Surely everyone who lives in downtown Knoxville has seen me being dragged by a 45-pound dog with a liver-shaped marking on her side against a background of black and white speckles. Certainly the doormen at the Crowne Plaza recognize this dynamo as she flirts with them, bouncing and frolicking this way and that with me at her complete mercy. Certainly Mallory recognizes them, for each day when they see us coming, they rush to get treats for her. If they happen to be busy with a guest of the hotel, she plops down on the sidewalk and refuses to budge until they are finished with the task at hand and get back to her. Mallory is convinced that their main purpose in life is to bring her treats as she travels on her way to the downtown dog park.
While Mallory may not be their main purpose in life, she certainly is mine. Her engaging way of seeming to smile at everyone, her manner of seeming to talk and sometimes howl, head back in defiance when I don't give her what she wants (which is rare), make her the absolute joy of my life. But like most of the treasures in my life, it didn't start out that way, and I had to get used to her.
Unable to afford a dog at Young-Williams Animal Center, I saw an ad for a free dog on the bulletin board at PetSmart, with a blurry picture of a creature that could have been anything from a ground-hog to a mole to a turtle to, finally, a dog. The ad stated: "Free dog, German pointer mix, six weeks old." Well, I didn't know what a German pointer was, but I knew that free was good, so I called the number and went to check it out.
In front of a large, expensive, two-story house, four little tow-headed girls scampered with a puppy, laughing and cavorting while a beautiful young woman with blonde, curly hair watched in amusement.
Enormous oak trees provided shade on the sultry day and for an instant I felt I might have entered a fairy tale. I was soon disenchanted, for the puppy disengaged herself from the laughing children, came flying up to me, and lunged at my knees, at which point I toppled over. How on earth could so tiny a creature have so much force and power?
That was my first encounter with Mallory, then named Oreo.
She was an impertinent mess, turning in circles this way and that, flipping up and over the children, body-slamming me, and licking me so hard in the face I thought I might drown. What kind of creature is this, I thought with trepidation. Surely she is not from this planet. But having long suspected that I myself am from the far reaches of the universe, I decided to reel her in and take her home.
Quelle horreur! I thought on the drive home. This strange creature was in and out of my lap, on the dash, under the windshield, on top of, and under, the seats, licking my face and biting my fingers until it was almost impossible to drive.
Once home, she chased my cats Mittens and Reagan from room to room and in and out of closets and windows until finally, they tried to climb the walls. Mostly they hid. It was a disaster. Clearly it was not going to work out.
She could stay one night and one night only. But suffering one of my many broken hearts, I lifted her up and let her crawl up on my chest. After she body-slammed me a few times and licked my face and eyes all over, she fell into an exhausted sleep. As I listened to the even breathing of this tiny, fierce creature, I knew the die was cast and that I would keep her. She let me hold her close the whole night through. Before I fell asleep I whispered in her ear. "You are mine and I am yours. We belong to one another."
The next day she continued to terrorize my cats. I kept Mallory for two weeks, thinking the cats would get over it. They didn't. So I did the next right thing and took her back to her previous owners, not without some relief. This tiny creature had nearly worn me out. For while she ruled inside, outside, Mallory was afraid of almost everything: other dogs, passing cars, rain, the night. Storms were unspeakably terrifying for her. The sound of sirens would send her trembling and wailing into my arms. She would not walk down the street in the beginning, without being coaxed, tiny step by tiny step, with pieces of fresh baked chicken, until she overcame her fears.
After taking Mallory back to her owners, I missed her so much I felt I couldn't live without her. I missed her wet tongue on my face, the sound of her tiny paws running up and down the hall, the chewed up shoes all over the bedroom, and even the body slams in the middle of the night. What I missed most of all was her warm body lying on my chest at night, exhausted by life and the day, and the sound of her warm, even breathing and her sigh of contentment when she snuggled up to get closer to me.
Back I went to get Mallory, who jumped into my arms joyfully, as though I had merely been on a short vacation.
Mallory and I have been together seven and a half years now. Has it been worth it? You bet it has. I will face any storm for her, take her to the downtown dog park when my feet are so calloused I can barely walk, let her drag my arm almost out of its socket so that she can be in the lead, and face down any landlord who says she is too vicious, too friendly, too big, or is just not wanted for a variety of reasons. If necessary, I will move again for her. And again and again. Because she has saved me. Again and again and again. She listens when I cry, talks to me when I am happy, snuggles with me better than any man ever could, and, like me, is a species from another planet.