Two months ago, I brought an eight-and-a-half week Saint Bernard puppy into my life. Our first day was spent in a car. Nine hours on the road. He peed in his crate, but he never once cried. When we got back to San Francisco and I saw his furry little body walking around my apartment, sniffing everything in sight, cuddling up in my arms, I knew I was in love. I named him Monkey.
Monkey's second night home. Photo by Ross Barringer.
The next few weeks were interesting. He came home with a parasite that he got from his mom and so there was diarrhea. A lot of diarrhea. Like runny poop on the floors, the walls, the carpets -- pretty much anywhere you can think of. But I didn’t mind cleaning it up; I just worried about Monkey.
If I didn’t hear him for more than a few minutes, I was convinced he was dead. That somehow I was going to do something so egregiously wrong with my first-dog ever, that I would kill him. That first night, I didn’t sleep a wink, but instead spent hours googling “parvo” and other deadly dog diseases.
But other than the pooping (which was cured with a round of antibiotics), he was a perfect little guy. He slept through the night. He ate all of his food. He didn’t even chew too many things (R.I.P. my silk pillows and my cashmere blanket). And best of all, he was friendly. Holy cow, was he friendly.
And as the weeks have passed and "eight and half weeks / 14 pounds" Monkey has grown into four months / 50 pounds" Monkey, he’s only gotten friendlier. “A gentle giant,” they call his kind. He loves people. All people. And people love him. Like, a bus driver stopped her bus -- mid-route, not at a stop, and with passengers aboard -- opened the door and walked down the steps just so she could “love on him.” He literally stops traffic.
And wow does Monkey love it.
People say, “Oh, he’s so cute. I bet he has no idea how adorable he is,” and I’m like, “Oh. He knows. Trust me.” Because I’ve never met a dog that stands in the middle of the sidewalk demanding that every person who passes acknowledges his existence. It doesn’t happen often, but if someone does walk by without participating in a full cuddle session, Monkey is like, “Wuuuut just happened? Did that person not see me? Why didn’t he stop and love me?”
Would you walk by that face without saying hello?
But the truth is: he IS amazing. I mean, he’s a Saint Bernard puppy in a city. Not exactly a common sight. And he’s really cute.
“He looks like a dog in a dog costume!” people say. I mean, sure he’s my dog, but I don’t think I’m being biased on this one. He is truly one of the most amazing dogs I’ve ever seen in my life. Hence why even though I considered other breeds
, I knew in my heart that a Saint was the only dog truly for me.
So yeah. We meet a lot of people. And by “a lot” of people, I mean A LOT of people. A 10-block (round-trip) walk down to the shops in my neighborhood takes at least an hour. Longer on the weekends. And everyone stops us. And everyone asks the same questions:
Stranger: Do you mind if I pet your puppy?
Me: Of course not!
S: How old is he. She?
M: He’s four months.
S: Is he a Bernese…
M: Saint Bernard.
S: Oh wow. You don’t see those often.
S: (Giving the puppy a full rub down and getting lots of kisses for it.) What’s his name?
S: MONKEY! Soon you’ll be calling him GORILLA!
S: How much does he weigh?
M: A little over 50 pounds.
S: Already? Wow! He’s going to be big.
M: Oh yeah.
S: LOOK AT THOSE PAWS!
M: I know.
S: Like how big do you think he’s going to be?
M: Maybe, like… a little over two feet tall and 170 pounds?
S: He’s so soft! Did you just give him a bath?
M: Nope. He’s just that soft. It’s his puppy coat.
S: Wow. He’s really soft. (At this point, the person starts demanding whomever she’s with pet Monkey.) Touch this dog. No seriously. FEEL HOW SOFT HE IS. TOUCH HIM!
M: I know. I finally understand the premise of “101 Dalmatians.” (OK, I only tried that one out once. Turns out people don’t think it’s funny to joke about turning your puppy into a coat. Lesson learned.)
S: Where’d you get him?
M: The pound.
M: Kidding! I got him from a breeder in Southern California.
S: Where’s his barrel?
M: That’s an amazing question, FRIENDS. Where IS his barrel?
S: You’ve got to get him one and put brandy in it!
M: Probably vodka. I don’t drink brown liquor.
S: (Still vigorously petting the dog.) I bet you can’t get more than five feet without someone stopping you. (Never said ironically.)
M: It’s OK. He likes it! Plus, it’s good for him.
S: You just made my entire day. Thanks for letting me play with him.
M: You’re welcome. See you around! C'mon, Monkey. Let’s go!
[Walk two feet...]
New Stranger: Excuse me, do you mind if I pet your…
Me: Of course not!
And, truthfully, I don’t mind having a version of that exchange anywhere from 10 to 50 time a day. Because Monkey makes people so happy and it's actually kind of lovely to be a part of something that does that. (This dog has made me so mushy; don't send help. It's too late for me; save yourselves.) Plus, he’s my dog. I like talking about him. Duh.
What does bother me however -- and by “bother,” I mean “shocks” -- is how RUDE some people are. They stop to pet and admire my dog, but while doing so, they also manage to show their disdain.
The most common of these are the people who give me some derisive version of:
“You know he’s going to get BIG, right?”
“Wow. You must live in a MANSION.”
“Hope your apartment is HUGE.” (While assuming that it is not.)
To the former, I now just step back in mock horror and give them an exaggerated, “WHAT? He’s going to get BIG? Yikes. YOU take him!” And pretend to hand them the leash.
But there’s also a part of me that wants these people to know that I did my research, that I got a dog that’s actually a great fit for my apartment (the size of which is no one’s business), and that he’ll get to spend a lot of time in Tahoe. I know I shouldn’t care what these strangers think, but being judged to my face still feels kind of crappy.
And so I start explaining myself. I mean, I’d barely had him for two hours when I was telling a 70-year-old woman my age, that I work from home, and exactly why Monkey is the perfect dog for me. That Saints are actually really mellow and lazy. That they like to be near their family. All so she’d stop thinking I was a horrible person for bringing him into my life.
Of course, it’s not just his size that people judge me about. There’s also a lot of:
“Wow. He’s going to eat a lot. Hope you’ve got a lot of money!”
To which I joke -- especially to the parents with kids -- “Well, it’s not like I’ve got to send him to college!”
I mean, seriously, would someone ever go up to a mom with a newborn and ask her how many square feet her home is and if she has enough money in her savings account to feed him for the next 18 eighteen years? (I fear the answer in this day and age is actually “yes,” but I’m going to pretend like it’s not.)
Another great one is all of the people who ask me how much I paid for Monkey. Because, you know, that’s polite. Or the people who see him pulling a little on his leash and tell me that I’d better train him now before he gets too big. Thanks randoms. Monkey actually just graduated from Puppy KINDERGARTEN. How far did YOU get in school? Oh, and did I mention that he did a BOW at graduation? That’s right: A BOW.
But the best was the woman on Thanksgiving who saw me walking Monkey and stopped to play with him and ask lots of questions. "Wow," she said. "He's so gentle. He'd just be so good for a family with kids."
I paused, thinking about how I was spending Thanksgiving alone and decidedly without a family, but just laughed and said, "Well it's just me, so he'll have to make do!"
But the thing is? Monkey IS my family now. (And my brothers are awesome
and have totally helped out, especially Todd.)
And ultimately, that’s what makes it worth it, snide comments and all. That I have a dog who I can't get enough of. Who brings a lightness to so many people on a daily basis. And who is teaching me not just about training a puppy, but about how to brush off the haters and relish in the joy that getting covered with kisses by a puppy who is well fed, healthy, incredibly loved, and thinks I’m doing just fine.