Natural-ish Selection, Part 2. How the internet destroyed the family pet.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

“I think I found the dog,” my wife Dorie said, staring at her laptop’s screen.

The words drew me from my book. I shrugged. “What dog?”

She waved her fingers like I was supposed to know something about the topic. “Abigail has been asking for a dog forever. I never had one growing up. We’re getting one for her birthday.”

Sounded like a plan. Abigail was responsible. And she’d learn a lot raising a pet. I had my favorite dog, Ring, as a buddy growing up. She should have the same opportunity. “Good idea. Find one at the pound?”

“Heavens, no. I’ve been looking at different breeds. It needs to be small, hypoallergenic, and …”

She said a few things after that, but my brain stuck on “hypoallergenic” like a rubber boot in marsh mud. What did it mean? It sounded important. Was it legal?

“Are labs hypoglycemic?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hypoallergenic. And no, labs are not. It means they won’t make you sneeze.”

Made sense. Independent laboratory tests have proven the average Labrador retriever produces five pounds of hair for every one pound of food consumed. They’re a perpetual motion machine of fur.

Dorie continued expounding upon all the criterion used to select the dog in her endless internet search. Neither the floppiness of its ears nor the way it wagged its tail were on the list. One was durability. “Some of the designer breeds have thin skulls.”

Thin skulls? Having lived with labs, I can personally testify their skull is granite and the principal component of the rest of their body is rubber. My mother once come home to find a chocolate lab covered in crusty red fluid. Not blood, but cherries. It had gotten on top of the counter, pushed a hot cherry pie onto the floor, then eaten the entire thing, including the glass shards of the dish it was in. The dog had wagged its tail, looking as if it wanted another, and is still alive today. There are only a few things, other than old age, that will kill a lab, but the government keeps them locked up in Area 51 along with other weapons of mass destruction.

“So, what dog you settle on?”

“It’s a mix between…” Whew! A mix. I didn’t hear anything after that. Guys know what I’m talking about. You hear the answer and the rest sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Try as we may, sometimes we’ve just got to blame genetics. She’d been looking at all sorts of breeds, some quite expensive, so when she’d said mix the butterflies left my stomach.

Early the next Saturday morning the family piled into the SUV. The dog was going to be a surprise for Abigail. She’d been studying American history, so we’d told her we were going to visit some Civil War sites. I gripped the wheel. “Where we headed?”

My wife pointed to a map, finger landing five hours west. “Don’t you remember?”

At what pound had she found this mutt? What was so special about this animal we had to drive halfway across the state? But like a good husband, and mainly because I didn’t want to admit guilt of not listening earlier, I glanced at the map and shook my head knowingly.

Close to our destination, white fences appeared next to the road, some stretching for miles. Our vehicle raced down lush hills to climb up the next. Expansive pastures with grass more thick and green than any lawn in our neighborhood. We passed a red stable with white trim, spotlessly kept. Soon after, another one turned my head. Finally we passed several so opulent they made our house look like the before picture on one of those HGTV shows. Yep, we were in horse country.

“The pounds out here have nice dogs?” I whispered so Abigail wouldn’t hear.

Dorie scowled, then read more directions. We turned onto a gravel drive and drove beneath a sign stretched across the entrance. Lazy Lane Farms. Horses grazed on either side. I scooched in my seat uncomfortably. Sweat started to roll down my back. We drove for a solid half mile before I worked up the nerve. “Are we lost?”

“No. It’s just up here on the left.”

My stomach sank. The car weaved down the drive as the lane blurred. How far back was this mutt going to set us? Dogs from breeders were expensive. But a horse breeder? Oh goodness. Will they accept credit cards?

I glanced into the back seat. Abigail still thought we were headed to a Civil War battlefield. My mind raced how we could get out of this. Dear God, I’d never wish any of Your little animals suffer, but if this dog could have gotten out and stomped by a mare, that would really mean a lot to me.

My wife must have sensed my angst. She leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry. This dog is six months old and the last of the litter. Another set is coming and they need to sell her. I got her for half-price – only $600.” She sat back with a smile and crossed her arms.

This, my friends, is what’s wrong with the internet. Ignorance is bliss. At our local pound we could’ve gotten a perfectly good lab mix that shed like crazy and wouldn’t die if run over by a steam roller. The dog, shots, and neuter scooter would’ve come in around $100. But now we’re headed down the lane of some horse breeder with stables I wouldn’t mind living in, ready to pay $600 for a dog no one else wanted. Sending the farm owners’ kids to college when we needed to be saving for our own.

“You said she was a mix.”

She lowered her head and peered through downturned eyebrows. “Yeah. A mix of King Charles spaniel and Bichon.”

“This doesn’t look like a Civil War anything,” came from the back seat.

“We’ve got an early present for your birthday,” Dorie said. I glanced in the rearview and Abigail’s face brightened. Her legs started kicking.

“It’s not a horse,” I quickly added. She kicked even harder as the realization must have sunk in. Her spreading smile and awestruck eyes pushed any thought of cost out of mind. You couldn’t pay enough for that joy. She’d been asking for a dog for years, proven herself responsible, and Dorie had hunted for the perfect one. We were all a part of the story, though mine consisted principally of dollar signs.

But this still doesn’t get us to the pink-leashed hypoglycemic cotton ball outside a truck stop, sniffing the grass for a place to pee.

Till next post.

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