Puppy Love

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

New moms and dads and parents-to-be are often taken aback and a little incredulous when I offer, excitedly, to babysit. They think I’m being polite. They almost never take me seriously, perhaps silently wondering what outrageous fee I must charge for my services.

I assure them that I’m not in it for the money — I just enjoy the company of infinitesimal infants, teetering toddlers and cherubic children. I like seeing the world through their eyes. It’s a perspective that is too easily lost when we turn into adults and stop seeing our surroundings as a new and mysterious gift.

I babysit for free out of the belief that karmic justice will prevail and someday, when I have a kid or two and need a babysitter but am not rolling in cash, the cosmos will give back to me as I have given.

Recently I got a call to watch some babies — a set of 6-week-old sextuplets and a French enfant just a couple of days older. The job called for me to spend three days (including two nights) overseeing the activities of this crew, while also making sure they got plenty of nurturing, affection, nourishment and hydration.

I said yes. Of course! I knew it would be a big job to do all alone, but the universe was summoning me and who am I to refuse the call for service?

The sextuplets do not have names. They’re often referred to by color — the little ribbon around each of their furry little necks. They are baby bullmastiffs, small and adorable and incapable of malicious thoughts.

Their hobbies include licking and romping and making ridiculously precious little growls in the spirit of play. They also yearn for their mother’s milk, but they’ve been long since weaned, and they’re beginning to learn that the world is a cold, hard, calloused place and access to the maternal drinking fountain can easily be derailed.

Their partner in crime — if the crime is blatant adorability — is also nameless: a French bulldog puppy who was born just before the bullmastiff brigade made their arrival. It’s not uncommon for Frenchies, as they’re known, to have tiny litters, and this one had what’s called a singleton. Because she’s a lonely little pup, she spends most of her time amid the bullmastiffs, who are growing at a breakneck pace, making the little Holstein-cow-colored Frenchie seem smaller and smaller.

The forthcoming puppy-sitting adventure takes me back to my days as a kid in Iowa, back before spaying was en vogue. We had a promiscuous female terrier who was relentless and ingenious about getting outside to go meet up with her next suitor. And about two months later, we’d have a new little litter of puppies.

The terrier’s name, fittingly enough, was Lady. Her loose sexual morals served to teach my brother and me about the miracle of life. In the process, she provided us with endless entertainment during puppy season. We would play with them, creating elaborate ways to amuse ourselves and pretending the puppies enjoyed it too. Like the Puppy Olympics one year — maybe it was 1980 — I’m pretty sure the puppies didn’t care for some of the events, but they were good-natured and patient through our antics.

If it was that year, that was the litter that brought into my life a wee dog — the runt of the litter, always my favorite — whom we named Mini Dog. Mini, as we often called her, turned out to be quite fond of me, to the extent that when we found her a home — not once, but twice and maybe even three times — she became a destructive little demon dog. So the puzzled and annoyed new owners would bring her back to our house, saying sorry, we just can’t keep her.

Eventually my mom gave up trying to find her another home and accepted that she’d be living with us. Mini Dog, the little runt of that litter, turned out to have a heart condition that caused her tummy to fill with fluid and look like she would burst at the seams. The vet told us she might not live too long, so Mini Dog and I made sure to make the most of every day.

She lived for two years, during which she was the first pet I had who was mine-all-mine. Because she lived such a short time, she taught me about the other end of the miracle of life. I was 12 years old when she died; I could tell she wasn’t doing well but wasn’t ready to accept reality.

That night, Mini Dog came and pawed at my leg to pick her up, so I did. She sat on my lap for a while, and then jumped down and went into the kitchen. I heard her chain jangle, so I called for her and — nothing. I got up to check on her, and she was lying on her side, dead.

I am still and always will be drawn to the runt of the litter, when there is one. If not, the smallest will do. In this litter of sextuplet bullmastiffs, the littlest one is a boy I’m calling Alexander for reasons too complicated to explain. I know we will spend massive amounts of quality time on my puppy-sitting excursion. I’ll also have a soft spot for the little Frenchie, since she’s on the verge of being dwarfed by the others.

They will get extra cuddles, but there will be plenty for the larger five, too. Cuddles for the puppies, face licks for me, puppy breath and squirming and adorable little growls when they wrestle with each other.

I won’t charge for this puppy-sitting date, of course. It’s too much fun, and what if I have a litter of puppies someday and need to leave them in someone else’s care?

Also, I’d feel awfully bad making the owners pay for my services when I fully intend to leave that house with my pockets stuffed full of puppies.

Kristina Campbell likes puppies. Who doesn’t like puppies? To share your thoughts on puppies, or to contact the author generally, e-mail kcampbell@metroweekly.com.

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