In Gilze en Rijen, a small rural centre in the south of the Netherlands, I was standing awkwardly in a strange family’s modern, vintage-chic barn. Outside, the sky was grey.
I felt like the sky was always grey since I’d moved there. It wasn’t until after that I have clear memories of sunlight and cheery days.
The daughter – the only one home, a teenager whose English was good enough to deal with a foreign customer – had disappeared into the back room to retrieve puppies who were still looking for homes. I could hear yips and yaps from the foyer. I’d been concerned that the ad on Marktplaats was a honeytrap and that I’d just come halfway across the country to get strung up by my legs in someone’s basement, so the puppy yips were very welcome.
One by one, the daughter brought three puppies out and laid them gently in a crate. I knelt to put my fingers between the bars. The first one licked me twice, then turned to shit all over the bottom of the crate.
Maybe not that one, I thought.
Then I reminded myself: You’re not actually here to buy. You’re just looking. This is just to look.
I had purposefully come unprepared. Not enough cash in my wallet, nothing ready for a new puppy at home. I didn’t even have way of getting a puppy back to Utrecht – nearly two hours by train. There was no way that I would be buying a puppy today.
The second puppy was set down in the crate and immediately started shredding the newspaper lining the bottom.
“That one’s a girl,” the daughter said, before adding another puppy. “That one’s a boy, and so’s the other one.”
The new boy came over and licked my fingers as well. Then he nibbled a little. He had tan eyebrows and a tan moustache, but his fur was black as ink. All the pups had black and tan fur. Their mother was a black English cocker spaniel, and their father – who I had not met – was a red poodle. I was told that he was a miniature poodle. I would later come to believe that they might have fibbed about the father’s size.
“He’s very cute,” I told the daughter. “Very cute.”
“Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“I – I think a boy,” I said, hesitating because I recognised the marketing tactics she was using. “We always had boy dogs growing up.”
The boy puppy kept licking and nibbling while his siblings shredded the paper. The other boy sat in his own poop as he busily pulled up long strips of newscript. The girl had rolled onto her back and wrapped herself up in shreds.
This one’s much calmer than the other two. He seems to like me.
“Would you like to hold him?” the daughter asked. She was thin as a rail and had long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail.
Bad idea. “Sure.”
She pulled him out of the crate and laid him gently in my arms. He curled up instantly, rolling into a ball and then twisting so that he could show me his belly. I rubbed it and he did that little head-tilt thing that dogs do, cocking it to the side so that his ears flopped open and fell onto my crossed legs.
“They won’t get too big,” the daughter told me. She was sitting cross-legged at my side, down at eye level. “About this high –” she held up a hand about 30cm off the ground, “– so they are very good for apartments.”
The puppy smiled. He honest-to-god smiled. His lips turned up and he looked at me, and then he did a backwards summersault onto the ground and started chewing on my shoelaces, using his paw to hold them still and suck on them.
Shit, shit, shit. “He’s very cute,” I repeated.
And he was so small. He fit easily in one of my hands. I thought I might have to get a cat collar for him. I’d have to keep a constant eye on him so that he wouldn’t disappear under my furniture. But wouldn’t that be a good thing? The whole reason I’d even considered getting a dog was because I’d started to burn out at work. My mental health had been shredded over the last year and a half -a dog would distract me, give me something to care for outside of myself, and force me to get out bed in the morning.
Puppies are helpless. A puppy would need me to be at my best – otherwise, how could I take care of him the way he deserved? He would need to be exercised, played with, and trained. I couldn’t do that and wallow in my own self-pity at the same time.
I tapped the floor next to the puppy. He dropped the shoelace in his mouth and leapt towards my fingers. I quickly switched my hands over to my other side and tapped the floor again, and he spun so quickly that his fluffy paws lost purchase on the ground and he slipped, falling hard on his side. In a heartbeat, he sprung up and gambolled around to find my fingers again.
He’s responsive. And so cheerful. He’d be easy to train.
My brain was already working. I worked full time… but my housekeeper was a dogwalker in her spare time, so I could hire her to check in on him and walk him. I lived close to my job; I could come home during the longer breaks. I had nothing prepared at home – no dog food, no collar or leash, no crate for him to sleep in – but I lived across the street from a pet store and it closed late on the weekends.
“What do you think?” the daughter asked, just quietly enough that I could have missed the interested, slightly-wheedling tone of her voice.
“He’s very cute,” I repeated, like a stuck CD. “I’m – ah, not sure I could get him home.”
“You came by train, ja? I would hate to make you go all the way home and come back with a crate.” She thought for a moment, then glanced at my bag. She grinned. “He could fit in your purse! You could carry him home on the train.”
I slid the puppy into my purse, padded out with the scarf that had been around my neck. Sure enough, he fit handily. Even with a laptop, a wallet, and my lunch. He stuck his head out and yawned. Uh oh.
“I don’t have enough cash on me,” I told the daughter.
“Hmm… I’ll call my dad. Maybe you can do a bank transfer.”
Without waiting for my answer, she got up and grabbed her mobile. She spoke in rapid Dutch that I could only partly understand.
The puppy climbed out of the purse and came over to my lap. climbed in without so much as a by-your-leave, and started licking my palm. He looked up at me. Big brown eyes, framed by unnaturally long eyelashes. So, so cute.
“You want to come home with me, buddy?” I asked him under my breath. He didn’t answer, but he licked his nose and cocked his head at the sound of my voice.
I shouldn’t. I’m only in the Netherlands temporarily. It won’t be fair to him. But plenty of people bring pets back to Australia after living abroad. One of my aunts brought two cats from Vietnam. It was expensive, but not impossible.
Every excuse I had was getting slapped down by my problem-solving brain.
His fur was soft and lightly curled, and he felt comfortingly solid in my hands.
“My dad says that you can have him for half,” the daughter told me, switching to English with an ease that made me so jealous of her. “If you send the other half by bank transfer tonight.”
I looked at the puppy. He looked at me.
I realised that I was lost the moment she’d put him in my hands.
“Okay,” I said, clutching the little thing to my chest and giving him a kiss on his head. “I’m in. Grab the paperwork.”
PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee? 🙂