The tail wagging the dog Essay: A pet project creates a little trepidation and plenty of good, old-fashioned hard work in the Hiaasen household.

November 20, 1995|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Parents -- and you know who you are -- are just busting with keen ideas for their children. It is our specialty: Just when our lives have settled into a familiar, harrowing routine, we brainstorm for about 45 seconds and produce Yet Another Idea to complicate our lives.

I'm talking about getting a dog, of course. The precise moment the moons of school, doctor and PTA schedules are aligned, we bring a puppy into our homes, our lives, our very trash cans.

Following a well-known Norman Rockwellian law, all households with young children must be further blessed with a puppy. A historical footnote: No Rockwell illustration ever included scenes of shredded toilet paper, shredded Newsweeks, and the clandestine products of a pup's bladder.

We got a black Lab. And yes, we've heard and heard how they are the most wonderful, terrific, intelligent, loyal, loving, companions Noah ever booked on his ark. We've been showered with Lab stories. Strangers sniff around our house, trying to catch a glimpse of the new arrival.

We have bought the requisite Labrador books, which include diagrams of a Lab's body parts -- mysterious parts such as Stop and Hocks and Withers. I am more drawn to the words STOP RIP-PING THE FLESH OFF MY HANDS.

We bought the dog to help our 3-year-old Hannah get over her fear of dogs. We really bought the dog because my wife and I love dogs.

Anyway, my experiment with the dog and Hannah proved so successful that I'm thinking of keeping all further ideas hermetically sealed in the confused organ resting between my ears.

We even named the dog Sally, which is the name Hannah gives to her Barbie dolls, Legos and her dresser. Sally and Hannah have become the best of friends -- in a long-distance, write-when-you-can kind of way. When Sally is free from her "crate" (formerly called a "cage"), Hannah responds by climbing to the top of the sofa, where she remains perched but contented.

Kids do say the darndest things.

"When will Sally go home?"

Well, honey, she lives with us now.

"When will Sally die?"

Well, not before we must ask you to get down from the sofa to

attend breakfast, lunch and dinner and maybe a little school over the coming years.

Sally is 10 weeks old. That's like four human years or something. So, I now have a 6-, 5-, 4-, and 3-year-old living with me.

I was hoping to find some doggie pull-ups or diapers, but the word I'm getting from Lab owners and vets is that the dog will need to be TRAINED, which sounds like MORE WORK. I'm now ZTC dealing with many new and wonderful words in my life.

But I love the dog, and I think a majority of the Hiaasens are pro-dog. Everyone chips in to walk, brush, bathe, exercise and teach the dog new tricks. Everyone but the actual children living at the residence.

Soon, we all will be able to experience the epitome of dog-ownership -- the brushing of the dog's teeth. And what nipping, twitching puppy doesn't want to sit still, open wide and embrace the joy of oral hygiene?

I still worry about Hannah, though. But she will grow up and learn to fully articulate her grave misgivings about the dog. And Sally will grow up and learn to fully remove my entire epidermis.

In the meantime, I'm going to go home tonight and look for those hocks and withers.

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