Gene gets a hillbilly pup. Howl she do in the big city?

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, October 29, 2006

My wife and I just got a new puppy, from the pound. Getting a pound puppy is very different from buying from a breeder. If you are going to purchase a purebred (e.g., a rare Belgian Mincing Oui Oui), you must first pass the following rigorous, two-tier owner-suitability test:

1. Do you have cash?

2. Excellent!

But pound-puppy adoption involves a greater degree of screening. Actually, it involves a greater degree of screening than for, say, air-traffic controllers. You have to give two references, and they are, indeed, called (one was our friend Libby, who is a major-league smartass, and who we feared might well say we prepare delicious Puppy in Bechamel Sauce); you have to answer an elaborate questionnaire about the science and philosophy of dog care; you have to agree to an in-home visit by a professional snoop, presumably to look for dog-interrogation dungeons. And, because my wife and I have different last names, we were asked three times to confirm, not that it mattered, but still, just for the record, that we are not living in sin.

Our puppy and her sister had been rescued from an extremely rustic northern Virginia county composed mostly of shotgun enthusiasts and second-year cosmetology students. The diet staple of the county is weasel jerky. The average household consists of Cletus and Sharleen and the young 'un, Skeeter, who acts a little hinky but is fine if you don't rile him none. Actual true fact: Two of the towns in this county are named "Fleeburg" and "Leaksville."

The local dogs are often used for huntin' and tend not to look like Belgian Mincing Oui Ouis, if you get my meaning. Our puppy looked like a local dog, in that she kind of resembled a nocturnal burrowing mammal. We assumed she was a mutt but were surprised to discover she is an actual breed, recognized by the American Kennel Club. Not that she is fancy. Most breed names tend to sound elegant, such as "Dandie Dinmont terrier," or "Bouvier des Flandres." Ours is a "Plott hound."

Plott hounds are strong dogs with good temperaments.

The dog books contain only one ominous line about them: Their bark is described as "bugle-like." It was mainly for that reason that we chose our puppy over her equally cute sister. Unlike her sister, this one never made a sound. We went for the quiet, timid one.

On the advice of my wise friend Horace, we decided not to name the puppy for a few days. "Dogs name themselves," Horace assured me. "A dog will reveal its name to you if you are paying attention."

It was good advice, deep and perceptive and charming. But we had to ignore it, because if we hadn't, based on our hour-long ride home with our new puppy, we would have had to name her: "YowrowrowrlowrowrlowwowowowowrowrlaROOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOO," which wouldn't fit on a dog tag.

Conversation over her yowling was somewhat difficult.

Me: What's this like?

My wife: What?

Me: (yelling) I think it's like listening to a police siren made of meat!

My wife: WHAT?

Me: (yelling) No, wait. It's like Satan yodeling!

As I write this, we have had our puppy for three days, and we already love her. She has quieted down, mostly. We are engaged in the single most urgent enterprise with a new puppy, which is potty training, and it is going quite well except for the poop and pee all over our house. Puppies do not have reliable internal telemetry systems, so they can't effectively alert you to impending events. As my wife observed, this puppy basically says to us, "Hey, Mom 'n' Dad! I am going to poop in five seconds, fourthreetwoone.''

It's particularly entertaining poop. If you've ever had a pound puppy, you know they come with worms. It's basically a standard feature, like wiper blades. So we're dealing with that.

Also, she likes to eat plants in our garden, but only the poisonous ones. And, she's still a little insecure, to the extent that every time either of us goes to the bathroom, she sits outside the door and howls in grief until we emerge. It's hard to concentrate on Sudoku.

My wife and I got many intriguing suggestions for what to name this dog. But we passed on "Mulva" and "Gipple." We have settled on "Murphy."

My wife is thinking "Murphy Brown," which is dandy.

Me, I'm thinking "Murphy's Law."

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

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