My neighbor brought a little poodle to me a few weeks ago. She had found him outside the neighborhood coffee shop. He was dirty, matted and hungry, and she took him home.
We gave him a bath and a bad haircut, and I found him to be one of the dumbest puppies I'd ever seen. I pronounced him stupid as a turnip and started calling him Turnipper, shortened to Nipper.
The next day I realized he wasn't stupid; he was ill. With a little help from the vet and a lot of sleep, he recovered and turned out to be one of the brightest pups around. I placed him with a nice family right away and got him back shortly thereafter.
"We're don't think we're ready for this," said the husband, regretfully.
I placed him again with another nice family, and soon got him back.
"He's a little too much for us," said the wife, with a sad smile.
Fifteen years ago I might have written off Nipper as not worth the effort and dropped him at the SPCA, but the lessons of commitment and acceptance I've learned from all my pets over the years are now deeply ingrained.
So we're in training, Nipper and I. His biggest problem is adolescence -- a miserable time for both people and puppies -- coupled with street smarts his early life taught him.
I teach him not to bounce off the walls; he teaches himself to jump on the tables. I teach him not to chew on the couch; he teaches himself to chew on sneakers. I teach him not to bother older dog Toni; he teaches himself to pester younger dog Andy.
We're auditing a friend's obedience class to get him socialized, and he's doing brilliantly. I've already lined up a couple of prospective homes, but my little pal won't be going to any of them for several weeks. I want him to be a little more grown up and a lot more obedient.
He's going to make someone a fine Christmas present, but there's no doubt my holiday will be a little empty once he's gone.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278