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Essay: The ruff truth -- school isn't for everyone

My adorable sock-stealing, bunny-chasing, people-loving Shih Tzu hates other dogs.

Rikki, a shih tzu photographed by owner Dina

Rikki, a shih tzu photographed by owner Dina Santorelli of Massapequa Park in spring 2018. Photo Credit: Dina Santorelli

I drove toward Sunrise Highway in Massapequa with trepidation.

For all the years my children have been in school, my husband and I have walked the hallways of our district’s buildings with our heads high. Parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, sporting events — we approached them with pride and excitement.

This time, though, was different.

In the distance, the Petco logo of the strip mall loomed on what was turning into a cloudy day. On my husband’s lap beside me, my Shih Tzu, Rikki, watched everything through the car window like a sniper, her little black nose twitching. I parked in front of the pet store, telling my husband, “This is a bad idea.”

The program had a lovely name: Puppy Playtime. Doesn’t that sound fun? A name that could launch a thousand Instagram stories? The truth was, I had been having nightmarish thoughts about this program for weeks, ever since I signed up Rikki for socialization class.

I’m not quite sure when it happened, but my adorable sock-stealing, bunny-chasing, people-loving 3-year-old Shih Tzu decided that she hates other dogs. Like Tasmanian devil hate. Like Jekyll and Hyde, cute-as-Gizmo, vicious-as-a-gremlin hate.

Every day, dogs that have the nerve to traverse our sidewalk get an earful from Rikki, who watches them out the window from the top of our sofa. She reminds me of that evil monkey with the cymbals from “Toy Story 3,” on guard for any subtle movements, any interlopers, and then, upon seeing one, sounds the alarm with a hair-raising clatter. Rikki then often leaps from the sofa and runs downstairs and out the back door to finish telling them a thing or two from the yard.

Inside Petco, pet parents and their dogs gathered inside a pen for Puppy Playtime. Seated in a circle, they smiled with anticipation, as if at a nursery school presentation. I glanced at my dog. Those poor people. They had no idea.

“I’m nervous,” I told the coordinator, a young woman. Harried, she barely looked at me. “Take a lap or two around the store, and I’ll be ready for you when you come back.”

As per her orders, we began to walk when we encountered a man with a beautiful brown and white pit bull. Rikki instantly started barking like the rabid “Walking Dead” zombie dog I know her to be around other dogs. The pit bull — and its owner — eyed her curiously. Trust me, it’s quite a sight to see a tiny gray and white puffball at the end of a bright red harness making so much noise.

Once we managed to pull Rikki away, I hurried back to Puppy Playtime, where the oohs and aahs were plentiful. Big puppies piled on top of one another in perfect harmony, like something in a holiday commercial. Photos were being snapped. Memories were being made. I didn’t have the heart to make it stop.

I caught my husband’s eye at the other end of the store.

“I think we should leave,” I mouthed.

I don’t know why I was surprised when he looked relieved.

Back in the car, I sat dejectedly in the driver’s seat. Beside me, Rikki took her place on my husband’s lap like a little lion alongside the library steps. As I drove home, I made a mental note to find the date of my youngest son’s next track meet or honor society induction. At least at those things, I know where I stand.

 Reader Dina Santorelli lives in Massapequa Park.

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