"False advertising,” read the text from my friend Brandi. It came a few minutes after I’d snapped a photo of my little white dog napping in a gigantic yellow blanket and posted it online.
“Stop posting pictures of your dumb dog to Instagram and tricking people into thinking she’s cute. Waffles is the worst.” I would have been mad, if it weren’t true. But it is.
Awful Waffle, the nickname she’s earned at home, is more than just a dog. In the three years since I adopted her, she’s become a machine engineered to generate non-stop stories of terror and embarrassment.
“Tell them about the time Waffles tried to bite a cancer patient,” my friend Hala will say to anyone who hasn’t met my dog in person—who’s been “tricked” by a photo they’ve seen of her giant brown eyes staring out from her tiny, seven-pound body. “Tell them about the time she woke you up by peeing on you in the middle of the night. Tell them about the time she pooped in your boss’s office.”
My husband prefers to tell the story about the time he came over for dinner one evening early on in our relationship and Waffles barked her shrill, eardrum-piercing, nails-on-a-chalkboard bark for 45 minutes straight, seemingly without breathing, until he took the hint and went home. When she eventually warmed to him, I knew I’d found my life partner.
Waffles is inherently distrustful, a trait I’m assuming she picked up during the first four-or-so years of her life, at least a portion of which she spent as a street dog in Westchase. One day, weak and starving after having a litter of puppies, she was trapped and rescued by my mother’s next door neighbor. “I’ve got your new dog,” my mother texted me later that day, accompanied by a classically misleading doe-eyed photo. “Fine,” I wrote back. “I’ll come over and meet her.”
I walked into my mother’s backyard that summer day three years ago and walked out with my best friend. The dog came running to me as if she’d known me in a former life, jumped into my lap and never left. She made funny squeaking noises as she snuggled into me, the kinds of sounds I’d never heard a dog make, and her giant brown eyes didn’t leave my own once. To Waffles, I was never a stranger. It seems so bizarre now, knowing her as I do, that sometimes I wonder if I’m even remembering it correctly.
Missing out on those crucial first years of socialization has made for a long list of peculiarities, which never seem to stop revealing themselves. Waffles has a near-total disinterest in treats (she’ll eat exactly one type, sold only at Sprouts), dog food (she prefers trash, the slimier the better) and dog toys (with the sole exception of an expensive coaster—yes, like a coaster for drinks—my mother gave me years ago, which has since become her favorite thing).
The last toy we bought for Waffles was a fuzzy green frog with big, bulging eyes like her own. She seemed to like playing with the thing, so we placed it inside her kennel when we left for work one morning. That evening, we returned home to find that Waffles had torn it to shreds, shoved it in a corner, and pooped on it. “She killed her cell mate,” my husband whispered.
I attribute Waffles’s foibles to the layers of defenses she’s built up under her wiry fur. If she, say, blames me because a leaf blew past her on the wind, so scaring her that she tumbles backward into a ditch, twiggy limbs flailing, brown eyes huge and glaring, I simply pick her up, clean her up, and take her home. Our unconditional love and mutual understanding is worth it. She adores me, and that’s enough.
“You don’t know what she’s been through,” my 92-year-old grandmother, a member of the very small Waffles fan club, is fond of saying. “No one knows what she’s been through.”
There’s peace between those two because, unlike most people, Meemo doesn’t snatch Waffles up, or immediately bend down to pet her because of how tiny and cute she is. Although people who do so mean well, they are the reason I’m about to break down and buy a “Don’t Touch! I Bite!” dog shirt off Etsy and give up the last remaining shred of my dignity.
My dignity is pretty much gone, anyway, robbed in the bromeliad aisle at Buchanan’s Native Plants, where a horrible demon tried to give Waffles a dog biscuit, causing a full-on canine meltdown; stolen at the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, where a 6-year-old ogre wandered up and said “I like your dog!”—to which Waffles responded by snarling viciously and lunging. The little girl ran off crying; Waffles sat back down, annoyed and indignant.
Over time I’ve learned to avoid these situations. I now know the least populated pedestrian footpaths at Buffalo Bayou Park, the city’s least frequented dog parks (for a time, it was the Market Square dog run early in the mornings, but downtown’s growth has ruined that; now, we frequent the Park for Humans and Dogs in the Sixth Ward, which conveniently possesses neither most of the time).
I know to tell people who come over, or who—God help them—approach Waffles on an outing, to just ignore her; don’t make eye contact; don’t try to pet her; just let her come to you on her own, if she feels like it.
And, to an extent, it seems to be working. Just last week, we happened to host dinner at our home three nights in a row. And three nights in a row, there was minimal barking and zero biting, albeit little in the way of human-canine socializing. Our friend Carlos, whose own dog, Duke, is a disgustingly well-behaved paradigm of canine virtue, even complimented her as he left. “She did pretty good!” We thanked him, shut the door and turned to each other in celebration.
“Pretty good!” my husband repeated, grinning. “Did you hear that?”
“Hang on,” I responded. “I’ve gotta text Brandi.”