I grew up in a world where dogs were appreciated in theory but never allowed in the house. This comes standard for many black families in America, especially in the South. While my mother claimed to love dogs, I never actually saw her touch one. In fact, she banned them from ever laying a paw inside our home. They were, however, allowed in the backyard. My father’s affinity for them was a little more literal. He was the one who would rescue stray dogs from roaming the streets. We had a few of them as pets, but their residence always seemed to be short-lived for one reason or another. One was tragically hit by a car, while a few ran away from home, never to be seen again. We were allowed to go outside and play with them, but we had to wash our hands immediately afterward (a bath or shower was preferred). My mom’s minimal tolerance of them came from her mother, who thought dogs — and all other animals — were despicable creatures. If she knew you owned a dog — even if that dog was not present — she wanted little-to-no contact with you.
As you can imagine, a childhood like that made my relationship with dogs a bit theoretical as well. I loved them as a species, but I’d never really formed an intimate bond with one. That is, until the spring of 2016. My husband and I had discussed owning a dog for years, but I never thought it was the right time. We didn’t have any kids and I thoroughly enjoyed how deliciously selfish our lives were. We could travel at a moment’s notice and we were our only financial responsibility. The simplicity was delightful and I relished in it. I knew having a dog wasn’t as taxing as having a child, but it still involved expending more energy, time, and money than I wanted to dole out.
My husband felt differently.
At the time, we lived in East Texas and he worked out in an extremely remote area surrounded by farmland. Often, his colleagues would bring their pets to work with them and drop off stray animals in hopes of finding them a home. On one of these occasions, my husband noticed several of his coworkers crouching down in the parking lot, trying to beckon an animal who’d sought refuge under a large truck. They’d been at it for a while to no avail. Seeing all the commotion, my husband approached the area, trying to get a peek at the unknown creature, when suddenly, the creature — a tiny puppy — ran to him and snuggled comfortably at his feet. My husband — a 6-foot, 300-pound black man — fell headfirst into an intense and unyielding love. He decided, in an instant, that this was his dog, nay — our dog. His only concern was how to get me on board.
So, he called me up. When I think of this moment now, I imagine him with those red, cartoon hearts in his eyes. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, baby,” he said with a little too much emotion.
“Baby? What happened? Why do you sound so weird?” I said, skeptical as usual.
“What if I told you, I found us a dog?”
“What do you mean, you found us a dog? Were we looking for one?!”
“Baby… she’s perfect. She’s so cute. I think we… we have to keep her.”
“Kasey, listen to me: I know I can be impulsive and everything, but I really think we need to do this. This would be good for us.”
“But — ”
“Baby… we’ve talked about this so much. I know you don’t think this is a good time, but… will it ever feel like the right time?” Apparently, that was a rhetorical question because he barely gave me a moment to respond. “How about this: Why don’t we just keep her for a little while…”
“A ‘little while????’” I repeat things a lot.
“A week. Let’s keep her for a week and see how we feel. If you really want to give her back after a week, I will, baby, I promise.”
Sigh. “I really, really don’t think we should do this at all, but…” I took another moment to sigh here too. I was straining to be a good, tolerant wife. I mustered up as much goodness as I could and said, finally, “…but if you still want to, go ahead.” This was his opportunity to heed to my boundless wisdom, but alas, when my husband arrived to pick me up from work that day, a tiny tan dog with floppy ears and a black snout was sitting in my seat. My heart sank. My husband laughed nervously.
He went into full salesman mode then, with a pitch to name her Fleacia and spell it F-L-E-A like fleas and ticks. Instead of a bad omen, I hesitantly agreed that the name would be marginally cute. He also planned to train her to leave the room when we said “bye Fleacia,” a hilarious nod to a black cinema classic. I hated to admit it, but that sounded like a good time.
Needless to say, that trial week turned into three years and counting. These days, Fleacia’s not so small. She’s roughly 75 pounds, her ears stand up on her head majestically, and — while she obviously loves her daddy tremendously — Fleacia prefers the company of her mommy, aka, the former skeptic.
How did we get here? Well… slowly. It was pretty “ruff” in the beginning (I couldn’t resist). She did a lot of barking and even as a puppy, she roared like a full-grown lion. Her bark alone was unnerving. It was an abrupt reminder that we’d taken-in a wild animal. It took me a while to adjust to this living, breathing, demanding, discerning creature in my house. Her sharp puppy teeth were the bane of my existence and we shelled out an ungodly amount of money on veterinary care, several kennels that she consistently grew out of, toys and beds that she savagely destroyed, and food that she turned her nose up at.
But we persisted and gradually figured everything out. There was a lot of trial and error, but we finally found bionic toys she couldn’t destroy and a dog food she loved. We discovered a magical spray that repressed her inclination to mutilate her bed and eventually, even that was unnecessary because she’d grown into a fine young lady with a sincere desire to please us. While she has been guilty of being a little sneaky, she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.
But more than any of that, she loves me. And her love is a healing, transformative magic that I can hardly believe I get the pleasure of being a recipient of. This creature loves me, and she demonstrates her love in a million little ways every day. If I scream or gasp, which happens slightly more frequently than it should, she makes it to my side quicker than my husband does in most cases; that is — if she isn’t already by my side. And her favorite room in the house is whichever room I’m in. She watches me attentively to assess my mood and if I’m not OK, she’s not OK. Call me crazy, but my happiness seems to sincerely matter to this girl.
She’s a master communicator. She does the cutest doggie head tilts when she’s trying to understand you, which is her constant goal; and she understands more English than you would believe. When she’s hungry or thirsty, she’ll bring the designated water or food bowl, place it gently at your feet, then stare ardently into your very soul without blinking an eye. She takes these long, deep, hilarious sighs when she’s bored or irritated. On the rare occasion she does something bad, she offers the sincerest apology by tucking her tail in low, burying her head in your crotch, and/or offering you the “paw of contrition.” I know when she’s feeling silly or playful, or when she just needs to go potty.
Get this: She knows how to clean up her toys! At three years old, I was concerned she might be too old to learn something new, but she learned this new trick alarmingly quickly. She now knows how to pick up her toys and place them in the wicker basket next to her bed. Because it’s a new trick, she’s rewarded with a treat upon completion. She delighted me and my husband the other day by taking it upon herself to clean-up her toys unprompted. Clearly, she just did it because she had a hankering for a snack, but how amazing is that?! She wanted something, then devised a way to make it happen. She lit up our whole lives with the gesture. It sounded like we had just won a million dollars! I know every dog-owner thinks their dog is a genius but come on! You have to agree; that’s pretty good, isn’t it?!
She’s the best coworker I’ve ever had. Because the Lord is merciful, I get to work from home. I don’t have well-intending (but annoying) coworkers stopping by my desk to talk about the weather and distract me from my work. I’m a highly disciplined person, so if it weren’t for Fleacia, I would probably work straight through the day. With an immaculate internal clock, Fleacia lets me know when it’s time to break for lunch and call it quits at the end of the day; and she’s very persuasive.
It’s difficult to imagine life without Fleacia. I’m almost embarrassed by how much I love her. She is my best friend and (arguably) the best member of the May family. And, yes — she will promptly leave the room if you utter the words, “bye Fleacia.”