“The parents are real big,” the woman told me, once I’d got through and told her I was interested. “The mom is one hundred and sixty pounds, and the dad is two hundred.” And in an incredible feat of not really listening to what she was telling me (Why did that even matter? Great Danes were big dogs, weren’t they?), I took this in and then completely forgot about it, as I was more interested in jotting down all the other stuff she was telling me about which of the pups were still available for sale.
“Tell you what,” she said, “why don’t I e?mail you a picture of them all, then you and your wife can decide which one might be suitable for you?”
Christie was understandably excited when she came home from work, particularly when she learned that the puppies were ready to leave their mother (they’d been born on November 17), and even more so when she looked at the picture. It was a real sight— a chaotic jumble of paws and snouts and tails. There were thirteen in the litter altogether. Twelve of these were entangled with one another, as young puppies tend to be, but our eyes were immediately drawn to one pup who was standing apart from the rest. He seemed the runt of the siblings, the outsider in the family, and that endeared him to Christie immediately.
He was also the perfect color. Pedigree Great Danes come in a number of shades and patterns, and the different types of marking make a real difference in the show world. There are harlequins and brindles, merles and mantles, and then the pure colors, like black and fawn and blue. If your Great Dane is a pure color, there must be no other color fur on it anywhere. None of this mattered to me in the least. A puppy was a puppy was a puppy to my mind. But to Christie, being a girl (though I wasn’t stupid enough to say that), color did matter. She had her heart set on a blue one. Happily, our little outsider was just that. In fact, he was blue as blue could be. His fur was almost the exact same steely blue as his eyes, and he had no white on him at all, which was very rare.
“Oh, Dave,” she cooed. “Look at that one! That one’s sooo cute! Let’s see if she can send a bigger picture.”
The woman kindly obliged, sending a whole stream of photos, and she confirmed that the one we’d picked, which she called “the cute runt,” was one of the six puppies left for sale.
It seemed like an omen and we made arrangements right away for her to ship the puppy from Oregon to Phoenix by air. On the road trip up from Tucson to Phoenix— a journey of some two hours— Christie was pretty excited, and I knew, despite my initial reluctance to become a dog owner, that this had been the right thing to do. The only nagging doubt was about the timing, as I also knew that, because of our respective jobs, the day?to?day business of looking after our new pet would be a burden that would mostly fall on me.
Christie worked as a sales executive for a big medical equipment company, which meant she spent a lot of time on the road, visiting clients. It wasn’t the sort of situation that worked well with a puppy, since there was no way she could take him along with her. I, on the other hand, worked for myself. I was a real estate agent, buying and fixing up houses for rental, which meant I was my own boss and could do what I liked— well, at least within reason I could do what I liked. I knew Christie figured that me taking a puppy to work came under the banner of “hey, no big deal.” Personally, I wasn’t so sure about that, but this was the plan we’d agreed on, this puppy, and I knew my wife couldn’t wait to meet him. It would be just fine, I told myself, as we made our way north to pick up the newest member of our little family. “So,” said Christie, as we headed up the interstate. “What are we going to name this pup of ours?”
What to name him wasn’t something I’d given a whole lot of thought to. I was much more concerned with what we were going to do with him than with naming him. But she was excited and I knew I had to make an effort to be too. “I dunno,” I said, trying to think on the hoof. “How about something like… um… Biggie?” She laughed out loud at this— real loud. “Biggie?” she spluttered. “What kind of a mad name is that?” She shook her head. She seemed to find my suggestion funny. I didn’t think I’d ever fully understand women and their foibles. What the hell was wrong with Biggie for a dog?
“It’s a good name!” I countered, though, in truth, it really wasn’t. I imagined calling it in a park: “C’mon, Biggie! Biggie, here!” Nope. Biggie sucked. “He’ll be big,” I added anyway. “You know. He’s gonna be a big dog. So we call him Biggie. What’s wrong with that? It’s logical, isn’t it? C’mon. It is! Or, I don’t know, Fido, or Pluto? Or… hell, I don’t know!” She laughed again. “Pluto? Come on, hon. No. I think he should have a man’s name. I like dogs with men’s names.” She’d clearly decided already, I realized. “What?” I asked her. “You mean something like Richard?” She pulled a face. “No, stupid. Something more… you know. More…” She paused. “I know!” she said finally. “How about George?” “George?” “Yes. George is a cool name. You like George?”
I tried the park-calling thing again. It worked way, way better.
