When she barfed the third time, in my car no less, I began having second thoughts. But I didn’t give in and our journey kept going.
That little puppy and me, we kept driving from Birmingham to Mobile. I was determined to surprise my great niece and great nephew with a dog — one that I had gotten just for them.
My wife Anne, son Trot and I had been down there a few weeks earlier, just visiting, and we had brought our two dogs with us. These kids loved our dogs and I could tell they’d love one of their own. So when I arrived back in Birmingham, I got them a dog and decided to drive it back to Mobile and surprise them.
The dog, a tiny little mixed breed, was cute as can be. I really wanted to do something special for these kids. I got the dog from a lady who we had bought one of our dogs from. I did all the paperwork and took the new dog home for a night to get ready for our drive the next day to south Alabama.
But there was something a little odd. I don’t think that puppy liked me. It didn’t move. Anne and I actually thought there was something wrong with the pooch. We were kind of freaked out.
I tried everything. I played with it on the kitchen floor. I ran around the backyard like an idiot, I was on the ground rolling around, the neighbors were looking at me; I was just trying to get the dog to respond. But she wouldn’t. She just wandered off by herself. We actually lost track of her for a few minutes, then found her curled up in a ball in a corner of the yard.
The next day, the dog and I got in the car and began heading to Mobile. She still didn't want to have anything to do with me.
I had the dog in the front next to me in a box with a towel as a cushion, but she just laid there. There wasn’t a peep; she wasn’t much for conversation despite my best efforts. “It’s okay, you’re going to Mobile,” I explained. Still no response. I patted her a couple of times but she trembled; she wasn’t interested in much, especially in me.
Once we got on the road, she started puking. And that made me insecure, worrying that maybe this is the effect that I have on people — that I make things awkward, they struggle to make small talk with me and that they just want to throw up.
It definitely was weird. But now I felt bad for the little thing and found myself making up names for her to distract me. I came up with Little Vera — I don’t know why, but I thought that was kind of funny. That was the one I liked the best so I started calling the dog Little Vera. Still, no response.
Now it was time to stop and get gas. I figured I’d stretch my legs and let her get out of her box. Since she hadn’t shown a flicker of movement for about 75 miles I wasn’t worried about letting her stretch her legs. After I filled the tank, I drove over to a big open grassy area adjacent to the truck stop parking lot. I lifted Little Vera out of her box and set her down on the grass.
I turned for an instant to look at an 18-wheeler that was pulling in, concerned it might clip my car. I turned back around and there was no Little Vera. I thought, “Oh crap!” And then about 20 yards away I saw a little white blur hopping toward the road. It was Little Vera!
I high-tailed it over to her as fast as I could; she was nearing the curb and on the verge of getting run over, so I waved to an oncoming car asking the driver to slow down, which he did. Little Vera was that close to the road and just hopping along. She looked more like a rabbit than a dog. I ran out into the road and heroically saved Little Vera.
Back in the car we went, with me talking to her, telling her that was a crazy stunt and that she could’ve gotten hurt. But by now she was just her old lethargic self, curled up in the corner of her box.
I began worrying — here I was trying to do something for my niece’s kids to surprise them and I was bringing them a dog that was an introverted downer, a pet that might turn out to be more of a burden than anything else. I pictured those two young kids waking up every morning and asking their mom, “What's wrong with Little Vera?”
About an hour from Mobile the darn dog barfed for the third time. I pulled over, emptied the box and cleaned her up. Clearly, she hated me touching her, and wouldn’t even make eye contact. I don’t know what I expected but I expected more than I got after nearly three hours of trying to entertain the pooch, saving her life, cleaning up her vomit and helping her find a new home where they would love and take care of her.
Okay, I may not be 100 percent confident all of the time — after all, I suspect most people aren’t — but by now, this little dog had given me an inferiority complex when all I had done was set out to do a good deed for my niece and her kids — and Little Vera herself.
Finally, we got to Mobile. I pulled up to the house. My niece knew I was coming, but her kids didn’t. At this point, I had a knot in my stomach, thinking what had I done, saddling this family with this needy, catatonic, puking pup? I took a deep breath, not quite sure what to do next, but I figured I didn’t have much choice.
I knocked on the door, there they all were; the kids squealed “Uncle Trotter!” because they were surprised to see me. They gave me hugs and then I told them I had a present for them. When I went back to the car and got the box and started carrying it toward them, they could see the top of the dog. They were beyond ecstatic.
Finally, they were going to have a dog of their own, something I knew they wanted ever since they got to play with our dogs last summer. It was the moment of truth and — I'm not proud of this — I couldn’t look at them or the dog. So I basically averted all eye contact, mumbled a little bit, and said, “Well, here’s your box.”
And then I took a deep breath. “Little Vera, it’s show time,” I thought to myself, “you better perform.”
So just like in a Norman Rockwell painting, the kids lit up with joy and screamed “Let me hold it.” And all of a sudden the Little Vera I knew became a different Little Vera! It was amazing. She was excited, she came to life, she started responding to them, playing with them, delighting in being there. I swear for a minute I actually heard Little Vera utter a sigh of relief once I handed her over to the kids. It was an amazing transformation right before my eyes.
I could sense it was a good time for me to leave — for my niece and her kids, for me, and especially for Little Vera.
But here’s the kicker. Ever since delivery day, my niece and her kids have been sending me pictures of them and Little Vera and you can see how happy that little pooch is. It’s as if she found the home she’d yearned for, and the family found the dog they’d yearned for.
It made me happy for Little Vera and the rest of them, though each picture brings back memories of the insecurity I felt.
Oh well, all’s well that ends well, I guess.
And by the way, they named her Scout.