Roberta

“Nice to meet you, Lucy, that’s my dog’s name!”

For years now, this is how conversations with people I’ve never met have started. It is the reason I now know that “Lucy” is the most popular female dog’s name in the world. The world. I can’t say that I hate it. People love their dogs, thereby our connection is instantly met with warm feelings about non-humans. Ipso facto, the people I meet instantly like me, the human.

The one and only time I hated being unconsciously coupled with an owner’s love for his dog was after my dad passed away.  My friend had no idea what to say to me to make me feel better.  To assuage his discomfort, he pulled this gem directly from his asshole:

“I’m so sorry you lost your dad. Our family was devastated when we lost our puppy.”

Two weeks into sobriety, people started asking me to pet-sit. I had never once in my life cared for anything bigger than a fish. In fact, the last fish I got died less than 12 hours after I took him home with me. I prioritized buying wine instead of a proper filter system for my little beta monster. I named him “Kelb,” thinking it meant “promiscuous boy” in Arabic. My friend, who speaks Arabic, informed me that Kelb meant “dog.” I had committed the naming sin equivalent to branding myself with a Chinese tribal tattoo; failing to research a symbol thinking it means “peace” when it really means “go fuck yourself.” I fed Kelb around 9:30 pm the night before his demise and noticed that he seemed a little blue; not much activity or spunk from him. I went to work hungover and came back to find him floating at the surface of his fish house. I told people he committed suicide, knowing full well it was most likely my fault. I drank while I eulogized him in memoriam.

Kelb, alive and not well.

The first pet I sat for in sobriety was a dog named Buddha. He was a miniature schnauzer mixed with some other breed. He required nothing from me except food and walks. My skin was crawling from wanting to drink and I had no idea what to do with myself. I had just gotten the hang of regular showers and flossing, so I don’t know what compelled me to accept my friend’s request to care for another living thing. What I do remember is that Buddha’s mom was a talented hair dresser and I needed a fresh cut. One of the hallmarks of my hitting bottom was lobbing all of my hair off into a pixie cut while downing liquor and wine.  I was convinced my hair would never grow back, but I knew I needed to look a little less Girl, Interrupted and a little more kempt.

Me on the left, deranged

Over the course of the week I cared for Buddha, I learned how much work even an old dog is. He wanted things like companionship and attention. That was only okay when demanded those things. I woke up half an hour early each morning to walk him, taking extra time to wave to the same neighbors who less than a month ago witnessed my car being towed and my subsequent public meltdown. I used to laugh at people jogging that early in the morning, wondering how they were willingly awake when I had yet to sleep. It felt like a big accomplishment to be among people who lived life, even if they were “morning” people. After my time with Buddha, other neighbors noticed I had a knack for pet-sitting. In my first year of sobriety, I sat for three dogs and one kitten. My foray into pet-sitting was my first glimpse at the less selfish person I was to become.

Me, after Buddha’s mom fixed my pixie

One month ago exactly, my husband and I took home our very first family dog. We adopted her from the Richmond Animal League after a charming Englishman introduced her to us as “Pidge.” We loved her mild manner and affection for humans and dogs alike. No one knew where her name came from, except that it might be short for “pigeon.” I Googled then Urban Dictionaried it that night to find that our dog’s name was progressive as fuck:

A term popularized by non-gendered Americans used to address each other casually.

Synonym for Dude or Chick that is not gender specific.

Artist formerly known as Pidge.
I doubt her previous owners were progressives; they hoarded a family of 30+ dogs in one room, making it impossible to give each dog the proper attention they needed. She was well-fed and groomed, so we took it as a sign that the previous owners were just “out there” rather than complete lunatics. We practiced yelling “Pidge” out loud but it didn’t land. I tried “Tootsie” as an alternative but that didn’t suit her, either. We settled on the name “Roberta,” after one of my top-five-favorite-artists, Roberta Flack.

Once named, Roberta went rogue. This seemingly mild-mannered beagle unleashed her campaign of domestic terrorism in our apartment. For two weeks, I cleaned shit tornadoes in her crate and pee stains on our rugs. She chewed only items that actually matter to me, including but not limited to my glasses, a pair of expensive underwear and one of my favorite books. She has calmed down a bit, but not by much. The internet tells me that she is now comfortable in her environment. A little too comfortable, but that is what training is for. I blame this naivete on my childhood. My parents never allowed my twin and I to have a dog. My mother later told us it was because she and my dad once had a dog named Fifi who got sick and had to be put down. My dad took it harder than she did. Fifi was a live wire who ran away the day Reagan got elected to office the first time–a true progressive. Despite my mom’s warnings, I had no idea the amount of work it would take to have a dog of my own. I also didn’t anticipate how much I would miss her every day while at work. She requires an inordinate amount of attention and patience. If I didn’t start with those virtues prior to Roberta, I am certainly forced to have them now. My husband and I don’t yet have kids, but I have a feeling a dog who has barely aged out of being a puppy is a good primer.

The first time I took Roberta out to a restaurant, a server came by to fawn over her. She asked me what her name was: “She’s so beautiful, does she have a name yet?” To which I replied, “Roberta, after Roberta Flack.” The server smiled and replied, “That’s my mom’s name.”

Welcome to the club, lady.

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