As I sit here in North Point’s parlor making a full blown but relatively futile attempt to work, two doggies are wrestling on the rug at my feet, making a ruckus as loud as a slot machine payout. In rapid fire respites between the playful shrieks and growls and barks, I grab the puppy’s razor-sharp teeth planted around the coffee table legs. Her jaw has an astonishing grip for so small a dog—but Natacha is one determined, nine-week old puppy. I look to Lafayette, our seven-year old Basset Hound, asking him why he can’t keep guard over the coffee table when he is doing a superb job of keeping her otherwise occupied, but clearly he isn’t interested in baby-sitting her any more than any big brother wants to be saddled with that chore.
It’s been twenty-three years since I have had a puppy (my first Basset Hound, Doris), because I’ve rescued and/or adopted many dogs since then. My son is about to turn 30, and so it’s been nearly three decades since I have had a toddler, which is not entirely unlike having a puppy. It’s been interesting how my mothering instinct has automatically kicked in, thinking of precautions that never occur to my husband: never leaving her unsupervised for more than an instant lest she wrap a cord around her throat or hurt herself in some other unexpected way; sensing when she’s tired and needs to go down for a nap, or…being on constant vigil to prevent her from, say, chewing up the parlor coffee table.
I named her Natacha in deference to the Russian Basset Hound heritage of her mother, Nicka, and the very name of my friend who sold her to Bill and me, Natacha, who happens to be a beautiful Belgian woman rather than Russian. I had thought of naming her “Nina,” the name I like so much I was going to name my daughter Nina, except that I had a son, whom I named Charles, aka Charlie. I tried out the name Nina a few times after I met her, but the name didn’t seem to fit. Then it occurred to me: Natacha. “Natacha” sounds right, with the nickname of “Tashy.”
Though Bill and I had been mulling getting a baby sister for Lafayette for over a year, we both kept saying the time wasn’t right because we are too busy, and then, too, the time to get a puppy is spring or summer, not November and heading into frigid weather. But photos of Natacha on Face Book made me fall in love with her and made me feel strongly that she would complete our little family.
Then the serious question became, “How do I get her?” I was in Florida visiting my mother; Bill was leaving for California on business. Friend Natacha, whom I met on Face Book two years ago, was ambivalent about selling any of the three puppies their mama gave birth to, and if she agreed to sell her to us, she had rational reasons for wanting her to go to her new home sooner rather than later. I didn’t see how I could do it, with gum surgery scheduled right after I got back from Florida, and an annual, two-day Virginia Tourism conference in Norfolk coming up the following week–not to mention that driving isn’t one of my favorite endeavors. But obsessive thinking and fierce desire do wonders for problem-solving.
I postponed the surgery and decided to forego the conference. I landed at DCA in Washington, picked up the car, which my husband had parked literally only minutes before he went to catch his own flight to California, and I proceeded to drive 415 miles to the Massachusetts/Vermont border to finally meet my Face Book friend, Natacha, and her 12 dogs–11 Basset Hounds, including the three puppies, and one Golden Retriever named Bear.
I was smitten the moment I laid eyes on little Natacha. She seemed to like me quite a bit, too, instantly. Maybe my smell, maybe my touch, who knows. But I knew that I had found just the right little sister for our beloved Lafayette. And I knew that Bill would love her to the moon.
I stayed with Natacha in her quaint 1780 farmhouse for two nights before I began the drive back to North Point. As with many of the friends I have met online over the years and finally meet in person, I felt as though I had known Natacha for years. I think we both felt that her agreeing to have me be little Natacha’s mommy when so many others wanted this puppy cemented the bond between us.
In the less than two weeks since Natacha has been at North Point, I have found myself often wondering what types of dogs lived here where Lafayette, and now Natacha, tread. I wonder if any of them are buried on the grounds, as are some of the former denizens of North Point. I envision them running up and down the stairs, loitering about the kitchen with all those good, smokey, hearth-cooking smells, playing with the children of North Point, who were born and raised here over the course of three centuries.
Here, at my feet in the parlor, where both dogs have fallen asleep, I see the dogs of all these many years before us, beloved by their masters and mistresses, and bestowing unconditional love in return. We are, after all, not only connected by human ancestry, but by those whom we have loved deeply–including our dogs.