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Six Monkeys: Sugar, sugar

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By Kelly Dolejsi

It used to just be me and Zooker.

Well before I graduated college, married, divorced and remarried. Before I took a single ballet lesson. Before I began writing for newspapers. Before everything happened, I had Zooker. Before that, I was a waitress.

I was a terrible waitress. My tips didn’t fold; they jangled. I spent too long talking about books with the customers I liked and not enough time remembering who needed a refill on his iced tea.

But one of the customers I liked was a guy named Fish. I might have liked him just because his name was Fish, considering I can no longer remember anything about him – except for, of course, the one time he tipped me way better than I deserved.

He had a box of puppies and he told me to pick one.

I picked Zooker.

Let me go back just a few days. That particular restaurant from which I attempted to earn a living was a German deli and café. Just a few days earlier, the owner and I had been poring through a cookbook – she was looking for a new dinner special and I was helping by pointing at photographs. Suddenly an actual word caught my eye.

“Zucker? This sauce has zucker in it.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’ve never heard of zucker. How can there be an ingredient I’ve never heard of?”

“The book’s in German.”

“Oh!”

“Zucker is sugar.”

Arrogance and embarrassment dually ruled my life back then, but even so, this little incident stuck out. The day Fish came in with his box of fur, the word “zucker” was still pouting in my head. I liked the word but it needed a reinvention. It needed something black and ridiculously fluffy.

I changed the spelling in order to avoid distressful mispronunciation.

And life began.

For years, I hardly thought of myself as being a dog owner. I was a student, a tutor, a writer, a journalist, a wife. I didn’t talk about my dog all the time, take his picture all the time, or pretend Zooker was smart or impressive.

I certainly didn’t put my pet first and I thought a little less of people who did. He’s just a dog, I thought. I love my dog but he’s just a snorting, panting pillow.

He’s also the kind of creature who jumps and bites at empty paper towel rolls when I say his name into the roll, loud-speaker-style. He rolls around like a crazy fish if I blow air in his face, which I do all the time and, sometimes, he is my sweet muffin ball (I have dozens of preposterous names for him) and lets me hug him madly.

He’s not first in my heart, but so far, he’s the only one who’s been right next to me through everything, every mistake and every good decision.

He doesn’t have much of a choice, but even so, no matter what kind of situation I ever got myself into, he looked at me with the exact same expression of undying, rapturous, stupid love.

Now, of course, he’s old. We’re both getting older but time is more unfair to dogs. He’s 11. He doesn’t run as fast or as joyfully as he used to.

He has new lumps in his body, one of them as big and hard as a golf ball.

Recently, I’ve written a lot about Zooker, too much and not enough. No one out there can possibly care as much about this mutt as I do. And yet, I can’t seem to get it all down.

I think part of the attachment we dog owners feel comes from the understated position dogs are in. I mean, our dogs don’t DO anything.

We are the ones pulling all the weight–feeding them, cleaning up after them, taking them on walks, taking them to the vet. Why do we bother?

Our pets can be affectionate, funny, obnoxious, smelly, cumbersome, tiresome and even mortifying, but mostly they are just there. Lying on the floor, sitting by our feet, our followers.

Unless you have one of those rare dogs that saves you from a burning house, or barks to let you know your child has stopped breathing–we all hear these awe-inspiring tales–then you have a dog like mine, who alerts you not of danger but of trees he’d like to urinate on.

There’s no point to owning a dog, except knowing it will never break up with you, or move out of state, or spend all its time reading Kant instead of paying attention to you.

It might bite you. But more likely, it will keep letting you hug it madly in a way you can’t hug a person because it’s too crazy, because you’re too vulnerable and because no person is ever truly yours.