The alarm goes off. I open one eye. The grey hush of morning is beginning to reflect in the mirror on the wall from the window to my back. There is something warm snuggled up against my left shoulder blade and extending almost down to my waist. Slowly I turn my head on the pillow and meet mustaches, eyebrows, two floppy black ears and the dark shiny eyes of my miniature schnauzer, her head comfortably resting on the pillow beside mine. This is new. She usually sleeps with her head towards the foot of the bed and much lower down so that her body fits into the small of my back. Today she has decided to become intimate. A wave of love washes over me as I stretch out my hand to scratch behind her ears. Lazily she slides over onto her back, exposing her pink tummy for me to caress. I give her the full body massage she loves. Then, covering her with a corner of the blanket, I slide out of bed and leave her to sleep until it is time to go to the park.
Salomé is definitely the love of my life, at least at this time. Dogs always have been to a certain extent, sharing that privilege with my children and my husband when I have had one. And dogs, like children and husbands leave our lives at a given moment, the humans by moving away, getting married or getting divorced; dogs usually by dying. Salomé is just the latest of a long line of loves-of-my-life. She has been with me now for almost 4 years, well not quite; perhaps more like three and a half.
After my little silver schnauzer, Botana, died six years ago I decided I didn’t want any more dogs. I wanted a rest from having to walk them, groom them, run them to the vet. I wanted a rest from the pain of losing them. I lived quite nicely, without the bothers of a pet, for over three years. The only thing I was really conscious of missing was the obligation of getting my butt out of the chair in front of the computer and taking the dog for a walk: I knew I did less exercise when I didn’t have a dog to make me do it.
However, I went and spent a week at my son’s house. My son has a large dog, Zuka, a “golden doodle” according to him (I insist it looks much more like a labradoodle), a new-age California mix between a Golden Retriever and a giant Poodle. Zuka is pitch black, furry and tremendously huggable. Like a poodle, she neither loses hair nor smells, but she has the rambunctious character of the retrievers, playful, loving, mischievous and smart. While I was there I took her out for a walk every day, sat on the floor and hugged her and rolled delighted around on the carpet while she tackled me. On the flight on the way home I knew I was going to get another dog.
I wasted little time once back in my routine. I had no doubt that I wanted a miniature schnauzer because of my experience with Botana (which means, by the way, hors d’oeuvre or appetizers in Mexican Spanish) so I typed “miniature schnauzer Spain” on internet search. I was immediately rewarded with a series of ads of people selling puppies of this breed. I leafed through the ads looking for one with nice furry front paws, the American schnauzer that tends to be much furrier and prettier than the European strain. There was a breeder in Gijon, in the north of Spain, that had a miniature schnauzer pup, female, three months old. Perfect! I phoned. Yes, he still had the little one; yes she was for sale (he gave a rather steep price but I didn’t care), she had a pedigree a mile long and he had the parents on exhibition for me to see. I would have to go to Gijon, about a 5 hour drive from Madrid. The puppy was called “Salomé”(pronounced sal-o-may).
The photograph on internet was rather small and difficult to see so I really couldn’t get a good look at the puppy, but the name won my heart on the spot: Salomé. It was like poetry in my ear. I wanted her. I would go to Gijon. I told the owner I would be there on Saturday, probably arriving late as I was driving from Madrid and that I would spend the night in a hotel and pick the dog up on Sunday morning. He suggested that when I arrived Saturday I stop by and see the pup. I agreed. We hung up. I was elated. “Salomé”, it was the perfect name. I had fallen in love with the pup already just through her name.
During the following days, my excitement grew and I awaited Saturday with a feeling of joy and expectation. On Friday, I went by the veterinarians and bought a carrying bag for the little dog, a collar, dog food and a brush for her hair. The carrying bag along with a small blanket to wrap her in, in case it was cold went directly into the car. On Saturday morning I packed a small overnight bag. The morning was busy and I wasn’t able to get off until after lunch. It was November and getting dark early so I figured I would not get there in daylight; I sent a text message to this effect to the owner and received an answer saying he would be waiting for me.
