only time outside the house became walks around the neighborhood. My husband began taking Zelda with him while he walked. She loved it. She lived for it. The word “walk” became banned. He threatened to replace it with “Walkies!” I threatened to leave him.

But as the reality of the pandemic set in, not only did the dog keep our kids happy — the dog became a stress relief for my husband, who was devastated he no longer taught face-to-face. Zelda helped him feel less disconnection, with her barking and hole-digging and propensity to stand on high objects to get attention — a phenomenon we named “mountain goating.” God, the dog was a pain in the ass. But she was funny.

And she gave my husband a reason to walk around the neighborhood. “The dog needs a walk,” he’d say, and disappear. Soon the dog needed a run, too. Soon the dog began flipping out when she saw my husband in any kind of athletic gear. Sneakers, athletic shorts, and headphones provoked spinning, barking joy. While he walked, he told me, he talked to her constantly. “I look like that crazy old man babbling at nothing,” he’d say. “But I explain squirrels and cats and trees and everything else.”

My husband loved the dog.

She Loves My Husband Best

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Zelda theoretically belongs to the kids. When she does something bad, my husband ridicules me: “She’s legally your dog. You’re the one who signed the adoption papers.” But in reality? The dog belongs to my husband in all her obnoxious barking, mountain-goating glory. I nicknamed her Miss Piggy because her demeanor matches the spoiled, entitled Muppet’s — so much that when the kids found out, my 10-year-old nearly had an asthma attack laughing.

Now that my husband teaches face-to-face, the dog has learned what work clothes mean.

Pathetically, she lays on his feet as he dresses. She steals his shoes. She’s even grabbed his socks as he pulled them on and tried to yank them off.

She cries when he leaves. She barrels at him when he comes home. My husband cuddles with her on the couch; she sleeps with us; she makes him laugh through the misery of the pandemic. “The dog is the best gift you never meant to give me,” he told me once.

He will deny he said this.

I thought I was adopting the dog for my kids. And I did: she tears through the yard with them, sleeps in my youngest son’s bed about half the time, and rough houses with them. I didn’t know it, but I really adopted the dog for my husband. “You’ve fulfilled my need for a small, useless dog,” he tells me.

Then they go on walkies.

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