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copyright 1999, Kate Gilpin

I hadn't lived with a dog since I left my parents' house decades ago.  I had always kept cats.  And I had wanted a dog of my own since my  wonderful Persian cat Tribble was about twelve.  My little house had a fenced yard, and I loved dogs.  But when I consulted Trib, he let me know I was going to have a dog over his dead body.  So that is what I planned for.

At the beginning I wanted a Chow.  They look like a cross between small bears and enormous Persians, and I thought it would be like having a Tribble I could take everywhere. I met several of the dogs, read a fair amount, and talked to a lot of people.  Almost all of these people said I would be crazy to get one.  They said the Chow temperament was surly at best, unpredictable and vicious at worst.  After years of uncertainty, I ran across an author who said Chows were not a good first dog, not a dog for a beginner.  I was persuaded.   I didn't have to make the dogs all bad, just me a beginner.  One other thing--I had noticed that I wanted the Chows to be bigger. This fondness for size was not about strength and protectiveness.  It had something to do with the extra charm of a very large but playful animal, some odd subset of cuteness.

Time passed. My mother died.  An old boyfriend turned up.  Dear old Tribbie got to be almost nineteen, and slower and smaller and sleepier.  He became very frail, and finally died. I wept, and scattered his ashes in the garden. 

I knew it was time to start looking for the dog. I began researching in earnest.  I learned that, along with bigness, I was attracted to hairiness, intelligence, gentleness, and humor.  I considered Samoyeds and Giant Schnauzers, Keeshonds, Newfoundlands, Elkhounds,  Akitas, and more.  And compared with all of them, the Bouvier des Flandres sounded exactly right.  Big.  Darling.  Smart.  Sweet.  Hairy. "Protective but not aggressive."

STEINway-Baby-kate.jpg (11060 bytes) I telephoned a breeder referral service, and found a woman who talked to me kindly and informatively.  She told me about an upcoming show where I could meet breeders.  I went to that.  There I met a lot of breeders and a lot of Bouviers, and lost my heart.

Now, although there is a very active rescue program in the Bouvier community, I was advised to get a puppy, since a rescue dog might not be steinway-DUNCan-kate.jpg (15431 bytes) safe with a cat, and I was certainly going to get another cat. A few weeks earlier I had gone to see a litter of kittens.  I knew Trib would approve, and I picked out a little strawberry blonde fluffball tomlet of five weeks. He looked like a fairly princeling.  He was not yet ready to leave his mother, but I plunked down a deposit and arranged to bring him home as soon as he was old enough, probably right after I got a puppy. 

I already knew what I wanted to name my Bouvier baby.  I had spent a lot of time on it.  First I had tried to come up with a Belgian name, but "Hercule" was all I could think of, and I tossed it.  "Jackie," "Black Jack," and all their in-laws got a nod and a wave.  STEINway-ball-kate.jpg (12834 bytes)Then I thought about heroes--Greek, Biblical, whatever.  Couldn't get worked up about anything much.  Next I moved on to faithful companions ("Fido" is a great name for a dog, and it is too bad it died of overuse ). "Sancho" was only a passing blip.  After that I decided to search around for BIG names.  I had a quick flirtation with "Hindenburg," then realized that was a terrible idea. I went through "Goodyear" before starting on mountains--McKinley, Whitney, Rushmore.  Then I looked across the room at the piano I'd grown up with, thought "Steinway," fell off the couch laughing, and never looked back. 

Meanwhile, I got a call from a breeder with an enormous litter of pups, so I went and looked.  We talked about puppies, and Bouviers and care and feeding.  And training and grooming.  And fences and jawlines and children. I'd never seen a Bouv puppy before, except in pictures, and these were about eleven weeks old.  They were huge.  They were also sleepy, because when I got there it was mid-afternoon on a hot August day and they were lying around like massive caterpillars in the shade.  I admired the one in the rose-and-green collar.  He hardly noticed.  I held him.  He was heavy and sleepy and roly-poly. Very cute.  I went away to think.

A day later I called the breeder and said I wanted that puppy if he was still to be had.  I was on a waiting list, and it was two weeks more before she called and said I could have him.  That day. September 13th.  Two days after his three-month birthday.  I had not shopped for any supplies except for a million books, and I asked her if she thought he would fit into an airline-size cat carrier.  She said, probably.  I raced over to a dog show twenty miles away and waited around for my baby. He finally arrived, and I watched in awe as the breeder combed him out on her grooming table in the parking lot.  His sister had thrown up on him, and he had to be tidied up a bit. He was sleepy again.  I was--scared and excited.  I had never had a dog.  All new.  Steinway.  We fitted him into the cat carrier with a shoehorn.  I gently put the carrier into the front passenger seat in my tiny car, and drove off.

STEINway-head-kate.jpg (22111 bytes) When I got him home he was very quiet.  He sat shyly on the kitchen floor and dampened a sheet while I frantically went to a pet supply store.  Late in the afternoon I thought I would take him out into the back yard and show him his bathroom. Tribble's ashes shifted slightly.  Steinway sat at the top of the steps into the garden, and looked bewildered.  I suddenly understood that he didn't do stairs yet.  I realized I would have to teach him how.

Kate Gilpin
Richmond, CA

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