I think I was singing most of the way, and when not doing that, I repeated and repeated in my head: Salomé, Salomé, Salomé. I was a woman in love. About an hour out of Gijon it began to rain; dusk was settling in but there was enough light to make out the incredible series of stony crags and peaks on either side of the highway that seemed to lift their bare rock faces towards the cloud-filled sky. Salomé, Salomé … here I come, Salomé. An incredible display of shear strength and beauty on either side, fencing in the curving highway as they towered over the forested areas at their bases filled my eyes as I sang the name that had captivated me. Then the rain really began to come down, night closed in and I had to concentrate on the road. I was about half an hour out of Gijon when it struck me: the realization hit so hard that I had to stop. I pulled over to the side of the road at a place where I was not in danger. For a moment I sat in stunned silence; then I began talking to myself:
“You are so fascinated with your projection of this dog and her name, that if they hand over a rat with mustaches you’ll take her home,” it was a painful realization. It was the admission that the name had enchanted me, but that I had not seen the dog. I sat for a moment feeling the excitement die down inside. “Ok” I said in a low voice, “I promise myself that if I don’t like the dog I will not take her back with me.” I listened intently to my own voice. It was a solemn promise and one that I really hoped I would not have to keep. I had never before been conscious of how powerful a fantasy can be that it might lead you into something you really don’t want. Often I had suffered the consequences of such a happening, but never had I ever been conscious beforehand. Salomé. I crossed my fingers. Salomé, you must be the perfect doggie so I can drive home with you tomorrow. The promise made to myself weighed heavily on my shoulders for the rest of the drive.
Thank God for cell phones. I never would have found my way in the dark and rain to this man’s house if he had not guided me step by step over the phone. Finally I pulled up and taking the carrying bag with me, knocked on the door. A rather short, thin middle-aged man greeted me and showed me into what could only be a dog salon.
“Wait here,” he said, relieving me of the carrying bag and pointing to a chair. I remained standing. After all I had been sitting for over five hours. He returned with an adult schnauzer, silver grey, and placed her on the grooming table in front of me.
“This is the mother” he pointed out as he posed her much the way one does during dog shows for the judges to see. I observed the dog. Nothing like my Botana. This one had a very small head, too small for her body even though she was rather on the small side even for a miniature. The dog allowed herself to be posed, to be shown, made no move to observe the stranger –me- who was looking at her. I did not like the dog, but nodded pleasantly because it was so obvious that the breeder was proud of her.
He brought out two more adult dogs, one the grandmother of Salomé and the other an aunt. These were a bit better in form than the mother, but they were not outstanding schnauzers. They had beautiful coats, that is true, but something was missing in their bone structure and something definitely was missing in their characters. They were all like lifeless statues, there was nothing in them anymore that said “dog!”; rather they were stuffed figures on exhibition, made to stand in a certain way, on legs that no longer moved, to hold the head steady, to not tweak their ears, or wiggle their noses or let their pink tongues hang out. My heart was shrinking: Salomé.
Then he brought her out, the three month old puppy and set her on the table in the same stance that her predecessors had taken, and the puppy stayed, allowed herself to be posed, didn’t wriggle. I looked at her: she had the same shrunken head as her mother and her ears did not fold gracefully in half and drop down covering the opening but rather unevenly stood halfway up, just flopping at the tip. And there was no spark; it was the saddest puppy I had ever seen in my life. Salomé. I picked her up, hoping she would react to the touch. She didn’t. She let me do whatever I wanted; she was like a doll, lifeless and dull.
“Her ears do not have the right drop,” I managed to comment feebly.
“That’s no problem. You put a drop of contact cement on the cheek at the height you want them and glue them there; after a while they will take that position.” I felt myself shrivel up inside at the idea of gluing the dogs ears to her cheeks.
I looked into her eyes. The dog didn’t look back. Had she been caged so much of her very short life that she had developed no social graces? Had she been mistreated? I remembered my promise and shrunk inside. I did not have the courage. I had come for a dog. How was I to go home empty handed? I handed Salomé back to her owner.
