An old man stood near his car, pointing to an open window. Inside, on the backseat, lay a sleeping puppy. The brown, black-striped canine wore no collar or tags.
"She was in my driveway this morning, nosing around the garbage pails," he said.
Then, after telling us about his own crowded house -- three German shepherds, a Great Dane and six cats -- he asked: "Could you nice folks maybe give this baby a home?"
We were in the parking lot of 7-Eleven on Broadway Avenue in Holbrook. My wife and I had just come out with some Saturday-night goodies.
I was about to say no, but the Mrs. touched my arm and gave me a look, one I'd seen on occasion over eight years of marriage.
We were taking the dog.
"A pet," she said, "will help Timothy [our 7-year-old son] learn about responsibility."
My parents thought the same thing when I was young. Within a month, though, I'd grown tired of Rusty, a birthday-present beagle, and from then on his daily care fell to my father.
I mentioned this.
"Don't worry," said my bride. "That won't happen."
Then she kissed me on the lips, right there in front of the guy.
What could I do?
After dinner, names were discussed. Tim suggested Floppy Ears. His mom thought Princess would be nice. Get Gone was my choice. We compromised on Amber.
That night around 2 a.m., my wife shook me awake.
"The dog needs to go out."
"Tim!" I yelled.
"Shhh," she said. "He's sleeping."
So, parka over pajamas, I slippered out into the cold. For 15 minutes, the pooch, a Lab-pit bull mix, merely sniffed around our backyard. The moment we came back in, however, she let go -- all over the living room carpet. Like the kitchen floor, it would be defiled many times over the next 42 days. That's how long it took us to housebreak Amber. And by then I was the only one walking her.
Teething presented another problem. Table legs, molding, a chopstick snatched from the garbage -- it was all fair game. So, too, our fingers and toes.
We read dog-training books and watched videos. A trainer came to the house. Nothing helped. Only when her adult teeth finally broke through did Amber lose all taste for human flesh and wood.
From then on, she grew into herself, gentle and loving. A brindled thread in the family fabric. Sadly, though, after turning 14, Amber had to be euthanized. Cancer. My wife and I patted her head while the vet did his work.
The next morning those familiar items waited. The water dish, chew toys, her pillow bed in the den. Reminders of a friend gone. Of a home incomplete. We cried that first day. And for days after. Such is the legacy of loss. Person or pet, very often it's the same.
I thought time would heal. It didn't. Two months later, the sadness, that awful aching emptiness, remained. Finally, there seemed no choice.
So we got Maggie, a Peagle -- a beagle-Pekingese mix. And, yeah, she soils the carpet and gnaws the furniture and bites our fingers, but she also makes us smile.