The music at the neighborhood festival hasn't started, but booths are set up and business is brisk. "Say hello to Sophie!" Peggy says as I approach, gazing down at the pretty white fluff-of-a-mutt in her arms. The little dog looks calm and pampered. Like a movie star.
Sophie! Of course that's her name. It could be no other. I figure Sophie is a neighbor's pooch. She's beautiful. A soft velvet box of whimsy and sophistication.
Sophie is an orphan.
Turns out Underdog Pet Rescue is one of the booths over there in the shade, offering a product far more permanent than the henna tattoos at the table next door.
I'm all awkward when I pat her on the head. Sophie looks up, her eyes hopeful black dots. "Me not so bad, eh?"
Peggy returns Sophie to the Underdog people. The music starts, friends appear, but the friendliest distraction of all is stealing looks at little Sophie, who prances around the event like a queen.
We walk home, mostly quiet, under the sublime spell of a late afternoon spent with good friends. In the peaceful silence my mind becomes a warehouse of consideration.
I like the sound of Sophie, but I like the sound of Sophia even better. These are the kinds of things you think about when you take the first, careful steps across the bridge that separates non-pet owners from pet owners.
We stroll into the cool of our garage. Peggy looks at me and says one word. "Sophie!"
"Sophia," I think.
A quick side note: Many who know me and, indeed, have read this column, believe I don't like dogs. I like dogs. I just don't like dog owners, at least the crappy ones -- who, I know, are far outnumbered by good ones. My disapproval has always been aimed at the top end of the leash, not the bottom. Call it my pet-owner peeve.
That night, I lie in bed, awake in the dark. I try to imagine where Sophie would be in the house. If Sophie was in the house.
In the morning Peggy leaves with her mother for a week up north. "Little Sophie!" she announces as she packs her bag. These are words that say it without saying it: We are considering adopting a dog.
The things that matter most to us in life seem to be entirely out of our control. We work consciously to create realities like careers. The big questions? We are mere observers to the answers. Will I meet the right person? Can we get pregnant? Will our children be safe?
Will Sophie join our family?
The next day Peggy and I communicate with texts about Sophie, who, according to the agency, is scheduled to be spayed that afternoon. I decide to write the Underdog people an email.
"Greetings," it says. "My wife and I met the little white dog called Sophie at Saturday's festival. We understand she has surgery today. We hope it goes well. We are recent empty nesters who think we might be right for Sophie. Will you let us know how she does?"
Pressing "send" on the message is a heavy decision. I study the fingernail on my index finger for a good 30 seconds.
Off it goes.
I laugh when Peggy texts me that she's reading How to Train Your New Dog in 30 Days during her trip up north. She's excited that I reached out to the agency people.
A day passes. No response to my email. I call.
"I'm sorry, Andy," says the woman. "Sophie is doing well but a couple adopted her today."
They had been on the official list. We had not.
I suddenly regret making this call at work. My breathing goes shallow. I step outside to gather myself.
"Oh sweetie," starts my text to Peggy. "Little Sophie's been adopted by another couple."
And just like that it's over.
Our bedroom is as big as the Astrodome when I'm home alone. It's dark. It's a time when couples who have been together as long as we have silently communicate. I feel that happening in an unprecedented way across the 230 miles between us.
Without ever owning a dog I now know what people mean about the profound bonding that comes with keeping one. Sophie will not be in our lives. Yet even the prospect of her, in this moment and during this week, has brought us closer.