“I’ll come for her in the morning,” I said. “May I leave the carrying bag here tonight?”
He agreed; we said goodbye and, following his precise instructions, I managed to arrive at the hotel with no further problems. I was not happy. The hotel restaurant was still open and I ordered a sandwich and coke. It was a small, very inexpensive hotel and the restaurant was filled with raucous people making a tremendous amount of noise even for Spain where everyone yells rather than talks. I ate fast and went up to the small room as soon as possible. Fortunately, the room was relatively quiet. I undressed and crawled into the freshly made bed and turned the light off.
Around three in the morning I turned the light back on. I had not been able to sleep even five minutes. I lay there, miserable, torn between the desire to not give up my dream and the realization that I didn’t like the puppy and I had made myself a promise. Something inside of me also was terrified of facing the possible wrath of the owner after I had practically closed the deal. Yet I had given him no money, fortunately, so it would be no more than wrath; he could not force me in any way to take the puppy. It took me an hour to work out inside of me the decision that my promise required and at four a.m. I finally dropped off to sleep.
At nine I awoke, dressed, gathered my things, had a quick breakfast at the counter downstairs and drove to the breeder’s house. For fifteen minutes I sat in the car contemplating the door, gathering my courage to face what I knew now I must do. There was no way I could fit inside myself the courage to tell the man I was not going to buy the puppy together with a polite or careful way of saying it, so when the unsuspecting owner opened the door, I just blurted it out.
“I have decided not to take the puppy, I am sorry.”
He looked at me as if I were crazy and for a moment didn’t seem to register what I had said. Then rage filled his eyes and he swung around, went inside and slammed the door in my face. I stood there for a moment and then knocked again. Footsteps and the door was yanked open.
“I need the carrying bag I left here last night,” I said, now much more in control of myself. Without a word he went back inside, brought the bag, flung it at me and slammed the door again. It was a relief to climb back into my car and drive away towards Madrid. I had done it, something that was so difficult for me inside that it had taken the whole night to decide, but I had been true to myself. I felt sad (Salomé) but stronger, something inside me said I had given myself that freedom to say no when I had already said yes. It felt good and I was sad… Salomé.
I arrived back in Madrid without the dog I expected to bring. The following day, which was Monday, I walked over to the veterinary’s to return the unused carrying bag and stopped dead as I arrived at their door. On the bottom half of the glass door was a poster picture of a schnauzer pup, black and silver, with the cutest face I had ever seen. I opened the door.
“I hadn’t seen that picture before; is that dog yours?” I asked.
“The picture has been there for about a week “ –and I had been there two days before-, “and yes, she is a three month old black-and-silver miniature schnauzer.”
They brought her in the next day for me to see. She was a bundle of playfulness and love, full of bright energy, black and white and fuzzy all over, and she had the perfect ears and the perfect body-head proportion. There was no doubt in my mind.
“I’ll take her. What is her name?”
“Frida, as in Kahlo,” the young girl answered.
“No, no her name is not Frida,” I said looking the puppy straight in the eyes; “her name is ‘Salomé’” and I could have sworn there was a special twinkle in her coal black eyes as we rubbed noses.
Now perhaps you are thinking that it was kind of stupid and mean of life to make me go all the way to Gijon for a dog that I wasn’t going to buy, or that I was really dumb to not have seen the picture of Salomé the first time I went to the vet’s, but this is not true. I was grateful for the long drive, the beauty of the landscape that I had gotten to see, the depth of the shift inside of me when I was able to respect myself above what another might think or how mad he might have gotten. I was grateful for being able to realize the state of mind I was in that made me, no doubt, overlook the photo in the vet’s and, if not made conscious, would have led me to buy a dog I didn’t like. All those lessons would have been lost if life had made it easy for me. So I got my Salomé, the love of my life for now, and I learned important lessons and nothing was lost and now I am going to feed her and take her for a walk because she has been so, so patient while I write this.
“Come on, Salomé, let’s get you some eatery.”