“George! C’mon here, George!” Yep, I thought. George I could do. “Okay,” I said. “Suits me. We’ll name him George,then, shall we?”
“Yes,” agreed Christie. “I think George is perfect— as long as he looks like a George when we see him.”
I wasn’t sure quite what set of features would indicate this, but I knew better than to waste time trying to figure it out. “Fine,” I said. “If he looks like a George, then that’s what we’ll name him.”
And at no point did either of us think—hand on heart— about how easily you could prefix that with Giant.
We’d been given a bunch of instructions for what we had to do when we arrived at the airport in Phoenix. We had to go and pick him up, apparently, from some special zone where they offload and deal with all the freight. Once we’d found the right desk and explained what we’d come for, we were escorted through many doors and along several corridors, heading right into the bowels of the airport, to a strange silent area we’d never seen before. It was here, along with a woman who was picking up a cat, that we waited for the luggage cart to arrive that would be carrying the seven-week-old puppy. The woman explained to us that she was waiting for her new pet, who was being flown in from LA, and that cats were also a big part of her working life.
“I own a pet modeling agency in Phoenix,” she told us, “so I tend to be down here quite a lot.”
“Wow,” Christie said. “That sounds like an interesting occupation. What kinds of animals do you represent?”
“Oh, all sorts… dogs, cats, the odd reptile here and there… What are you two picking up today? A cat too?”
Christie shook her head. “Our new puppy,” she answered.
“A Great Dane.”
“Oh, good choice. I’ve got a couple on my books. Magnificent animals. And if he ever fancies strutting his stuff at anytime, here—”
She plucked a small card from her bag. “And, oh, here they are!” she added, looking beyond us. “Arrived safe and sound. Aww… so cute!”
Her crate was handed over first, with ours right behind it, but all we could see at first was a stuffed animal, a rubber bone and two dishes, one of food and one of water. But then, behind all that, cowering on a crumpled gray blanket, was the puppy we’d decided to make ours. Christie opened the crate door and reached in to lift him out. He was just seventeen pounds and clearly terrified. What a journey it must have been for such a tiny animal! How must it have been for him, not only to have left his mother but then to be stuffed into a crate and put in the hold of an aircraft? We figured they must have heat— at that altitude, the animals would surely die if they didn’t— but even so, it must have been one hell of an ordeal for him, all alone up there, probably in the dark.
He was no more than a tiny trembling ball of peach- fuzz blue fur, with four comically large paws at each corner. It must have been almost like a second birth, of sorts. Blinking in the harsh glare of the fluorescent airport lighting, he teetered to a standing position on our outstretched hands and moved his head slowly from side to side, taking in the wonder of it all. Then, finally, as if having weighed us up and finding us okay, he tentatively snouted forward and gave Christie her first lick. We agreed he was the cutest little thing either of us had ever seen. And he was ours now. “So,” I asked Christie, as she cooed at him and petted him, “what’s the verdict? Does he look like a George?”
She paused in her stroking and considered him for a moment, tilting her head to one side. “Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. “I need to look carefully. Let me see, now…” The puppy looked back at her, bewildered.
“You know what?” she said finally. “He does. He really does.” So that was that. George he would be.
We topped up his water bowl and placed him back in his crate for the long journey home, but not before the woman, who’d just done the same with her new kitten, had a chance to have a quick stroke as well.
“He’s gorgeous,” she agreed with us. “Absolutely gorgeous. And I tell you what,” she added, “big paws.”
Naturally, this didn’t mean a lot to us. All we could see was this cute little puppy. Who knew that one day he’d be doing what she’d suggested— strutting his stuff for the whole world to see? Right now he just looked plain old bewildered. Once we got back to the car, Christie changed her mind about George traveling home in the crate on the backseat. She decided he’d probably had enough of being stuck in a tiny box, and would much prefer to sit up front with his new mom.
“I’ll travel with him on my lap,” she announced, and that was exactly what she did. She pulled him out of the crate again, cooing at him all the time and stroking him really gently, and soon his trembling began to stop. In fact, by the time we had reached the outskirts of Phoenix, he’d evidently started feeling so at home with his new mom that he decided to mark his territory.
“Guess what,” Christie said, as we reached the big highway, “little George here appears to have peed in my lap.”
We both laughed, of course, because, well, it was pretty funny. But I also couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Here we go…” Everything that had worried me about becoming a dog owner would now, quite possibly, come true. I didn’t say that, though, because I didn’t want to be a killjoy. Two were now three. We were committed.