How Not to Name Your Dog

Cropped image of Lucky the dog

The Title of this column was going to be “Getting Lucky,” but I thought it might arose prurient hopes that, alas, would go begging.

No, this is about how our dog went for an entire day without a name.

As I’d mentioned in an earlier column, Karin has been searching the web for another dog because, well, you just can’t own too many dogs. I don’t know if I should be afraid. My benchmark for worrisome behavior in women of a certain age is the number of cats they own. And by that standard, there’s no cause for concern. We have border-cat, our son’s kitty named Oscar. We’re watching Joe’s cat while he is in the Navy, and we get to observe close-up the longing that cat’s feel for their missing owners.

Yeah, I was kidding.

Anyway, that’s it. No problemo, or so I thought. But then I borrowed Karin’s phone the other day, and all sorts of messages and unsolicited announcements kept telling me about “adoption opportunities,”

I should have know I was in trouble.

And sure enough, Saturday last we ended up at the Wags and Whiskers Open-Air adoption event. If you’ve never heard of this, then just drive to Chico on a Saturday morning, roll down your car’s windows, and drive in the general direction of the dog-apocalypse sounds coming from an area just east of Trader Joes. What you’ll find is sort of an Ellis Island for forlorn pets.

It’s a spectacle, really.

And in the middle of all this, sat one serene little dog that Karin immediately spotted, summoned from its cage, and bonded with. Yep. Done deal.

But not so fast. Wags and Wiggles, or whatever it’s called, has paperwork to fill out. The paperwork includes a disclosure of every animal you’ve ever owned, and when you’ve been married 35 years, there’s a lot to disclose. There’s the obvious problems of space limitations. Every kid, at one time or another, had a cat. And do you include hamsters, snakes, birds? What about spiders? Even if you just focus on dogs, there were successive generations of canine critters. The adoption people want to know the cause of death–the dog’s not yours–and saying “old age” seems to be the right answer, but what the hell does that mean, exactly? I’m wondering because we once spent $1,500 on cancer surgery for our dog–an amount I thought was astounding until I heard a friend tell of a $3,000 vet visit because her son’s dog ate a towel–and I wondered if the two extra years she got after her leg was amputated really counted for a death-by old age.

Hard to say.

Then there was the dog that disappeared because, as far as we know, it was eaten by either a mountain lion, pack of coyotes, or a uber-powerful owl.

That doesn’t look good on paper.

The forms went on and on, and when we asked the adoption people about the dog’s name, we learned that they were not sure because the dog “wasn’t completely in the system.” This was puzzling and a bit worrisome. Does this mean that this dog was there under false pretenses? Was there a yet-to-be-revealed scandal? The adoption people poured over their paperwork, and came to a momentous decision: We would be allowed to name our new pet.

This proved to be a much harder decision than actually selecting the dog.

Karin looked at me, and said she would leave it up to me to come up with a name. I gave this just a moment of thought, and said we could name the critter “Valcor,” because it looked like the cute dragon from The Neverending Story. But I said that we could just call her “Val.” The adoption-woman, Sue, punched some keys on her computer, and it was done.

But then the problems began. Karin said: “Well, what about the canary? We named in Valentine, and we’re going to call it Val, too?”

I hadn’t thought about that, but I had an answer.

“I don’t think the canary will come when you call it,” I assured her.

Then things got worse. Karin Googled the movie, and found that the dragon’s name was actually “Falcor.”

I’d been mis-pronouncing it all these years.

“Should we have them change it in the computer?” Karin asked.

I looked at the never-ending line that was behind us, considered the canine cacophony that engulfed us, and sized up the “I-want-to-gnaw-my-arm-off-to-get-out-of-here” expression on Sue’s face as she sweated profusely and pounded on her sticky keyboard.

I decided that we’d best let things ride.

I figured that just come up with another name. So, Karin, doggy #3, and I stood to part, Sue smiled wanly and said: “I think he has a good home.”

Karin grinned, too, and replied, “Oh, yes, but you mean she.”

Sue frowned deeply, scrutinized her computer screen, and said. “No, it’s a boy.” Karin laughed, turned the dog on it’s back, and pointed to it’s private parts (not pictured here). “I’ve been a nurse for more than 30 years, and I think I know boys from girls.”

We were invited to sit back down because: “We need to check this out.”

So, for the next 15 minutes, while the line behind us got even longer and the other dogs got even louder, it was our turn to sweat. The concern was that, maybe we had the wrong dog. Or, perhaps, we were about to acquire the first transgender pooch in captivity.

We said and waited, and I had the same feeling that I had recently spending an afternoon waiting in the local Social Security office only to be told that the paperwork we had related to my mother-in-law “wouldn’t work because the federal government doesn’t recognize state powers-of-attorney.” (Bonus tip: Don’t suggest to a government employee that the federal government should buy a new pair of glasses. They are not amused, and they will remind you that they are surrounded by security cameras and armed guards to protect them from difficult people. Don’t be difficult.)

But, good news, we had a much better outcome in dealing with the pooch-placement-people. They decided to adopt a new policy that was a blend of don’t ask, don’t tell and gender neutrality.

We got the dog, so long as we promised to return next Saturday to get the dog (it was still “the dog” at this point) fixed. We agreed, and so we left, carrying the dog-without-a-name, and headed home.

On the way, we went by the pet suppy store so we could get a name-tag for the dog. I paid the cashier, and went to the high-tech dog-tag machine, typing in our phone number and Karin’s name.

Then I hesitated.

“So, what do I put for her name.”

Karin sighed. “Well, we got her at the Valley Mall. She could be a ‘Valley Girl.'”

Without dissent, we put that the tag, and returned home. There, we were greeted by out daughters, who then became participants in name-the-dog contenst.

“She looks like a little lady,” said Amanda. “Maybe you could call her ‘Lady,’ like Lady-and-the-Tramp.”

And that, for a while, was that. We all called her Lady.

But still… the suggestions kept coming.

And then as the evening drew to a close, I told Amanda the story above. And a few facts that I have left out were the number of people who’d seen Lady and been ready to pick her up themselves. Part of the reason for the paperwork snafu was that Lady had just been dropped off, and was still being “processed.”

It was then that someone–I forget who–commented that we were lucky to get Lady, and that she was lucky to spend so little time in a scary and stressful place.

Lady, it seems, was actually “Lucky-Lady,” and with the penchant we all have for brief nicknames, it was simply shortened to “Lucky.” This seemed especially appropriate because, after all, the original impulse at naming her Val was to celebrate her resemblance to Falcor, the Luck Dragon.

And I feel fortunate myself, because after a day of fielding suggestions for names, we finally put that discussion to rest. So, next week, when we get to meet up with those angel-volunteers at the pet adoption place, we will finally have the right name for our dog. And I’ll get a chance to properly thank Sue for–quite literally–sweating out Lucky’s adoption.

I think I owe her a cold beverage or two.

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