The Importance of Being Millie
This is Millie, getting her first bath.
Millie came to us, and to her name, in a roundabout way.
A co-worker of mine found a pup her neighborhood a several days ago. She put up flyers, called the local shelter and checked the missing pets page of the shelter website. Meanwhile, she and a neighbor passed the pup back and forth, while their husbands said, "We are absolutely not keeping this dog!"
Then on Sunday my co-worker sent an e-mail around the office titled, "Christmas puppy needs good home!"
The thing that first attracted me to the pup was her name. They were calling her Roxanne. I love the song "Roxanne" (and its derivative "El Tango de Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge). I also love Chicago, so having my own little Roxie Hart sounded just perfect to me.
I promptly called Darwin and proposed we adopt this pooch. We've talked about getting a dog one day, but it's always one distant, magical day when we'll have a fence and the ever-elusive "more time."
Darwin said this was not that day.
But I have my ways of persuasion. At dinner Monday night, I cheerfully talked about what we could name her. After all my love for the name Roxanne, I'd come to realize that it didn't mesh well with Alistair and Henry - too modern. I needed something old-fashioned and ladylike, so all through dinner I threw out suggestions like Thomasina, Josephine, Penelope, Ruby and Lucinda.
Darwin refused to participate, but by the time we got home that night I had come up with a new plan. We could take her home on a trial basis, I suggested. Keep her a week or two and then if it didn't work out - if the cats waged war on her or something - we'd find her a new home.
Still, Darwin refused. "Don't bring that dog home," he said sternly.
"You know you want a dog," I wheedled. "Every time we see one, you get all misty-eyed."
He gave me a withering look.
"You know you'll love her," I said. "I'm doing this for you!"
"Don't bring that dog home," he repeated, and kept repeating it at every opportunity that night and the next day.
I pretended not to hear him. I explained how they'd be bringing her to me that afternoon. I suggested more names.
By the end of the day, I'd beaten him down. Defeated, he stopped even trying to talk me out of it.
When I arrive home with the pup, Darwin came out to help me get in some stuff. I opened the car door, and the puppy wiggled and lurched until I released her into his arms.
"Oh, good girl!" Darwin said in his baby voice, "That's a good girl. Quit kissing Daddy!"
And I knew he was hooked.
When Darwin set her down inside the house, Henry puffed up to twice his size and skated sideways away from her. Alistair, usually the mean kitty in the house, merely sniffed her and - fascinated but still cautious - chased her, at a safe distance, as she explored the house.
Not 10 minutes later, Darwin had christened the pup Lily, and I was too thrilled by his unexpected reception of her to argue. Anyway, it was a nice name and old-fashioned. It would do, and it was clear Darwin had adopted this girl as his own. Who was I to come between a boy and his dog?
Wednesday I took her to work with me, where she was received with oohs and ahhs. In my office, the dog lovers vastly outnumber the cat lovers, so I felt like I was being welcomed into the club.
Then I took her to the vet, where she got her shots and I learned she is about 5 months old (pretty much what we'd suspected), about 9.5 pounds and possibly a mix of miniature pinscher and/or some kind of terrier. Next month she'll go back for more shots and then after that she'll be spayed and possibly microchipped. Anyone done the microchipping thing? I'm not sure about it yet.
We had a ballroom dancing lesson scheduled for that night, so I got it moved up to the afternoon, and the teachers (fortunately dog lovers) let her run around the studio while we practiced our rumba.
Back at home that night, the cats weren't responding well. Lily wanted to play, but they interpreted her bounding leaps onto their backs as something more hostile. Henry retreated to the dining room table and growled every time she scampered by. Alistair hung around near her and engaged in a few play/battles that always ended in me coming to his rescue so he could struggle away and hide under a chair.
Thursday morning I woke up and got dressed for work, but the thought of leaving the three of them alone together all day made my stomach twist. What if the pup hurt one of the cats by accident? She's only playing, but she doesn't know that cats don't enjoy the same kind of rough-housing dogs do. They needed me there to break up altercations and to teach Lily not to leap on the cats. It hadn't occurred to Alistair yet to use his claws, so she wasn't a bit afraid of him. Besides, Henry might never leave the dining room table!
