For 40 years I have lived with German shepherds and Shetland sheepdogs, unfussy working breeds. Usually I’ve had one of each, the protective temperament of the German shepherds complemented by the gladly obedient Shelties.
I train my dogs to be well behaved, not to do tricks. They follow me wherever I go, inside and out, and ride in the car with me most days, weather permitting. My current Sheltie, the fourth I’ve owned, often keeps my feet warm when I write.
Perhaps I’m a bit boring having the same type of dogs for four decades, but the intelligence and steady personalities of German shepherds and Shelties suit me and my practical nature.
Recently I discovered that old dog owners can learn new things.
In mid-December, someone gave me a delightful present: a 12-week-old Yorkipoo. Half Yorkshire terrier and half miniature poodle, this 5-pound creature has captured the adoration of my family like Harry Styles in a stadium full of Gen Zers.
The names we’ve considered for our new boy include Steve, Roger, Frankie, Elroy, Odin. Someone suggested Hannibal and was promptly voted off the naming committee.
I’ve taken to calling him Henry, which in French sounds a bit like “ornery,” an apt description for most puppies. Meanwhile, my 12-year-old son, Leif, insists upon calling him Ozzie.
When waiting for him to do his business in the January cold, I summon my best Eliza Doolittle and call out, ” ‘enry ‘iggins, go pee already!” Leif, on the other hand, hollers “Ozzieozzieozzie” when he wants the puppy to come. My 10-year-old daughter goes with the flow, calling him Henry when she’s near me and Ozzie around her brother.
It seems people have strong opinions about the names Henry and Ozzie. My neighbors say Ozzie will not do as it reminds them of Ozzy Osbourne. The groomer (who, after 23 years, has known all but my first two dogs) thinks Ozzie is an adorable name, which is what she writes on his appointment card.
After weeks of the Henry-Ozzie debate, we’ve decided he can have two names. Most pets have endearing nicknames and still manage to come when called.
Angus, my 6-year-old Sheltie, mostly ignores the puppy. That is, until I throw a toy. Angus races to the toy and makes it abundantly clear that only he may pick it up. Once he does, Henry barks at Angus, who soon drops the toy. Henry then grabs it and returns to me for another round of fun.
Unlike Angus, my German shepherd, Otto, is as smitten with the wee canine as we are. During more than one virtual meeting I’ve had to explain that the loud moans of pain are those of my 90-pound dog being tormented by a puppy so small that Otto could eat him in two bites but chooses not to.
On our daily 2-mile walks, Otto glides with long-legged strides that make his speed look effortless. Right behind him, Henry’s short legs pump up and down like mini pistons as he cartoonishly tries to keep up.
My eldest son, Claude, was home and worked remotely for two weeks over the holidays. Even more practical than me, we often refer to him as the family monk. So I was shocked (and delighted) when I found him regularly putting Henry on his chest under his sweater where the puppy would sleep while Claude sat in on conference calls and meetings.
Just before Christmas, Claude and I found $5 dog sweaters at Aldi’s. Later that night, he brought Henry to me all decked out in a sweater with “Fa-la-la-la-la” written on the back.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” said Claude, “but I want to buy this puppy more outfits and dress him up.”
We soon did just that.
I’ve always thought of my Shelties as having big-dog personalities in smaller-sized bodies. I had no idea a far smaller dog could also come equipped with outsized personality and intelligence.
At Henry’s first appointment, my longtime vet and friend Julie Brown-Herold was not surprised by our latest addition to the family. Instead of asking why I decided to adopt my first smidge of a dog, she told me how wonderful all these poodle mixes are.
“When our golden retriever died,” she said, “I didn’t want another big dog. Our kids are grown, we’re getting older, so we got a little poodle mix, too.”
Up until a month ago, I would never have dreamed of clearing out a dresser drawer for dog clothing. But that’s just what I did earlier this week. I also didn’t foresee buying a sling to carry my puppy around like I used to carry my human babies.
While my dogs now come in large, medium and extra small, each holds an equal portion of our hearts.
This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, January 22, 2023.