So I ended up taking a vacation day yesterday instead of the one I planned to take next week. Today Darwin is off and will be for the next week, so we'll have plenty of time to get the animals acclimated to each other before we leave them alone together for long stretches of time.
Since I was home, I invited my sister (home from Atlanta for the week) to bring her dog Lewis (a Shih Tzu) over for a play date with our pup. The two of them chased and wrestled and had barking contests all day.
At lunch time, we put them in a room together and walked to the square to have lunch at our friend’s restaurant. On the check-out counter was the local newspaper, folded open to a photo of our neighbors Michael and Larry standing in front of their huge Christmas tree, one of them clutching a tiny Chihuahua.
We brought the paper to our table to read while we waited. Being a photojournalist, my sister always notices the photo credit and caption.
"Their dog's name is Lily, too," she said, pointing to the tiny black and white in Michael’s arms.
To say this was bad news would be putting it lightly. I pride myself on originality in naming or at least try to avoid the totally generic and expected (kindly ignore the name of this blog, which is anything but original). I obsessively read the name blog The Baby Name Wizard, which follows naming trends, with the goal of naming my future child/children something meaningful and old-fashioned, yet not old-fashioned-turned-fashionable. (There go my favorites Harper and Emmett, which have tragically skyrocketed this year.)
So to have my dog, my furry child, share the name of a neighbor’s pet was unthinkable. It had to be changed.
The sad part was our pup had already been called who-knows-what in her early months of life, Roxanne and Puppy for several days, then Lily for a few days. She already seemed to know her name, and I hated to change it again.
So my sister and I went to the trusty Name Voyager tool and looked for names that sounded similar to Lily. My sister’s genius suggestion was Millie, and when I plugged it into the Name Voyager, I found that Millie was actually more popular 100-120 years ago than Lily, AND it has experienced no resurgence in popularity. Best of all, when called out in a high-pitched voice, Millie sounds almost identical to Lily.
When I told Darwin of the situation, he promptly agreed to the switch, and from then on our girl has been Millie. It has taken more adjustment on our part than Millie’s. Also, it’s hard going from having only boys to including a girl in the mix. We keep mixing up our pronouns, and we have to alter our usual all-encompassing phrases (i.e. “Bye bye, big boys!” becomes “Bye bye big boys … and girl”), even though the animals don’t know the difference.
Of course, having a dog – a puppy in particular – brings many more changes. Millie must be walked a few times a day and scolded when she eats from the cats’ bowl. She sleeps between us in our bed – last night under the covers pressed up against my thigh – and follows us around everywhere. She bounces and leaps, tears up paper, chases Henry onto the dining room table, bites a little too hard when she’s excited, and carries off my slippers while I’m in the shower. She sometimes has accidents, especially when left alone, even for only a few hours.
But Darwin is home this whole week to work with her, and there are signs that the cats are adjusting. Henry is spending more time on the floor, in chairs or on the ottoman instead of huddling in fear on the table. Alistair will lie beside her on the couch and only hiss grumpily when she touches him.
We got her a pink retractable 16-foot leash that she likes much better than the cats’ leash, so she’s better behaved on her walks. We still don’t know what we’ll do with her when we both go back to work full time. I hate the idea of crating a dog with so much energy, or even shutting her up in the bathroom, but my sister (who has two dogs and once worked at a dog daycare) says maybe having so much space in the house is detrimental to her training. A dog generally doesn’t want to go the bathroom in his/her “home,” but Millie has plenty of room to get away from her living areas and find a convenient spot in the house to do her business.
My sister suggests we leave her in the bathroom while we’re gone until she’s fully trained. She also says Millie seems to have a lot of anxiety about being away from us, which we think is the cause of the accidents when we leave her alone even for a short time. Maybe when she begins to feel more comfortable and confident that we WILL be returning to her, she won’t have those accidents anymore.
Though we both grew up with dogs, we’re newbies to this having-our-own-pup thing. Any tips from you experts out there?
More photos of Millie